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Social systems

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ESR’s social systems team applies extensive expertise and experience to help decision-makers address challenging and intractable problems with high levels of complexity and
uncertainty.

Our work helps decision makers make confident decisions and provides our clients with 'bigger picture' understanding of issues, and research based insights on how to bring about change. Our multidisciplinary team has expertise including public and environmental health, environmental policy, problem structuring, workshop facilitation, systems thinking, developmental evaluation and modelling. We work in close partnership with our clients and deliver practical solutions that can be readily applied.

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Systems thinking

The Social Systems team applies systems thinking to much of its work. Systems thinking sheds new light on solutions to the very difficult and contentious problems facing New Zealand. It uses a range of methodologies to understand how those things which may be regarded as parts of a system influence one another.

The team's work covers these interrelated areas of research:

  • Healthy Communities – improvements to health systems, including oral health and opioid substitution treatments, 'whole of system' change in family violence and child abuse.
  • Healthy Environments – integrating the biophysical world with communities and stakeholders.
  • Sustainable Development – balancing different, and often competing, needs against an awareness of the environmental, social and economic limitations we face as a society.
  • Science, Technology and Society – the governance of new technology and public understanding of science.

Developmental evaluation

There is an increasing demand to improve the process and efficiency of innovation in services. Government and non-government organisations recognise that how services are implemented is important to increasing the value customers put on those products, and in containing costs. In the public sector there is an ethical and political requirement to have some assurance that services and other interventions are likely to provide value for money and achieve their intended outcomes.

This service is not a simple programme evaluation, rather based on published literature, developmental evaluation is designed to support service and programme innovation in situations of social complexity or where the object of evaluation is not stable (e.g. programmes that are in an early stage of development, pilot programmes or an intervention in a changeable environment).

Development evaluation provides continuous feedback to the designers and practitioners that will enable on-the-fly adaptation of an intervention or strategy to help it achieve the desired outcomes, thus ensuring that our clients’ resource use is maximised, and their service/product will reach its maximum potential and value.

Workshop design and facilitation

Having a clear strategy or action plan following a workshop does not simply 'happen'.  Working with our clients, ESR's Social Systems team will clarify the expected outcomes, structure the problem, design and facilitate the workshop(s), empower the participants, and ensure that there is solid, agreed material to inform your chosen plan or strategy.

The Social Systems team apply workshop design and facilitation methods honed through decades of experience and used as part of their research into issues of high social complexity. They specialise in workshops that get the best out of multiple and contesting perspectives. Both participants and clients have remarked on how constructive and valuable workshops designed and led by our team are. Typically, our workshops leave participants with new insights and the client with increased confidence to manage and make decisions in situations of high complexity.