An Interlude: Forum for the Future’s System Innovation Animation

In my first entry, I wrote that the main motivation to start this blog which I have been planning for a long time came from Forum for the Future‘s new strategy about system innovation. Last week they have released a short animation announcing this new strategic move and explaining what system innovation is. I found the animation to be concise, clear and to the point. Of course, whenever a complex topic is simplified for the sake of making it easy to understand, there is selective elimination of certain aspects of the topic which make it complex (and which generally constitute the essence of the topic). But for this very reason, I think the animation is very effective. The main messages given in the animation are completely aligned with those messages us ranty academics have been trying to get through to the public, businesses and governments for a long time. The difference is, we write pages and pages long of reports, journal articles, books etc which none of these stakeholders can be bothered to read (even if they would bother and even if they had time, most often than not they don’t have access to the material) and these guys come up with a short animation which is fun to watch and not full of perplexing scientific jargon. Another important determinant of effective communication is of course the timeliness of the message. Governments, organisations and individuals are starting to realise that the sustainability issues are far more complex than we once thought them to be and there is definitely a need to move beyond single-issue-focused optimisation approaches. I’d like to share this animation here for two reasons. First, simply because I’d like to spread it so that more people will hear about system innovation. Second, using it as an inspiring spark for me, I’d like to ask some questions I have in my mind about how best to approach system innovation (which I’ll leave to my upcoming entries).

So, here’s the animation:

To recap, the main messages in this animation are:

1. Although there have been efforts to achieve sustainability for a long time, unsustainability prevails (my addition: in fact, the indicators tell us that it’s worsening at great pace);

2. In order to achieve sustainability, instead of focusing on individual elements (products, services, companies, etc) we need to focus on systems (my addition: well, sustainability is a property of systems and not of individual system elements, so please, no more “this is a sustainable product”, “we are a sustainable company” nonsense);

3. Focusing on systems requires collaboration of all involved stakeholders (my addition: well, practically every single one of us);

4. To achieve system innovation, measurement and analysis, futures thinking and futures inquiry tools, and, creativity and innovation tools are needed (my addition: this corresponds to the three types of knowledge needed for systemic interventions: 1. Systems knowledge; 2. Target knowledge, and; 3. Tranformation knowledge (Wiek, Binder & Scholz, 2006)).

5. FFF proposes to start their system innovation adventure focusing on three sectors: food, energy and finance.

References I used in this post:

Wiek, A., Binder, C., & Scholz, R. W. (2006). Functions of scenarios in transition processes. Futures, 38(7), 740-766.

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3 thoughts on “An Interlude: Forum for the Future’s System Innovation Animation

  1. Fabulous, thanks for sharing and your recap! My good friend Wilma just got accepted for their master program, curious to watch that space.
    My dad is well entangled into this kind of complex systems thinking as well – we were jamming the other day on creating a meta-tool that allows you to build complex systems where each component has inflows, outflows, functions, dependencies and so on – and then you connect these and watch them unfold over time. To gradually build a more refined intellectual and emotional understanding (or maybe just the respect for it) of these systemic interdependencies in a smaller playground… sure that exists somehow already?

  2. Interesting Benjamin the meta-tool you and your dad imagined to create. I assume you know of those computer simulations through which people try to understand complex system behaviour. It is indeed fascinating to define initial parameters and watch the system doing its own thing, ever evolving, learning, changing most often than not unpredictably. Of course, no matter how sophisticated, these simulations are still far away from being representative of all complexity and emergence that exist in real complex systems (“to define a complex system you must repeat it”). Also these cannot by any means represent those complex systems with intellectual agents such as humans who have the ability to learn, make and remake meaning, have vision, etc. This is why I like how you include emotional understanding as well as intellectual. One thing I am sure of -in my gut- is that -although fundamental and crucial- solely analytical approaches to systemic transformations are not likely to unleash the full transformative capacity that exists in the systems.

    • oh yes, i’ve been having amazing moments programming around with the Lorentz Attractor and planetary systems on my computer years ago – that builds a great intuitive capacity of understanding this non-linear dynamics!
      i wonder how specific such a meta-tool could actually start mapping the global finance system for instance! have people place the entities and their relations/attributes/dependencies.. haha, but yes, i totally get that “to define a complex system you must repeat it” 🙂
      oh for sure yes… emotional/energetic fields are crucial in the full capacity… actually cooking on a post around that…

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