Systems Change One Idea at the Time

“We are not designing the next Apple iPhone, but we aim to take the first steps in that direction.”

- Filip Axnér, workshop designer and facilitator.

Ideating for Systemic Change - the headline for Trivselslab’s 3rd workshop, and as it might reveal, the session focused on creating ideas for change. Trivselslab is a gathering of professional actors in the field of education, and the workshops revolve around the question “How can we work together to make the students at EAAA (Erhvervsakademi Aarhus) thrive while learning?”. A rather urgent question, not only in EAAA, but in the entire educational system in Denmark. In December 2019 the Danish government allocated 25.000.000DKK (twenty five million danish kroner!!!) for the institutions to carry out pilotprojects, with the purpose of testing different ways of working with students’ well being, and eventually implementing the processes in other parts of the sector.

But how can we actually design the next Apple iPhone for students' wellbeing? Is it even possible to design a one-size-fits-all product? How would it affect the students and the rest of the systems?

A Systemic Approach

Trivselslab is built on systems thinking. Systems Thinking is a mindset that basically sees the world as interconnected systems. Nothing can be analyzed as isolated or disconnected parts, only an understanding of the connectedness and relation of the parts constitutes the whole. As soon as humans form a part of a system, it becomes complex. This means that all social systems are complex and require a holistic approach in order to make sustainable changes in the system.

What does that mean? you might think. Well, for Trivselslab it means that students well being is not a specific problem we can solve. We see students wellbeing as a factor that is being affected, and are affecting, a larger system. So the well being of students is not just a result of a series of actions made by teachers, student counsellors and the government - it simply doesn’t stop there. Students' well being is also affecting how teachers and student-counsellors work, how their co-students engage with each other and the narrative of the entire education. This means that our approach to working involves looking at the bigger picture. Who is involved in this system? Who is affected by it? If we change something in one place, how does it then affect another?

In our latest workshop, we aimed to take a few steps towards designing a systemic change. The participants crafted ideas, built on top of each other's ideas and picked out their favorite ones. Looking at the notes from the workshop I see a lot of the ideas evolving around relations and how having good relations creates a solid foundation that is essential, especially in difficult times.

It makes me wonder what would have happened, if the ministry had just given the 25 mil. directly to the students to use for whatever they thought would help them build their relations. Maybe they would have spent them all on beers and cafe lattes, and they would have solid relations, but unhealthy bodies. Moving the problem from the educational system to the healthcare system. Unless the amount of beer and cafe lattes is the same as before, it is just being funded by the government instead of the students themselves and that would affect the economic system, since the extra money they have, would be spent elsewhere. Maybe to pay off student loans? That would also be great for the overall economy.

Government funded beer + cafe lattes = better international economy.

But if I think systemically, I know it doesn’t just stop there. It’s simply not that simple.

For the next workshop, participants will explore and develop their own ideas in the next lab session, which takes place 30th December. Their goal for the session is to prototype the ideas and test them in real life, on real people. I’m excited to see if the participants will end up designing the next Apple iPhone. I’m sure that they are the right people to do it and that whatever they create, will have an impact on the system.

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