Toolkit one: transformations and transformers

Toolkit one: transformations and transformers

If you watch the news, worry about climate change, feel disturbed by the impacts of unregulated social media and AI, are gripped by the world’s conflicts and vast inequalities and think – ‘Things just have to change!’ – you’re interested in transformations. But what is transformation? And how can one catalyse it? Here, we argue that the social and ecological domains are intertwined and must be addressed together in ways that grapple with complexity. This toolkit is a very short, self-directed learning journey. You can dip in wherever and whenever you like, but for getting started, we recommend that you go through the chapters and sections in order, with each building on the previous ones.

Acknowledgements: This toolkit was created by the Interaktiv kapacitetsutveckling för systeminnovation i utvecklingssamarbete/Interactive capacity development for system innovation in development co-operation​ (IXUS) collaboration, supported by a grant from Sida, and building upon thought leadership in a number of changemaker programmes from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, University of Cape Town, Adapt, Southern Africa Food Labs, University of Waterloo, and University of Victoria.

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Chapter 1


What do we mean by ‘transformation’ in the context of complex adaptive social-ecological systems? We explore this question in this chapter. There are four sections: 1. Why we can’t wait for transformation. The speakers and authors in this section argue that, in the age of the Anthropocene, with humanity far surpassing many of the planetary boundaries, the need for transformation is urgent. 2. What might transformation look like? There are many ways to think about transformation and to think about alternative futures. In this section, we look at a few interesting perspectives. 3. How systems and complexity thinking are necessary for transformation. This section focusses on resources to help us understand – or remember, if we’ve already been introduced – to what complex adaptive systems are, how they function, how we interact with them, and why, as changemakers, we need systems thinking. 4. How systems entrepreneurship is necessary for transformation. Here we examine agency and the role of the changemaker using the concept of systems entrepreneurship – the collective agency required to shift systems.

Section 1: Why we can’t wait for transformation

8 resources

Section 2: What might transformation look like?

5 resources

Section 3: How systems and complexity thinking are necessary for transformation

12 resources

Section 4: How systems entrepreneurship is necessary for transformation

4 resources

Chapter 2

The changemaker journey

Changemakers often don’t like to have the spotlight on themselves, preferring to put all their energy into helping others. But it’s important for changemakers to transform, as well, and to care for their own needs. We look at reflective practice, developing a social-ecological mindset, and the self in system/system in self dynamic. There are three sections: 1. Transforming the changemaking journey through reflective practice. We offer just a few resources related to reflective practice, which are designed specifically with changemakers in mind. 2. Developing a social-ecological mindset. An integrated social-ecological mindset is critical for changemaking – because our social and ecological worlds are inextricable. So, the problems we tackle have interlocked social and ecological dimensions. Here are some resources to make a beginning. 3. Self in system, system in self. We sometimes have a tendency to think about any system that we’ve identified as separate from us; but we are embedded in the system and the system is embedded in us. We tackle this important insight in this section.

Section 1: Transforming the changemaking journey through reflective practice

5 resources

Section 2: Developing a social-ecological mindset

11 resources

Section 3: Self in system, system in self

4 resources