Learnings and Insights From Stepping Into Systems

by School of System Change

January 19, 2024

The School of System Change exists to nurture a systemic, living paradigm, where learning is change. Learning is not the transactional, linear process of acquiring institutionalised knowledge; it’s the process of cultivating the ability to be in the world as it changes. It’s the process of developing, flourishing and evolving. Learning is change.

With this guiding us, we embarked on the project of creating an introductory series to systems change. The initial idea was to create a series of long webinars; this evolved, and instead, what emerged was the beautiful, poetic and sensorial film series that can be viewed here

The film series invites viewers to get started on their systems-learning journey, covering fundamental systems change topics and concepts. Moreover, it seeks to gently (re)awaken a felt sense of knowing the world as systemic. This knowing is deep and innate. It’s there, within all of us, often buried beneath the conditioning to see the world in linear and mechanical ways. It is, we believe, ripe and ready to be (re)surfaced in inherent ways of being, feeling and thinking. These inherent ways are diverse and multiple. They are nested within our cultures and framed by a multiplicity of lineages. There is no one way of knowing the world systemically. There is no one way to approach systems change. There is no one way to talk about systems practice.

To create the film series, we convened and yarned with practitioners from diverse and multiple lineages of systems practice. We sat with the wisdoms these elders of systemic practice gifted us and reflected on the vastness of what was said. Then we weaved wisdoms together, carefully, threading in our own insights and learnings at the School. We sought not to overly organise, consolidate or homogenise but instead to create an invitation for people to feel the spacious possibilities of systemic ways of knowing.

Our contributors and their interviewers: Ana Lucia Castaño Galvis, Ben Haggard, Constança Belchior, Lauren Hermanus, Tatenda Nzingha Mazowe, Habiba Nabatu, Eruera Tarena, Melanie Goodchild, Maya Narayan, Juanita Zerda with Rodrigo Bautista, Saskia Rysenbry, Sean Andrew and Anna Birney

To yarn with practitioners with profound experiential wisdoms was a beautiful experience. They were generous with their sharings; they were deeply hospitable. With this, we had a responsibility to honour their words and perspectives; through this, there was integrity and authenticity in speaking about the diverse field of systems change. The films sing because they are rooted in the varied sharings and the aliveness and livingness of the practitioners’ work. We asked them seemingly simple questions: an experience akin to asking a painter what their relationship with paint is.

For us at the School, this process – which required time, care, pause and consideration – continually asked us to embody learnings and rememberings: to know that we are the system, and we are the change. The practitioners demonstrated time and again that systems change is an integrated and embodied practice.

Systems change lives beyond the mind and is felt in the body, unweaving and reweaving the threads of who we are. This solidified our intention of fostering learning experiences that enable people to feel into systems change, not think into it. 

To honour the involved process of making the film series and the generosity of the practitioners and their wisdoms, we have created a blog series that welcomes some of the colour and texture of the sharings back in and adds more depth to the learnings found in the films. These blogs will uncover the ground from which the creative expression of films arose. They will lay bare the raw beauty found in those yarnings to show what guided us. They will celebrate the rich multiplicity of systems practice.  

As you read this blog series, we ask that you hold the understanding that although we handled the yarnings with care, the practitioners’ quotes have been taken out of their original context and recontextualised into the weavings of the blogs. This process inherently (re)shapes the meaning. Because meaning, like everything, is dynamic and in a constant state of change. It is relational, with everything and everyone shaping how meaning is made. Untangling the quotes from the textured yarnings and then reweaving them with quotes from others has led to an emergence of meaning. (NB: We endeavoured the untangling and reweaving with consent from the practitioners). 

These blogs are curations of quotes. However, we recognise that the process of curation is a subjective one rooted in our own perspectives at the School. This said, we have sought to honour the width, depth and breadth of systems practice and its diverse lineages. We’ve sought to celebrate systems change in its plurality, interweaving modalities and epistemologies stretching from the ancient to the emergent. 

