Complex Systems, Wicked Issues and Big Ideas:

Where do we start, where do we end?

Art is Everywhere and REALITIES lead, Dr Marisa de Andrade, was asked to speak to the United Nations (UN) Development Programme in September 2023.

Here’s what was Marisa was thinking in the lead up to the event…. [Marisa’s internal monologue to her Publisher/Editor/Funder/Manager etc]

“I need to find an entry point that REF will accept and humans, non-humans and more-than-humans will flourish… (I’m very glad no one’s reading this).”

For about 10 years (I think – time’s just a non-linear construct), I’ve been collaborating with various international (WHO, UN); national (UK Govt, Scottish Govt, EU – is this nation of Europeans a national identity? – don’t get me started, I’m Portuguese South African); regional (areas other than Edinburgh and Glasgow, for example tiny regions in The Highlands and Clackmannanshire (The Forgotten County); and local partners (deep breath) to think about systems change.

In 7 days (a week), I need to give a talk to the United Nations Development Programme to help develop new ways of doing monitoring, evaluation, and learning that are coherent with the complex nature of the thorny systems challenges facing the world today.

An increasing number of organizations, movements, and people aim to contribute to systems change or transformation. But how do we know if a system is changing? How can we measure such change and what types of data should we rely on? How do we do this in a way that is actionable and that does not lose focus on the felt effects – and affects – of real people?

So that is my REF-able research question – how do you measure change in complex systems?

I’m trying (and failing) to reduce ‘the answer’ to four pages.

Recently I wrote these ideas down and it manifested in joint winner for the 2023 International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry Book Award for Public Health, Humanities and Magical Realism: A Creative-Relational Approach to Researching Human Experience, Routledge.

Now our team has created a model called REALITIES funded by UKRI’s consortium hub model (too many models) to tackle health disparities led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (yes, art is evidence). One big idea leads to another, but how can we prove that it was our idea in the first place?

I really need to ask simpler research questions.


View full presentation and read more about how to measure change in complex systems here: How do we measure systems change? | by UNDP Strategic Innovation | Medium

Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash