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In this paper we put forward a theory of large systems change (LSC), where large systems are defined as having breadth (i.e. engaging large numbers of people, institutions, and geographies) and depth (i.e. changing the complex relationships among elements of power and structural relationships simultaneously). We focus primarily on transformational LSC, recognising that such systems are complex adaptive systems in which change is continuous and emergent, but directions can be supported. A typology of change actions with two core dimensions—'confrontation' and 'collaboration' on the horizontal axis and 'generative' and 'ungenerative' change on the vertical—suggests that change strategies can be classified into four broad archetypes: forcing change, supporting change, paternalistic change, or co-creating change. LSC theory development focuses on three core questions: what is the foundation of LSC concepts and methods, what needs to change, and how does LSC occur? We conclude by reviewing how papers in the Special Issue fit into these questions.
provides one way of conceiving what needs to change in LSC as a series of related spheres or circles that are integrally linked to each other but represent different important facets of the change process. Each circle, called an LSC sphere, can be viewed as a set of systems that change over time. At the broadest level is the natural environment, which underpins and influences everything in the system. The next sphere consists of memes (Dawkins, 2006); that is, shared beliefs, values, and other cultural artefacts providing an idea-and information-based framework that aligns and creates identities within different subsystems. The socio-political structures are familiar informal (e.g. family) and formal (e.g. corporations, governments, NGOs) organisations and institutions that constitute societies, in which individuals, with their own beliefs and values, act on social and natural systems. In fact, most theories of change focus on one of these perspectives, leaving the other layers weakly articulated, if at all. Following Wilber's developmental notions, the broader systems encompass and constrain in some ways the narrow systems in nested fashion (Wilber, 2000). LSC must deal with all of them holistically and appreciate their dynamic impact within a CAS to realise change. Collectively these perspectives represent the system of interest to us: a 'large system' in the sense of having multiple components of very different kinds, with many interactions playing out at various scales of time and space. The figure is loosely organised as a cascade of spheres, where changes in the outer systems play an interactive role in emerging the options for change
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The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015 5
In this paper we put forward a theory of large systems change (LSC), where large
systems are defined as having breadth (i.e. engaging large numbers of people, institu-
tions, and geographies) and depth (i.e. changing the complex relationships among
elements of power and structural relationships simultaneously). We focus primarily
on transformational LSC, recognising that such systems are complex adaptive sys-
tems in which change is continuous and emergent, but directions can be supported.
A typology of change actions with two core dimensions—‘confrontation’ and ‘col-
laboration’ on the horizontal axis and ‘generative’ and ‘ungenerative’ change on the
vertical—suggests that change strategies can be classified into four broad arche-
types: forcing change, supporting change, paternalistic change, or co-creating
change. LSC theory development focuses on three core questions: what is the foun-
dation of LSC concepts and methods, what needs to change, and how does LSC
occur? We conclude by reviewing how papers in the Special Issue fit into these
questions.
Large Systems Change
An Emerging Field of Transformation and Transitions*
Issue 58 June 2015
Steve Waddell
NetworkingAction, USA
Sandra Waddock
Boston College, USA
Sarah Cornell
Stockholm University, Sweden
Domenico Dentoni
Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Milla McLachlan
Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Greta Meszoely
Center for Business Complexity and Global Leadership, USA
DOI: [10.9774/GLEAF.4700.2015.ju.00003]
* This Special Issue is the product of the GOLDEN Ecosystems Labs.
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steve waddell et al.
6 The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015
The need for large systems
change
ours is an historically unprecedented
era of human, technological and natu-
ral systems transformational change.
Their increasing intensely intercon-
nected and interdependent qualities are
creating both tremendous challenges
and opportunities. Traditional tools
and methodologies are inadequate for
understanding and addressing today’s
pressing complex issues, advances
in science, technology, and comput-
ing power and capacity. New under-
standing, tools and methodologies
demonstrate the potential for greatly
enhancing action to steward emer-
gence of a flourishing future.
This ‘new’ is coming from several
directions. The study of complex adap-
tive systems (CAS) is not new, but the
foundational principles of complexity
science now are being broadly used to
reveal new ways of processing empiri-
cal data at increasing rates and scale.
Poverty, economic crises, conflict, cor-
ruption, natural disasters, food inse-
curity, and epidemics are not new,
but our limited success at addressing
them is provoking significant inno-
vations. Our recent world financial
crisis, terrorism, natural disasters,
climate change, health epidemics,
and other pressing challenges suggest
now is a good time to take stock with
the aim of developing an integrating
new framework for understanding
and acting.
The scale of these ‘wicked’ problems
is unprecedented (Churchman, 1967;
Rittel & Webber, 1973). They require
action across social, political, tech-
nical, economic and environmental
domains. While some might believe
that business-as-usual will resolve or at
least contain some of these problems,
others—and we are among them—
believe that rather massive systemic
change we refer to as large systems
change (LSC) is central to addressing
them and creating a thriving future.
We take the position that although
LSC may be experienced as positive
or negative, purposive LSC is both
desirable and possible: while recog-
nising many controversies about what
desirable futures look like, we believe
that the widespread public identifica-
tion of challenges such as those men-
tioned above suggests a broad sense of
desired direction. Though some might
associate this direction with ‘sustaina-
bility’, we prefer the term ‘flourishing
futures’ (Ehrenfeld, 2005). However
the desired future is characterised, we
believe that new paradigms for action
are required to effect LSC.
We believe that advancing our pur-
posive action capacity can be greatly
enhanced by thinking of LSC as a
field. To support the emergence and
identity of LSC as a field, we build
on the knowledge and experience of
the editors and authors of this Special
Issue to propose a holistic framework
for conceptualising large systems,
how they are changed, and who can
influence these changes.
The need for a theory of large
systems change
We all know how hard change can
be. Just think of how hard it is to
make changes at the individual level,
altering yourself or your habits in any
significant way. For example, losing
weight, changing eating habits, or
breaking a bad habit like biting your
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large systems change
nails can be challenging. It takes time,
energy, commitment, resolve, and a
willingness to do things differently.
Perhaps most of all, it takes a belief
that the ability to envision and realise
change is both needed and possible.
Imagine the scaling of that indi-
vidual level change to a whole
organisation, and you arrive at a vast
organisational development litera-
ture. This literature consistently dem-
onstrates how intractable established
patterns of behaviour are and how
difficult it is to make change when
the multiple interacting systems of an
individual organisation are involved
(e.g. Buchanan, 2011; Weick & Quinn,
1999; Beer & Walton, 1987). Systems
change of the sort needed to deal
with issues as big as poverty, climate
change, sustainability, or inequity
is obviously even more complex as
it involves numerous different types
of organisations, numerous policies
and norms, numerous sets of beliefs
and practices, and a complexity of
other interacting elements including
numerous change initiatives.
The term ‘theory of change’ has been
popularised as a way to guide action
and develop strategies to address
change challenges (e.g. Klein, 2014).
An operationally oriented definition
of the term characterises a theory of
change as a coherent set of ideas about
how change processes develop, can be
managed, and evolve throughout the
change process. Making the assump-
tions about relationships between
actions and outcomes explicit is cen-
tral to a ‘theory of change’ approach.
Used in a broader sense, theories of
change are associated with geologi-
cal eras (ICS, 2013), paradigm shifts
(Kuhn, 1962), tipping points (Glad-
well, 2002), revolution (Malia, 2008),
evolution (Darwin & Bynum, 2009;
Gersick, 1991; Malia, 2008) and social
movements (Della Porta et al., 2009;
McAdam et al., 1996; Tilly, 2005). We
see value in developing a theory of
LSC that builds on this diverse foun-
dation, while recognising that others
might offer complementary theories.
Definitions
By large systems change (LSC), we
mean change with two characteristics.
One we refer to as breadth: change
that engages a very large number of
individuals, organisations and geogra-
phies across a wide range of systems.
Indeed, given the interconnectedness
of humanity, we see the need to think
about global systems change engag-
ing local-to-global (glocal) dimen-
sions. The second characteristic we
refer to as depth: LSC is not simply
adding more of what exists or mak-
ing rearrangements within existing
power structures and relationships,
but rather changes the complex rela-
tionships among these elements at
multiple levels simultaneously. LSC
means fundamental revisioning of
what is possible and ways of sense-
making that lead to previously unim-
aginable outcomes.
