Systems Change: A guide to what it is and how to do it

There are a number of seemingly intractable or ‘wicked’ problems facing society: severe and multiple disadvantage, climate change, poverty, gender inequality, and so on. Traditionally the response has to been to identify ‘what works’— leading us to think that we can create ever more elaborate and evidenced interventions to address an issue or support people to lead socially and economically functional lives.

At LankellyChase Foundation we have been keen to think about this in how we can use our limited, but independent resources, to foreshadow a new way of supporting agencies working with people facing severe and multiple disadvantage. In our discussions with potential grantees, we ask them to think about their application in terms of how it will change systems. We aren’t alone. The NHS is writing whole systems change into tenders, and others now are re-badging their approaches under the term ‘systems change’. Local authorities are trying to think about whole systems approaches to help them tackle their very real budget challenges.

There is the danger—particularly when a new approach or phrase emerges—that the language and the buzz that surrounds it creates a mystique, making it inaccessible and daunting to many who seek to create lasting change. It can become the preserve of a small elite rather than
owned by all. The term systems change is one such example. This is made harder by the fact that there is no agreement on what systems change is, and there are many different ways of approaching it depending on who you are, what place you hold in the system, the type of power you have, and the issue you are responding to.

We are really pleased therefore that New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) has written this report: Systems Change: A guide to what it is and how to do it.