Systems Approaches to Public Sector Challenges

Working with Change

image of Systems Approaches to Public Sector Challenges

Complexity is a core feature of most policy issues today and in this context traditional analytical tools and problem-solving methods no longer work. This report, produced by the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation, explores how systems approaches can be used in the public sector to solve complex or “wicked” problems . Consisting of three parts, the report discusses the need for systems thinking in the public sector; identifies tactics that can be employed by government agencies to work towards systems change; and provides an in-depth examination of how systems approaches have been applied in practice. Four cases of applied systems approaches are presented and analysed: preventing domestic violence (Iceland), protecting children (the Netherlands), regulating the sharing economy (Canada) and designing a policy framework to conduct experiments in government (Finland). The report highlights the need for a new approach to policy making that accounts for complexity and allows for new responses and more systemic change that deliver greater value, effectiveness and public satisfaction.



System approaches in practice: Case studies

This chapter provides an in-depth examination of four systemic change case studies from diverging contexts. It analyses how systems approaches have been applied in practice to: prevent domestic violence (Iceland), protect children (the Netherlands), regulate the sharing economy (Canada) and design a policy framework for conducting experiments in government (Finland). The case studies provide an overview of the context of the change process, steps to initiate and carry out systems change, and its impacts. The chapter highlights the complexity in terms of problems examined and government levels involved, and the difficulties of working across silos. The cases show that systems approaches can be very beneficial in redefining government outcomes and structuring change, but that transformation also requires various resources, such as flexible finances, time, political coverage, systems thinking capabilities, and independent brokers. The empirical examination also reveals the ongoing need of systems thinking and iterative processes as implementing systems change invariably unearths unforeseen effects, system barriers highlighting the need for meaningful measurement of outcome-oriented change.


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