There are three main types of
change: incremental, reform, and
transformation.
t Incremental change focuses on
reinforcing or reducing systems,
while allowing it to gradually shift
in a more or less continuous way,
such as when a retail company
expands by opening stores in new
locations, and when wind turbine
technology is replicated as an
emerging innovation
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t Reform happens when there is a
shift of power or dominance among
linked system components, again
within a given system, such as when
laws move regulation from govern-
ment to business (self-regulation)
t Tr a n sf o r ma t io na l c h a ng e occurs
when there is fundamental sys-
temic change resulting from new
ways of understanding what is pos-
sible and acting on them, such as
South Africa’s movement from pre-
to post-apartheid, or the reconfigu-
ration of physical and ecological
processes in the natural environ-
ment resulting from human-driven
climate change (Waddell, 2011)
Although incremental change (more
of the same) and reform (changing
rules) may lead to LSC and are part of its
dissemination, transformation provides
our over-arching change framework.
The ‘systems’, we refer to in LSC
are complex adaptive systems (CAS),
which describes both human systems
and natural ecosystems. These are
dynamic systems, with multiple inter-
acting and interrelated parts. Change
is continuous and emergent at all lev-
els of the system and its paths are
unpredictable. In these complex sys-
tems, there is really no such thing as
stasis (or what in economics is called
equilibrium) because of the dynamic
and interactive nature of the system.
However, there are periods of greater
and lesser turbulence; the former is
associated with ‘revolution’ and the
latter with stability. The tenets of
complexity theory (e.g. Prigogine &
Stengers, 1984; Nicolis & Prigogine,
1989; Stacey, 1997; Kauffman, 1995)
help us to consider some of the charac-
teristics of LSC with which any change
agent—or, better, change systems
agent(s)—must contend. Complex
challenges are without obvious begin-
ning or end points, interdependent,
and lack agreed solutions.
In LSC the change agents them-
selves are embedded within the sys-
tem that is to be changed; that is, they
are part of, rather than separate from,
the relevant complex problem (Wad-
dell et al., forthcoming). Hence bring-
ing in an outside consultant (or group)
to foster the change is not feasible;
LSC happens from within the relevant
system, even when change is deliber-
ate and intended.
A typology of change actions
Can we propose a framework that
provides a basis for comprehen-
sively mapping the enormous range
of change actions? This will greatly
facilitate development of strategies
that draw from understanding about
the range of choices, implications
behind strategic choices, when one
choice might be better than another,
and sequencing of choices. It will help
deepen conversations between advo-
cates of different strategies to hopeful
evolve more effective action.
Figure 1 is one possible such fram-
ing typology. It draws from several
sources, most notably from a com-
mon call to more explicitly include
power issues in change processes,
Scharmer’s Theory U (Scharmer,
2009), Isaac’s work on dialogue
(Isaacs, 1999), and Kahane’s book
Power and Love (Kahane, 2010).
Kahane explains his book as reflection
on Martin Luther King, Jr’s statement
that ‘power without love is reckless
and abusive and love without power
is sentimental and anemic’. Love is
action based in connection and rela-
tionship with others, and power is the
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large systems change
driver of people and entities to realise
and grow their own interests.
Both power and love can be either
generative or degenerative. The former
is a creative force and the latter is experi-
enced by many as destructive, although
Kahane conceives it as “decay”. ‘Gen-
erative’ relates to ‘generative dialogue’
(Isaacs, 1999; Scharmer, 2009), which
is associated with empathy and concern
for the whole to produce action and
transformation with a drive towards
highest aspirations. ‘Degenerative’ is
seen as its opposite: action and trans-
formation produced by narrow con-
cerns and shutting down, with a focus
on personal power and rewards. The
degenerative side of ‘love’ approaches
is that they can smother and oppress
individuals and groups. Power, Kahane
describes, is experienced at the extreme
as:
An individual or group that exer-
cises power to achieve its desires
and ambitions, but pays no atten-
tion to the desires or ambitions of
others, will end up steamrolling the
others. This degenerative power
shows up disturbingly as greed or
arrogance and catastrophically as
rapaciousness or violence (Kahane,
2013).
Figure 1 A typology of change actions
Collaboration
Confrontation
Generative
Un-generative
Co-creating
change
Paternalistic
change
Forcing
change
Supporting
change
These ideas led us to develop Fig-
ure 1, with a vertical axis of genera-
tive to un-generative. The horizontal
axis is confrontation to collaboration,
to get at the underlying dynamics of
extremes of how power and love can
be experienced. ‘Positive’ or ‘nega-
tive’ evaluations will be different for
different actors depending on their
goals and power concerns. They are
described archetypally as follows:
t Supporting change occurs when
power-holders use their resources
to realise change, convinced it is
for the broader good. However,
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they use unilateral action as is
associated with ‘lifting up’ and
noblesse oblige. Doing this can be
the objective of government legis-
lation, philanthropy, and commu-
nity organising, although these
actions can figure in other types
of change as well. In the US, this
strategy fits with the ‘what’s good
for business is good for America’
(or vice versa) mindset
t Forcing change occurs when
a stakeholder group(s) acts to
grow power in relation to others,
often through confrontational
tactics and strategies, perceiving
that resistance to change in their
desired direction (or moves to
change the status quo) make this
necessary. As a strategy, forcing
change is often associated with
such things as capital and labour
strikes, government legal sanc-
tions, armed insurrections, and
occupations
t Paternalistic change actions are
associated with power being used
in ways that maintain the status
quo. Consultation by power hold-
ers with the marginalised is a com-
mon activity in this when the power
holders do so without opening up
and responding to questions about
power dynamics. They take actions
in the name of others and with
identifiable benefit, but with the
paired objective of maintaining or
reinforcing the status quo. Much
lobbying of government fits in this
strategy, as well as top-down gov-
ernment consultative approaches
to regulation and beingin control’
of responses to challenges
t Co-creating change represents
collaborative strategies to develop
LSC such as with multi-stakeholder
mass movements; processes to
develop statements of principles
for business and activities to
implement them; public–private
partnerships; and education and
outreach programmes. A com-
mon underlying strategy is to
bring together diverse stakehold-
ers with early adopter insiders as
a way to transform issues of joint
concern
This typology aims to get at under-
lying dynamics of change that are
behind a popular name for a strat-
egy that can confuse these dynamics.
For example, ‘codes’ can be a strategy
applied in any of these four types of
change strategies (see Table 1) depend-
ing on the intent and composition of
the strategies’ participants. This is a
demonstration of the value of such a
typology.
Much of the most impactful change
effort arises from a drive for power
and self-serving goals. However, most
people working on complex change
issues focus on generative collabora-
tion strategies we would place in the
co-creating change quadrant. Such
change strategies are reflected in
approaches like Theory U (Scharmer,
2009), appreciative inquiry (Cooper-
rider & Whitney, 2005), most social
innovation labs (Hassan, 2014;
Westley et al., 2012) and work in the
transformation management tradi-
tion. The assumption is that by get-
ting people together to create shared
visions of the future, collaborative
efforts at change will emerge. People
will open their hearts, minds, poli-
cies, and institutions to realise a larger
emerging collective need and poten-
tial. They will change, relate better to
each other, learn to collaborate around
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large systems change
issues important to all, and thus begin
the change process each in their own
ways, moving the change initiatives
so that change effort participants’
‘power’ in the traditional sense is sim-
ply another ‘resource’ and factor avail-
able for the change effort rather than
one that determines outcomes. This is
the highest integration of power and
love.
The suggestion we make here is
that the co-creating change strategy
should be placed in the context of
other types of change actions to both
understand and develop powerful
change approaches. The forcing and
supporting change actions are almost
always important for transforma-
tional change advocates as well; pater-
nalistic change strategies can actually
hinder transformation. They must be
approached skilfully. The interplay
between these strategies can be seen in
big historic shifts. For example, refer-
ring to Martin Luther King, Jr again
and the 1960s struggle of American
blacks for their voting rights: King
and his contemporary Malcolm X
were coming from a minority position
which each organised into a power
block. Co-production was not proving
a successful strategy. With a genera-
tive base, King emphasised a non-
violent supporting change response,
and he was supported by some with
power such as white religious groups
in his efforts. Malcolm X took a more
violent and revolutionary position
with a forcing change strategy. They
were always facing dangers of being
‘bought off’ with incremental change
when they were working for trans-
formational change. The latter finally
began with empowering government
legislation which then led to many
co-creating change activities to ‘give
life’ to the legislation. Table 1 lists a
few examples illustrating the use of
all four archetypal strategies in several
major efforts to accomplish LSC.
