School of System Change: Stepping into Complexity

We live in a complex word and it seems increasingly harder to compartmentalise the choices we make and the wider repercussions these have on the environment around us.

As we become more aware of the problems that face us as a society, and the awareness of the consequences of what will happen if we continue on our current trajectories — it seems clear that something needs to be done. But what exactly can we as individuals do in the face of such monumental needs?

Over the past year or so, I have been exploring ideas of collective knowledge and it seems more evident than ever that the way forward lies in increased collaboration and understanding. Tackling problems in isolation can only get us so far. To create the conditions for change it is important to take a few steps back and see how things fit into a wider system.

Since the end of February I’ve had the opportunity to take another step on my journey of exploration as part of the first Basecamp on the School of System Change, and initiative led by Forum for the Future. Over this past year, working as a graphic recorder and facilitator, I have had to opportunity to spend time with some great organisations, attend some groundbreaking events and meet so many truly inspiring people.

The School of System Change is about applying systems thinking in practice, through case studies, real-life complex sustainability challenges and with coaching and support to implement systemic change in each change-maker’s own context or field of work.

My time so far on the Basecamp has begun to bring together many of the ideas that I have been exploring and helping me to see the connections between things that I had previously seen as disjointed.

At the end of February, we convened in London at the Impact Hub Islington to begin forming our community of change agents. We had sessions on storytelling, complexity theory, transitions, systems mapping, futures, systems change for sustainability from people working at the forefront of System’s Change such as Jean Bolton, Ray Iverson, Chris Roorde from Drift and many more. We also heard case studies relating to Systems Change in action from Forum for the Futures Protein Challenge, Unilever and their work with deforestation and the Garfield Foundations inquiries into Collaboration Networks. It was a jam packed session and I’m still processing a lot of what I experienced there over a month later.

The School of Systems change has really helped me begin to see things from a different perspective. Following the four days together, we split off into fieldwork teams to spend the next month working together and applying the theory and models we had been discussing in a real life context. I have been fortunate enough to be working on the North Camden Zone project, looking for leverage points within the system to help alleviate child poverty in the area.

It’s been great to have the opportunity to start practically applying ideas and taking a learning while doing approach, to something that so easily could have just become another learning for the sake of learning experience. As with anything, Systems Change is an area that you could literally spend the rest of your life reading about. In the past I often took the approach of wait until it’s perfect, then get stuck in. It’s easy to get into the ‘if I just read one more book I’ll be ready’ mindset, so being pushed out into the field and encouraged to take a trail and error approach, in a joint learning journey, is a great way of working. The knowledge that nothing is perfect and never can be, is a powerful learning.

I’m approaching this learning journey with an open-mind, keen to see what will emerge on this next section of the journey.

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