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.



Towards a framework for systems transformation

This chapter starts by highlighting the multi-method nature of new systems-based practices. It discusses how systems thinking differs and complements design thinking, and how design can be used in systemic change processes. It discusses how, under conditions of complexity and uncertainty, governments can reflect in action and work with relative precision. The chapter discusses how decision makers and public services managers can consider the kinds of challenges they face, the resources available to them and what they can expect while engaging in a rigorous problem-solving process using systems approaches. Following this discussion, the chapter identifies some key principles and tactics – people and place, dwelling, connecting, framing, designing, prototyping, stewarding and evaluating – involved in using systems approaches in the public sector. Specific practices are dependent on the context, institutional capacity, problem, timeframe and resources available to public administrations as they embark on systems change.


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