Table 1 Examples of strategic-tactical change actions
Name
Supporting
change
Forcing
change
Co-creating
change
Paternalistic
change
Components Generative
confrontation
Un-generative
confrontation
Generative
collaboration
Un-generative
collaboration
Dynamic Empowering
Raising up
Confronting
Violence (physical,
verbal, etc.)
Collaborating
Co-evolving
Suppressing
Maintaining status
quo
Willingness to
share power
Willingness to
ignore harm
Willingness of
everyone to change
Willingness of
disempowered
for marginal
improvement
Popular
terms
Noblesse oblige
Upliftment
Forcing Co-production Paternalism
Obstructionism
Continued
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Name
Supporting
change
Forcing
change
Co-creating
change
Paternalistic
change
Archetypal
strategies
Community
organizing
Philanthropy
Human rights
legislation
Opening up
legal cases
Education
State force
Strikes (capital,
labor)
Demonstrations
Multi-stakeholder
fora
Public engagement
Social labs
Reinforcing legal
cases
Financial pay-offs
Consultation
Example 1:
Black
American
voting rights
King and non-
violent action
Police violence Inter-racial faith
coalitions
Eliminating poll
taxes (while
maintaining other
barriers to voting)
Example 2:
Codes of
conduct
Rainforest Alliance
(NGO controlled)
Opposing gvt
standards
Forest Stewardship
Council
(multi-stakeholder)
Sustainable
Forestry Initiative
(industry
controlled)
Key questions for LSC
We approach development of large sys-
tems theory of change through three
questions. In this section we investi-
gate them with the goal of suggesting
some boundaries for the field of LSC
in terms of knowledge and action. In
the following section the questions are
used to review the contributions of the
papers in this Special Issue.
Question 1: What is the foundation
of LSC concepts and methods?
The field of LSC has evolved from
a strong foundation of a vast body
of research and action from dispa-
rate disciplines, genres, and sectors.
Each of these approaches provides
an important lens with which to view
social, political, economic, technologi-
cal, and physical systems and their
corresponding issues. While each has
made significant contributions, many
of today’s problems intersect numer-
ous fields and disciplines requiring an
approach that reflects this reality. LSC
emerged out of an appreciation of the
depth and scale of the complex issues
we face and need for multidisciplinary
action and insights. It builds on these
trans-disciplinary change strategies to
effect unimagined possibilities.
Figure 2 aims to provide an ini-
tial, illustrative sketch of the relevant
knowledge domains that support and
remain critical to the development
of theoretical and practical knowl-
edge about LSC. Rather than propos-
ing a comprehensive depiction, this
descriptive figure is simply illustrative
of the wide range of approaches that
contribute to and support our under-
standing of complex adaptive systems
and LSC. This figure was developed in
consultation with numerous experts
working on LSC challenges and issues.
The figure depicts a range of tradi-
tions that emerged to address com-
plex change challenges, i.e. those
problems for which LSC is needed.
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large systems change
The figure proposes a range of tradi-
tions and workstreams that have been
deployed by the authors or others in
LSC. The figure illustrates several1
major streams of work or traditions in
which LSC is being addressed in some
ways, albeit not considered as LSC in
quite the holistic way we conceive of
it. The streams are represented by the
‘arms’ coming out of the centre of the
figure: governance, learning and eval-
uation, cultural change, business in
society, environment, complexity sci-
ence, spiritual/psychological, peace
1 Of course there are many ways to divide
up these traditions, and Gersick (1991)
identified six. This figure is simply
illustrative.
Figure 2 Mapping of large systems change approaches currently in use
Source: Waddell (2014)
Resilience
Sustainability
Climate Science
Conservation
Business
Development
Group
Processes
Socio-Technical
Systems
Stakeholders
Identity
Enhancing
Effectiveness
Scaling
Cultural
Business
in Society
LSC Challenges
Freedom
Learning &
Evaluation
Const itution Mak ing Governance
Public Good(s)
Planning Education
North-South
Development
Commu nity Planni ng/
Economic Dev.
Healthcare
Justice
Socio-Economic
Development
Peace and
Confl ict Resolut ion
Interpersonal
Inter- & Intra-
National
Ethics
Social
Activism
Internal
Development
Emergence
Evolution
Compl exity S cience
Environment
Spiritual-
Psychological
and conflict resolution, and socio-
economic development. The next
level depicts various streams of work
that derive from the major traditions.
There are, of course, many ways the
traditions could be represented and
parsed; the main point of the figure
is to emphasise that there is a rich,
but fragmented, LSC knowledge base
that provides the foundation for active
multi-, inter-, and trans-disciplinary
action to effect sustainable and struc-
tural change resulting in unimagined
possibilities.
Complexity science provides for
understanding the structure and
dynamics of interconnected and co-
evolving systems and the context to
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develop strategies for change at multi-
ple levels within the complex network.
A false causality is not assumed—
instead one works with the system’s
dispositions (Snowden, this issue).
By expanding the framework of refer-
ence for action in each field to incor-
porate their understanding of CAS,
practitioners are likely more inclined
to appreciate the broader impact of
their actions on actions of others. This
will likely result in more effective and
comprehensive strategy to effect sus-
tainable change.
As Figure 2 suggests, the business
in society (BiS) and socio-economic
development (SED) traditions have
developed particularly rich sets of
approaches ranging from norma-
tive ideas about what is the right way
to operate businesses, to corporate
(social) responsibility approaches
to stakeholder relationships, and
numerous approaches to social and
economic development with a wide
range of methodologies (see Tandon
this issue) that could stimulate sys-
tems change. Historically, the BiS tra-
dition is focused on questions about
the responsibilities of the corporation
as the core stakeholder, with empha-
ses in the literature on socio-technical
systems, stakeholders, group proc-
esses, and business development.
The SED tradition focuses on broader
societal stakeholder concerns, includ-
ing justice, healthcare, education,
economic and community develop-
ment, and North–South development
as major substreams of work. Many
of the SED literature and approaches,
however, are technocratic, linear, and
not systemic.
Over time these BiS and stake-
holder perspectives have increas-
ingly intersected as the perspective
of corporations has broadened and
the SED traditions have recognised
the importance of the contribution of
corporations to addressing their con-
cerns. Both traditions have historically
shared what might be described as an
institutional-structural focus in their
efforts to conceive change. Individu-
als’ roles have often been framed, par-
ticularly in the BiS tradition, around
the concept of ‘leadership’, typically
in a hierarchical heroic model. Group
processes, as ‘teams’ in BiS and ‘com-
munities’ in SED, have spurred a
rich tradition that has grown into the
shared concept of ‘multi-stakeholder
convenings’, and the socio-technical
systems tradition has major roots in
the vast literature on planned change
and organisational development.
Approaches that start with reflexiv-
ity, learning and enhancing individual
and group awareness have developed
within what is here termed the spir-
itual-psychological (SP) tradition.
Individuals’ inner states of awareness
and insight (as opposed to heroic
leadership) are emphasised as being
central strategies to bringing change
about (see Scharmer & Yukelson and
Betit, this issue). These approaches
are focused on raising awareness in
groups of individuals so they can work
together collaboratively on change.
Historically, SP approaches have pro-
duced different types of intentional
communities or communities of prac-
tice around ways of living or particular
practices.
