Below I’m collecting a set of resources dealing with a variety of topics for shareable reference—a sort of living, semi-public annotated bibliography. Many of these readings should be accessible via a library or a good Internet search, but if you find something here that shouldn’t be this easy to download, feel free to contact me and I’ll remove it. Or, if you come across any broken links, please let me know!
Getting started with Systemic innovation
Kudoz’ Where Are You Scaling? “placemat” is an explorable tool to help think through what scaling really means in a given venture. It builds upon Riddell & Moore’s (2015) Scaling Out, Scaling Up, and Scaling Deep in expanding our notion of scaling. When you hear the word “scale” in a conventional conversation, the meaning is likely synonymous with scaling out: reaching more people (stakeholders or customers) with the product, service, program, or policy at the heart of the conversation. Yet there are other underappreciated aspects of scaling: some are required in order to successfully scale out, while others are different ways of achieving impact—maybe scaling out isn’t the best route to take after all! Scaling up, for instance, refers to reaching higher in power hierarchies in order to implement higher-level solutions to the problem you’re addressing. Scaling deep means to reach the same people you’re already reaching more deeply, or with greater impact. Kudoz introduces two more concepts: scaling infrastructure, or building out more tools and supports to make the work more effective and sustainable; and scaling scree, or lending support and legitimacy to other, different actors and initiatives addressing the same issues you are.
While the above concepts help make concrete the different ways an intervention might change a system, Mulgan and Leadbeater’s (2013) discussion paper on systemic innovation dives a bit deeper into theory. They link the practice of systems thinking to approaches to innovation, providing a framework for “joining up” a set of innovations in order to achieve systemic change.
Getting Started with Social Innovation
Geoff Mulgan offers a comprehensive yet down-to-Earth guide to social innovation. The reading really helps communicate what the differences are between social innovation and conventional innovation with practical examples.
The Stanford Social Innovation Review has been one of the preeminent publishers on social innovation since its inception in the early 2000’s. In this review Phills et al. summarize a brief history on social innovation itself while paving a way forward in research and practice.
Getting Started With Design
What is “design”, really? It’s easy to think that design is the layout of graphics or illustrations—perhaps even making decisions about layouts, as in architecture. These disciplines—graphic design and architecture—certainly leverage design, and many people employed in these industries are designers. Yet these disciplines do not fully capture what design is, thus we should not limit the understanding and application of design to these industries.
The term design shares latin roots with designation. To design is therefore to mark; to frame. Framing means to view a given problem or system from different perspectives in order to deeply understand it and, in turn, to develop novel ways of doing something about it or with it. To become a better designer, you must get better at both analyzing and creating frames.
Getting started with systems thinking
Systems thinking is most useful when applied to complex, chronic issues: “wicked problems” that resist taming through conventional approaches. David Stroh, who wrote Systems Thinking for Social Change, argues that effective systems initiatives begin with a focusing question: a question that bounds the project (so that you don’t spend forever debating about where the problem system really ends) and anchors your systems-understanding work in a framing that you can return to if you get lost. This is a question of the form “Why, despite our best efforts and intentions, does [x] persist?” or “…have we not reached our goal of [y]?”—where [x] and [y] are phenomena that remain unassailable through conventional initiatives.
The Language of Systems Thinking introduces the reader to reinforcing and balancing loops using simple examples.
Systems archetypes extend the links and loops of basic systems thinking into more complicated structures – and in doing so, begin to share with the reader deeper insights into the counterintuitive behaviour of the systems we work with.
With robust systemic models, we can begin to identify leverage points: key phenomena that have great potential for change throughout the system.
Getting started with Futures Thinking
What Futures Studies Is, and Is Not is a wonderful introductory and reader-friendly summary of futures thinking.
Chun Wei Choo's The Art of Scanning the Environment offers a walkthrough of scanning practices.
The Current State of Scenario Development provides a comprehensive review of scenario development approaches and techniques.
Deeper reading: Organizational Change
Hugh Dubberly and a suite of colleagues provide an elegant—poetic, even—walkthrough of how change happens to organizations through their language. They reframe an organization as a continuous set of conversations between people, in turn showing the power of changing the language those people use in order to change the nature of the organization itself.
Karl Weick and Frances Westley attack the very idea of organizational learning by showing how “organizing” and “learning” are, in fact, opposing processes. To organize is to order; to learn is to disrupt. Success in organizational change is therefore rooted in a leader’s ability to handle the tension between organizing and learning. Too much organizing and the organization will miss opportunity in change—but too much learning and the organization might not be stable enough to survive.
How can systems thinking help with changemaking in an organization? Writing for People Matters, Sanjay Gawde provides a succinct argument and explanation linking systems approaches to organizational change.