In the journal Organization Theory, Johanna Mair and Christian Seelos explore system change

They provide a framework to study and understand the approach of changing systems in order to tackle problems at scale.

Changing entire systems instead of focusing simply on specific social problems is an approach that is gaining traction among policymakers and organisations in response to complex problems, often at global scale, such as climate change. In a new paper published in December 2021 in the journal Organization Theory, Hertie School Professor of Organisation, Strategy and Leadership Johanna Mair and Adjunct Christian Seelos explore how scholars and others can theorise and investigate and understand organisational system change.

“We base our research in phenomena that are of interest to a number of stakeholders in the field of practice of social innovation and social change,” says Mair. “In this case the increasing ambition of funders, policymakers and social purpose organisations to change systems and not only to solve social problems.”

They extend the conversation in their own discipline of organisational studies on how to alter conditions that create these challenges and social problems. To do so, they build bridges to research outside of this discipline ­– in this case system perspectives.

In the paper, “Organizations, Social Problems and System Change: Invigorating the Third Mandate of Organizational Research,” Mair and Seelos offer concrete frameworks to help researchers and practitioners. They present an analytical framework for researchers who want to study the new and expanding area of organised systems change and to reflect on the practice of intervening in social systems.

“There exist no formulas or templates for writing theory on organised system change. All we have are scholarly ambition and curiosity and a commitment to truthful explanation,” Mair and Seelos write.

Using realist metatheory and principles, their research framework “reduces ambiguity, provides a backbone for empirical analysis, and favours mechanism-based explanation,” the authors write. “In concluding, we reflect on the topics of boundaries and power as two promising areas for theorising organised system change.”

Read the full paper here.

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