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It is easy and tempting to put everything into a nice little box with a label on it. Makes it seem manageable, do-able. At least until we try to assess whether we’ve actually made any improvements. Most of time the changes that we thought would happen somehow don’t seem to be quite right or not yet achieved, or worse – leading to the wrong kind of outcomes.

Separating issues into separate boxes or siloes (or whatever your word of choice is) might make it easier for us to talk about in an accessible way: ‘Mental Health’, ‘Drug Abuse’, ‘Alcoholism’, ‘Gender’, ‘HIV & AIDS’, ‘Disability’. I could go on. The reality is that you could have a non-binary disabled person living with HIV who has mental health challenges and a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Such person would not be well served by putting their different issues into different boxes and would, inevitably, fall through the cracks in our social fabric. On top of that, in most cases none of these so-called issues are the real problem that needs fixing, instead they could be symptoms of the real problem that lies beneath.

NGOs and civil society collaborate in this siloed approach because governments and donors like to specify what they fund and what services they buy – to tick their own boxes.  

So its time to change the system.

I’ve been using system-based thinking and principles in my work for a few years now and find that they always result in unexpected findings that can improve the work of my clients. Apart from encouraging a different way of thinking, system-concepts also influence the way we engage with other stakeholders, how we perceive the world around us and therefore the conclusions that we come to.

From a social impact perspective, there are a range of methodologies that work well with systems-thinking and can help to deliver robust analysis of events and outcomes to demonstrate impact, without resorting to old style economic or clinical analysis such as randomised control trials that are fraught with difficulty when applied to social interventions.

So if you want to really make a difference, and one that will last, try changing the system! 

Have you ever used systems-thinking before? What success have you had with these concepts? Do you want to find out more about how I apply systems-thinking concepts in my work?


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