While I originally offered several specific reasons for the persistence of the workforce status quo, upon reflection I believe the real root cause is rather generic. Whether the issue is workforce development, business development, public health, innovation or entrepreneurship, the root cause for the lack of sustained positive change is that these are complex civic systems.
What is a complex civic system and why is it so hard to achieve sustained positive change within such systems?
Complex civic systems are made up of diverse independent stakeholders (organizations, institutions and individuals) from multiple sectors (private, public, nonprofit and philanthropic).
Here are several things that we need to understand about complex civic systems:
- They are not controlled by any individual entity or even a small group of entities.
- The outcomes – educational outcomes, business development outcomes, job training outcomes etc. – that emerge from these systems are also beyond any single entity’s control.
- Complex civic systems exist even when they are not well coordinated. (Both chaos and order can emerge from complex systems.) Often I hear that "there is no system" or "we need to create a system." There is always a system, it just may not function in a way that we would like.)
- The quality of what emerges from a complex civic system is determined by the quality of the interactions among the players within the system.
- The boundaries of such systems are unclear, can change and vary widely. Just as in natural systems, civic systems are made up of multiple subsystems and they're all interconnected.
Within poorly performing civic systems, stakeholders with resources and capacity can influence parts of the system or create workarounds to achieve the desired outcomes. This may improve outcomes for some, but the overall system continues to perform poorly. Stakeholders without resources and capacity have limited influence over any part of the system and struggle to develop workarounds. They also have limited capacity to aggregate their individual interests into a collective voice and/or collective action.
This is the root cause of our frustration.
Civic leaders can catalyze the capacity for the cross-sector collaborations that are necessary to bring change to complex civic systems. The first step is recognizing the root cause of our frustration is that we are dealing with a complex system.