#ReadingNotes Wasafiri Systemcraft: A Primer.

The Wasafiri SystemCraft: A Primer is the best plain English articulation of a complexity-informed systems practice for change that I have come across. I do not say that lightly. It draws together an action-learning cycle, a diagnosis and 5 dimensions of action that are often familiar in part, but extremely compelling as a set. Perhaps this shows how it actually was distilled from real experiences of Wasafiri, a change consultancy, rather than derived from what a systems practice ‘should’ be. Excellent stuff!

This post is part of the #ReadingNotes series, see here for more (including format and use of bulletpoints).


Note that the sentences below are quotes or paraphrases taken from the Primer.


Current approaches to tackling such issues often fail because the focus is too often on the symptoms rather than on reshaping the underlying and dynamic forces that sustain the problem.

We need a different approach. One that seeks transformational change, taps into the immense capacity of ordinary leaders, unlocks collective action, and adapts to a dynamic world.

Systemcraft is Wasafiri’s applied framework, built on our practical experience, drawing on complexity thinking, systems theory and beyond.

Four characteristics of a complex problem complex (as opposed to just complicated problem)

  1. No single owner.
  2. No single root cause.
  3. Constant change (not just changing over time, but also responding to interventions)
  4. The system is working for some people, somewhere.

Tackling complex problems requires changing the system that creates the problem.

Systems are dynamic. There is no static end-state, where all is fixed. Like a garden, human systems need constant tending.

Therefore, Systemcraft works by enhancing collective and adaptive capacity, which then is active in that constant tending.



  • Work collectively. We need  to work with others and not just the others with whom we find it easy to work. 
  • Experiment. System change presents an apparent paradox in that we need to both think big and long-term, and yet act in the here and now.  As one RSA publication has it: “Think like a system and act like an entrepreneur.”
  • Learn and adapt as you go. It requires leaders willing to let go of ideas they were attached to, ready to be surprised by how events turn out, prepared to see much heralded interventions ‘fail’. It requires leaders ready to start small and experimental, rather than launch grand projects and sweeping reforms.
  • Seek windows of opportunity.Timing matters. An intervention at one point in time may gain little traction, but at another be a powerful accelerant. 
  • Recognise and seek to rebalance power. To avoid an inequality of outcome, need to, as a minimum, have a willingness to recognise one’s own power, to identify power dynamics and to work to rebalance power.

Systemcraft Action Cycle

Systemcraft invites you to initiate a cycle of action and iteration, and to draw others into this as you build momentum for change. Think of these as the repeating steps of a dance, rather than linear steps from start to finish.

Understanding the current state

  • Guiding question to any diagnostic: “Why, despite out best efforts, have we so far been unable to…?”
  • Ask the questions to diverse stakeholders.
    • Actors: who influences this issue? Who else?
    • Drivers: what are the underlying root causes for this issue? What else?
    • Emergence: In what ways is this issue changing? What forces are at play?
    • Purpose: In what ways is the current state working and for whom?

Take action: five dimensions of action

The order to pursue these five dimensions depends on your issue, your context, your windows of opportunity.

They are conditions that will need returning to, where capacity will need enhancing, with ongoing investment.


The point that the system is working for some people, somewhere is often hugely overlooked.


About the best articulation of a complexity-informed systems practice in plain English that I have come across.


I’m struggling to find a big one.

Half criticisms

  • This is a playbook which assumes there is a group with enough time, common agenda and resources to get started. What if there isn’t?
  • It is only hinted how the steps need to build on each other, and an iteration needs to open up more generative opportunity for future iterations.
  • This is a starting guide. But there are many questions on the specifics of making it all work, like how to capture learning.


Definitely use in situ as soon as I can.


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