NOTE: For recordings of the series, search the blog for the webinar title.
The series looks at current work on the topic of transformation and large systems change (LSC) from various perspectives. The goal is to support development of the LSC field by creating conversation amongst practitioners and knowledge developers about theories/strategies and methods/tools.
We will hear from a lead presenter with an emphasis on discussion with those attending. Participation is free and open to others working in the field, as a community service organized by the GOLDEN Ecosystems Labs with GIZ providing technical support. To obtain the web link and participate, register by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information contact Labs Lead Steward Steve Waddell: email@example.com
Joe has applied a system dynamics approach across a wide range of change issues. Drawing from these experiences, he has developed a system dynamics map that describes generic systemic change processes in terms of key activities in each phase and how they reinforce each other to catalyze, sustain and scale change. This has led to numerous insights for change practitioners.
2) Wednesday, February 26: The Many Sources Of Transformation and Large Systems Change Knowledge
Steve 2011 Steve is working with a World Bank project to create a framework for describing this knowledge. He is drawing from four streams of practice and study arising from four historic focii: (1) business and sustainable enterprise, (2) peace and conflict resolution, (3) natural environment, and (4) social-economic development. He hopes the webinar participants will add to the framework and theories and tools.
3) Thursday, March 27: Cultivating system change – a practitioners companion
NOTE: The day has been changed to (Thursday), and times are different for US/Canada because of daylight savings irregularities: 8am PT/ 11am ET/ 3pm UK/ 4pm CET (1 hour)
Anna has just completed a new book by this titled Cultivating system change – a practitioners companion, that builds on her impressive experience as a practitioner and grows out of her dissertation. She will share her insights.
4) Wednesday, April 23: The Social Lab Revolution: A New Approach to Solving our Most Complex Challenges
Zaid presents insights from his new book by this name. Zaid builds on a decade of experience—as well as drawing from cutting-edge research in complexity science, networking theory, and sociology—to explain the core principles and daily functioning of social labs, using examples of pioneering labs from around the world.
5) Wednesday, May 21: Developing Large Systems Change Leadership
Presenter: Klaus Althoff, Senior Programme Manager, Climate Leadership Plus – Leadership for Global Responsibility of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)
Integrating the work of numerous large change experts, in particular Otto Scharmer, Klaus is leading a programme to develop individuals’ capacity to be transformational leaders to address climate change. He will share GIZ’s leadership development approach and lessons from its use. Leadership for Global Responsibility is value-oriented, competency-based and rooted in a commitment to global well-being. It fosters responsible leadership with a self-reflective attitude and the ability to take ambitious and innovative action.
Global change systems are evolving all around us. But is there a way to strengthen them and speed the pace of transformation to address critical issues of health, climate and poverty? In Milan last week a dozen people met for a day and a half to explore innovative frameworks to answer that question. They left with enthusiasm and a belief that the new approach holds great promise that they want to test on some specific issues.
The original questionsproduced as core concepts the change system and the production system that the change system is trying to transform…this unit of analysis/action is based on the concept of a change system comprising “change initiatives” such as those listed above that are external to production organizations (typically corporations, parastatals) that comprise the production system. The two systems are visualized as being similar to the DNA double helix model shown here: tightly intertwined with strong connections, but with distinct goals requiring distinct competencies.
Looking at the hundreds of organizations mapped in the webcrawl the question naturally arose: Why are so many change initiatives needed? What are they doing? An analysis of 65 of them led to identification of five change subsystems, focused on specific subsets of the overall change task. These subsystems are distinguished by their work content and the role of stakeholder groups. They are:
1. Policy Change Subsystem: This is the policy-making system of governmental bodies, including regulators and legislators at the local, national, regional and global levels. Other stakeholders engage in co-production of rules and policies. This system includes efforts to change the fundamental public policy governance structures.
2. Innovation Change Subsystem: This sub-system produces new technologies. Its initiating leadership is researchers and research organizations, and involves in prototyping government agencies, NGOs, and companies that are developing new technologies and innovations. Scaling of innovations is part of the service provider change subsystem (below), the distinction being that different stakeholders and competencies are then engaged.
