Systems stewardship in practice: What it is and how to get started
Are you trying to collaborate across organisational boundaries but getting stuck due to entrenched behaviours, structures and ways of working? The emerging practice of systems stewardship gives some insights into what it takes to enable meaningful collaboration.
Drawing on insights and examples of practice from across the Human Learning Systems network, we’ve pulled together a resource to introduce what system stewardship is, why it’s important and how to get started. See below for a summary, and click below to access the full resource:
Why we need a stewardship approach
The case for collaboration is stronger than ever but realising its potential is daunting when confronted by systems that are often siloed, competitive and fragmented. These barriers will persist unless we purposefully try to create the underlying conditions for people to collaborate and learn together more effectively.
A system steward is person, organisation or group that does just this by taking responsibility for nurturing a ‘healthy’ system. They work to help people achieve together what they can’t alone through making best use of collective relationships, insights and resources.
Julian Penton, Hartlepower recently said:
[We work to] surface awareness of there being a system and the importance of people understanding their own role in relation to others.
Playing this role – focusing on and nurturing what we can achieve collectively – represents a significant shift from traditional organisation-centric practice. Stewards both model more collaborative ways of working to show what different can look like, and help create the conditions (both relational and structural) for others to adopt these new practices.
Features of systems stewardship
While the practice differs depending on the context, there are some common core features that are distinct from traditional ways of working:
Fostering trusting relationships: Creating understanding and empathy as a foundation for collaboration.
Bringing people together around a common purpose: Convening people to build collective understanding of the system, our interdependent roles within it, and how we can make best use of collective insight and resources.
Deep listening: Putting ongoing listening at the heart of how we work, particularly listening deeply to the people we support.
Enabling learning: Creating a learning culture that enables ongoing adaptation and improvement.
Paying attention to power dynamics: Addressing imbalances in power dynamics to increase the voice and agency of those who are least heard.
Gary Wallace, Plymouth City Council recently said:
The point about learning through listening is that the process of doing it is as important as the stories we hear so our practice is learning through listening… The process of groups of people listening and learning together creates empathy and empathy is a really key thing in building trust.
Lela Kogbara, Black Thrive recently said:
[We] amplify the voices of those who haven’t had a voice or don’t see themselves as able to connect to the system. We have got the ear of the system, and we can help bring some of those voices to it. And also be a translator between the different actors.
Examples of systems stewardship in practice
Many different types of people and organisation can play a stewardship role. Sometimes funders and commissioners are best placed as they hold the resource and convening power, while in other cases civil society organisations have more legitimacy to play this role.
To find out more about systems stewardship, including how Collaborate can support you, please contact Dawn Plimmer.
Latest News from
How Greater Manchester has achieved together things they could not have achieved alone24/08/2023 09:20:00
“Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and its constituent member councils are the undisputed pioneers of English devolution. This success is built on a long history of decades of collaboration across the city region where the Mayor, political leaders, senior managers, partners and stakeholders work hard in the best interests of residents.”
Exploring equity, diversity and inclusion with Human Learning Systems practitioners27/04/2023 13:05:00
Reducing inequity is a complex and ongoing struggle and one that requires our commitment and persistence. As the Human Learning System (HLS) approach develops, we will continue to try to diversify the movement, centre equity, inclusion and diversity more prominently, support others’ efforts to do that and share what we are learning as we go.
Human Learning Systems: the role of local authorities30/07/2021 09:20:00
Following the recent publication of Human Learning Systems: Public Service for the Real World – the latest instalment in a series of HLS resources – in this article we explore what HLS means for local government in conversation with Gary Wallace of Plymouth City Council, Lela Kogbara of Black Thrive and formerly Islington LBC and Ed Anderton of Redbridge LBC.
New Human Learning Systems ebook17/06/2021 11:38:00
Building on our previous reports, A Whole New World and Exploring the New World, we are excited to launch a brand new ebook: Human Learning Systems: Public Service for the Real World in collaboration with Dr Toby Lowe and partners.
Evaluating systems change progress during the pandemic: lessons from save the children's early learning communities programme27/05/2021 12:20:00
This is the second in a series of joint blogs by Collaborate and NPC. It has been posted on both organisation’s websites.
Collaborate CIC is a social change agency that helps people, organisations, services and systems to collaborate for social change20/05/2021 15:43:00
Collaborate CIC try to influence the debate and practice of social change by sharing learning and thought leadership; and we work with a range of funders who support elements of our research.
The Hope Inquiry: Where the light gets in09/02/2021 13:38:00
As the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the UK heads well past 100,000, it is sometimes hard to recall the spirit of togetherness and even optimism that was present in the Spring of the first lockdown.
Participation and ownership as keys to effective strategy18/11/2020 13:38:00
One of the last pieces of face-to- face work Collaborate was involved with before the start of the first COVID-19 lockdown was with Dartington Service Design Lab, supporting long-time Collaborate partner Oldham in the development of a new early years’ strategy.