From the Sweden Institute of Design: Participate with the future

Thoughts from Pia McAleenan who participated in our System Transformation Masterclass in September 2018

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Pia McAleenan
October 1, 2018

This was written by Pia McAleenan and posted on the Renwal Lab website in Swedish:

Translated using Google Translate

Disruptive innovation has never been more important to solve our most urgent societal challenges. By thinking in future scenarios together with other actors involved in the same societal challenge, we enable distractive development jumps to take shape. Last week in September I was at Stanford University and took part in Banny Banerjee's Masterclass in system transformation.

After meeting Professor Banny Banerjee at Stanford University, I feel strengthened in how we in the Renewal Lab rigged our work in the space between actors in social systems. What happens here is usually not a natural division of responsibility, financing or management and above all no responses given in advance. We are in need of finding new ways of thinking and above all to do it together. To work for us means that the participants, actors and users, unfold the problem space around a challenge and can challenge themselves to test visions that seriously reach the root of the challenge - instead of just the symptoms.

What we see, after working with mission owners such as the Ministry of Social Affairs, SKL, UNHCR and the Swedish National Agency for Education, is that we in Sweden lack arenas to do just that - explore challenges and create new practice outside the line business's squirrel wheels. Here, in the Renewal Lab, we hope that we can contribute to, from a system perspective, gathering actors to create the future and through multifaceted perspectives provide scope for even more disruptive innovation.

ChangeLabs at Stanford became a great inspiration as did Professor Banny Banerjee. Here they take on, not just complex societal challenges nationally, but also link challenges to the global context. Especially because complex challenges can seldom be said to be national, but also to achieve a  scale mindset. We get a D on how we address our social challenges, which are complex, scaled, and with many different players involved, it is, as Banny mentions, necessary to understand the scale in which we operate.

Globally, we reached Earth Overshoot Day already in August, in Sweden in March. The time for incremental innovation is over and we need to think more disruptively to achieve success and seriously come up with something that can, if not solve, then at least improve the situation on the planet. Banny describes the climate crisis, poverty and homelessness as challenges at a global level, which we all need to cooperate with to get rid of. During the course, the synchronized development is mentioned today that takes place in spheres such as digital, biological and technological development, which is a strong contributing factor to why we need to find new work and approaches together, more adapted to the new world we are entering.

In order to make system design, therefore, a multidisciplinary  approach is required. Banny describes himself as just such a person, the engineer who became an architect and who then came to work in IDEO when Design Thinking emerged. For some years now, he is a professor at Stanford and his Masterclass is his contribution to creating a movement of changemakers who have a more systemic approach to societal challenges. System design as a discipline emerged in response to a frustration that the tools at that time were not enough. Peter Senge at MIT, also working in this field says:

Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It's a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change instead of static snapshots.

The  change makers  I meet at the course are from all corners of the world, business representatives, social entrepreneurs, foundations such as Bill and Melinda Gates foundation as well as large institutions such as UNDP. Extra fun to meet colleagues from Innovation Skåne and think about how we can jointly connect from this Nordic perspective to this emerging movement.

A small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.

Donella Meadows's research on system transformation is an important part of the course literature and briefly describes how we should learn to determine where in a system we should make an effort to get the best effect. By setting high goals, we create free space for new thoughts and new forms of collaboration, which provides the conditions for more disruptive innovation. Some of the world's social challenges now need this. By prototyping future scenarios, we can create more power with the actors we work to really venture out into this new field and jointly learn how to co-create new policy. Simply creating a better future together.

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