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Environmental Outlook 2018: Background document Towards a Diagnostics of Systems Change

Issue 29-11-2018This research was carried out as part of the ‘Environmental Outlook 2018’ and provided the necessary scientific underpinning.

For the Environmental Outlook 2018, we made detailed analyses of the solutions for the energy system, the food system and the mobility system. The research ‘Towards a diagnostics of systems change’ uses general knowledge about system behaviour to provide additional insights, both to better understand and interpret the development of such systems, and to provide suggestions for system interventions.

In the first phase of the research, the key question was further refined as follows in collaboration with the principal: “How can systems thinking help us to understand the behaviour that is (or will be) apparent within societal systems (energy, food, mobility) that are exposed to a transition impulse?"

To address this question, a diagnostic of system change was developed and applied to three societal systems. The diagnostic is a tool used, on the one hand, to diagnose the state of the system ('health') and, on the other hand, to identify ways to improve the functioning of the system ('remedy'). This diagnostic should be viewed as a low-resolution analytical tool: it is not a conclusive theory on how systems function, but rather a pragmatic way of making the complexity of the dynamics of systems comprehensible and discussable through a number of steps.

The development of the diagnostic was based primarily on literature from the scientific domains of systems theory, transition research and system ecology. The diagnostic and its application for the analysis of the societal systems were subsequently further developed in an iterative process. The diagnostic provided the framework for the analysis of the systems, and the system analysis (conversely) led to a simplification and better applicability of the diagnostic. This eventually led to three similar system analyses, using the diagnostic procedure as guidance.

Finally, the analysis of each system was assessed based on interviews with a select group of experts. These interviews allowed us to assess the findings, complement the analysis, and reflect on the added value of the approach to the development of additional action perspectives.

Read the English summary of the Dutch background document ‘Towards a Diagnostics of Systems Change’

Study commissioned by MIRA, Flanders Environment Report

researchers: Pieter Valkering, Erik Laes (VITO / EnergyVille), Yves De Weerdt (VITO Transition Platform), Philippe Vandenbroeck (shiftN), Frank Nevens (UGent)

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