The unique approach – using systems change

“So what system are we trying to shift?”

That is the key question each week for the systems innovators in the Healthy Families South Auckland team at The Southern Initiative when analysing their work with communities in Tamaki Makaurau.

Healthy Families South Auckland utilises the Six Conditions of Systems Change as part of its systems change approach to ensure that all South Aucklanders enjoy good health and wellbeing, enabled by cultural, social and physical environments. 

“Systems change is an approach which accepts just how complex the world really is and focuses on shifting the whole rather than tinkering with minor parts,” says Healthy Families South Auckland manager Winnie Hauraki.

“We do this in our mahi by supporting whānau and community leaders to influence the way their community thinks and works, so they can navigate their own path to good health and wellbeing.

“By using the process of systems change, whānau can test and observe what positive shifts they can make, be it relationship or power dynamics, policies or practices, or even changing a mindset on an issue.”

A values-led set of practices

“The challenge with using the six conditions of systems change is that if you want it to be effective in your work then you need to use it consistently, not as a one off,” says Healthy Families South Auckland Capability Lead Baruk Jacob. 

“And that is where Niho Taniwha provides that consistency, as the six conditions approach is already embedded in it.”

Niho Taniwha has been the main evaluation and learning tool for Healthy Families South Auckland for the past four years, a weekly practice that is specifically designed to support learning and track impact for the team as it works across multiple systems initiatives.

Created by The Auckland Co-Design Lab, it focuses attention on outcomes for whanau, systems change, and strategic learning. It draws from mātauranga Māori as well as western knowledge and lived experience.

Healthy Families South Auckland was one of the early users of Niho Taniwha and continues to provide feedback and learnings to The Auckland Co-Design Lab and TSI.

“These sessions focus on what changes our work has been having on the system and whānau, and what we are learning about these changes and our own practice,” says Baruk. “Such reflective sessions also enable the practice of empathy towards the system, whānau and ourselves, and are a powerful driver of learning and change.”

The team has specifically used the reflective tool to dig deep into what has been learnt through their experiences and connections with others, and where it could be used in other initiatives.

“Most innovators can do the evaluation and reporting part with comfort, it is what they have done throughout their career. But the reflective part of the practice is something that many organisations accidentally overlook.”

Reflection also includes starting a session with The Emotional Culture Deck, which helps each team member describe both positive and negative emotions in their work or personal life.

“At the end of the day we’re humans and therefore emotional creatures,” says Baruk. “If we don’t acknowledge that part of us, we won’t do our work as well as it could be done.”

Winnie says reflecting on the team’s work and understanding the use of empathy when working with others, has provided valuable learnings when working on initiatives in the community.

“What Niho Taniwha has done is build our own thought leadership and how we can influence the work of others within our own organisation or communities.” 

“It’s that simple question of asking what part of the system we are trying to shift, and how can we make a difference for the better.”