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Wellness, Flourishing Societies and “Over the Horizon” Innovation of Policy and Policy Implementation

Format: Papers, RSD6, Topic: Policy & Governance

Sharon Matthias

Flourishing communities
health and population wellness
Sustainable and Flourishing public sector organization
Public sector systems innovation

“Wellness” and “Flourishing Societies” are terms used more and more commonly. But do we mean the same thing when we use the terms? Is there yet a way to weave our different views into a common understanding? What are we learning about their etiology, and how they evolve in persons and ecosystems that can help us be more purposeful about systemic design, systemic implementation and evaluating progress. And how do we know we’re taking appropriate action and making progress towards them, whether in individual persons, in populations and in communities and societies?

Such understanding is surely required for us to move from using them as a slogan or aspiration for the distant and unaccountable future, to having the tools and capabilities for co-creating a disciplined outcomes-based strategy and implementation plan.

Learnings from more than 25 years of work and reflection, built on applying research, practice and personal lived experience and iterative learnings to these questions offer some initial conclusions and mental models to support personal and policy implementation that is congruent with wellness and flourishing. The author’s persistence has been fueled by a need to understand how to properly implement the policy objective stated in the Yukon Health Act of 1988. In the language of the tine, the act described the policy objective as being to protect, promote and restore Yukoners’ physical, emotional, social, mental and spiritual well-being in harmony with their physical, social, economic and cultural environments. Further, the Act’s requirements made t near that it was to be implemented in a way that honours both western and indigenous culture and science.

Looking back at the Act now is like living T.S. Eliot’s famous poem “We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. Now, armed with the benefit of systemic human and ecological design thinking, it is even more clear just how far ahead of its time the Act was. (In 1988, where would have been the understanding to properly operationalize the principle that “the accountability of the health and social policy decision-makers and implementors so that health and social policies and the system will be responsive to the needs of the residents of the Yukon”!)

Even with today’s level of understanding, and armed with systemic design tools and collaborative processes, it would be an ambitious understanding to implement this innovative policy. But at that time, even with a rudimentary idea of what was intended by “physical, emotional, social, mental and spiritual well-being’, it was clear that conventional policy implementation tools and processes, with MBA informed scientific management and organization approaches, were not up to the task. A giant “if not this then what?” dilemma for policy implementation.

The paper describes the concepts of “wellness” and “flourishing societies” through multiple lenses, based on practice experience of public sector systemic innovation and causal layer analysis. It weaves concepts and theories from multiple fields of knowledge associated with wellness and flourishing societies (including human ecology, brain development and neurosciences, positive mental health, cognitive complexity developmental stages, relational competency, family and community health and development, to anthropology, anarchy, anthropology, therapeutic landscapes and organizational sciences), to provide learnings to date, including:

– an integrated sense of what persons’ wellness and flourishing societies means, some aspects of their etiology, and the trajectory of development using a capability based whole person whole life whole society learning frame;
-degree of innovation required of policy implementation approaches, and the need for ways to disrupt one’s world view and archetypal narrative to achieve ‘over the horizon’ level of innovation in systemic design and implementation;
-implications for individuals, programs, organizations and systems who aspire to support a person or society to develop to their potential levels of wellbeing and flourishing, with mental tools and practice examples including an Adaptive Organization Canvas, Whole Person and Whole of Society Policy Implementation Frameworks, Systemic Maturity Models and Systemic Learning Evaluations for Policy Implementation innovation, and Population vs Whole System Strategy Frames;
-Putting ‘Aging’ and ‘Flourishing’ in the same sentence – offerings for personal actions.




Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2017
Title: Wellness, Flourishing Societies and “Over the Horizon” Innovation of Policy and Policy Implementation
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 12 October 2017
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