Systems convening


What is systems convening?

With the increasing inter-dependence and complexity in our work we need to work in new ways, across boundaries within and across organisations, with all key stakeholders, to enable spread and adoption. Systems convening is an enabling activity which matches the complexity of the spread and adoption approach taken with the complexity of the situation. See leadership and complexity principles for more information. To enable complex change use this approach with the seven principles for spread and adoption to develop a bespoke approach reflecting your specific context.

This way of working is applicable to all levels of the system, with interdependence between the levels. Systems convening is a specific aspect of system leadership. It provides a third complementary activity, working alongside innovators and adopters, to develop, spread and adopt innovations. See ‘Do we have the three types of people needed for scale and spread in the NHS’ for more information. Systems convening is an emerging, and not well recognised, activity already in use in healthcare.

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Why do we need systems convening?

  • Systems convening is needed for complex situations, programme management alone may work when the spread and adoption challenge is simple or complicated and independent. See comparison table below.
  • Acknowledging the NHS as a complex adaptive system, and taking a systems thinking approach, recognises the existing inter-dependent components and importance of iteration, adaptation and emergence.

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What does systems convening involve?

Systems convening involves:

  • Creating and utilising adaptive spaces to increase connections, collaborations and knowledge flows across boundaries enabling spread and adoption of innovations.
  • Supporting development of relationships, trust and learning partnerships and networks.
  • Strategically coordinating spread across the local system helping focus on innovations of local system benefit.
  • Supporting spread across a system and enabling early involvement of adopters helping to build a shared purpose.

This means:

  • Bringing together key stakeholders including staff, service users and carers, representing all the components of the system to intentionally connect and work together to facilitate the spread and adoption of innovation.
  • Using ‘enabling leadership’ to create an adaptive environment or space for spread and adoption by creating an interface between innovation and ‘usual business’.
  • Utilising local knowledge of context, judgement, expertise and a range of skills to apply these seven spread and adoption principles in practice to each unique local context so this likely requires the input of more than one person.
  • Enabling new partnerships, based on learning and trust to enable spread and adoption across a system.
  • Increasing motivation and engagement by lessening ambiguity for adopters and by mobilising networks, communities and influencers
  • Strategically coordinating spread and adoption activities across a whole system.

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How does systems convening relate to our usual programme management approach?

Working with complexity requires rigor and flexibility, moving forward in the right direction while working with emergence, uncertainty and adaptation.

Complex changes require both approaches to work together each bringing valuable, complementary contributions.

We need both system convening and programme management activities to enable spread and adoption.

Programme management: Systems convening:
Designs a plan Works with emergence
Has accountability within a governance system Builds connections and relationships across boundaries
Ensures that delivery milestones are met Builds commitment to a collective goal
Deals with risk and ensures that barriers are overcome Balances multiple tensions and polarities
Problem solves Seeks win/wins
Focuses on the component part Makes sense of things for adopters: clarifies the why
Works with independent and complicated changes Enables spread across a whole system
Sees the bigger picture
Works with interdependent and complex changes

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Further resources

Read case studies of systems convening in practice.

Systems convening activities are explained in systems convening activities which includes necessary characteristics also available.

Tools to help with these activities are available in practical tools and methods.

Background information – Bev and Etienne Wenger-Trayner

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Read the glossary

This guidance is primarily offered to support system leaders. Please send all feedback here.