We joined The Children’s Society’s team to discuss our inquiry What does it take to change a system? We learnt how they are approaching systems change, what they feel is contributing to change, and what they thought of our model for systemic change.

A doodle about what it takes to change a system.

Doodle by Donya Lamrhari Systems Change Lead at The Children’s Society.

Renaisi’s systems change hypothesis

Our hypothesis for what it takes to change a system builds on systems change theory and insights from our facilitation, research and learning partnerships targeting systemic change, often within a place.

We believe systemic change requires you to:

  1. Understand the system and your role within in
  2. Engage in deep and active collaboration
  3. Change what is valued and accepted

While there is a lot of overlap in these elements – with all three sometimes happening at the same time and in a range of sequences – we have found they are a useful structure for learning and adapting to the complexities of systems change. We hope that our tool will help individuals, networks and organisations to change harmful systems that drive economic and social exclusion.

We facilitated The Children’s Society’s meeting to understand how they approach the three elements, and how they believe their efforts contribute to systems change.

Helen Dudzinska from the Children’s Society explains:

Systems change isn’t an exclusive thing only some people can ‘do’. It’s a mindset, a way of working and viewing the world to achieve societal change. We know The Children’s Society can’t change the world alone, we are committed to working with our partners and wider society.

Having a cohesive, inclusive approach to supporting colleagues to embrace systems change seems like a good place to start!

We have challenged ourselves to make systems change into a more accessible topic. We have a systems change resource pack including a shared definition of what we mean by ‘a system’ and what ‘systems change’ means to The Children’s Society. We have a blog series ‘Slowing down to speed up’ and a Roots Change Podcast, in which my colleague Donya interviews professionals and young people who are inspiring communities and sharing their stories of change. 

We also have a systems change community of practice for anyone within The Children’s Society. Our number one priority is creating a safe space for people to be curious, ask questions, make connections, and learn from each other. We ensure the content is decided upon and created by its members. Themes chosen so far have included: service design, evaluating systems change and campaigning for change.

We were delighted Renaisi joined us to facilitate a session about their systems change enquiry.

What did The Children’s Society think of our hypothesis?

We asked The Children’s Society to tell us if the three elements in our model reflected their systems change work.

3 elements of systems change

They felt that understanding the system and your role within it was beginning to build a culture of humility, learning and desire for change. Modelling a new type of leadership based on vulnerability and openness to learn about your role in the system encourages others to go on the journey. Interrogating their own barriers to change, and those of key stakeholders, had allowed them to look at shifting incentives, rather than just decisions.

Deep and active collaboration was beginning to contribute to systems change through supporting TCS and their partners, to see issues holistically and to understand that impact is the product of a range of events and actors that can have helpful or harmful relationships. It can shift focuses away from quantitative outcomes and forces actors to understand the value of building different relationships between actors. This element of the tool was the one that The Children’s Society’s community of practice felt most comfortable speaking about in the context of their work.

The idea that changes in what is valued and accepted are critical to systems change  resonated strongly with the Children’s Society team.

Aiming to shift social values, norms and attitudes around children and young people is a core focus of their work (see graphic below). They feel that building influencing relationships across the system, such as with schools, policy makers, social workers, the police and other public services, would shift the perceptions about children and young people that perpetuate issues, get people to believe in systems change work, and help to shift evaluations, commissioning and power relationships.

Watch the video for for more on the three elements. 

If you’d like to join an action enquiry or work with us to explore elements of changing your system, please get in touch with Kezia Jackson-Harman, Senior Project Manager – Place and Systemic Change.

Kezia Jackson-Harman

More about The Children’s Society’s systems change work

The Children’s Society is committed to creating a society built for all children. Through direct work with young people, they’ve learnt that delivering services face to face is not enough. Systemic change is needed.

In 2017 The Children’s Society organisational strategy made an intentional move to design services and programmes that would shift the focus away from the child to the systems around them. That kickstarted their systems change journey and in 2018, in partnership with Point People and funded by Lankelly Chase, they adapted the Systems Changers programme for use in the youth sector. Read a short summary of the learning here and in this blog by Executive Director of Youth Impact, Nerys Anthony explains more about the organisational journey.

Since then The Children’s Society has gone on to design award winning programmes for improving and changing systems. In October 2021 they launched a new strategy, Destination 2030. It shares the vision — A society built for all children. Their goal is to overturn the damaging decline in children’s well-being by 2030, setting a path to long-lasting growth.

The strategy renews their commitment to changing systems that simply don’t work for disadvantaged young people, addressing the systemic drivers of low wellbeing being a key priority.