3. Finance Change Subsystem: This sub-system is about innovating and influencing financial markets and tools to enhance the flow of capital to sustainable electricity production. This includes both public and private sector capital.
4. Service Provider Change Subsystem: This refers to the infrastructure that generates, transmits and distributes electricity. Historically it is referred to as “electric utilities”, both public and private. Some technological innovations imply significant disruption in this subsystem, such as decentralized generation. This raises substantial business model issues.
5. Consumer Change Sub-System: This change subsystem is about demand for electricity and how it is used, how to influence it and consumers’ changing role in the emerging service provider system. Strategically it is useful to divide it into commercial and retail consumers.
This is the first of three blogs on this topic. Go here to see the second blog.
Part 1 described global energy as a change system with five subsystems. The question was then asked: “What makes a (sub) system successful?” and “What must it do well, in order to realize its change goal?” Academically, these questions lead to questions about “functions” or “activities” that are necessary for systems and networks to be effective. A review of answers to these questions led to development of Table 1, where seven activities are identified.
Visioning:Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) is playing a pre-eminent system-wide role in this. It is creating a much broader vision than the climate change one associated with the Kyoto Process by including issues of access. It is creating coherence amongst intergovernmental organizations: the World Bank, for example, has categorically adopted the SE4All goals as its own. However, every change initiative has its own particular focus that is the basis for its work and is critical for it to mobilize action. The Electricity Governance Initiative, for example, holds a vision of an electricity sector that is transparent, inclusive and has accountable decision-making. Issues of effectiveness of the change system raise the question about whether the individual visions are sufficiently aligned with the broad change system one and the individual subsystem ones.
Organizing: The change system requires organizing of effort and stakeholders in ways that provide coherent aggregation of voice into appropriate scale. The change initiatives themselves represent system organizing for their participants. This is obviously true for the change initiatives in the global arena: each has brought numerous organizations together to play the particular function. The trade associations for renewables such as the Global Solar Alliance play a key role in organizing voice and effort of their emerging industry. The Climate Action Network is playing an important role in creating a global voice for NGOs. However, organizing is also a significant challenge for change initiatives within an organization such as a utility. The consumer subsystem is probably the most under-organized, even though it has a critical role in the arising “pro-sumer” world.
Resourcing: Provision of financial and personnel resources is something that is foundational for any of the change initiatives to be able to play their roles. For the study population of global networks, resources typically are provided by organizations participating in change initiatives; in some cases particular for NGOs and research work this is supplement by government or foundation funding. The development banks, like the African Development Bank, are big funders in the policy and service provider subsystems. Climateworks is a collaboration of foundations funding change globally.
Learning: This is an absolutely critical function to address complex change challenges, which requires new ways of thinking about issues and taking action. Mindsets and capacities are key issues at the individual, organizational and system levels. The change initiatives are generally involved in more mundane but also critical learning challenges about development and exchange of knowledge arising from prototyping. For example, REN21 provides a pre-eminent multi-stakeholder network for collective knowledge products. The World Energy Council is a multi-stakeholder network that focuses on creating events, exchanges and publications to realize an affordable, stable and environmentally sensitive energy system for the greatest benefit of all. The UNEP with developing country governments, and ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, also provide critical capacity development for their respective stakeholders.
Measuring: Many different measures are needed for each of the subsystems. Policy making requires a different array of measures, such as those developed by the UNFCCC on national level carbon emissions. Both the policy and consumption subsystems depend on standards-setting measures such as those produced by Collaborative Labeling & Appliance Standards Program (CLASP); the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) develops measures for companies’ and cities’ carbon emissions to influence investors in the finance subsystem and the consumption subsystem.
Prototyping: This could be considered part of the learning function, but it is so critical to change that it is separated out as its own function. It is usually associated with new technologies, such as is being done with the MIT Energy Initiative. However, actually testing new ways of organizing, new policies, new financial products, and ideas to influence consumption are important as well. The Renewable Energy Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) focuses on prototyping both new technologies and financing approaches.
