Innovative government

Working with Change: Systems Approaches to Public Challenges


Working with Change: Systems approaches to public challenges
Paris, France, 28 February 2017


Complexity is a core feature of most policy issues today, yet governments are ill equipped to deal with complex problems. Increasing atomisation of jobs creates new challenges to both the education and welfare system. Ensuring a high-quality, active life for an ageing population puts pressure on the labour market, but also requires new ways of providing medical and social care. In a context of complexity and uncertainty, traditional analytical tools and problem-solving methods no longer work nor produce their intended purpose.


This prompts government leaders across the world to ask: how do we manage increasing complexity while accounting for uncertainty and still deliver public services that adapt dynamically to produce viable solutions? To a degree, the answer lies in public policy makers making decisions in such a way that leads to resilient systems and adaptive structures that incorporate, rather than filter out, complexity.


Within the framework of the work of the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation, this draft report explores how systems approaches can be used in the public sector to solve “wicked” problems. Through the analysis of concrete cases, the report describes how systems approaches can make public services more effective and resilient.


This report is an open invitation to policy makers to reflect on the systemic nature of most public sector challenges and consider how systems approaches – for example those based on integrated interventions, stakeholder engagement, and reverse process  engineering– can help achieve better outcomes for all. 


  Working with Change: Systems Approaches to Public Challenges


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