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Equipping Healthcare Professionals to Embody Systems Thinking

A journey to help change leaders navigate complex challenges, map and diagnose systems, and engage others with far-reaching change processes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced the urgent need for systems leadership across the health sector. Our current approach to changemaking is not fit for purpose, failing to hold the level of complexity inherent to major challenges.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

At the Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation and the School of System Change, we know the importance of connecting the visionary with the actionable, of learning to be comfortable with complexity, of creating change within ourselves, and of supporting those around us to do the same. That is why, with support from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation, we have come together to equip our wider network with the tools and methodology to rethink health systems, with the aim of empowering health systems leaders with the means to transform them.

Encouraging a mindset shift

In the words of Martin Kalungu-Banda, Senior Faculty at the Presencing Institute, The School of System Change is a space “where some of the biggest questions of our time are being asked and practitioners are genuinely seeking to prototype solutions”. Basecamp is the School’s flagship six-month learning journey to help change leaders navigate complex challenges, map and diagnose systems, and engage others with far-reaching change processes. Applying systems frameworks to design of their programs, such as the Three Horizons framework, Basecamp brings together visionaries with innovators and social entrepreneurs, enabling a shift from box-ticking to the purpose-driven mindset that’s vital to-long-term systems change.

As Rinku Sen, Executive Director of Narrative Initiative, wrote recently: “Inserting human beings into systems stories as proactive agents of change is a basic skill that we can practice and improve.” This is the philosophy that Basecamp embodies; it encourages participants to examine themselves and recognize, as one participant observed, that “I am the system,” as a means to accessing their power to change it.

A global outlook on healthcare

The Basecamp learning journey is adaptable to both the participants and the context within which it is taking place, working with the energy and knowledge of each cohort to surface core questions and examining these within a common learning approach. Each participant brings a systemic challenge that they use as an active project where they can start to implement the thinking, tools and frameworks that they learn throughout the course, underpinned by five capabilities for systems change.

This year’s cohort was drawn from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation’s global network, with people joining from South Africa, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zambia, Morocco, Yemen and across Europe. With a collective focus on health systems transformation, the Basecamp participants included clinical professionals, researchers, third sector workers, key opinion leaders and more. By tapping into the richness of each participant and what they have to offer, we have been able to have fascinating conversations about the different models and worldviews that underpin health across the globe.

A new approach to changemaking

As this year’s Basecamp draws to a close, we will be inviting participants in this year’s cohort to facilitate webinars and other sessions, to share their learnings with the wider healthcare community.

Moving forward, The School of System Change is committed to building a network of delivery partners to expand this approach across geographies and themes, as well as to enable collaboration and cooperation to those already implementing changes across regions and sectors. Their core ambition is to change the way we think about change; to move changemaking strategies from the linear to the relational, to enable a faster transition to a just and regenerative future for everyone. The Johnson & Johnson Center for Health Worker Innovation is delighted to come with them on this journey, as we strive for more equitable health systems.