We've gone systems crazy!
Anna Birney explains why Forum for the Future has gone all systems go about systems this week, and how we need more spaces and platforms for collaboration, experimentation and learning to enable #theBIGshift.
If you've been looking at this site or our Twitter feed recently, you'll probably have noticed that we've been talking a lot about systems. Last week, as I preparied for this craze of activity, I attended a promenade performance by the wonderful Punchdrunk theatre company; a conversation afterwards with an art director from Jerusalem got me thinking...
The production, The Drowned Man, is an extraordinary theatrical adventure, played out over an amazing four-storey set where a unique personal journey unfolds around you. You, as the ‘audience’, wear a mask and are encouraged to walk around the set, taking in both the action and the context of the performance. My new friend’s criticism of the production was that the audience was still an audience, that they were not breaking the relationship between those performing and those watching. Although I felt this was a bit harsh, it did get me thinking: what is this systems week (really) all about?
For me, this week has not just been about communicating how a systems view enables #theBIGshift, but about creating an enabling space for us at Forum and those we collaborate with to start to have a conversation around it.
At the heart of the #theBIGshift is the idea that a systems view, based on the world as a living system, can help us as practitioners confront complex sustainability challenges. Through the process of experimentation and learning we can repeatedly reconstruct the world in face of these dilemmas – and we need to do this together through collaboration. The challenges the world is currently facing have never been more in need of such an approach.
This is why I am so excited about some of the projects we are working on at Forum at the moment. Here are just three:
- We are working with the Technology Strategy Board, the UK's innovation agency, on Circular Economy Investigations. We are looking at ways they can use their funding (approx. £5million) in a way that enables innovation that is disruptive, but also creates new relationships and an "ecosystem" of different business and business models that can start to create a sustainable economy. By taking a systemic exploratory and learning approach we are exploring what different opportunities and barriers there are when thinking about a shift towards a circular economy and designing ways to enable system innovation.
- I am excited about creating a practitioners hub around our Scaling up Impact framework. During the last year, we and project partner Shell Foundation, have started the conversation with more than 200 businesses, foundations and other organisations across four workshops globally. We have found that many organisations see the need to move from the pilots to broader collective action so as to scale up our impact on issues such as access to energy, food security and financial inclusion. Over the next year we will find ways to build this broader platform to catalyse individual action and breakthrough collaborations to address development and sustainability challenges.
- Finally, I am excited by the activity we have seen this week – a small experiment to reinforce the message to Forum staff - and hopefully a wider group, too - that the systems view is the answer to enabling #theBIGshift. But we are still only at the beginning… my dream project is to create more platforms that enable us not just to watch the change that is happening, but to enable more people to be part of the performance and take action towards #theBIGshift for sustainability.
- What’s your dream systems project that will enable #theBIGshift? Share on Twitter or via a video on Vine or Instagram, using #theBIGshift tag
- Send a message to @annasquestion or firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more about these projects or approaches
- Keep an eye out next week for our storify of this the week’s activity
Anna Birney’s book, Cultivating System Change: A Practitioner's Companion, which helps practitioners use a living systems perspective as a tool for sustainability and change, will be published later this month.