Report review: Behaving like a system

| Helen Sharp

Published by: Collaborate
Authors: Sarah Billiald and La Toyah McAllister-Jones
Date: November 2015

“While systems thinking has gained considerable traction…it is yet another concept that is easy to say and hard to do.”

In the world of conceptual thinking, this report is relatively old, but I wanted to go back to it because it lays some clear foundations from which the practice of systems change should grow and develop.

Collaborate‘s research has culminated in the creation of a set of pre-conditions – neither linear nor a checklist – which are something to understand, assess and develop in a place if you’re considering attempting systems change. They focus on ‘vision’ and ‘behaviours’ with a sprinkle of ‘infrastructure’ so it’s not the whole story and we’ll get back to you once further work is done on ‘delivery’, ‘impact’ and ‘learning’.

You won’t be surprised by the pre-conditions they have surmised – instead, maybe more reassured because the report manages to put flesh to the bones of why a lot of our work fails to embed within or impact on the wider system.

Particularly interesting highlights for me are:

  • Developing strong collaborative accountability which holds the system accountable rather than individuals (page 10 and 17).
  • The importance of spending time with other teams to understand each other’s worlds and build deeper trust (page 14).
  • That an asset-based approach is a fundamental precondition and should be applied to employees as well as beneficiaries – to build understanding and ability to adapt (page 14).
  • That risk aversity can have the single largest negative impact on the system and that organisations do not have to reinvent themselves to address this but instead, act as a platform and enabler for others to be entrepreneurial (page 18).

Most of the research for this report was done with Coventry homelessness and Troubled Families sectors so it’s firmly rooted in reality and provides the reader with clear examples of how each pre-condition can impact the system. They have been designed to be used in a variety of ways – a shared language, a diagnostic tool, a set of behaviours to inform organisational development. However they are used, they will provide you with a starting-point for conversations and activity and sometimes getting started is the hardest part.

Moving from public servants as bureaucrats to public servants as entrepreneurs.

Click here to read the report in full.


Photo by Markus Spiske

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