Putting together the change system as five subsystems and functions produced a Change System Matrix that became the focus of a 1.5 day meeting for leaders of change in the energy arena where they identified strategic actions to strengthen efforts to integrate sustainability into electricity production. This will be the topic of the next blog.
Part 1 introduced the concept of change system and five subsystems through a project on the global change system for electricity; Part 2 described the seven functions necessary for these systems to be effective. In this blog, these are integrated into a tool called the Systemic Change Matrix (SCM) that supports specific identification of high leverage interventions to strengthen the effectiveness of change initiatives and systems. Putting these pieces together in the SCM was the focus of a 1.5 day meeting with people who were with global electricity change initiatives and the Project Team. Individuals are or recently were working with IRENA, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, the Electricity Governance Initiative and Acea (the City of Rome electric utility). That experience supported the proposition that the SCM is both sufficiently comprehensive and comprehensible with a modest amount of effort, and spurred operational insights and proposals for action.
Following description of the change system for electricity in terms of five subsystems and seven activities (functions) required for them to be effective, meeting participants were asked how the programs of change initiatives they were familiar with would fit in the matrix. The participants filled in the cells that resulted in an SCM with cells where several change initiatives were active, and some where there was little or no activity. Of course this was incomplete and is also being done through the project research. However, this was done at the meeting to engage participants with their own knowledge and test the SCM’s usefulness. It raised questions for participants about overall coherence and convergence. In particular, it raised questions about gaps in necessary activity and the quality of initiatives’ strategic focus. It also raised questions about overlaps, redundancies and coordination within cells, while recognizing that most cells required action by several change initiatives. For example, measurement in policy requires various measures to inform policy makers. But is there a comprehensive set of measures and are they sufficiently standardized? How do those working in the cells interact?
Table 3: The Systemic Change matrix (SCM)
Participants easily grasped the concept of a change system and identified questions about how their own change initiatives’ actions could be strengthened by thinking in terms of their roles in a change system. They also identified the need to develop a willingness amongst change initiatives to interact differently to realize this benefit. Discussion pointed out that the subsystems boundaries are changing with respect to the distinctions between consumers and service providers with the rise of “prosumers“. The change system focus brought up the overarching issue of the traditional production system being resistant to change for a variety of reasons, and that resilience and adaptive capacity are key qualities that the change subsystems must encourage the production system to develop. It also raised questions about how the systems change approach can deal with the issues of power in its many forms. Discussion also pointed to the importance of including changing mindsets in the learning function (added to the earlier Learning Function description). An additional question is about the role of stakeholders in each cell – are the complement and number of stakeholders necessary for the cell to be effectively developed sufficiently engaged?
These questions about generation of coherence and convergence lead to discussion about the next actions of the Lab. Some categories for action emerged that could be also combined in various ways:
By geography: Regional, national and subnational jurisdictions can be the basis for applying the analysis to improve change efforts. Given the national level is critical for electricity system change, it appears a particularly appropriate level to focus on.
By subsystems: Looking across the functions of a subsystem could help deepen success of a particular subsystem.
By change initiative: Participants saw value in applying the SCM to their own activities to sharpen their own strategy and priorities.
By change project or technology: Issues surrounding a particular activity such as a cross-boundary transmission line or adoption of a decentralized energy grid could benefit from the SCM approach.
By cell(s) within the SCM: There could be value in taking on a particular function within or across one or more subsystems. For example, who is doing measuring in the public policy and finance subsystems? Collectively are the measuring activities comprehensive? Are their issues of integration and comparability?
Action in one or more of these categories will be advanced as an action research experiment designed to further refine the change systems approach and realize change. This will be done with 5-6 people from change initiatives become Stewards to guide the development of this project and further action by the Energy Ecosystem Lab more broadly.
