What You Should Know About Systems Change

MetroMorphosis Blog, BRLeads, Think Pieces

Written by: Luke St. John McKnight

During times of uncertainty and unrest there is often much discussion around the need for systems change, the societal software update. Systems change by its nature is a complex and ever evolving field, but the literature of adaptive leadership offers several tenants to think through and work from when the goal is to shift structural conditions holding a problem in place. From realizing hidden alliances to uncovering values driving behavior, systems change efforts are dictated by these forces and adaptive leadership has an approach for each. We may revisit other forces during this series but for now, the one tactic that I believe can be of immediate use for change initiatives is an understanding of the illusion of a broken system.

A reality to appreciate is that any social system is the way it is because people in that system with the most leverage want it that way. Even though it may appear dysfunctional to you and to me, there are those who benefit from the way the system functions as is. Consider the legacy of reprehensible behavior from American law enforcement when interacting
with members of the black community. One may conclude the law enforcement system is broken as a result of its immediate outcomes, but when we learn that many of the cultural norms police officers practice are informed by antebellum roundup patrols tasked to hunt down enslaved Africans fleeing plantations, you see how dehumanizing acts toward black life are not an isolated incident nor from a system that is broken, but from a system operating as it was designed.

Such is the story of many other systems that require reform and redress. The key is to fully understand the system you seek to impact and understand who benefits from it working as it is.

Connect with St. John: luke@metromorphosis.net


This article was written as part of a series written by alumni of the Urban Leadership Development Initiative and featured in their online community, BR Leads. Each author seeks to address an element of an urban environment and how adaptive leaders can thrive in the current climate. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of MetroMorphosis or its strategies.

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