Systemic Insight

Finding more systemic intervention points is becoming more important as donors realize that interventions have to be more sensitive to the complexity of the societies where they want to see positive change happening.

There are many different uses of the term complexity. We do not use complexity in the common use sense of ‘something very intricate and complicated’. Rather, we use complexity in connection with the state and behavior of a system. In our work in economic development, a system is most often constituted by various economic actors, organizations, and institutions that are connected to each other and build a market system in the widest sense. The broad scientific field of systems theory covers various fields of research into systems and particularly complex systems.

With Systemic Insight, Mesopartner is introducing an approach that we use in our work in economic development. It guides organizations and practitioners through a whole cycle of a change initiative and can be applied in all different fields of economic development like local and regional economic development, (global) value chain development, making markets work for the poor, cluster development, etc. The approach is based on the principles and ideas around intervening in complex systems. It also takes into account, that not all problems we are facing are complex and we need to be able to differentiate between different types of problems as we need to use different strategies to tackle them.

To explain the Systemic Insight Approach, we use the metaphor of a spiral. The spiral is helpful to illustrate the progression of project planning, implementation, and monitoring. An initiative emanates from a central point, getting progressively farther away as it revolves around the point. Translated into the dynamics in a project, this means that understanding of the situation increases. A spiral also signals iteration, with planning (or response) going more and more into details as the dynamics of the system are revealed and better understood.

Basically, the Systemic Insight Approach proposes five phases: hypothesis, analysis, sensemaking, strategy, and intervention. Additionally, learning and adjusting are integrating elements throughout all phases. We chose the word “phase” to highlight that these different points in the spiral signify a change of focus, perhaps a change of intensity or perhaps a different mode of working, in contrast to a sequence of distinct steps.

More on the theory and application of Systemic Insight can be found on the dedicated Systemic Insight website. On that website, we are also posting regular updates in the form of a blog, we have a reading list pointing to various papers and books on the topic. Additionally, we pulled in a number of videos that we think are explaining particular aspects of complex systems really well. Our aim with is to provide you with both the theoretical background you need to understand the approach and with the necessary instructions for you to use the approach.

We see Systemic Insight as a very organic and evolving approach, not something that is finished and can be published. We are applying it in our daily work. Still, we keep improving and adjusting the approach as we go along. We hope to capture these developments and more in the Systemic Insight Blog. We always appreciate your feedback, comments, and experiences to keep improving.