Anyone working on big change issues should have an eye to mega system changes. Five of these are laid out as the basis for optimistic directions – the megatrends to ride and amplify – in Thinking the Twenty-First Century: Ideas for the new political economy. The author, Malcolm McIntosh, is a good colleague and a person who has had an unusual window on the dawning of the 21st century globally through: convening conversations with the UN Global Compact;
the last five years as the Founding Director of the APCSE Asia Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia – he is now back living in the UK; Founding Editor of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship; and previous careers in business and for BBC television. His years in journalism with the BBC are reflected in the easy and personal read of the book. He expected posthumous publication due to medical predictions of death – erroneous, thankfully – which gives the book an intense reflective quality drawing from many great thinkers. The book, Malcolm explains is the product of a former “miserabilist”, now reborn an optimist.
Mega System Change 1: Globality. The earth presented in 1968 images from the moon is both a metaphor and a force for a change to Earth awareness. Out of our fractured identities of ethnicity, religion, race, work, nation, community, is a growing sense of shared interest in the cosmic speck of our planet. In this world, Malcolm claims that “megadata is the new governance”. Information and technology are increasingly the ties that bind on a planetary scale. Malcolm asserts that the systems change megatrend challenge is to speak and act from a whole Earth perspective. This is the heart of the sustainability revolution and a sixth technological revolution of clean tech, biotech, and nanotech. Realizing our highest potential involves answering two questions:
What does it mean to be human now, that we know what we know about ourselves?
What is our relationship with the planet now that we know about the state of the planet?
Mega System Change 2: Rebalancing science and awe. Science is presented as what we know and what we know we don’t know. Awe is mystery…the unknown unknown. Martin Rees is cited: “What’s important and interesting is the pattern and structure – the emergent complexity…the Grand Design has no relevance to most of the things that humans value…perhaps our brains don’t have enough conceptual grasp.” It is reminiscent of Gregory Bateson’s call for re-enchantment of the world and his ecology of mind; Jung’s collective consciousness; and Capra’s hidden connections. Cold hard facts associated with a narrow definition of science are of course important, but they are not separate from, nor should they be thought to dominate, the magical possibilities that arise from awe. Our civilization (of emerging globality) is not to be simply designed to an end such as GDP, but towards nurturing unknown possibilities that transcend traditional perspectives on “what’s possible”. Charles Darwin is cited: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”
Mega System Change 3: Co-existence, peace and feminization: The feminine – as in nurturing, caring, sharing and social cohesion – is growing. Perhaps the best indication is growing awareness of how much more of it is needed. Another indication is that although the first half of the 20th century was among the bloodiest, in the second half the world was a peaceful as it has ever been in terms of deaths from wars. This shift is seen in the growing challenge to growth, having and doing, in favor of balance with being here, now.
Mega System Change 4: Re-organizing and the political economy: The economists, social scientists, social activists and environmentalists are increasingly seeing the importance of talking together, rather than past each other. Pressure is growing on the current model of capitalism for deep change in terms of management and governance to integrate feminisation. This will produce new answers for holding to account, for example, Black Rock investment company and its $14 trillion directly traded assets and $11 trillion traded overseas. The trend is being felt by growing recognition that we are reaching a breaking point in social contracts between markets, enterprise, freedom, accountability, good governance, the rule of law, mutuality and recognition of the intrinsic value of labor and the Earth.
Mega System Change 5: Quiet leadership: evolution, adaptation, learning: There is an emerging soft leadership represented by the explosive growth of multi-stakeholder fora. This responds to the need for “an understanding of complex interactions and connections involving systems, and systems within systems”. The rise of the concept of “sustainability” in its many forms is being accompanied by moving from linear planning models to ones of emergence grounded in evolution, adaptation and learning.
Malcolm presents his trends as the product of a reborn optimist. It is easy to cite evidence contrary to his views – is awe really growing or the demand for paying attention to “cold, hard facts” in very traditional linear terms? Is peace growing when terrorism is growing exponentially? Is re-organizing happening, or is the financial system simply reasserting its order? Was 1950 to 1980 really a “golden age” for leadership, when you reflect on the status of race, women and gay people? And there is no doubt that there is much sharpening that would be valuable in the presentation of the trends which often veers towards mixing them together.
