To help catalyse emissions reductions at the necessary scale, we are taking a ‘system change’ approach: shifting from supporting governments and businesses to take incremental changes, to instead seeking changes that are transformational, broad reaching and long lasting. 

ClimateWorks was created in 2009. Our experience since has shown a need to scale our work, enabling us to initiate and accelerate change across entire systems. Our new structure established seven systems where we are focusing on aligning emissions reductions with a trajectory that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

The System Change and Capability team, introduced at ClimateWorks in 2020, supports cross-cutting approaches to implementing strategic, systems-change thinking and design. The team have developed a framework which builds on organisational learning from 10 years of bridging research and action. The framework includes additions drawn from systems change, behaviour change and change management literature

What is the framework?

The framework is made up of four components. 

Desired outcomes and backcasted pathways

The centre of the framework is about defining what good looks like for a prosperous future where global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees. Climate action is often limited to incremental improvement – unless there is an ambitious, well-defined vision for system actors to take aim at. 

Once a vision or future-state has been defined, pathways can be designed that work backwards from the desired outcomes. Looking forward from the current state can limit thinking, whereas starting with an ambitious vision allows us to imagine a completely different way of doing things. Pathways can be defined iteratively, as we often don’t know all the solutions, and there are significant uncertainties and non-linearities on how change will happen in the longer term.

The drivers of change (understanding, motivation, resources & capabilities, accountability)

We know there are some key drivers (both intrinsic and extrinsic) that influence people to take action. Not all need to be in place for change to occur, and it isn’t a linear process – different drivers will work for different circumstances. This component is heavily inspired by behaviour change and change management models, and reflects the interventions which ClimateWorks has successfully used over the years. 

The enablers and embedders of change (system rules & governance, power dynamics, relationships & connections, mental models)

Intervening at a deeper level within a system can create the necessary conditions for drivers of change to have the most impact. And acting directly to shift these enablers can help embed the change within mental models, structures and governance, sustaining shifts in the long term. ClimateWorks is moving towards coupling our work on the drivers of change with aspects in the enabling space, to ensure changes sparked in these processes continue to enable or drive systems towards 1.5 degrees.

The landscape of change

We recognise that we aren’t working separately from the world – both the drivers and enablers we are seeking to use are influenced by a shifting context: events, crises, trends and global narratives. It’s important to consider the current state, direction and momentum when choosing what and where to act – and to reflect on the current landscape alongside the ambitious outcomes and pathways we want to achieve. Important windows of opportunity can emerge from this landscape, and capturing them effectively helps accelerate change. Harnessing these opportunities and coupling them with enablers can make sure changes are sustained. 

Taking a systems change approach means we recognise that there are multiple ways to achieve outcomes, and multiple actors throughout the system. Our framework reflects this. It is purposely not linear – in recognition that different systems will need to use different drivers or enablers to create and sustain the system-level change they seek. 

We have tailored the tool for our organisational focus – working with decision-makers in government, business and finance. However, other players in systems also have a critical role to play: from innovators to community action groups, educators, knowledge generators and many more in between. We can use the framework to identify where others are taking action, which helps us to consider what, where and how we might support, accelerate or amplify their work; and where our efforts can best contribute to create and sustain change. While the framework was created with our specific audiences in mind, we expect the broad principles could be applied beyond government, business and finance decision makers in other contexts.

How do we use this tool?

We are currently using the tool in three main ways:

  1. Diagnostic – helping us articulate what we observe in how a system is currently operating and where others are already acting. We use questions like ‘is there a shared understanding of the need for change in this system?’ and ‘are there clear benchmarks for what good looks like?’
  2. Brainstorming – helping us think about the shifts that are needed to support system level change and what leverage points are likely to support the change we are seeking. We can brainstorm at the level of the whole system, or on a specific challenge or change we are seeking. 
  3. Impact storytelling – helping us tell the story of how we pursued and achieved impact to our funders and stakeholders, by showing why and how we approach an issue from several perspectives, to drive and sustain change. It can also help us to show the diversity across our portfolio which spans Australia, Indonesia and Southeast Asia, and how different initiatives focus on different aspects of the tool. 

Learning as we go

We are continuing to tweak and adapt the tool as we use it and learn more about what triggers and embeds change in the systems we focus on at ClimateWorks. Designed to be a ‘living’ tool to help guide and inform, but not restrict us as we explore and pursue the leverage points needed to generate action, and move to a 1.5 degree trajectory. 

The Systems Change and Capability team at ClimateWorks supports the organisation to drive system-level change across our seven systems of work. Developing tools, frameworks and processes that support and challenge our thinking is central to this approach. We are sharing our tools to contribute to the climate action knowledge base, but we also invite comments and feedback to help progress our thinking and increase our impact. 

Please get in touch if you would like to work with us or help us learn: heather.browett@climateworksaustralia.org or amandine.denis@climateworksaustralia.org