Diane Elizabeth Smith MBE is the Head of Programme at Fulfilling Lives Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham. In this blog Diane reflects on how COVID-19 has given us all permission to think differently.

Adjusting our processes to operate during a pandemic has been a challenge, but it has also presented us with a unique opportunity to apply Systems Thinking to make a better society for all.

As an organisation, we acknowledge that our current system doesn’t work for everyone – particularly people who experience greater levels of disadvantage – and our ambition is to make services easier to access by working alongside people who need, deliver, evaluate, commission and govern these services.

So, while we have a responsibility to respond and react to the pandemic and the pressures it is creating across society, I believe it is equally important to carve out time to understand what is taking place; to consider how we are behaving, review how the system is responding and reflect on whether it is really meeting the needs of those who need it most now and for the future.

This is a time to be bold; to have the courage to challenge one another compassionately and respectfully, as well as ourselves, and to replace a culture of performance and outcomes, – which so often quashes innovation – with an ethos of learning. It’s the perfect time to encourage the disruptive system-thinkers in our teams to speak up, to listen deeply and to embrace the ideas into new action, although this kind of process can be messy, it will deliver some amazing sparkly moments.

COVID-19 has increased anxiety in society and has interconnected our professional and personal lifestyles much more than before. It has heightened our feelings of loss, loss of lifestyle, loss of connection, loss of rights, loss through grief. But by connecting with one another and uncovering our different perspectives and experiences we can use the impact of the virus as an opportunity to move away and not just return to the status quo.

We need to make time to look around the table, consider who’s missing, embrace new energy and new ideas, determine what else can we do and decide what needs to change. If we are open in both our mindset and our inclusivity, apply our creativity and share our learning, I believe we can come together with new energy to think in a different way and change our system for the better.

“We can’t impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.”

– Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems

Fulfilling Lives Lambeth, Southwark & Lambeth in partnership with research and evaluation partners, New Philanthropy Capital, Groundswell and the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, completed a programme of system change workshops bringing together different perspectives of lived and learned experience to have a closer look at how the system behaves for people who experience multiple disadvantages. The report for this will be launched in March 2021.