However, just as with scenario development, articulating the five trends provides guidance for large systems change efforts. Malcolm has specifically written from a system change perspective and is proposing that amplifying these five system changes in large system change work is of great value. Even if today the strength of the five is open for debate, the most valuable debate is about whether these are five key system changes that will take us to the highest aspired futures. In fact, the key uniting trend needed is to move to a systems understanding.
These five trends are wrapped up with a call to revive “political economy” and rebalancing politics and economy – echoing French academic Thomas Picketty who wrote Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It is a battle over people, profits and planet to cite the WWF, and mechanisms for decision-making for the public good. “The new international political economy must be founded on systems thinking and incorporate the five issues raised in this book.”
Reflection on the blog from Malcolm:
I say in the book that these five systems changes are both nascent and ineluctable. They can be slowed down by the forces of inertia and reaction but not stopped. If they are slowed down too much humanity has no future on planet Earth beyond this century. But I am an optimist and argue that if we are genuinely ‘awe-full’ we can know that we cannot know everything and it is possible to envisage different futures . . .
As for Steve’s argument that the world is not as peaceful as I say, it is true that violence against women and children is increasing as men have fewer outlets for their aggression and learn, very slowly, to pacify and civilize their behavior. We do see more images of violence everyday but violence has not increased in the last half century but it is more readily, instantly and constantly available – or shoved in our faces – by social media and the 24 hour news frenzy. Two decades ago you could not have seen a beheading online, or a plane crash as it happened, or talked to a friend face to face on the other side of the world (as I did with Steve last week). Our ideas are being shaped by technology and our behaviors and institutions have not caught up.
Finally, it’s different where you are now – wherever you are now – because, despite the global hegemony of the news and images industries we do still have localism. Many countries have not had capital punishment for many years; many countries have equal rights for women, and in some countries it is women who are the entrepreneurs and the majority in parliament; most countries have gun control; half the world has clean water. We all speak different languages despite global media, and some people live good lives under totalitarian regimes, while some democracies are despicable when it comes to human rights and social mobility. Diversity reigns, but the drift is slowly, very slowly, I argue in my book in a direction that could, if we let it, save us from ourselves.
Transformational change makers are shamans. In her book Intellectual Shamans Sandra Waddock focuses on 28 leading business academics of transformational intellectual impact that include ones well-known as change makers such as Otto Scharmer, David Cooperrider and Ed Schein. It is a book that presents insight about the development and work of change agents as shamans by a leading scholar (and close colleague) in the field of business in society. The warm, personal view of colleagues is developed through conversations and their work.
“Intellectual shamanism,” Waddock explains, “(is) intellectual work (theory, research, writing, and teaching) that integrates healing, connecting (intermediation or the mediating of boundaries), and sense-making to serve the greater good.
Challenging myths is associated with one of three shaman roles: healer. Presented as perhaps the most important role, the activity is associated with making whole. Consider Ed Freeman, considered to many as the founder of stakeholder theory. He challenged the myth that the purpose of the firm is to provide shareholders’ financial rewards, by expanding the purpose to be stakeholder benefit. And healing is what leads to the stance of Bill Torbert’s leading work on the methodology of action inquiry that led him to not only apply questions about leadership to others’ actions, but to his own as well.
The second shamanic role is “connector”: crossing boundaries and making new connections. Judi Neal connects, for example, the spiritual and business with business people who bring meditation and contemplative practices to their work. David Cooperrider has developed appreciative inquiry in part from a drive to integrate theory and practice. Karl Weick of sense-making fame pioneered the bridge between psychology and organizational studies. Maurizio Zollo has made connection between disciplines a hallmark of his work on development of sustainable enterprise – bringing in neurology, for example; connecting practices such as traditional education, yoga and meditation; and bringing together inductive and deductive methodologies. Jim Walsh is asking how to breathe communitarian sentiments into a contractual world.
