The most transformative innovations have been the ones that combine many elements in a new way. The car for example can be thought of as a combination of many innovations – from combustion engines, tyres and electrical systems, to road traffic management and driving schools. The mobile phone combines microprocessors, transmitters, networks of masts, payment models and so on. The welfare state combines legal rights, service delivery systems, assessment tools and tax collection models.
Systemic innovation is very different from innovation in products or services, and usually very different from innovation in business. It involves changes to concepts and mindsets as well as to economic flows: systems only change when people think and see in new ways. It involves changes to power, replacing old power holders with new ones. And it usually involves all four sectors – business, government, civil society and the household.
Systemic innovations can be suddenly pushed forward by a crisis, or a disruptive technology. More often they are the result of slow but cumulative processes entailing changing infrastructures, behaviours and cultures. Examples include the creation of welfare states after the Second World War; the spread of comprehensive early years’ programmes in Europe; dramatic expansions of higher education; and the spread of democracy.
In this section we look at more fundamental innovations that are systemic in nature. By this we mean innovations that radically transform some of the fundamental systems on which we depend – how food is provided, health, housing or learning – according to fundamentally different principles. We look at some of the organising ideas that are generating systems change at the moment, and then some of the methods which contribute to making change happen. The key is that in every example systemic change involves the interaction of ideas, movements, models and interests.