Keywords for Systems Change

A two-day workshop for twenty systems change practitioners from different sectors at Oxford University to explore developing a shared language for systems change, resulting in the publication of Keywords: Building a language for Systems Change. We worked on this project in association with The Said Business School & the Institute for Chartered Accountants of England and Wales.

Team: Rachel, Ella, Cassie.

Why did we do this work

We want interventions to build a better world to be as effective as possible, and believe that systems thinking is key to this. We are passionate about building the field of systems change, bringing together practitioners from different sectors to connect, reflect and hone their craft.

This project was born of the observation that systems changers sometimes struggle to describe their work. The aim was to explore whether it was possible to develop a shared language to describe the intention, strategies and organisational models of systems entrepreneurs.

What was our approach

The workshop was designed so that the twenty participants working across different sectors, could start to find common ground, explore shared identities and start to feel like a community. We wanted the process to yield a set of Keywords for Systems Change with explanations and etymology. In order to do to this we tried different processes, to initially generate a large number words and to explore, refine and define them in the context of systems change. The final selection of Keywords were not chosen by consensus, but rather by their relevance to the practice of particular individuals.



We didn’t want the selection of words to hide the messy complexity of systems change or to simplify the rich variety of approaches in the group. After a lot of conversation, debate and listening, each participant at the Keywords event, chose a word and then in small groups discussed the ways that word related to our work. We then took the material generated at the event and synthesised this into the document Keywords: Building a Language of Systems Change.


The Keywords for Systems Change publication.

Any connections with other work

This project was born from our earlier Systems Changers project where we filmed interviews with individual innovators in the UK, edited their insights into short video-clips and then created a systems compass than enabled viewers to navigate by theme or individual.

Keywords also connects with the Point People Fast Company article that accompanied the Systems Changer project

What else is on our radar in this space

“Systems Change- what it is and how to do it.” – publication by NPC with support from The Lankelly Chase Foundation Leading Systems & The Dawn of Systems Leadership & Building Movements not Organisations – articles in Stanford Social Innovation Review MaRs Labs for Systems Change