Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Complex System Design for Social Innovation in Aotearoa

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Version 1 2021-12-08, 07:16
posted on 2021-12-08, 07:16 authored by Anderson, Tania

There is a need for large-scale, societal, systems-level transition to a better and more sustainable future (Transition Design, 2018) promoting prosperity for all and protecting the planet; addressing challenges such as poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice (United Nations SDGs, 2018). Creating change in a world defined by increasing complexity is difficult, and we face an array of these complex ‘wicked’ problems (Conway et al. 2017).  In Aotearoa, New Zealand, we need to address these and other ‘wicked’ problems; particularly in their disparity for women, solo-parent families, Māori, Pasifika peoples and people with disabilities (UNESCO Report, 2018). Especially as a bi-cultural nation with indigenous peoples with significant disparities between Māori and Pākehā and growing gaps in most social indi- cators (Durie, 1999).  Given the scale and complexity of these challenges, we need to find different ways of thinking, being and doing (Innovate Change, n.d) to address them; in achieving integrative, sustainable and equitable approaches to ‘wicked’ problems we require multiple disciplines and ways of knowing, seeing, being and acting (Adams, et al., 2019). The central enquiry in this research is in these ways of thinking, being and doing across the disciplines and theories of social innovation, systems theory and thinking, participatory and co-design, and complexity theory and sensemaking. It considers how they are and may contribute to radical, systemic forms of social change and the conditions, these may require, within ourselves as practitioners as well as the systems we are looking to change.  This research started with and was shaped by insights from interviews held with Aotearoa practitioners operating in spaces of systemic change; including social innovators, participatory and system designers, and public policy and wellbeing economy experts. It provides the research direction for evidence, literature and discourse analysis and emerging critical themes and concepts, proving critical for practice and practitioners within an Aotearoa context.  A ‘prototype’ model is presented intending to enable reflective practice in engagement with and contextualisation of the core concepts, considering the key ways of thinking, being and doing those of us operating in systemic social change need to engage with. It is generated from synthesised insights from interviews, literature review and personal critical reflections and experience as a practitioner; shifting the dialogue from one of ‘interdisciplinary’ as working together to ‘integrated’ as being together to contribute more effectively to systemic social change. This can be explored further engaging participatory methods with change agents, practitioners and those with lived experience in systemic change and social innovation.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Design for Social Innovation

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Design Innovation

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Design


O'Sullivan, Nan