Common challenges in systems change

These are some of the challenges I’ve spotted;

Power dynamics are always at play in systems change work. How do you build enough credibility to convene the best actors in a system? How do you get finance for your work when the people with the money often have a vested interest in things staying the same? How do you accept money from the power brokers of a system and keep questioning its foundations? If you are a funder, how do you get close enough to the actors in a system, to be able to make a fair assessment of the project? 

Building trust To lead systems change you have to be someone who can hold their own with different players in the system. Heads of industry, regulators, entrepreneurs, activists. You need to be able to win genuine trust and build empathy for the different points of view. Sometimes this requires biting your tongue, rather than sharing exactly what you think because it's not helpful to the process. 

Hosting You need to be a skilled convener because the process of hosting these communities is so key. Facilitation can be disastrous if done poorly, how do you get skilled up on this while juggling multiple other balls?  

Measuring impact and securing funding systemic innovation takes time and requires emergent strategy. Funders are still learning how to back this kind of work and need to know outcomes and impact.

Overwhelm Hardly surprising given the above, acting on many places of the system at once and nurturing these varied communities can cause burn out. Your role involves bringing together a dissatisfied group of stakeholders, surfacing that discomfort, motivating others into action, nurturing these communities over the long term, whilst finding the words to report back on progress as it emerges to secure funding. This can be exhausting work and burn out is a common phenomenon.