Both institutional and individual
interactions are foci of the peace and
conflict resolution traditions, which
have received perhaps the most sig-
nificant and concentrated attention as
‘complex change challenges’ because of
their obvious life-and-death issues (see
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large systems change
Fitzduff, this issue). Again dialogue
surfaces as a key method (e.g. Leder-
ach, 2005; Saunders, 2003; Susskind
et al., 1999). Conflicts such as those
with the Apartheid regime in South
Africa, the persistent Israel–Arab cri-
sis, Northern Ireland’s troubles, inter-
necine guerrilla activity in Colombia,
and violence in Central America, as
examples, have produced an impres-
sive array of methods relevant to
complex change from interpersonal
strategies to post-conflict reconcilia-
tion commissions. The potential for
multi-disciplinary and cross-sector
knowledge transfer to effect change in
this and so many other areas is likely to
have significant impact on the interact-
ing systems and influence the CAS.
As the governance traditions sug-
gest, the need for effective govern-
ment/governance has produced in
the political science field and beyond
notable processes for national conver-
sations around constitutional arrange-
ments and strategies to advance
agendas such as regional planning.
Thinking of top-down government
being ‘in control’ is giving way to con-
cepts of collaborative and deliberative
governance involving all organisa-
tional sectors, especially some initia-
tives at the global level (e.g. Biermann
et al., 2012; Glasbergen and Schouten,
this issue). Collaborative governance
(Zadek & Radovich, 2006) approaches
contrast with standard hierarchical
government and the coercive power
implied by mandate; ‘experimen-
talist governance’ (Sabel & Zeitlin,
2012) integrates flexible, recursive
processes more democratically than
traditional top-down approaches. At
an even broader cultural level, other
methodologies have developed to
support shifts in popular insights
and values such as the wide range of
media and specific methods, such as
Theatre of the Oppressed. Political,
cultural, and socio-economic com-
plex change strategies have produced
a range of methods associated with
community organising, collaboration
and purposeful conflict generation
such as with strikes (Victoria & Albert
Museum, 2014).
The most impressive growth in the
traditions over the first decades of the
21st century is associated with the
environmental tradition, with the con-
cepts of ‘resilience’ (e.g. the Resilience
Alliance) and ‘transitions’ (e.g. the
Sustainability Transitions Research
Network). Concerns about degrada-
tion of the natural environment origi-
nally brought biologists and natural
scientists into the transformation fray,
with a gradual realisation that address-
ing their concerns must categorically
address socio-economic and politi-
cal concerns not purely ecological
ones. This tradition has led to holistic
stakeholder strategies around natural
resource issues ranging from fisher-
ies to, increasingly, climate change.
Question 2: What needs to change?
A key question that change agents,
who themselves are part of the system
undergoing change, must ask is: What
needs to change? Wicked problems are
embedded in the complex system with
different stakeholder perspectives on
what the problem is, why it exists,
and what should be done about it.
Individuals, including ‘experts’, focus
on particular aspects of the problem,
reflecting the proverbial problem of
blind people touching different parts
of the elephant and imagining differ-
ent animals. Can a comprehensive
framework be developed?
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Figure 3 provides one way of con-
ceiving what needs to change in LSC
as a series of related spheres or circles
that are integrally linked to each other
but represent different important fac-
ets of the change process. Each circle,
called an LSC sphere, can be viewed as
a set of systems that change over time.
At the broadest level is the natural
environment, which underpins and
influences everything in the system.
The next sphere consists of memes
(Dawkins, 2006); that is, shared
beliefs, values, and other cultural
artefacts providing an idea- and infor-
mation-based framework that aligns
and creates identities within differ-
ent subsystems. The socio-political
structures are familiar informal (e.g.
family) and formal (e.g. corporations,
governments, NGOs) organisations
and institutions that constitute socie-
ties, in which individuals, with their
own beliefs and values, act on social
and natural systems.
In fact, most theories of change
focus on one of these perspectives,
leaving the other layers weakly artic-
ulated, if at all. Following Wilber’s
developmental notions, the broader
systems encompass and constrain
in some ways the narrow systems in
nested fashion (Wilber, 2000). LSC
must deal with all of them holistically
and appreciate their dynamic impact
within a CAS to realise change. Collec-
tively these perspectives represent the
system of interest to us: a ‘large sys-
tem’ in the sense of having multiple
components of very different kinds,
with many interactions playing out at
various scales of time and space. The
figure is loosely organised as a cas-
cade of spheres, where changes in the
outer systems play an interactive role
in emerging the options for change
in the inner systems (shown by the
curved arrows). As you move towards
the inner systems, change tends to be
more specific and definable and takes
place in shorter timeframes. In the
outer systems, change is more likely
to be more diffuse, broad ranging,
and slower. Importantly, these inter-
actions are dynamic and create feed-
back, thus the mindset and actions of
an individual may affect technology
or memes which influence the indi-
vidual to potentially create or adopt a
disruptive technology.
Figure 3 should not be interpreted
as being a rigid hierarchy of systems,
or even of approaches to understand-
ing systems. Rather it is a dynamic
and co-evolutionary model of a com-
plex reality. There are many ways to
define or theorise systems, in terms
of deciding on their boundaries and
the kinds of relationships between
components that are deemed to mat-
ter. There are also other ways to theo-
rise this framework for large systems
change that go beyond our practice-
oriented pragmatic approach.
Figure 3 What changes in large
systems change?
Individual
Techn o l og y
Societal Structures
Memes
Natural Environment
N
S
o
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large systems change
Natural environment
At the broadest level, change happens
within the context of nature includ-
ing human beings’ relationship to and
treatment of nature. Earth’s weather,
natural resources, flora and fauna are
limiting and enabling factors in large
systems change. At transformation’s
grandest scale, change is counted in
‘geological ages’. Transitions from
one age to another are defined by the
International Commission on Stratig-
raphy based on geological evidence
of global events, such as changes in
Earth’s orbit around the sun, plane-
tary impact events, massive volcanic
eruptions, and mass extinctions (ICS,
2013). The field of Earth system sci-
ence seeks to understand these events,
which are associated with shifts in
the physical composition of land,
oceans and the atmosphere, and the
responses to these changes by living
organisms. This large systems change
concept has come into more common
parlance with the proposition that we
are now in the Anthropocene—an era
arguably beginning with the Indus-
trial Revolution, when human activity
began to have a dramatically increas-
ing level of influence on natural sys-
tems (Crutzen, 2006; Steffen et al.,
2007). As the predictive power of the
field of Earth systems science reaches
its limits in the light of human-caused
changes, new ways of conceptualising
linked social-ecological systems are
being explored. The idea of panarchy
(Holling et al., 2002) and other forms
of global governance, is important in
this context, as it addresses evolving
hierarchical systems that link biologi-
cal, ecological, and various human
elements across temporal and spatial
scales.
Memes: shared values, beliefs, and
cultural artefacts
The rise of the Anthropocene can
be seen as the product of change in
the other systems shown in Figure 3
and an example of the second circle:
changes in memes, or values, beliefs,
and cultural artefacts. Memes, follow-
ing Dawkins (2006), are ideas with
‘spreading power’. Memes, broadly
defined to encompass the intangible
ideas that shape how people in dif-
ferent settings view the world, are the
core underpinnings of societies: for
example, shaping ideologies of vari-
ous sorts and the perspectives, such
as about change itself, that come
from those ideologies (see Waddock,
2015). The meme circle of large sys-
tems change is where work on sci-
entific paradigm shifts (Kuhn, 1962),
for example, is placed, as a way to
describe such important changes in
the perspectives of large swaths of peo-
ple, such as pre- and post-Copernican,
and pre- and post-Cartesian ways of
understanding the world. Shifts in sci-
entific paradigms involve change in
definitions of what an analysis should
observe, the kinds of questions that
should be asked, how the question-
ing should be developed, and how the
results should be interpreted.
This layer is also evident with belief
systems of various labels, including
a number of ‘ies’, such as monar-
chies, democracies, and theocracies;
and political ‘isms’, such as imperi-
alism, socialism, communism and
capitalism; and religious ones such
as polytheism, monotheism, atheism,
and more particular denominations
within them. Within each of these
broad categories is a memeplex (com-
plex set of memes) (Blackmore, 2000)
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or a range of ways of understanding
the world, where the core dimensions
to be understood are the functioning
of the physical environment, the rela-
tionships among different cultures or
groups of people, and the relationship
between humanity and its environ-
ment. Memes are the cultural arte-
facts that constitute the belief sets on
which societies are based, much as
genes make up the DNA that deter-
mines the constitution of every living
being and have an effect on the world
beyond themselves.
