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Francis D’Silva, Bjørn Rask Thomsen, and Torun Degnes

Organisations and academic forums advocate systemic approaches to address multiple societal crises impacting people and nature. However, practitioners and leaders appear to lack awareness and practical knowledge about systemic design and how complexity might be addressed. This knowledge gap can be in e.g., the availability of tools, techniques, and practices for navigating systemic change or concepts like the nested hierarchies of socio-ecological systems or pace-layering.

This paper presents a facilitation-based, systems-oriented design approach that practitioners and leaders can use to strengthen individual agency, have more practitioners aware of the complexity they operate within and increase momentum that enable leaders to drive collective action. System shifting involves two simultaneous flows of activities: a circular flow of activities shaping and implementing interventions, and a continuous flow of activities adapting interventions within and across systems. These simultaneous processes include decision-making and the creation of artefacts towards delivering the outcomes from the interventions.

SOFA (systems oriented facilitation approach) addresses how narratives and a place-based perspective can influence change and how agency might be amplified through collaborations with other individuals, communities and organisations. SOFA addresses the layers of pace and the entanglements of human relationships, beliefs and mindsets and socio-ecological scales. SOFA is aimed at societal systems i.e. systems that operate at the scale of populations, bioregions, and regional governance structures.

The paper makes two primary contributions: firstly, it describes system-scale facilitation as a holistic approach, and secondly, it explores implementation and meta-organisations to enable system shifting. System-scale facilitation is framed by four themes: place-based and belonging, temporal scales and pace, individual agency of ‘me’ and futuring together as ‘we’. Meta-organisations serve to facilitate interorganisational collaboration and enable continuous learning and collaborative capability development.

The authors of this paper come from diverse fields of work, representing different cultural backgrounds. This paper draws on their expertise as designers and leaders in three different societal contexts with much in common. They are final year students of an Executive master’s in Systems Oriented Design.

KEYWORDS: socio-ecological systems, meta-organisations, sociotechnical systems, individual agency, praxeology, implementations, shifting systems, place-based, facilitation

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Citation Data

Author(s): Francis D'Silva, Bjørn Rask Thomsen, and Torun Degnes
Year: 2023
Title: SOFA—A Systems Oriented Facilitation Approach to Shift Societal Systems
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
URL: https://rsdsymposium.org/shifting-societal-systems-sofa
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Washington DC, USA
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 30 September 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404
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