Working with Change: Systems Approaches to Public Challenges
OPSI workshop, 28 February 2017, OECD Conference Centre, Paris
This workshop aims to better understand how systems approaches can enhance public policies and service delivery through more user-tailored and adaptive governance processes. The workshop is inspired by the work of the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) under the European Union Horizon 2020 framework. Leveraging the experience of both public sector managers and systems thinkers, the workshop will discuss challenges, opportunities and tactics for systems change in the public sector and will define the future agenda for the Observatory work in the field. The morning session was held as a joint session with the OECD’s New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) initative.
Find below the full agenda for the day – including a video of the morning’s joint seminar with NAEC – as well as photos and tweets from the event, and a recap from a member of the Observatory team. For our main summary and reflections on the event please read our blog post about the event.
Systems approaches attempt to challenge these limitations, opening up public policy systems and re-examiningproblems from a user-oriented perspective. By focusing on the public value connected to specific policy problems,systems approaches can help un-pack and re-orient government decision making away from processesimprovement to focusing on the outcome. For example, we might assume to know what education is inherently for,but do new teaching methods alone enable students to develop the skills and talents that are needed to thrive in aradically new economic and social reality? By starting to understand the new meaning of problems, systemsthinking helps governments to become more adaptive, change public policies in line with new challenges andcreate systems that support renewed or even entirely new forms of public value.
At the same time, systems approaches are not yet widely adopted in government. More downstream, user-focuseddesign tools – looking at simplifying known realities rather than understanding complexity – are getting traction inthe public space, with an associated risk of quick solutionism. Only looking at the user “end” of the public servicescontinuum leaves the overall systems unchanged, with more meaningful impact not achieved. However, changingsystems is hard – institutional legacies, failure to understand complexity and lack of leadership support are some ofthe factors inhibiting change – and government can’t just shut down old systems while working on new ones.
This workshop is intended to develop a better understanding of how systems approaches can enhance publicpolicies and service delivery through more user-tailored and adaptive governance processes. It is inspired by theresults of an OECD report on systemic approaches prepared by the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI)under the European Union Horizon 2020 framework. It brings together public managers, systems thinkers andacademic experts to discuss how systems approaches can be used to redesign the architecture of today’s problemsand deliver public value. It will discuss concrete cases where systemic approaches have been applied, the lessonsthat have emerged from design and implementation, and what tools can help public managers initiate a successfulprocess. The expected result of the workshop is to identify the key opportunities and challenges to implementsystemic change in public policies and design a research plan of action for the OECD going forward.