Of course, such labels are given to
the dominant organising imperative
or dominant meme: any particular
example contains various degrees of
many of these memes, and conflict-
ing memes can exist within a given
culture such as a conservative versus
a progressive perspective (see Lakoff,
2014). But moving from one social-
political belief system to another is
another form of large systems change,
which can be associated with revolu-
tions (e.g. the French and American
revolutions in the 18th century, pre- to
post-Apartheid South Africa, and the
‘coloured’ revolutions2 at the turn of
this millennium), as it can involve a
basic realignment of power structures
and ways of life.
Societal structures
The third circle is the formal and
informal social, political and eco-
nomic institutions and organiza-
tions in societies, including global
structures. Here we find governance
2 e.g. the ‘Rose Revolution’ in Georgia in
2012, the ‘Orange Revolution’ in Ukraine
in 2004, and the ‘Tulip Revolution’ that
took place in Kyrgyzstan in 2005.
mechanisms of various sorts, rang-
ing from the family to organisational
to national to global level. It includes
the many networks that are part of our
daily lives, and the ways that they are
increasingly influenced by virtual com-
munications. Many change initiatives
focus explicitly on institutions within
this circle, recognising that how our
institutions are shaped, function, and
perform, and the policies and prac-
tices that they generate, shape how
people experience life within a given
system. Many of the socio-economic
development, governance, cultural,
complexity, and business-in-society
traditions noted in Figure 2 focus on
this circle.
Technology
Large systems change is also associ-
ated with changes in physical tech-
nologies. Eras, for example, are
named for core technologies, such as
the bronze and iron prehistoric ages,
and more recently the industrial era
and the information age. Dominant
(and sometimes emerging) technolo-
gies can have significant influences
on the social-political and economic
systems. For example, in some devel-
oping parts of the world, today’s
widespread access to cell phones
in developing countries has shifted
power in agricultural production to
farmers, who now have ready access
to market information, and away from
middle-men whose power previously
depended on their privileged access
to that information. In the electricity
industry power is shifting from utili-
ties to ‘prosumers’: those who both
consume and produce energy. Inno-
vation theories address this layer of
large system change, and learning and
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large systems change
evaluation and complexity traditions
of change often work with this circle.
Individual
Many current change traditions
approach LSC as a challenge of indi-
vidual awareness and capacities.
Collaborative strategies in the spirit-
ual-psychological, cultural, socio-eco-
nomic development, and governance
traditions often start with individual
awareness and attempt to create col-
laborative strategies. They are, at
one level, working with the memes
or ‘large systems’ set of assumptions
and beliefs held by individuals and
attempting to change them through
interaction, awareness-raising, and
cooperation. In one important strand
of theory, this layer of individual agency
is interpreted in the traditional frame
of leadership. In another strand, there
is recognition that LSC is connected
to an individual’s sense-making about
relationships between people and the
natural environment, often associ-
ated with a sort of spiritual awareness
(Weick et al., 2005; Werkman, 2010).
Question 3: How does LSC occur?
Fro m obser vin g LSC, are there any gen-
eral propositions to make about how
it occurs? Certainly work to date sug-
gests some. We would like to build on
this to advance the understanding for
taking purposive action. If we assume
that LSC must occur in the context of
a CAS, questions abound: for exam-
ple, what are sets of interventions that
can support movement in a desired
direction? What types of processes and
engagement of various stakeholders
are needed to bring about LSC? Where
does effective LSC begin and how?
How are others brought into an initial
change effort so that they feel part of
the change process? Here we provide
some observations to contribute to
propositions about the LSC process.
Observation 1: LSC seeds can be in
any LSC sphere
There is a strong tendency of those
working on LSC issues to assert a
key beginning point. For example,
Scharmer clearly advocates the begin-
ning is with individual awareness.
However, as noted in the discussion of
the LSC spheres, we observe that dif-
ferent analysts and activists focus on
different spheres with success; com-
plexity or wicked problems thinking
would indicate that it is next to impos-
sible to determine an actual begin-
ning point for any change.
Observation 2: LSC potential is
constant with facilitating factors
Such factors include:
t Opening up. New insights and
getting in touch with unrecog-
nised limiting assumptions can
lead to new ways of acting, new
rules and new beliefs
t Closing down. Restricting actions,
reducing knowledge and limiting
resources can dramatically change
the inertia in a system
t Addressing contradictions. Both
Marx and Kuhn emphasised ten-
sions between espoused practice,
structures and beliefs, and those
observed and arising
t Hitting boundaries. Existing sys-
tems contain enormous inertial
pressures to adapt to change,
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rather than accept transforma-
tion. However, incremental adap-
tation changes can force LSC, as
Malthus (2013), Diamond (2005)
and analysts of the fall of the
Roman Empire have theorised
Observation 3: LSC involves change
throughout all of the LSC spheres
While recognising that the temporal
horizons are of great variation, LSC
appears to work across the spheres
of Figure 3. LSC in one sphere pro-
duces changes in another. Without
accommodation in other spheres, the
change will remain a marginalised idi-
osyncrasy rather than a LSC.
Observation 4: LSC is evolutionary
and revolutionary
Reviewing six knowledge domains,
Gersick investigated theories of revolu-
tionary change and found a common-
ality that warrants repeating: ‘Systems
evolve through the alternation of peri-
ods of equilibrium, in which persist-
ent underlying structures permit only
incremental change, and periods of
revolution, in which these underlying
structures are fundamentally altered’
(Gersick, 1991: 13).
A core question for those inter-
ested in realising peaceful purposive
change is how the period experienced
as equilibrium can work with fac-
tors within the various spheres and
develop important experimental-
transformational responses in the
desired direction.
Observation 5: LSC development
occurs in stages
Development stages move from
inducement to prototyping to dissemi-
nation where true LSC is experienced.
LSC can be rapid or slow; however, it
must go through a period of testing to
develop new DNA in the LSC spheres
with protected spaces (skunk works)
for transformation.
Observation 6: Transformation
moments are always emerging, but
unpredictable
These observations reflect the con-
stant presence of inducing factors
and an axiom of complexity science.
The real question for LSC is: What
do purposive change efforts look like,
since emergence is a constant?’ Chaos
theory suggests that specific predic-
tions cannot be made—but general
patterns of change can be sensed. For
purposive change efforts, the first may
be debilitating, the second inspiring.
The development stages will not lead
to transformation at pre-determined
points. This observation is reflected
in both the lack of prediction of the
Arab Spring, and its collapse. Tipping
points are an attractive idea, but not
only are they hard (impossible?) to
define, but there are many examples
of false positive declarations of trans-
formation. The message for purposive
change makers is that efforts must be
persistent and include a healthy dose
of reflection and humility!
Observation 7: Change initiatives can
be undertaken from wherever a
change agent sits within the system
Deliberate or purposive LSC requires
acts of leadership or what Raelin (Rae-
lin, 2003) calls ‘leaderfulness’ from
anywhere in the system. But the out-
comes of any given act of leaderful-
ness cannot be fully determined in
advance given the complexity of the
systems.
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large systems change
Observation 8: The role of memes is
central in shaping behaviours, beliefs,
practices, norms, and systems
Memes are the core ideas on which
ideologies, ideas, and belief systems
of all sorts are built, but far too little
is understood about how they influ-
ence behaviours or the change proc-
ess positively or negatively.
Observation 9: LSC itself has
stakeholders who must work
collaboratively for purposive
transformation
Individuals who perceive a need for
LSC usually strive to identify their
role, or roles, in these processes of
change. How is each of us contribut-
ing to LSC? In particular, using the lan-
guage of organisation studies in LSC
(Lawrence and Lorsch, 1967), how do
roles in LSC differ from each other in
achieving LSC? How do we integrate
and catalyse our efforts towards com-
plementary rather than conflicting
outcomes? This question on how roles
are defined and integrated is crucial:
individuals, organisations and institu-
tions seeking solutions to problems at
large scale risk exacerbating problems
when they collide rather than coordi-
nate with the roles of others targeting
the same end point.
We can think of differentiating and
integrating roles for LSC along at least
two different dimensions. The first
dimension may lead to differentia-
tion of our roles based on the initial
resources that each individual brings
to play: including financial, physi-
cal, intellectual and social resources.
