Introduction to Systems Thinking Part 6

Process of using systems thinking in social entrepreneurship

Let’s make it all a lot more concrete with one of our ventures: Mission Liftoff.

We have a belief. We believe that ONE DAY, we will live in a world that we are proud of. In this case, our mission is to integrate education about the social and environmental challenges we face in every classroom in the world.

How?

I will break down how we are aiming for that mission step by step. 

Step 1: We use systems thinking to understand the problem. We analyze the existing ecosystem to comprehend what is standing in our way.

Very simply put, to do this you can map out;

  • the enablers: these are people, organizations, entities, interest groups, and all other stakeholders that enable or could enable you in this process of changing something.
  • the inhibitors: these are the opposite of the enablers. What are the structures in place that are inhibiting your process? 
    • Explore why that is. No. “it’s all political”, “they would lose votes”, “it’s just all capitalism” is not good enough. Use the Iceberg Model to help you identify mental models and perspectives. 

So, through research and interviews about the ecosystem in Austria and beyond. Here are some findings:

Challenge 1: Ministries do not think civil society can play a role in innovating the education sector.

Challenge 2: Education-related efforts, lobbies, and negotiations are difficult to scale as education systems are very different from region to region in Austria.

Challenge 3: The school system in Austria can get notoriously bureaucratic and political.

Alright, let’s move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Innovation. Understand what exists, what has been tried and failed, and make hypotheses as to why that might be the case. Talking about exploring what has been tried, check out the Impact Gaps Canvas, developed by the research of Daniela Papi-Thornton. This will help you map out what I mentioned above. 

Status Quo:

  • There are a handful of organizations in Austria that are doing a few workshops a year about certain social or environmental issues, but they fail to institutionalize it for different reasons. A lot of “lone wolves” in the ecosystem.
  • These workshops are often not appearing regularly to one group of kids. They have 1-2 touchpoints for the children.
  • Lesson plans, PDFs, workshops are already available for teachers online 
  • Funding that goes to SDG education focuses on dissemination and implementation power over systemic transformation or innovation. Typically, the organizations will do a pilot project in a few countries, do an impact measurement, keep their output and materials online, and move on to the next funded project. 
  • In Austria, the Ministry also has produced educational materials to be used in classrooms
  • In Austria, teachers are obliged to do further education regularly. For this, they could technically choose to educate themselves on the Sustainable Development Goals. However, most don’t for a variety of reasons.
  • Education about the world’s challenges that is ongoing, engaging, and scalable is difficult to come by.

So, you have different avenues here as a social entrepreneur. 

What do we do? You could do several things. Here are some examples. You could;

  • Try to lobby for this through the regular way. However, it will take you several years and if you are lucky and powerful enough, you can manage to push one topic through to the official syllabus. Also, your local efforts will not scale to other regions. Another disadvantage of this is that it is tied to party politics. Your efforts might be nullified depending on who is in the administration.
  • Create networks and connections with heads of schools across the region so you can do a few workshops a year about the SDGs. However, you have challenges with funding these activities, you are not making ongoing contact with the same kids, and your faith is in the hands and the mercy of whoever is the head of the schools. 
  • Do a few workshops a year – which is also great. 
  • Or find a way to do this that addresses all the above. 

Step 3: Social entrepreneurship. This is the less talking, more doing part. Now, ideas are easy. Implementation is what is more challenging. Why is social entrepreneurship important? What does it serve? You can read by clicking here if you are interested.

There is a clear gap between the content that is available and the adoption of this content by educators.

Why are teachers not using these materials we have online?

Problem validation

Well, let’s talk to them. And talk we did. 

There seem to be three main reasons;

  1. They are not aware of it. The funded organizations that created these documents have no incentive to spread them to teachers outside their project scope. 
  2. They are prepared by experts and not designed specifically for teachers that do not know about this issue. 
  3. Usability is very low. Teachers don’t have the time to decipher a 60-page .pdf by an entity, using scientific language (see reason 2)

So what we need is to build a platform that allows for an 

  • Ongoing education about these issues 
  • In a scalable and engaging way
  • Including a feedback loop between the creators and the teachers so the platform is attractive to educators. 
  • Very easy to adopt by educators

Idea

We decided to build an online platform where teachers can download lesson plans about the social and environmental challenges. Teachers can sign up to the platform and download an easy-to-use lesson plan, including the PowerPoint presentation with notes. The presentations have all the notes in them, the supporting document explains the challenge they are running a workshop on in one visual. No bureaucratic permissions are needed, and it takes 30 mins for teachers to get ready for the workshop.

It’s called Mission Liftoff.

Sometimes, innovation does not come from what you do (the product/service), but it comes from how you do it. This is called process innovation.

How? 

Focusing on the user

Let’s understand who we are trying to build a product for. We have held many customer interviews with teachers to understand them. Here is a very short summary.

Pain pointsProduct value
Very busy, with diverse responsibilitiesSaves time in planning classes 
Hard to gauge what class in the syllabus can then replace this education withSomething different for you and your class
Not all classes are equipped with projectorsReady to use (really ready to use. Including the slides with the notes inserted, curated resources for them to have an introduction on the topic, further reading, explanation of all the games, activities, and more)
 No uniform tools that all teachers use for regular responsibilitiesUses understandable language
Keeps the end-user (children) in mind
Addresses the existing pain points of teachers in mind (What class can they do this in, in the existing syllabus of Austria for e.g.)

Building the product

We are building the lesson plans and the platform according to all this feedback we get from the end-user, the teachers. After we build our lesson plans, we find teachers that agreed to test them out in their classes. We go there and watch them and take notes. Then, we interview them afterwards and get insights about how challenging it was to use the platform or the lesson plan. 

I won’t go into too much detail about building products. That is for another time. But that has been our process thus far. If you are reading this article in the distant future, there might be a link below with an update to what happened to Mission Liftoff and its impact. 

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