Framework for Ecosystem Change (1): Current State


In my last post, I began to outline a new approach for innovation in complex ecosystems. Efforts to drive reform in Healthcare, Education, and Energy have routinely struggled, and progress has been elusive. My thought process was sparked, in part, by an analysis of complexity science written by Beth Noveck & David Johnson. But much of my energy was fueled by numerous examples where barriers to collaboration and silo-thinking have long served to stifle innovation in large-scale institutions and the ecosystems they serve.

The Challenge of Social Ecosystems

Though a great many provider professionals have, in practice, devoted entire careers to excellence, overall system outcomes can appear inconsistent and, in many cases, undesirable.

Why? As noted by Noveck and Johnson, system complexity itself introduces many dynamics that need to be investigated, among them, conflicting objectives of stakeholder “agents”. Another area for focus is money. While always a powerful motivator, in social ecosystems it serves as a double-edge sword. The same financial capital that’s driven breakthrough innovations can also motivate counter-productive results. To stakeholders in the pipeline, long-term outcomes are not always visible, actionable or prioritized effectively.

A Path Forward

To achieve an efficient system-level problem-solving process, I’ve developed a simple framework for Ecosystem Evolution.

First, let’s introduce Part 1 of this framework for the Current State, to ground our discussion and better define some key concepts like “ecosystems”, their “agents”, and their operating “paradigms”. The status quo is characterized by the following forces:

  • Closed-loop, mature transactions and processes
  • Heavy control exercised by producer and government stakeholders (“agents”)
  • Much investment (financial, emotional) associated with the status quo
  • Insufficient rigor in the definition of problems and possible solutions
  • Insufficient data to effectively prove viability of alternatives
  • Largely untapped sources of insight on complex (adaptive) system behavior

Ecosystem Framework Pt1 (Current State)

How would we move forward with this model?

For each ecosystem targeted, we’d document the current state paradigms (literally, “how things work”, represented above by the black box), creating light-weight process models that demonstrate a solid understanding of core challenges. We’d also break down the paradigms themselves into easily understandable components.

Rigor in developing models is critical. Stating problems fully and accurately is on the critical path to any meaningful change.

Then would come the work of articulating alternative paradigms using the above as a baseline, using a collaborative approach that leverages social media. Resulting ecosystem designs could give us (perhaps, for the first time) a detailed understanding of our fundamental, root cause problems, summarizing the changes that may be necessary to address them.

Next Steps

I’ll introduce Part 2, a collaborative solution framework for Ecosystem Evolution in my next post, building on the Current State model above. It will incorporate new, collaborative open-loop processes and the social media aspect. Comments and inputs are not only welcome, they are critical. We can only be successful if we tackle these problems with a mutual understanding and a resolve to work the issues to completion.

Our first test: looking at the model above, can we start to see the challenges more clearly?

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4 thoughts on “Framework for Ecosystem Change (1): Current State

  1. Great stuff. I don’t feel competent at this point to comment in detail, but I can share some thoughts based on my own experience experimenting with collaborative problem-solving models in my organization.

    The biggest challenge is cultural resistance. You’ve captured the variables in your current-state description, but I think it’s easy to underestimate the impact of deeply entrenched orthodoxy on paradigm change. In my case, traditional organizational silos, the subsequent lack of empowerment, and lack of a shared knowledge base became nearly insurmountable obstacles.

    It seems to me that these challenges will be amplified by several orders of magnitude in super-large systems like federal government. Take healthcare. Producers and government stakeholders have, as you point out, a deep investment in the status quo. But the real wildcards are consumers. As a group, they possess a deeply flawed knowledge of the situation. Employer-sponsored health insurance masks cost inflation. Two-thirds, while acknowledging some frustration, believe their personal needs are essentially being met by the current system. Getting all these groups to put stakes in the ground will be difficult. Synthesizing concise problem statements will be incredibly challenging.

    I hope this makes some kind of sense. Looking forward to your next post.

    • Hi Bill, thanks so much for the thoughtful comments. I waited to respond until the second part of the framework was posted (today), so you’d have a better look at the model.

      I couldn’t agree more on culture issues, which I’ve written about elsewhere. Most of us have faced unsurmountable internal resistance to change and cross-silo collaboration, even the simplest act of trying to share knowledge can hit a wall. Innovation is held hostage in far too many organizations.

      What sets this approach apart is that it operates in the public domain, making it fully transparent. Also in our favor is ‘self-selection’, meaning participation in the exercise is optional. These elements should help filter out those who might resist. Sure there is some risk. But at least we have a fighting chance, and we’ll be taking steps to reduce a variety of potential conflicts.

      And you are right, the consumer ‘wildcard’ is at once the most exciting and potentially the most daunting. How we achieve meaningful public engagement will be one of our more important breakout topics (and one that spans ecosystems).

      By the way, your insights were spot on; no need to worry re: qualifications. Innovation often comes from those outside the ranks of experts: they have less to ‘unlearn’.

      Thanks again – I hope you stay engaged. This promises to be interesting, at the very least.

  2. Pingback: Framework for Ecosystem Change (2): Evolution « Driving innovation in a digital world

  3. Pingback: Ecosystem | @ the intersection of people & technology

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