These resources could be thought of
as an initial endowment that each of
us receives. This may lead individu-
als to work in one specific sphere of
change, or across different spheres
(Figure 3). Moreover, within or across
different spheres, individuals may
take one or more of these different
roles that were identified through a
World Bank-funded exploration (Wad-
dell, 2014):
t Complex issue owners are those
who are taking leadership to
respond to complex change chal-
lenges. They are usually organisa-
tions, classically governments and
inter-governmental organisations
and their agencies and founda-
tions; NGOs; occasionally busi-
nesses; and, in more mature issue
fields, multi-stakeholder entities
t Funders provide financial support
to address complex challenges.
They include high net-worth indi-
viduals, foundations, research
funders, and government agencies
t Practitioners are those who are
supporting action through organ-
ising and application of method-
ologies to a particular complex
challenge. Classically these are
consultants or employees of a
problem owner
t Trainers and educators are those
who are building capacity of prac-
titioners, complex issue owners
and issue stakeholders to address
their challenge
t Action and conventional research-
ers are those who engage in analy-
sis of data of an issue to produce
knowledge and methods to inform
action. Action researchers, partic-
ularly important in LSC given the
collaborative emergent learning
imperative, work with stakehold-
ers in an issue to support real-
time co-production of knowledge
and action. Conventional social
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22 The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015
scientists work in an issue expert
mode with particular emphasis on
controlled, quantitative and his-
toric experiences
t Change issue stakeholders are
those who are influenced by the
topic of change
Papers in this Special Issue
As editors of this Special Issue, we are
pleased to share four invited Turning
Point pieces from leading academic
practitioners and seven full article
contributions that highlight the chal-
lenges and complexity of LSC. In
this section, we briefly review those
contributions.
The papers represent a great diver-
sity in LSC forums: individual compe-
tencies, peace-making, government
services, a private company, national
issue arenas, global networks, glo-
cal arenas, and fields of research
and practice. They bring in a global
complexity of actors, their roles and
change approaches. They embrace
the forms of complexity Kunkel notes
as: dynamic, generative, social and
institutional, and value. Of course,
within the space constraints of a Spe-
cial Issue, the variety of perspectives
cannot be comprehensive. We note,
for example, that a Western/Northern
tradition is clearly dominant.
The contributions are notable for
their action-based qualities. This is
certainly not a simple coincidence.
Loorbach et al. explain the purposive
nature of transition management
(TM) in ways most, if not all, contribu-
tors would agree as a basis of their
own work: ‘. . .to better understand the
failure of policy and markets in deliv-
ering a fundamental reorientation of
the development pathway of modern
societies and an opportunity to explore
new ways to achieve breakthroughs’.
The contributors to this Special Issue
share a commitment to active engage-
ment in the betterment of the world
through LSC, and eschew traditional
positions about neutral objectiveness.
This is not to say that they do not
value traditions of rigour and disci-
pline, however. They are committed to
reflective, analytic action, and practice
using and advancing development of
research tools in a most serious of
ways applied to the world’s most seri-
ous of issues. There is, however, a
clear value basis for the future that
they are supporting that goes beyond
sustainability to realising participa-
tory, flourishing futures. This is a hall-
mark foundation of what we mean
when we refer to the field of large
systems change.
Contribution to typology of change
In terms of the typology of change
presented earlier, these papers are less
diverse. They tend to focus on the co-
creating generative-love quadrant with
multi-stakeholder processes, while
verging into the consultative, status-
quo led quadrant of leading change
with generative power. Holton, in her
review of social movements, enters
more categorically into forcing change
degenerative power approaches: ‘lead-
ers’, she says referring to Heifetz,
‘can “ripen” issues through conflict’.
Nevertheless a lesson she presents
is that ‘Leading from a social move-
ments perspective requires courage
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The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015 23
large systems change
to leave behind familiar power-vested
responses. . .’.
Glasbergen and Schouten explore
the interaction between the typol-
ogy quadrants with three governance
forms for large systems change: mar-
ket-driven, state-driven, and public–
private institutions. Market-driven and
state-driven transformations would
represent approaches for generative
power leading change; yet the risk is
that, without pressure from stakehold-
ers in the system, these could turn
into forms of degenerative forcing
and paternalistic change. Public–pri-
vate institutions have the potential to
become forms for co-creating change,
although the risk is that, without a
continuous attempt to find coherence
with other institutions towards large
systems change, they could turn into
forms of forcing change (yet mask-
ing by co-producing change). Thus,
Glasbergen and Schouten conclude
by mentioning that, most likely, only
a coherent combination of these three
typologies of governance would lead
to co-producing change.
When Moore looks at issues of scal-
ing, she emphasises a complex change
dictum reflected in the Glasbergen
and Schouten conclusion: develop
multiple paths and experiment. Loor-
bach et al. describe this within the TM
tradition as innovation, co-evolution
and empowering front-runners, with
an acceptance of a high likelihood that
success will not follow immediately or
directly or at all.
Contribution to defining the range
of LSC knowledge and methods
The contributions to this Special Issue
reflect the assertion that LSC as an
emerging field of study draws from
many sources. Some contributions
themselves cite this quality, perhaps
most notably Loorbach et al.’s categor-
ical reference to complexity science,
governance, sustainability science
and social innovation as foundations
for TM. Others are associated in par-
ticular with peacebuilding, business
in society, social movements, systems
analysis, and leadership.
Within this range one knowledge
tradition stands out. Complexity sci-
ence and complex adaptive systems
references are perhaps most com-
monly referenced. Its most formal
articulation is evidenced in the analy-
sis by Moallemi et al. of Iran’s fuel cell
development, drawing heavily from
systems analysis. Also, Snowden’s
Turning Point contribution highlights
a complexity science approach.
With Holton’s paper, we become
immersed in social movements the-
ory lessons for LSC. Loorbach et al.
specifically look at TM from a gov-
ernance perspective; Glasbergen
and Schouten integrate this with a
business-in-society tradition. Leader-
ship is highlighted by Kuenkel. The
Carris companies’ transition to a fully
employee-owned company (see Betit,
this issue), has origins within a com-
bination of the business-in-society,
governance, and socio-technical sys-
tems approaches to change.
Three particular points arise from
the contributions in terms of meth-
odologies. One is that the LSC field
is not simply about action within one
tradition; it is very much inter- and
transdisciplinary. The second point is
that it is both quantitative and quali-
tative, but the former tradition such
as reflected in the Moallemi paper
appears poorly integrated, based on
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24 The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015
the editors’ experience and the admit-
tedly narrow representation of the
papers. There are enormous potential
contributions to LSC from, for exam-
ple, emerging big data approaches.
Snowden’s SenseMaker methodology,
not a feature in this issue, is a good
example of this direction as well as
work by MIT’s Center for Collective
Intelligence. This quantitative weak-
ness is also reflected in the lack of
clear ways impact measurement is
addressed (recognising all the diffi-
culties of time spans, counterfactuals,
attribution, and problems in defining
goals).
Of course there are traditions that
have important roles in LSC that are
at best weakly represented here. For
example: the TM paper makes refer-
ence to social learning, and Holton
approaches social movements not in a
traditional rational-analytic problem-
solving mode, but rather as an exer-
cise in emergent creative thinking and
flexible adaptation. However, there is
also a gap with ‘learning’ as a tradition
contributing to LSC. Emergent learn-
ing is stressed as key to LSC, but we
lack contributions that reflect this.
Contribution to understanding what
needs to change
One theme in the papers is the impor-
tance of thinking and acting in terms
of the ‘whole’ rather than focusing
simply on a part. This wholeness
comes in many forms. At its most
basic it involves broadening of aware-
ness: Scharmer and Yukelson state
‘that behaviours within systems
cannot be transformed unless we
also transform (deepen) the qual-
ity of awareness that people in these
systems apply to their actions, both
individually and collectively’. This
means understanding relationships
between organisations, goals, and
issues; from individual to societal;
and in Glasbergen-Schouten’s and
Fitzduff’s cases understanding the
glocal, and Betit’s in understanding
change at the company level.
