Systems thinking for campaigning and organizing


Systems thinking provides campaigners and organisers with an overall approach and a set of tools to understand the entrenched problems we work on and more strategically engage with the complex systems that we operate in.

In this guide we look at systems practice as an overarching approach that can help our campaigns and organising strategies be more effective at driving systems change. This approach is grounded in some key principles including focusing on relationships and patterns, working to unlock the forces of change, putting pressure on “leverage points”, planning to adapt and engaging multiple perspectives. We also go through a broad, flexible process that can be used to focus campaigning and organising strategies on driving systemic change. This is achieved by developing an understanding of the system you want to shift, identifying levers of change in that system and developing an adaptive strategy to put pressure on these levers to achieve your goals. We hope this guide will help you set up an approach for your campaigning and organising work that can analyze the different systems in play, not just the concrete issue your campaign or organisation seeks to address.

Input and resources for this draft were provided by: 

Ben Simon and MobLab, Georgia Rigg (Amnesty International), Elizabeth Butz (One Campaign), Greenpeace (via their Systems Campaigning Toolkit), NEON’s & SmartCSOs’ work on systemic movements, the Omidyar Group (via their Systems Practice guide) & NPC (via their Systems Change guide). 

This draft was prepared and reviewed by: 

Chris Alford, Ben Simon, Alan Smith, Tom Liacas, Alison Brzenchek, Dalie Lauzon-Vallières, Elizabeth Butz, Sharon Brown, Eva Romviel

Access the full version

All of our guides live online as Google docs since they are constantly being revised and added to. They can be downloaded and shared freely among progressives. If you would like to add some information or comment on the existing version, please request this access via the form below.