Systemic strategy

Last updated Mar 7, 2023 | Originally published Mar 6, 2023

Systemic strategies use system phenomena, structure, and dynamics to help changemakers achieve their goals. These goals may simply be some specific outcome or objective, or they may include systemic change.

One approach to designing systemic strategies is:

  1. map the system
  2. analyze the system for features of leverage, possibly using leverage analysis
  3. identify any “goal” phenomena: the events or behaviours you seek to change
  4. identify any “intervention” phenomena: things you have direct influence over
  5. “walk” from the the interventions to your goals to identify a theory of change, incorporating the features of leverage you find along the way

Each pathway you walk forms a strategy tree.

Are there other interventions that lead to the same goal? These are different roots for the same overall strategy.

Strategy trees can be combined into a strategy “forest”. A strategy forest is a collection of paths from interventions to goals in the system. Strategy forests can be assessed for different qualities to gauge which strategies an initiative should pursue.

  1. Different strategies that share common interventions may be the easiest to invest in and implement.
  2. Combinations of strategies that are the self-perpetuating (e.g., that contain feedback loops that will innately drive their success) may be more valuable to pursue.
  3. These forests can also be tested (e.g., with wind-tunneling; Van der Heijden, 1997, p. 23) to identify the best combinations of strategies to follow.

Once strategies have been selected, identify the capabilities or resources that need to be invested in/mobilized in order to effectively target the chosen interventions, and set up systemic evaluation processes to continually test the completeness and accuracy of your strategic theories and to assess progress towards achieving the strategies’ goals.