Fieldwork: a key approach to learning at the School of System Change.

‘Fieldwork’ can be defined as ‘practical work conducted by a researcher in the natural environment, rather than in a laboratory or office’.

At the School of System Change we match participants of our courses with organisations who have complex systemic challenges they want to unpick. Students draw on their developing systems thinking toolkit to provide the organisations with a service: diagnosing their challenge, mapping the intricacies, extracting insights and working with a designer to present back their findings in the form of a clear and engaging output.

You can only really understand systems by engaging in systems, so the doing is an important as the listening
— Danny Burns, Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University

This practical and experiential approach is at the heart of a learning philosophy which seeks primarily to drive action. Knowledge creation is part of the puzzle but is a necessary means to an end rather than the end itself. This change-seeking approach is endorsed by the contributors to the School — the equivalent of tutors who share their system change experience with participants. Likewise participants themselves are drawn to the School because of the chance to put theory into practice and to take a more conscious and deliberate approach to tackling complex challenges.

Before Basecamp I was working intuitively with systems, matching stakeholders and resources to create impact. Now I have a more conscious understanding of interconnectedness and the dynamics at play.
— Stelios Voulgaris, Basecamp participant 2017

Below are four examples of fieldwork outputs developed by participant teams from the School of System Change during our first Basecamp programme.


Promprylad — ‘Our systemic diagnosis journey’

The team was supporting a social innovation project in Ivano-Frankivsk in Western Ukraine consisting of the revitalisation of a 30 000m2 industrial space. They focused on broadening the scope of the stakeholder mapping, and creating a tool to engage further stakeholders in the project.

My fieldwork was in Ukraine which was a fantastically unique experience, a post-industrial revitalisation project, something that I’ve never done before.
— Rachel Jetel, sustainability consultant
Fieldwork output for Promprylad. Designed up by Ellie Pritchard.
“We are using the output which has brought us far more value than other consulting projects.”
— Alona Karavai, Promprylad

Fieldwork output for Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Designed up by Zahra Davidson.

Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation — ‘Valuing the Ocean’

The team was asked to support Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Marine CoLab to think about how they might better spread their innovative practice to the wider system they are seeking to influence. They created a tool to help the Foundation workshop this issue.


Fieldwork output for Sky. Designed up by Irene Palacio.

Sky — ‘Ocean Rescue’

The School of System Change was engaged by Sky to understand the complex issues of ocean health — and help to identify intervention points where Sky could use their voice to help make a difference. The team presented a graphic booklet containing a series of ideas for intervention.

“We went into Sky, looking at how we can help them, using the system change tools that we’ve learnt in a real life situation.”
— Laura Hardman

Fieldwork output for North Camden Zone. Designed up by Gabriella Marsh.

Into the Zone

North Camden Zone

The North Camden Zone is a multi-stakeholder location-based initiative to combat child poverty. They engaged the School of System Change to expand and explore systems approaches to children’s and young people’s outcomes. The results were presented back to NCZ as an illustrated booklet.


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If your organisation has a systemic challenge that you’d like the School of System Change participants to unpick, contact l.winn@forumforthefuture.org