Adopting complex ways of working: tools for using systems thinking in practice

Course Group: 
Public Sector Management
Course Outline: 

Effective policy design, implementation and evaluation requires consideration of the whole, often complex, system under consideration.  Being able to maintain a view or understanding of the whole is a recognised challenge, often discussed when researching wicked or complex problems. This masterclass will explore the hopes and realities when developing effective policy responses in complex systems, through the lens of complexity-informed public management. It will provide the latest thinking on how complexity-informed public management can be planned, implemented and evaluated.  The leadership and performance management approaches which will inspire and bring together those from across a policy system are presented and discussed. Delivered by researchers with international reputations in the fields of public management, complexity and leadership it will provide a challenging, interactive and practical masterclass.

We will explore a range of tools used to support the design, implementation and evaluation of interventions designed to shape the structure of complex systems to drive particular outcomes. The Masterclass will enable policymakers and practitioners to ask questions like:

  • Design: How can policies most effectively address ongoing and complex problems through targeting specific pattern breaking interevention points?
  • Implementation: How can understanding systems enable the implementation of policies be effectively tailored to the dynamics of particular contexts?
  • Evaluation: How can we assess the systemic impact of particular interventions and their interactions with the contexts in which they are deployed?

Duration: 1 day

Date: 12 October 2018

Delivery Mode:  Face to Face

Location: Crema Room | East Hotel | 69 Canberra Ave, Kingston | Canberra

Standard Price: $750

What you will receive:

Upon completion of this workshop, participants will be able to;

  • Use the language and concepts of systems, explain systems thinking and complexity to others, and recognise their implications for public policy and management.
  • Describe specific types of system traps and archetypes that may be at play within complex problems.
  • Apply a range of practical tools and methodologies to different policy contexts to respond more effectively to complexity.
  • Explain how to use systems thinking in a variety of policy contexts.
  • Develop an action plan to deal with a problem or opportunity from their own practice.

Who Should Attend:

The workshop will be relevant to those who have an interest and/or role in designing, implementing or evaluating public policies/programs in complex environments. This will include policymakers, leaders, senior managers and commissioners from the statutory and / or voluntary sectors and social / human services settings.

Course Outline:

The workshop will take an interactive style of delivery which includes expert input, group discussion and personal reflection. International case studies will be used alongside findings from research and evaluation. Resources for further exploration will be provided for self-study of topics of interest. Participants are encouraged to bring a case study from their own practice which they would like to consider over the workshop.

9:00 to 9.30                 Registration

9.30 to 11.00               Complexity and public management: Why here, why now? (presentation and exercise)

11.30 to 11.30             The role of data in understanding and responding to complexity

11.30 to 12.30             Concepts and Models 1: Performance management and accountability in complex systems

13.30 to 14.30             Concepts and Models 2: Working with system traps

14.30 to 15.30             Concepts and Models 3: System Effects modelling to support intervention design

15.30 to 17.30             Guided Exercise: Small-group work on real-work related problems

Presenter Names:

Dr Toby Lowe, Newcastle University (UK)

Dr Toby Lowe is a Senior Research Fellow in the Business School at Newcastle University, UK. His research explores public and social sector performance management, focusing on helping those engaging in social change to be more effective at what they do.

He is currently working on three large projects:

  • Funding in Complex Ecologies - research in partnership with Collaborate on how funders and public sector commissioners are responding to complexity. This work has identified a new complexity-informed paradigm for public management, outlined in the report 'Whole New World: Funding and Commissioning in Complexity'.
  • A three-year action research programme funded by the Tudor Trust which explores how organisations are implementing the emerging complexity-informed paradigm for public management and are supporting the creation of a Community of Practice for organisations who want to work in this way. See here for details.
  • Place-Based System Change - working in partnership with Lankelly Chase on their programme to support system change for people who experience Severe and Multiple Disadvantage.


Dr Emma Uprichard, University of Warwick

Dr. Emma Uprichard is one of the international leaders in social sciences methods and complexity and she is co-editor of the International Journal of Social Research Methodology. She led the University of Warwick's Nuffield/ESRC/HEFCE Q-Step bid (£1.3mil) and subsequently set up what is now the Warwick Q-Step Centre, part of a trail-blazing initiative designed to promote a step-change in quantitative social science training in the UK.  Dr Uprichard is a co-investigator of CECAN - the 'Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus’ (led by Prof. Nigel Gilbert), a £3m national research centre funded and supported by the ESRC, Defra, BEIS, NERC, EA, and FSA which is tasked with, among other things, developing a range of cutting-edge methods for complex evaluation. She is also a principle investigator the Economic and Social Research Council Seminar Series “Complexity and Method in the Social Sciences”. Currently Dr Uprichard is writing a monograph on Time and Method (Routledge), which reflects on the methodological im/possibilities of capturing social change empirically.


Dr Luke Craven, UNSW Canberra

Dr Luke Craven is a Research Fellow in the Public Service Research Group at the University of New South Wales, Canberra. Luke’s research focuses on developing new tools to understand and address complex policy challenges. He works with a range of public sector organisations to adapt and apply systems frameworks to support policy design, implementation and evaluation. Luke is known for developing the System Effects methodology, which is widely used to analyse complex causal relationships in participatory and qualitative data. He is also involved in number of collaborative projects that are developing innovative solutions to complex policy challenges, which includes work focused on food insecurity, health inequality, and climate resilience. Luke holds a PhD in Political Science at the University of Sydney, where he remains affiliated with the Sydney Environment Institute and the Charles Perkins Centre.


Professor Deborah Blackman, UNSW Canberra

Professor Deborah Blackman is a Professor in Public Sector Management Strategy and Deputy Director of the Public Service Research Group in the School of Business at UNSW, Canberra. Her research interests include Public Sector Policy Implementation, Organisational Change, Systems Thinking, Employee Performance Management, Organisational Learning and Organisational Effectiveness. She has published journals such as Public Administration Review, Management Learning, Management Decision and the Journal of Knowledge Management. Deborah was the lead researcher on a joint collaborative project with the Australian Public Service Commission entitled the “Strengthening the Performance Framework”. The result was a new framework for diagnosing the effectiveness of a performance management system and the tool is being used in a range of contexts and organisations. Past research projects also an ARC grant considering Whole of Government from which she developed a new diagnostic model to support effective joined-up working.



12 October 2018 - 12 October 2018