Behaving like a system – keeping the conversation going

We are delighted to publish this blog from Clare Wightman, Director of Grapevine in Coventry and Warwickshire – a reaction to our recent report on the behavioural preconditions of system change. Clare was on the steering group for the development of the preconditions framework.

What really drives system change: the value of values

I’m the Director of Grapevine in Coventry and Warwickshire. Together with Coventry Law Centre who received funding from the Early Action Neighbourhood Fund we’ve formed IGNITE.

It’s an ambitious programme to change the way public services are delivered, away from crisis and towards acting earlier on people’s problems. IGNITE’s public sector partners will use the programme to learn how it can turn lives around and save money in the long run.

That means we’re very curious about how you really make deep change happen in big complex systems dealing with intractable social problems

So is Collaborate – an independent CIC focusing on the thinking, culture and practice of cross-sector collaboration in order to improve services to the public

Collaborate launched a new report on place-based systems change at the end of last year. Behaving like a System? showcases their findings from a piece of action research carried out in Coventry

They produced a set of preconditions for systems change from their time spent in Coventry and many of these make sense – the rare attempt to look at systems change through the eyes of the citizen is welcome. But the report raises an important question for me.

Does change best happen when we push our values to one side? On a simple level I get that tub thumping about ‘my values’ gets in the ways of collaborations.  But values are critical drivers of system-busting change too.

Here’s a few words of caution:

Values and systems change

It’s not clear how the ‘public good’ can be delivered in the future. There’s no obvious path to follow and not much agreement.

Systems Leadership teaches us that in uncertain and complex times like these it’s your ability to grow and sustain action by connecting to others through values that’s critical.

Radical change in the face of uncertainty and complexity needs resilience, determination and creativity. Connecting to people’s values and inner motivations enables them to find what they need. It’s not formal structures or top down strategies that drive the kind of change we need now – it’s initiative, energy, relationships and commitment. All of them motivated and fed by our values.

Values at front line

Values and beliefs drive positive and effective support and they do it much more powerfully than sanctions and performance management. Who wants staff who hit the target but miss the point? We can’t afford to do that anymore. For truly transformative work at the ‘front line’ we have to trust staff to do the right thing. That means we have to trust that they will look beyond the presenting problem and get beyond thinking ‘that’s not my job.’ But it’s discretionary  right? – no one will really know whether you turned a blind eye or not. Only your beliefs and values will drive you to do what is right and worthwhile for the people you serve.

Values are what people value

Lankelly Chase’s Promoting Change Network has been fantastic at unearthing what effective support for people with multiple and complex needs is like. At the heart of that is what people themselves say works. And it’s all about who you (the workers) are and what you value – Will you build an equal and trusting relationship with me? Will you make space for my priorities over your service targets? Will you get me ‘stable’ or will you go further, helping me get a rewarding life with purpose and relationships? Will you be energetic and resourceful in building with me a broad support network  or will you ‘close my case’?

So let’s get clearer about the value of values and not assume they are only or mainly an inhibitor of change.


Clare Wightman is Director at Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire

If you want to know more about Grapevine, contact Clare To learn about IGNITE, please get in touch with Emma Bates, Programme Manager at Coventry Law Centre

Image courtesy of Collaborate report Behaving Like A System?

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