Systems Changers 2016


The ambition of Systems Changers is to enable frontline workers to contribute to and create systems change.  The 2016 programme combined led sessions across a range of disciplines with practical tools, visits to those doing systems change work, one-on-one support and space for reflection. 

The Systems Changers 2016  programme was structured around the following three learning modules.

Learning Modules

The three modules outlined below are some of the core theory topics covered during the Systems Changers programme. While being on the programme offers a unique experience, as theory is interwoven with coaching and interpersonal development, we strongly believe in open sourcing our knowledge to benefit others.

These modules are designed to be explored as best fits your needs. Within each module you will find a number of themed sessions. Each session contains a theory video delivered by the lead facilitator of the session, a downloadable tools pack and a number of case studies from the programme participants to help you to understand how to put the tools and theory into practice.

Seeing the System

Systems are complex and interconnected, they are made up of people, processes, rules and culture to name just a few. Before you can think about what change in a system would actually improve it, you need to see the system as a whole and what is really happening within.

The first part of the Systems Changers programme is about helping frontline workers see more clearly the wider system they are operating within. It’s about going beyond your own viewpoint and seeing other perspectives in the system. This doesn’t just apply to the frontline, we all work at particular points in the system and tend to become blind to what’s outside of our field of view, we stop noticing what’s around us.

These theory modules will give ideas on how to step outside your normal way of thinking and see things differently. But in addition, a key part of being able to see the system around you is taking time out to simply notice. Don’t rush the process. In the Systems Changers programme we spent a big chunk of time allowing people to just notice and explore what was around them.

Why is this so important? In the world of complex disadvantage changes are often brought in that don’t think about the system as a whole, that may have unintended consequences or which simply don’t work. For instance, a new referral form that captures perfect data on complex needs may take 2 hours to complete and therefore reduce the time that can be spent helping a client. Or a small change in eligibility to save money in one service may mean that another more expensive services is inundated.

Session covered:

Finding the Flex

The systems around us often seem fixed, immovable and the problems that we see within them we may feel powerless to change, especially as one person. This second part of the Systems Changers programme is about challenging these feelings and assumptions.

The theory sessions are designed to support frontline workers to find for themselves where there might be potential within the system to make change; to discover where they might have power, and to think through the effects making change might have. Many of our systems changers had already found ‘flex’ instinctively in developing workarounds and ways of getting around problems they encountered but had only made limited use of this skill.

Wherever we operate in the system we can feel restricted in what we can do but as one of the group noted afterwards ‘there is always flex.’ It might be big or small. It might be finding that there is an alternative to an official way of applying for a benefit that makes it easier for people with serious health conditions, or that a service doesn’t have to be run according to the budget lines that have been created, or simply that you can change how you greet people when you meet them.

Session covered:

Making Change Happen

When you see the title ‘Systems Changers’, making change happen is probably the first thing that comes to mind but it is actually the final part of our programme but one which doesn’t finish with the last of our sessions.

These sessions are just a few of the ways in which we supported our group to experiment with change. From understanding service design methods for prototyping and testing ideas, to how to work with cultural resistance to change. At this point in the programme we also provided more individualised advice as people naturally take on different approaches and roles in how they experiment with change. For some change may be at a personal level, or it may be about revealing to others what needs to change through gathering evidence and making a case, only some people will want to get stuck into redesigning a service or campaigning for change.

We also recognise that some ideas that may have been sparked by this programme may only emerge fully months down the line whereas others are already starting to take flight. For our groups of frontline workers one of the biggest challenges is continuing to find the time and permission to work in this way once the official programme is at an end.

Session covered:


SystemsChangers_FinalVisuals-04-1-1024x410The Systems Changers 2016 programme has revealed a range of important insights on how frontline workers can contribute to and create system change.  We have also seen the distinct value that frontline perspective and insight has the potential to bring to policy making, service delivery and commissioning.

Our report, ‘From where I stand’: How frontline workers can contribute to and create systems change, provides fuller detail on these insights along with the projects and perspectives of the group of frontline workers who participated during 2016.  Here is a flavour of the findings:

  • Frontline workers have a unique vantage point for the systems they work within.  They are able to see the life context of the people they support and the complexity of public services and support systems.
  • Two fundamental shifts for the frontline workers participating:

1. Going from working from their own perspective to seeing other perspectives in the systems they worked within and starting to question things around them.

‘Systems Changers helped me to take my blinkers off and think outside of my role.’

‘I realised I was defending the client and blaming the service. I am now trying to take time to see the perspective of the other professional involved. Things seem to open up when you do this.’

2. A change in the perception of their own power from feeling frustrated and fearful to having a sense of agency to make change along with an understanding of the value their perspective could bring.

‘Systems Changers gave me a voice and tools I can now use to challenge things I think aren’t right, and provide evidence in a constructive way.’ 

‘Looking back the main barrier has been fear; my fear as a frontline worker that it is not my place to suggest change, the fear of other organisations who are not seeing the system from my viewpoint and the fears of some other professionals who have become very defensive.’

  • Frontline workers can play a range of roles and have different styles in relation to supporting change to happen. From revealing the system to itself to directly driving change projects or acting as conveners to bring people together.
  • Key factors which can unlock the potential of frontline insight within organisations and more broadly including providing time and space to think about how their system could be improved and dispersing power by giving frontline staff explicit permission to question things.

The key to delivering life-changing services is to fully enable and involve both the staff and service users in key decisions that are made in the organisation, but also the sector. This needs to be recognised at the top, so that policies that impact on our services are holistically informed, and real experiences are considered before making these decisions.”


For me Systems Change is a state of mind. Rather than complaining about what doesn’t work in the jobs we do it has given me confidence to do something difference. I have now taken my blinkers off, raised my head and believing I can make a difference”