Navigating complexity

What to do with a blueprint approach when everything is permanently on the move?

Complex challenges are journeys of discovery, involving many actors and factors that are intertwined. The result of their interaction is unpredictable. Fortunately we can deal with complexity in a sensible way!

From our extended experience with social change, we have identified nine key elements for successful transformations. Each block is a stepping stone on the journey to create collective impact. This navigator will help you to reflect on your specific situation.

Nine building blocks for creating collective impact in complexity
  • Urgency for change – What is the urgency for change? In complex situations, the wake-up call is usually only a part of the whole issue. This building block helps you to fully understand the felt urgency and see how this can fuel the transformation process.
  • Shared ambitions – To achieve collective impact you need a shared vision for change. This building block is about passion, energy and hearts. About discovering what the people involved actually want to achieve in the world and how interdependent they are.
  • Responsive leadership – Although all parties are needed to achieve a meaningful result, someone needs to drive the process, especially at the start. A responsive leader will observe and listen deeply to what is going on and continuously respond to change.
  • Reinforcing actions – The power of collective action comes from the coherence of differentiated activities. Mutually reinforcing actions ensure that efforts and activities of all people involved are aligned towards achieving the shared ambitions.
  • Adaptive learning – To ensure that all efforts remain aligned we need to measure results consistently across all parties involved. To foster adaptive learning, we work in short cycles, test prototypes in real life and build in regular time for reflection.
  • Involvement of all – Successful and lasting change occurs when we involve all voices in the process: people with authority, resources, information, expertise and needs. We especially have to nourish the margins and embrace conflicting perspectives to come to robust decisions.
  • Vital connections – To realize collective impact, stakeholders need to trust each other. They need to know that their interests are equally valued and protected. Vital connections foster regular communication, to share interests and address concerns in a timely manner.
  • Backbone – A supporting backbone structure ensures maintaining momentum and facilitates progress. A genuine backbone is tailored to the process and supports it. It provides just enough organizational structure that to drive the process, not the solutions.
  • Joker – The 8 building blocks are vital to create collective impact in complexity. But remember, there are no blueprints for complexity. The joker is the special piece that you can use to craft your own situation. It reminds us that every complex setting is unique.

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