Putting Systems Innovation Into Practice
18 Mar 2022
Current partners EIT Climate-KIC and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and former partner the Dutch Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MFA), have formed an innovative new Systems Innovation Learning Partnership (SILP) to apply the principles of systems innovation to tackle the climate emergency.
Prior to the establishment of SILP, EIT Climate-KIC, Sida and the Swedish Embassy in Moldova collaborated on a shorter Learning Partnership pilot programme, aimed at developing Moldovan stakeholders’ knowledge, skills and understanding of how systems innovation can drive transformation.
It consisted of a series of workshops, facilitated by EIT Climate-KIC and delivered to representatives from Sida, the Swedish Embassy in Moldova and their stakeholders within the local ecosystems engaged in an existing programme: Sustainable and Resilient Communities Through Women’s Empowerment. During the programme, EIT Climate-KIC facilitated in-depth training and learning activities to help the diverse group of attendees understand how to apply system innovation thinking and complexity theory in the context of development cooperation, and to build a common language across their different organisations and perspectives. Participants were then supported to develop a shared intent for the work related to the programme and to map a portfolio of interventions, creating opportunities for experimentation and hence transformative innovation within the Moldovan ecosystem that they are all a part of.
From theory to practice
System innovation challenges traditional modes of thinking. It disputes the idea that effective interventions can be seen as discrete and linear processes that are separate from the systems within which they are delivered. Additionally, the focus on systems naturally lends itself to partnership working and collaborative enterprise across organisations. Finally, it emphasises the importance of being experimental, allowing these experiments and innovations to produce unexpected outcomes and even to fail entirely.
The challenge for organisations such as EIT Climate-KIC is how to take the abstract conceptual models of systems innovation and transform them into a practical, accessible model that can be understood and applied by organisations working to tackle the climate emergency and other complex, ‘wicked’, challenges.
The workshops offered participants the chance to learn more about the theory behind systems innovation and to engage in a series of collaborative activities to develop their understanding of the complexities of the system within which they were working in Moldova, as well as their own role as actors within that system.
“Structures have an impact on how an organisation works, of course, but if the individuals are not trained and their capacity to think in different ways [is not] developed, then change cannot happen,” says Thomas Alveteg, Sida Senior Programme Specialist in the Unit for Global Cooperation on Environment.
There is a broad consensus from both EIT Climate-KIC and Sida that the pilot programme has delivered valuable lessons for stakeholders in terms of how to share learning and build capability around systems innovation, and how to integrate systems innovation practices within large, multi-stakeholder processes. Key learning includes:
- Being open to transformative change,
- Being willing to reflect on and to challenge existing organisations’ practices,
- Making time for the process,
- Working collaboratively with a diverse group of stakeholders.
The big challenge for the Systems Innovation Learning Partnership going forwards is to continue to build on the lessons learned, and to connect with new partners around the world who want to practice, experiment, and learn about using systems innovation to accelerate transformation on some of the most complex challenges we face.
Read the Learning Partnership Pilot Programme Research Paper.
Systems Innovation Learning Partnership programme