Transversal system change… say what?

For some time now I’ve felt that the simplest way to describe my work is by calling it “transversal system change.” And yet the challenge that comes with this so-called simplicity is that it is not obvious to everyone what the term means!

When I first began exploring the notion of transversality in what I do, I was using it to describe the way in my work crosses the system. I would often draw something like this:

In other words, “transversal system change” came to me as a tool to map how I work diagonally across structural boundaries between difference, disciplines, sectors, borders, influence and more. A simple example could be the way in which collective intelligence across the stakeholder spectrum is being increasingly incorporated into decision-making processes (see: public innovation, open government, Responsible Research and Innovation etc).

One of the recent responses I received to the diagram above was that it was great but it was too square, too static. Indeed I find this a fantastic and pertinent observation. It highlights how the challenge to work with and through systemic power often needs to balance on the edge of what the status quo and what is necessary – in other words:

no more squares let’s move onto circles!  And for me that is where the micro level implementation comes in. To paraphrase South African change-management and decolonial scholar, Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni, we are in a systemic-epistemic crisis that calls for systemic-epistemic responses. When I look at a diagram like the one above, for me it is in fact 3D, and every movement across the trajectory is also happening at the subjective and epistemological levels. The circles come into transversal system change through the kinds of spaces we activate in doing such work; spaces that open, include difference, hold discomfort, and foster the approaches that can allow a truly collective response into our shared futures.

transversal system change = participatory development = community building = public innovation = decoloniality = data sovereignty = next gen P2P collaboration = resilient networks = reimagining reproduction = response-ability = …