This awareness and how to develop
it is, of course, a focus on the indi-
vidual change sphere as the point
of departure that is also reflected in
Kuenkel’s work. The papers actually
present a nice array of approaches
in terms of the earlier model of the
spheres of change. TM focuses on
technology; Betit with the Carris
example focuses on an organisation
while emphasising employee aware-
ness; Tandon with mining in India
looks at government as an institution;
with social movements Holton looks
at memes in the context of specific
institutions—a combination also
apparent in the Glasbergen-Schouten
look at global networks, Moallemi with
Iran’s fuel cells and Moore’s analysis
of scaling processes. Fitzduff with
peacebuilding provides the greatest
focus on memes as a basis for LSC
action.
The importance of interacting activ-
ity among the spheres of change is
reflected in the contributions, although
of course not with that language:
t TM is explicit about the levels of
change (niche to landscape) and
acknowledges diverse co-evolving
processes (economy, technology,
ecology) through cycles of destabi-
lisation and reconfiguration
t Fitzduff writes that ‘a systemic,
integrated, and holistic approach
to developing sustainably peace-
ful societies is more effective than
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The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015 25
large systems change
the more usual one dimensional
approach’
t Glasbergen and Schouten discuss
the role of societal structures as
starting point for change. Through
institutions (e.g. global stand-
ards), multiple actors interact to
develop shared beliefs and shape
the natural environment. At the
same time, institutions have the
power of facilitating the develop-
ment and outreach of technol-
ogy with effects on all individuals
involved in LSC
t Betit explores the 20-year tran-
sition of the Carris Companies
from a traditional firm to a wholly
employee-owned and managed
ESOP (employee stock ownership
plan) company, focusing explicitly
on the role of leadership, on chang-
ing employee and management
awareness, and on the numer-
ous small changes that resulted
in the overall system change of
the company, as well as the ripple
effects that the Carris transition
had beyond the firm itself
t To realise scaling, Moore points to
the importance of multi-level action
Contribution to explaining how
purposive LSC occurs
There is a common rejection of tra-
ditional management practice as
incompatible with, and even coun-
ter-productive to, LSC. The prede-
fined outcome focus of management
drives out the innovation that is at
the heart of LSC: if the transforma-
tion can be so clearly articulated, it
must have already been experienced
and therefore not a transformation at
all. Moreover, the solutions ‘roll out’
approach of traditional management
is at fundamental odds with the sus-
tainability emphasis on the need for
contextual (environmental, social,
political, cultural, economic) sensi-
tivity. Snowden points to three core
assumptions behind traditional deci-
sion making that are simply wrong for
LSC challenges: order, rational choice
and intentional capability.
This does not mean the papers are
without operationalisable LSC path-
ways guidance as the very term ‘tran-
sition management’ suggests. Almost
all the contributors propose some sort
of stage development process. So it is
not surprising that the contributors
are strong advocates of an incremen-
tal evolutionary perspective. At first
blush, this may seem at odds with
the authors’ desire to greatly speed
up LSC in response to pressing issues
such as climate change. However,
deeper in the contributors’ message
is that they say ‘evolution’, but aim for
an intensity that many would experi-
ence as ‘revolution’.
In this LSC process the role of vision-
ing the future remains a contentious
issue. The most strident proponents
of defining futures and then building
them are associated with the Sante Fe
Institute modelling tradition. This is
reflected in the Moallemi et al. arti-
cle on Iranian fuel cells. Rather than
defining futures, Snowden empha-
sises the importance for LSC efforts of
thinking in terms of propensities and
dispositions. In one of her lessons in
this issue, Holton cites Snowden (this
issue): ‘Sustainability and resilience
are more likely to be achieved if we
enable change rather than trying to
determine what that change would be
in advance’.
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26 The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015
However, creating visions of the
future—exploring potential future
realities—is emphasised among
many in this issue as a key ingre-
dient in developing forward energy.
Kuenkel refers to taking responsibility
to consciously shape reality towards
a sustainable future; Scharmer and
Yukelson refer to activating the power
of intention; Betit holds the vision of
the Carris company owner as instru-
mental in realising transformation.
There might be agreement that the
real issue is about how visioning and
modelling are used: in a determin-
istic, goal setting way or in a way to
generate conversations and action in
a certain direction. Certainly the Moal-
lemi et al. article offers an opportunity
to greatly deepen understanding of
dynamics and roles within a system
that seems valuable input for action.
There is an emphasis on change
through prototyping and experiments
as core to the development process.
This is where the ‘incremental’ change
comes in. ‘Successes’ collectively lead
to a new dominant meme, to mix TM
and our thinking. However, the world
is replete with prototypes and experi-
ments, and a core question is how
to move beyond them. How to scale
transformation is a core question for
TM. Betit uses the image of enlarging
ripples from a pebble tossed into a
pool as the impact of transformation
of the company. Happily, scaling is
the focus of Moore’s paper as she dis-
tinguishes between three strategies:
scaling up and out focuses on the legal
environment; scaling out on numbers
impacted; scaling deep is a hearts and
minds (and memes) experience. In
her description of development of the
field of peacebuilding, Fitzduff very
much reflects this scaling activity.
The geographic scales of Glasber-
gen and Schouten range from local
to global. Although institutions play a
prominent role in LSC, they recognise
that institutions alone cannot achieve
their transformative potential without
a different source of change linking
them. To find coherence across insti-
tutions, a broader sphere of change is
needed and, at the same time, indi-
viduals within the system have the
power to influence the transformative
power of institutions.
The question of what are the key
roles in LSC produces diverse answers
from the contributions, as reflected
in their diverse spheres of change
foci. Individual leadership is particu-
larly important in the view of several.
Moore explores the roles necessary to
realise LSC and identifies shielding,
nurturing, and empowering. Simi-
lar to shielding, TM emphasises the
importance of protecting front run-
ners. The common concern is both
for protecting emerging transforma-
tions from the incumbent memes and
actors and for growing clarity about
what possible alternatives are most
powerful.
Conclusion
LSC is a field of study and action
that is characterised by its focus on
transformational pathways towards
a participative, flourishing future
through inter- and trans-disciplinary
approaches that value engagement
with practitioners and those aspiring
for such futures. Its emergence holds
great promise for addressing critical
issues. Advancing its development
requires aggressiveness to cross the
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The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015 27
large systems change
many disciplinary, institutional and
other boundaries and build the nec-
essary scale of effort; however, hum-
bleness is also required to recognise
that although we have substantial
knowledge and methodologies for
approaching LSC, we are still at early
stages of their development.
To apply the question of how to
scale to the field of LSC, the contribu-
tors and editors reflect it happening
at the three levels identified by Moore
(this issue): broadening by increasing
the numbers of people and organisa-
tions identified with it; going up and
out with a more receptive environ-
ment arising with failures of tradi-
tional management approaches; and
deepening of knowledge and methods
for supporting LSC. We hope that you,
the reader, will find this Special Issue
makes a valuable contribution in this
direction.
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The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015 29
large systems change
Weick, Karl E, Sutcliffe, Kathleen M, & Obst-
feld, David. (2005). Organizing and the
process of sensemaking. Organization
science, 16(4), 409-421.
Werkman, Renate. (2010). Reinventing
organization development: How a
sensemaking perspective can enrich
OD theories and interventions. Journal
of Change Management, 10(4), 421-438.
Westley, Frances, Goebey, Sean, & Robinson,
Kirsten. (2012). Change lab/design lab for
social innovation (Vol. January). Waterloo
Ontario, Canada: Waterloo Institute of
Social Innovation and Resilience.
Wilber, Ken. (2000). A theory of everything:
An integral vision for business, politics, sci-
ence and spirituality. Boston, MA, USA:
Shambhala Publications.
Zadek, Simon, & Radovich, Sasha. (2006).
