An metaphor for a system change

Blog 09: Want to change the big picture? System change is possible!

In organizations we face wretched problems that don’t solve themselves by thinking. The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra collected ideas and thoughts on how to implement system change and identified four main abilities in their synthesis.

Sitra’s synthesis reveals abilities that organizations need in order to promote societal change. Abilities refer to shared knowhow and resources that are used such as systems, processes, knowledge and skills and values and practise. An individual can’t have these abilities even though an individual expertise is part of shared abilities. Synthesis also shows themes that cross abilities and describe societal change in different time span and levels. 

System change abilities in Sitra’s synthesis:

1. Vision, purpose and futures work

2. Strategy

3. Organizing and governance

4. Innovation and intervention

5. Cross-cutting themes

Vision, purpose and futures work

The main ability in future and vision -level is forethought and future studies. This includes understanding trends and signals, interpretation and shaping future by defining meaningful goals. This helps to define direction and meaning that bring different actors together. 


In strategic level we aim to understand current operational environment and how to influence it, define goals and plan how to meet them and also evaluate how we succeed. In system change strategy could cross different organizations or be phenomenon or impact -based. Evaluation helps to see if we succeed in our actions towards strategic goals.

System thinking could be described also as a strategic learning ability which helps to comprehend operational environment from different angles. Since wretched problems can’t be solved by individual actor or sector, we need narratives that helps spread thinking between actors that don’t have direct connections. We have found that visualization is a powerfull tool for creating memorable narrative.

Organizing and governance

Wretched problems are often quite unclear, we need governance to organize partnerships and networks between stakeholders. For example Business Finland could be an institutional actor. A peer organization can also be pointed out to facilitate a network of operators. Key factors in governance are support of organizations, partnerships, enforcing involvement, societal governance, leadership and communication.

Innovation and intervention

This level includes abilities that enforce learning. Identified abilities are planning and implementing innovation processes, development that produces an outcome, learning methods that help us to understand the problem and measuring. Innovation and learning culture is what we at Neemo™ are escpecially passionate about.

Cross-cutting themes

Societal infrastructure helps to promote context of societal innovations and change. Social funding that don’t feed single projects or competition between them but aids collaboration in solving wretched problems is in key role. Ability to influence on the distribution of power and on the other hand working with actors using power is in central role. Technology offers whole new tools that we can use to tackle wretched problems.

Creative process as a tool for change

As said, wretched problems that don’t solve themselves by thinking. That is why it is important to let wild ideas loose and think out of the box. Creative processes, such as Neemo™ method, are excellent tools to define goals, create understanding between stakeholders or innovate. We often find that we don’t even have a good vocabulary for talking about complex issues. This is when visual world can come to rescue. Creativity can be a true driving force for system change. 

Neemo™ coaches are ready to help you visualize your goals and strengthen creativity. Ask for more.

Sitra’s synthesis: