Cookies on this website

We use cookies to make our website work properly. We'd also like your consent to use analytics cookies to collect anonymous data such as the number of visitors to the site and most popular pages.

I'm OK with analytics cookies

Don't use analytics cookies

Home / Resources / News / From systemic issues to systemic innovation

From systemic issues to systemic innovation

In my last post, I looked at how we can understand what people value and what change they want to affect. If we can pretend to create social value that can have a systemic effect, then we also need to move beyond just understanding the causes of an issue – whether it be homelessness, elderly care or loneliness – to be able to make sense of the system/s the issue is part of. To tackle the issues caused by the system requires us to move from social innovation to systemic innovation

6 STEPS SI (without text)

If we use the Six Steps to Significant Change model by @forumforthefuture, we can social innovation often focuses on tackling needs and creating pioneering practices to meet these. With support, it can even be sustained and scaled.

But when we discover or even experience a problem or a need, we don’t instinctively think to diagnose the overall system in which that problem resides. In @forumforthefuture #bigshift report, @SDStephDraper provides a checklist to kickstart how we might do this:

Systemic Innovation

When we organised Visual Camp, we brought together designers, policy makers and practitioners to be able to paint a picture of systemic issues, from economic growth to personal data. These helped engage different perspectives to understand systemic issues and identify connections between the different parts of them.


With Making a Living, we reframed the issue from youth unemployment to “how do young people cope with making a living” so that the research could make sense of the complexity of the different variables which young people have to navigate – not just whether they have a job or not, but how their expectations and attitudes to work interact with their ability to cope psychologically and practically with making a living.


How to make a living in 2020

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

As @annabirney describes in the discussion series on this subject, “systemic innovation means completely redesigning the way a system works (for example, the health service), and achieving innovation across every part of it”. 

One of the tips from @nesta_uk on how to achieve systems innovation is that “having a great product is no guarantee of success, unless you can assemble around it the complementary services, software, support, infrastructure and channels that allow consumers to use it easily and effectively”.

The best example they give of this is the “electric car” which is cheaper to run than traditional cars and better for the environment, but when you factor in the cost to buy and maintain, the lack of infrastructure & business model for the installation & purchasing of the batteries needed to power them, its value proposition suddenly fades away.

Rather than developing solutions to unmet needs, should we also be looking at what are the components that are missing in a system (like in the labour or housing market) that we could develop…and how we can better connect up the missing links?

We’ll be discussing this and more at #outcomefest.  If you haven’t signed up to the event, do so now. Even better, suggest a session you’d like to run on the day!