Building Better Systems - An introduction to System Innovation

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Building Better Systems - An introduction to System Innovation
This paper lays out a series of steps people can take to create the new systems we need to meet shared, public challenges. Systems are ubiquitous and powerful. We rely on them to support our daily lives: every time we turn on a tap, flick a switch for electricity, drop our child at school, jump on a bus or visit a doctor we rely on a wider system. There is a widespread sense, among decision makers and citizens that in the coming decades society will need not just new products, software and services, but new systems for living sustainably in a socially inclusive society. The need for better, different systems will be heightened by the impact and lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic. Systems are productive precisely because they are more than standalone products. A system pulls together all the different ingredients needed to meet a need or to produce an outcome: the shipping container is a product, containerisation is a system; a contactless payment card is a product which only works as part of a payments system; an operation in a hospital can only take place because it is part of a wider health system. To understand how a system works it has to be seen as a whole, from the macro policy frameworks of social security systems right down to how a citizen goes about finding a job. Many of the systems we rely on for care and work, energy and transport, education and health are under pressure to change. Society faces both deeply entrenched and growing challenges that are outpacing the systems we have. We also have opportunities to create new, alternative systems as new knowledge, values and technologies emerge, from artificial intelligence and bitcoin, to circular and renewable systems of production. Rising to the challenge of fixing an existing system and exploring the possibility of creating a new system are different undertakings. The first is about optimising what exists, the second is about creating something different and better. We want this project to yield practical insights for those who want to respond to the systemic challenges of today by stepping into the possibilities of the future. Acting to change systems depends on new ways of seeing both challenge and opportunity: why systems come under strain and what unlocks the potential for alternatives. It depends on better understanding how new systems form, and what and who is part of initiating and driving the transition to them. In putting together this paper and the ones that will follow from it we want to clarify how to assess the need for, invest in and act on the process of deliberate system change.
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The Rockwool Foundation
17/06/2022, 12:02
Winhall, J., & Leadbeater, C. (2020). Building Better Systems - An introduction to System Innovation. The Rockwool Foundation.