Steve Waddell, Sandra Waddock, Peter Jones and Ian Kendrick
A systemic design approach to purposeful socioeconomic transformation moves beyond idealistic future interventions to address deeply-embedded issues that prevent change here and now. We identify the persistence of consistent “deep system challenges” faced by complex change programs, discovered across a range of cases. In the case study of sustainable seafood practices at the industry level, we show the development of the transformation system process and its theoretical and methodological support.
These “deep systems challenges” represent six knots of complex organizational issues identified over a wide range of cases, studied since 2016 in an ongoing action research programme. The challenges are defined as: 1) narrative transition, 2) innovation, 3) governance mechanisms, 4) finance and resourcing, 5) cocreation efficacy, and 6) evaluation and learning capacities. The deeply-rooted social complexity of the deep challenges prevents any superficial attempts at quick-gain change in organizations and muti-stakeholder networks where these challenges persist. Shifting them is well beyond the capacity of any of one, or small set, of change initiatives. A transformation system strategy involves the development of capacities and infrastructures that absorb the complexity of these systems challenges across a network or organization. For such expansive contexts as socioeconomic and industry level transformation, the organizing potential of smaller, faster-paced change initiatives are mobilized, creating “transformation catalysts” that serve as experimental, evaluable system-change deployments that draw resources and prepare the networks to form new structures toward the transformation system.
Keywords: transition, social system design, system transformation, systemic governance, collaborative action, flourishing