Ecosystems for Systems Change

Intro — Thinking — Dialogue and Ideas Jam — #SIecosystem — People+Projects to Follow

At the heart of social innovation is systems change — trying to challenge and, over time, change the defining routines, resource flows, authority flows or beliefs of a system. Our greatest social problems are systemic — they are entrenched, perpetuated by the status quo of power, institutional culture, social expectations, myth and narrative.

To enhance the wellbeing of communities and support people to thrive — to take on our systemic problems — we need to shift the systems holding a problem in place. We need systemic solutions.

“We can’t impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone”
― Donella H. Meadows, Dancing With Systems

Why ‘ecosystems’ for systems change?

Ecology has long informed social innovation work.  As one of the most robust ways of thinking about complex systems and system dynamics, ecology offers a powerful framework for considering the conditions of a system, emergence, adapation, and the complexity of intervening in a web of interdependent relationships. It also helps us focus on roots causes — to ask why? so we get to the core conditions entrenching a problem.

It also reminds us that systems change implicates both social and ecological ecosystems.

By talking about fostering  ‘ecosystems for systems change’ — seeding and sustaining the enabling conditions for systems change action — we hope to co-create a conceptual common ground to listen to existing systems, discover their properties, and align emergent opportunities with our values and goals, working in collaboration across multiple points of intervention to grow the conditions for promising social innovations to thrive.

There are many partners in this dance…

Major collaborative and investigative projects are exploring how to craft social innovation ecosystems. What we hope to create with this page is a shared space — bringing together the different voices thinking about, discussing, framing and challenging the opportunities of ‘ecosystems for systems change.’

 This is a living page: we welcome comments, suggestions, input or additional resources as we learn the dance of systems change and slowly grow ecosystems for systems change.


Reports and Papers on Ecosystems for Systems Change

Building Ecosystems For Systems Change [CoverPage]


How do we collaborate to create ecosystems that support innovation for systems change?

On September 5, 2014, Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National and Oxfam hosted one of the final sessions of the inaugural Unusual Suspects Festival at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK office in Hoxton Square, London…

During the session, patterns of ideas and action emerged among the panel and participants

BEFSC_GRAPHICAt the heart of the conversation was a deep reflection on systems change. Of critical concern was why it matters, what are the dangers, and how can we work together to intentionally nourish a supportive ecosystem for social innovations to thrive and, over time, change systems.

This report is about sharing the convergence of invaluable contributions by the panel, participants and festival hosts to this discussion. It is a reflection – a prompt to ignite further discussion.

It is published as a call to react – via twitter, facebook or blogs. Already, so much more has been gained from Adelaide Adade, of Collaborate, in her reaction blog here.

Join the discussion. To take on our systemic problems — we need to shift the systems holding a problem in place. How do we collaborate to create ecosystems that support innovation for systems change?


Systems Change 2-Pager Graphic

“Successful systems changers need to understand how to orchestrate multiple point of intervention…”– Systems Changers.

Our greatest opportunity for tackling complex problems will be when dynamic, healthy innovation ecosystems unleash outcomes that are greater than the sum of the parts.

Download the two-pager to share with your community.

Companion Graphic

Where should you start if you are faced with massive systemic challenges or want to cultivate a shift towards sustainability in global systems?…This book provides examples of what organisations & companies like the Sustainable Shipping Initiative, WWF and Nike are doing, along with practical strategies and an overview of system change theory” — 

transit_poster_A1_def8_web version

TRANSIT (TRANsformative Social Innovation Theory) is a research project to develop a theory of transformative social innovation, which is about empowerment and change in society. It is co-funded by the European Commission and runs from Jan 2014 – Dec 2017. 

FieldBuilding Graphic

Connecting fragmented players in a given area of work (weaving networks) to create an organized industry around an issue or challenge. 

So that…The field can operate more effectively & efficiently, tease out best practices, and improve outcomes. Fields and networks are what hold systems together. 

Download the two-pager to share with your community.

Keywords - Building a language for systems change

The Said School of Business at Oxford University and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) convened a workshop on ‘Keywords: building a language of systems change,’ in association with The Point People.

The workshop and summary report look at keywords as ‘signposts of deep cultural change.’

TEPSIE Graphic

Is the environment conducive to the generation and spread of social innovations? 

It is this question that provides the focus for this TEPSIE report: Building the Social Innovation Ecosystem in Europe.


The SiG Knowledge Hub Introduction to Systems Thinking: ‘Systems thinking’ is a term used to describe a perspective and a set of methods and tools that make it possible to look at the full extent of a system, rather than at fragments or parts. At its best, systems thinking encourages efforts to address the root causes of big problems.

//Dialogue and Ideas Jam//

2015 series on Systems Change
Hamoon Ekhtiari ||  January 22, 2015
 Don’t build a start-up, become a systems entrepreneur
Adelaide Adade (cross-post Collaborate Blog) || January 12, 2015
Systems as people, not structures


Charmian Love and Rachel Sinha (HBR)
Duncan Green (Oxfam Blog: From Poverty To Power)
Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, & John Kania (SSIR: Winter 2015)
Donella Meadows (Donella Meadows Institute)
Katharine McGowan (SiG Blog)
Tessy Britton (Civic Systems Lab)
Geoff Mulgan (Nesta UK Blog)
Lord Victor Adebowale & Dr Henry Kippin (Public Services CBI Network)
David Snowden (Cognitive Edge Network Blog)


How do we collaborate to create ecosystems that support innovation for systems change?

Tweet your views to #SIecosystem w/ @sigeneration @CollaborateIns @SI_exchange



//Projects+Projects to Follow//


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