Taking innovation deeper: new book offers tips on the Luc Hoffmann Institute’s approach to catalysing change

In 2019, a group of conservation practitioners published The Art of Systems Change, laying out a vision for a new way of working in our increasingly turbulent world. The book kickstarted a critical discussion about how to create transformational change.

We are pleased to announce the release of The Craft of Systems Change, which builds on the original concepts and introduces a guiding framework called the ‘Systems Journey’. Co-authored by Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute, Melanie Ryan, and edited by Senior Editorial and Content Manager, Megan Eaves, the book presents practical tools for engaging in change within the systems in which we live and work. 

Here, Melanie and Megan share a little about the process of publishing The Craft of Systems Change and offer insights into how the Systems Journey underpins the Luc Hoffmann Institute’s approach to innovation.

Melanie Ryan

Co-author of The Craft of Systems Change
Director at the Luc Hoffmann Institute

I have been using systems thinking for many years. It gave me a language for how I already saw and understood the world and a lens through which to think about it in a structured way. I no longer had to apologise for the complexities I saw and experienced. Instead, systems thinking gave me a way to view this complexity as an asset. 

The ideas found in systems thinking form one of the underpinning pillars of our entire approach to innovation at the Luc Hoffmann Institute, alongside co-creation and futures thinking. One of the fundamental practices of systems thinking is self-reflection – recognising that we are a part of the change and that we need to be humble enough to realise that we ourselves must constantly change, as well.

We are currently undertaking our biggest exercise in self-reflection yet with our latest initiative, The future of conservation NGOs. With this, we are asking ourselves and the entire conservation community to examine systemic patterns and their impacts on conservation effectiveness. We’re essentially questioning and rethinking the entire presence, role and structure of existing NGOs – the ultimate in self-reflection!

The Craft of Systems Change channels the eight guiding principles found in our first book, The Art of Systems Change, into specific phases. It introduces a set of practical tools and exercises. One of these is the ‘Three Horizons Approach’, which we use extensively at the institute. It supports the assertion that there is a future horizon for nature and people that can only be reached through innovative ideas and approaches. We integrate ideas from systems thinking and the other pillars into the more commonly understood innovation life cycle of ideation, incubation and acceleration, and constantly widen our networks and viewpoints through co-creative convenings. We view innovation as one mechanism of change within a wider ecosystem of networks, initiatives and contributions to moving forward. 

With The Craft of Systems Change, my co-authors and I wanted to offer very practical ways to move people deeper into a transformative-change process; to move from just tinkering at the edges or sustaining urgent innovation into deep, foundational spaces for world rebalancing.

We also unpacked the ingrained idea of a theory of change and introduced the concept of a theory of action. Distinguishing between the two helps us understand where we have the capacity to create change and then adapt the actions we take in a conscious and reflective way.

It’s tricky to bring the concept of innovation into the conservation sector.  We’re often challenged to explain how to couple action or innovation with long-term transformation. Innovation, sometimes rightly so, can be criticised for being a bit shallow and not contributing to deep change. It is often associated with technology and with moving fast and breaking things. Instead, we are pursuing a kind of ‘slow innovation’. Using systems thinking, the Luc Hoffmann Institute is playing the long game with innovation. We want to dig into fundamental issues. 

With this book, we encourage people just to begin – you don’t have to be an expert. It may feel unfamiliar and you may encounter resistance or fear, but once you’ve done it a few times, you will trust the process. We don’t think ourselves into a new way of being, we act ourselves into one.

Megan Eaves

Editor of The Craft of Systems Change
Senior Editorial and Content Manager at the Luc Hoffmann Institute

When I started working in the Luc Hoffmann Insitute’s communication team two years ago, I was new to systems thinking. At first, attending convenings and trying to communicate the institute’s approach to innovation felt unfamiliar and even a little scary. After I had been through the process a few times, I could see how the unfamiliarity was important in pushing both ourselves and our innovators and partners into new ways of thinking. And isn’t that the crux of innovation? 

Editing The Craft of Systems Change, and reading its predecessor, The Art of Systems Change, gave me a lot of clarity about how change can happen, and how to embrace uncertainty, which is a fundamental part of change. We often cannot tell if a plant is healthy unless we dig it up and examine the roots, but the act of digging – that is, self-reflection – can be difficult and even painful. This book offers helpful tools, tips and a structure for dealing with that process. It is full of real-life stories about how the co-authors have used the framework in the conservation sector and beyond. Even someone like me, with a minimal understanding of systems thinking, can use it as a handbook to reassess their way of thinking and working and to start questioning and changing the systems around us.

The Craft of Systems Change is available from 21 April 2022 at worldwildlife.org/systems