Governing collaborative governance:
Enhancing development outcomes by
improving partnership governance and
accountability. Cambridge, MA, USA:
Corporate Social Responsibility Initia-
tive - Harvard University.
q
Steve Waddell is Principal of
NetworkingAction. Responding to the
21st century’s enormous global
challenges and realising its
unsurpassed opportunities require new
ways of acting and organising. For 30
years Steve has been supporting this
with organisational, network, and societal change and
development. He does this through NetworkingAction
with collaborative consultations, education, research,
and personal leadership. For the last 10 years he’s
focused largely on multi-stakeholder global change
networks (Global Action Networks) as a large systems
change strategy. Currently he is deeply engaged with
development of the Potsdam Initiative as a network of
LSC stakeholders.
u 14 Upton St., Boston, MA 02118, USA
! swaddell@networkingaction.net
Sandra Waddock is the Galligan Chair
of Strategy, Carroll School Scholar of
Corporate Responsibility, and Professor
of Management at Boston College’s
Carroll School of Management. Author
of more than 100 papers, she has
published 11 books, the latest of which
is Intellectual Shamans (Cambridge, 2015). Her current
research interests are large system change, intellectual
shamans, wisdom, and memes.
u Carroll School of Management, Boston College,
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
! waddock@bc.edu
Sarah Cornell is an environmental
scientist at the Stockholm Resilience
Centre, Stockholm University. Her
research is on global environmental
change, and the place of people in
driving change, and understanding and
responding to it. In this
transdisciplinary area, she works with climate
modellers, resource economists, policy analysts,
ecologists—and with regular people in businesses and
her local community, helping to build the knowledge,
dialogues and action that are needed for sustainability.
u Stockholm University, 10691 Stockholm
! sarah.cornell@su.se
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steve waddell et al.
30 The Journal of Corporate Citizenship Issue 58 June 2015 © Greenleaf Publishing 2015
Dr. Domenico Dentoni is Assistant
Professor in Agribusiness Management
and Strategy at Wageningen University
(Netherlands), and Principal
Investigator at the Global Center for
Food Systems Innovation, funded by
US Agency for International
Development. With support from the Governments of
Ecuador, Malaysia, Poland, Australia and US, he leads
research projects on designing, managing, bridging
and evaluating multi-stakeholder partnerships that
stimulate systems innovation in agribusiness. He was
awarded with Best PhD thesis award in Agricultural
Economics in 2009 at Michigan State University. His
publications are available on his blog: <http://
domenicodentoni.blogspot.nl/p/publications_3.html>
and at Google Scholar: <https://scholar.google.it/citatio
ns?user=QLjjVw8AAAAJ&hl=en>.
! domenico.dentoni@wur.nl
Milla McLachlan is an independent
consultant on food systems change, and
part-time Professor in Human
Nutrition at Stellenbosch University.
Milla is the Co-founder of the Southern
Africa Food Lab, a multi-stakeholder
initiative to facilitate transformation
towards social and environmental sustainability in the
regional food system. Previously, she served as
Nutrition Advisor at the World Bank in Washington,
DC, and as senior policy analyst at the Development
Bank of Southern Africa. She holds a PhD and MA
from Michigan State University, has published several
peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and
review papers, and co-edited Combating Malnutrition:
Time to Act, a World Bank publication on the need for
innovation in nutrition change strategies.
u 5411 SE 66th Ave, Portland, OR, 97206 USA
! millam@sun.ac.za
Greta Meszoely, Ph.D. is Founder and
Executive Director of the Center for
Business Complexity and Global
Leadership. Working in business and
academia, Greta leverages her expertise
in complex systems and governance to
enable sustainable large system change,
innovation, and develop fundamental management
competencies to support effective governance.
For two decades she has leveraged her research to
support economic development, integrated resources
management, and human rights in the US, Africa and
the Middle East. Greta continues to advise corporations
in the US and Europe to achieve sustainable change.
Dr Meszoely holds a PhD in Law and Public Policy, an
MA in International Relations and Comparative
Politics, and a BS in International Business from
Northeastern University.
u 80 Chandler St, Boston MA 02116
! greta@businesscomplexity.com
02_JCC58_Guest Editorial.indd 30 22/06/15 2:03 PM
... Implications of systems theory have just recently spilled over into social science from interdisciplinary approaches of cybernetics, systems modeling and quantum physics (Bateson, 1972;Senge, 2010;Waddell et al., 2015;Nature Editorial Board, 2020). General systems theory aims to explain phenomena in the world as outcomes of complex systems which consist of independent, but interconnected parts that work together to fulfill a common function. ...
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... Recent developments in the resilience science arena also suggested that time was ripe for the development of such an integrated approach. Important scientific advancements have been made regarding the characteristics of the Anthropocene (e. g., Liu et al. 2015, Steffen et al. 2015, Lenton 2016 and how processes of transformation unfold (e.g., Olsson et al. 2004, Geels and Shot 2007, Gelchich et al. 2010, Moore et al. 2014, Waddell et al. 2015. These developments meant that the science needed to inform such a framework and process was increasingly available. ...
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Here, we introduce Wayfinder, a novel conceptual framework and a process design for resilience practice. Framed by the Anthropocene argument, and with an explicit social-ecological system focus, the purpose of Wayfinder is to help users navigate toward trajectories of sustainable development. We present the theoretical perspectives that underpin the Wayfinder framework, which draw together and synthesize multiple strands of contemporary resilience thinking. We also describe how we operationalize this framework through an action-oriented process that is designed to facilitate transformative change on the ground. Wayfinder's contribution to resilience theory and practice emerges from the combination of: (1) framing that enables users to address the complex sustainability challenges that we face today, (2) synthesis of recent key advances in resilience science into one comprehensive framework and process, (3) practical guidance that moves beyond an assessment of the current state of affairs and provides concrete advice for planning and action, and (4) emphasis on learning as a key mode of operation in the rapidly changing Anthropocene.
... Transforming the economy wholesale is a daunting task of large system change (Waddell, Waddock, Cornell, Dentoni, McLachlan, & Meszoely, 2015) fraught with complexity and wicked problems . Understanding the complexity of the sweeping changes actually needed suggests moving, as many initiatives are trying to do, in a concerted direction across multiple paths. ...
... This research contributes to the increasing number of case studies that inform our understanding of the multiple interacting factors that enable or prevent sustainability transformations (David Tàbara et al., 2018;Fazey et al., 2018;Loorbach et al., 2017;Otto et al., 2020;Patterson et al., 2017;Schot and Kanger, 2018;Waddell et al., 2015). We have engaged in a broad analysis of social-ecological transformations that goes beyond selected parts or phases of a system and beyond leverage points, such as social tipping (Otto et al., 2020). ...
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Faced with accelerating environmental challenges, research on social-ecological systems is increasingly focused on the need for transformative change towards sustainable stewardship of natural resources. This paper analyses the potential of rapid, large-scale socio-political change as a window of opportunity for transformative change of natural resources governance. We hypothesize that shocks at higher levels of social organization may open up opportunities for transformation of social-ecological systems into new pathways of development. However, opportunities need to be carefully navigated otherwise transformations may stall or lead the social-ecological system in undesirable directions. We investigate (i) under which circumstances socio-political change has been used by actors as a window of opportunity for initiating transformation towards sustainable natural resource governance, (ii) how the different levels of the systems (landscape, regime and niche) interact to pave the way for initiating such transformations and (iii) which key features (cognitive, structural and agency-related) get mobilized for transformation. This is achieved through analyzing natural resource governance regimes of countries that have been subject to rapid, large-scale political change: water governance in South Africa and Uzbekistan and governance of coastal fisheries in Chile. In South Africa the political and economic change of the end of the apartheid regime resulted in a transformation of the water governance regime while in Uzbekistan after the breakdown of the Soviet Union change both at the economic and political scales and within the water governance regime remained superficial. In Chile the democratization process after the Pinochet era was used to transform the governance of coastal fisheries. The paper concludes with important insight on key capacities needed to navigate transformation towards biosphere stewardship. The study also contributes to a more nuanced view on the relationship between collapse and renewal.
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Multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs) are generally defined as a collaborative form of governance (Rasche 2012) and considered as a new policy trend in the process of governance (Menashy 2017). In the last two decades, MSP has become an important element that affects policy decision-making and action on global development issues (Biekart and Fowler 2018). MSP is basically about participatory decision-making where all involved actors take ownership of all stages of decision-making; given the context, there is the likelihood that public policy could be inclusive, consensus-oriented, and more successful in their implementation stage. However, it is plain to see that no one actor across the sectors in the society has the monopoly on information, resources, and expertise to guide the public policy process. However, the entry is to discuss the concept of MSP and how it takes to shape and change public policy.
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