Another big connector illustration for intellectual shamans is with making the hidden visible. They often articulate what others do not, will not, or cannot see. Henry Mintzberg, a leading strategy academic, considers himself a debunker and comments “…any CEO who accepts to be paid 400 times as much as workers in that company is not a leader. So the Fortune 500 companies have virtually no leaders.” Stuart Hart, for example, points out that the “greening” strategy of corporations is not the depth of change and transformation that is necessary; leapfrog to next generation is required. And he’s actively doing that with a new Indian Institute for Sustainable Enterprise.
The third core function of shamans is sensemaker. It’s a quality more commonly associated with academics: the ability to step back from what others are deeply engaged with, to provide context and meaning; to see patterns emerging. However, for intellectual shamans the sensemaking tends to more categorically involve not just “seeing” intellectually, but feeling and instinct. The sensemaking draws from systems understanding, moral imagination, and aesthetic sensibility as core elements of wisdom. Mintzberg talks of how everyone thought managers plan, organize, coordinate and control…and he pointed out that they get interrupted a lot and that things emerge rather than follow defined plans. Sensemaking is seen as critical to dealing with “wicked problems” that require making many connections. Andy Hoffman expresses the need for being an intellectual as well as an academic: “…an intellectual makes (a topic) accessible and relevant to a broader audience. He or she joins the public debate and changes minds. Not all academics do that.”
These shamans have the range of traditional academic tools. However, they tend to be action researchers – collaboratively doing as well as analyzing. Action inquiry and appreciative inquiry are illustrations. And the intellectual shamans have some more special tools, too. Waddock writes about trance-like states as “flow”: being absorbed so deeply in data and being with the looking and listening, when insights arise. The state is energizing and life-enhancing. A distinctive investigatory framework is an orientation towards highest aspirations and broad well-being. They often have a sort of skunk works style of operating (hang-off-the-side-things in Stuart Hart’s words) in management school with associated institutes or programs where they create protected spaces for their unorthodox work (but as Hart comments, have little impact on the management schools themselves). The tools and methodologies of intellectual shamans is one area I wish the book developed further.
A common theme amongst the intellectual shamans is their drive – compulsion? – to follow their nose and their inspiration, rather than to simply follow the prescribed path to become a top academic with A-journal publications. The latter rose out of the former. Otto Scharmer talks of how he says “yes” to something, before he knows how he’ll do it. They might be considered by some to be simply stubborn, persistent or determined; all that is true. But they were also simply willfully following their own inner spirit. Could they really have done anything else? This quality also leads them to be risk-takers.
In summary, three characteristics are noted for intellectual shamans. They are:
Systemic, holistic and humanistic
Pioneering, risk-taking and entrepreneurial
Addressing wicked problems and unasked questions
All of this seems very applicable to transformational change makers in general.
Waddock has her own shamanic traits, although she hesitates to apply that term to herself. Challenging traditional views of academics’ role to include intellectual shamanism is certainly taking on a popular myth. And the personal account of the 28 academics does a wonderful job of presenting them as whole persons.
Steve gets it in this blog on change agents. Change makers are shamans. And…conversely…shamans are change agents. Although the book focuses on the role of academics as such change agents/intellectual shamans, I would add that it is important to recognize that anyone, in any walk of life, can take on the three roles of the shaman articulated by the stories of the management academics included in the book—healing, connecting, and sensemaking. It is true that sensemaking is the particular purview of many academics, but think of the civic activists, artists, psychologists, musicians, and entrepreneurs who also help us to make sense of things in new ways, connect across boundaries that others have or do not cross, and work to make the world a better place.
What you need is the openness to ‘seeing’ that the change agent as shaman has, and the willingness to take the necessary risks—for you will surely be a maverick if you pursue the path of the change agent as shaman. You need to find a purpose that is true for you and that helps to heal our troubled world. And you need to have the persistence and patience to overcome the obstacles that will surely be in your path.
Thank you, Steve, for opening up this conversation.