8. System change
Desired societal and technological change can be influenced by taking a systemic perspective and acting in a related systemically strategic manner. The systems perspective is an addition to traditional natural science reductionism. Where reductionism seeks explanation and improvement in analysing the elements of a problem and searches for linear cause-effect relationships, a systems perspective shifts our view to the relationships between those elements and their influence on the change of the whole. In the context of KEMs, we are talking about a transition or shift of socio-technical and / or societal systems. A characteristic of socio-technical systems is that they are difficult to define and are unpredictable in their (emergent) behaviour. Systems have a multitude of elements and (mutual) relationships and thus form a complexity that is characterised by non-linearity, coevolution, emergence and self-organisation. As a result, we cannot control or change systems in a controlled manner. It is therefore important to develop knowledge about how we ‘dance’ with these systems (Meadows, 2001): about how our values and the properties of a system can work together. Central to this strategic learning process is the link between the systemic perspective, the dynamics within that system and the intervention. Given the systemic lens and the dynamics we observe, how and where do we want to intervene - and what dynamics are the result of our intervention?
System change is therefore about the link between interventions and the dynamics of a system. Understanding the dynamics within these systems requires a holistic perspective: all elements that are important for the transition are considered in relation to each other. Intervention, on the other hand, requires a more specific perspective depending on the type of intervention (e.g., policy, protocol, technological artifact, change of law, subsidy, campaign, etc.). System change therefore requires consideration at several scale levels, also known as macro, meso and micro levels.
By way of illustration: A transition to CO2-neutral mobility requires changes from people in their daily lives (i.e. at the micro level, eg, different choices in means of transport, different time schedules, different weekend outings, etc.), from organisations (i.e. at meso level, eg, Shell will have to embrace a different business model, car manufacturers have to make adjustments, energy suppliers have to move to other markets, etc.), and at a national and international level (i.e. at the macro level, eg, the infrastructure of charging stations must be built, legislation must reduce CO2-emission, etc.). This may mean that the systemic conditions for an intervention to be effective are considered (e.g., charging station infrastructure is conditional for the adoption of electric vehicles); that systemic effects of the intervention are anticipated (e.g., increased sales of electric vehicles will affect Shell's earnings, which will intensify lobbying at political level); or whether it concerns systemic interventions (e.g., electric driving services that use networks).
Therefore, the KEMs within this category are characterised by their focus on understanding the interactions between these levels, including their temporal and geographic dimension. In addition, KEMs within this category are aimed at learning about the system and thus improving strategy. Logically, the more specific KEMs, such as methods for participation and co-creation (see Chapter 3), monitoring and effect measurement (see Chapter 9) and vision and imagination (see Chapter 2), play a role in this.
Understanding a socio-technical system requires knowledge from different disciplines and from different stakeholders; a transdisciplinary approach. A choice will always have to be made for determining system boundaries and for the types of knowledge that we wish to consult when exploring a system. We do this based on our values, our worldview and assumptions. In addition, it is important for intervening that different interventions are viewed together. To this end, complementary to existing approaches such as top-down policy, a network approach is proposed in which different organisations and stakeholders learn and experiment together. System change methods therefore also include methods such as reflexivity and dialogue, in which differences in values and perspectives are discussed and which promote transdisciplinary work (Popa et al., 2015).
Based on a wide range of systems theories, such as complex systems theory and cybernetics, methods are developed from different disciplines to understand and manage system change (e.g., transition management, organisational design, systemic design). KEMs in this category help to embrace complexity and steer a long-term course. They answer questions such as: what drives system change? How do we organise system change processes? How and where can we best intervene in the system to speed up the desired transition? And how can conditions be created that enable social systems to change themselves (continuously)?