Embracing a learning approach
All interventions in complex systems will produce a range of results, including those we have not been able to foresee. This is both because our systems knowledge is imperfect and because conditions constantly change. Therefore, Wayfinder emphasizes the need for a learning approach to management, where you treat your Change Narrative as a hypothesis that you continuously test through implementation of your Action Plan. These implementation experiments are designed to probe the system, to gain experience, to engage new partners, explore key assumptions that you have made as you have assessed the system and planned for how to change it up to date. Over time this will allow you to refine your Change Narrative, guiding the next cycle of interventions and strategies for change.
Embracing a learning approach to implementation requires a major shift in thinking and practice. Much of what we do today is dictated by misguided demands for efficiency, whereas in reality what is really inefficient is not learning from what we are doing. Despite best efforts, it is highly likely that many of the actions and strategies that you have developed will not be successful. That does not mean the assessment and planning process has been a failure. The ‘failure’ is actually an opportunity to rapidly improve your understanding about the system. We typically learn more from failure than from success, but you need systems in place to recognize and capture that learning.
A shift in mindset
Achieving the necessary mind-shift can be difficult, but it is very important to spend sufficient time on building a learning culture before implementing your actions and strategies. Having a strong and consistent leadership that will advocate for this approach is necessary. Many funders and agencies have unrealistic expectations about the amount and rate of change that can be achieved in complex systems. A critical issue is to manage their expectation. Early on in the implementation phase, make sure that you engage with leaders in your own organization and beyond, to talk about the need for a learning-based approach to management, and that learning needs to be shared among concerned stakeholders.
While this may be challenging, establishing a learning culture, where implementation is viewed as an opportunity to test knowledge and assumptions, is one of the most powerful things we can do to manage complexity and navigate towards sustainability in the Anthropocene.