Creating these curations involved editing the words of the practitioners. We have approached this lightly, retaining the ways that people speak in conversation. In places, we’ve stitched segments of the interviews together so that their words may appear as running speech, but in reality, sharings often built up over the course of the yarnings, over the duration of thirty-minute to one-hour interviews. We’ve sought to retain the integrity of the sharings as they were gifted to us while bringing together complementary ideas. We haven’t sought to edit or reframe sharings to fit a particular worldview; therefore, there may be quotes that don’t land so readily for each of us, but we ask that you absorb these words as they are; this reflects our diverse ways of seeing the world. The quotes shared show only certain dimensions of the practitioners’ practices, perspectives and ideas. 

The practitioners reminded us there will never be a commonality in our ways of seeing the world nor should we seek such a thing; that’s the work of violence, dominance and colonisation. At times, the practitioners challenged us at the School on the wording and framing of our interview questions. This was an important part of the process. With this, we invite you, the reader, to also challenge ideas, poke holes and test assumptions, to explore and play with the diverse ideas and perspectives. This is where the fertile ground for the emergent field of systems change lies. Collectively, we should not endeavour universality in the field. We must not, otherwise, we will fall folly to pedagogies that extend colonisation.

This work of convening, yarning, curating, weaving, narrating and designing – and all that happened between and beyond – is also systems practice: from these processes, there was learning and change, and, notably, there was emergence.

The film series and the blog series evolved with and thanks to all those who touched and influenced them and the knowledge and perspectives they brought.

As you sink into the enchanting, powerful and at times snatching words found throughout these blogs, note the emergence of creativity, ideas, perspectives and wisdoms. You, too, are part of this emergence, with what you bring to these words and then what carry forward into the world. Know yourself as a systemic being and feel invited to experience the world as alive, dynamic and ever-changing. There’s enormity and expansiveness to life, and there’s wisdom in the multiplicity of systems practice. And just as our world is plural and changing, so is the practice of systems change. In seeing our world with a systemic perspective, we can intentionally create the conditions for our emerging shared future.   

This was written by Rachel Taylor and Saskia Rysenbry.

With this, let us introduce the contributors to these emergent works:

In alphabetical order:

Ana Lucia Castaño Galvis is the co-founder of Arare Co., an organization that fosters regenerative development of primary production systems in Colombia and Mexico.

Ben Haggard specialises in a holistic, systems-based approach to understanding and building upon the complex human, natural and economic relationships that create and sustain the vitality and viability of a place. He is a founding member of Regenesis.

Constança Belchior is a facilitator and designer of innovation and systemic change with a background in natural sciences and sustainable policy making. She is co-founder of Lúcida, a change management organisation guided by a living change perspective.

Eruera Tarena is Executive Director at Tokona Te Raki, Māori Futures Collective in Aotearoa, an indigenous social innovation lab housed under the mana of Ngai Tahu and based in Otautahi/Christchurch.

Habiba Nabatu is Director of Practice at Lankelly Chase, a charitable foundation working to improve the quality of life of people who face severe and multiple disadvantage. She supports pioneering people and communities to nurture the ideas and relationships that can help improve the way we all approach social disadvantage.

Juanita Zerda is a Director at the Collective Change Lab, where she works to support individuals, communities and organizations in transforming inequitable and unjust systems, through more holistic and non-dominant collective change practices.

Lauren Hermanus is a sustainable development researcher and practitioner with 12 years of experience spanning the public and private sectors and academia. She works on issues of just transition, climate resilience, sustainable development, and the adaptive and anticipatory governance that underpins these dynamics.

Maya Narayan is the co-founder of Holon Perspectives, a Mumbai based consultancy, founded with a mission of developing the systems thinking ecosystem in India. She facilitates systems change workshops to better equip organisations and individuals, with tools and frameworks for solving complex problems.

Melanie Goodchild is an Anishinaabe (Ojibway) systems thinking and complexity scholar. She is part of the faculty at the Academy for Systems Change, the Presenting Institute’s u-school for Transformation and the Wolf Willow Institute for Systems Learning.

Tatenda Nzingha Mazowe is a specialised therapist, yogini, author, artist and hypnotist. She is the creator of Oshun Rises, a social enterprise and healing justice foundation committed to re-anchoring African Women's presence in alternative healing and wellness research.

with Rodrigo Bautista, Saskia Rysenbry, Sean Andrew and Anna Birney.

Thank you for going on this journey with us. Here are links to all the content from this series: