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CPI in the news Article November 4th, 2020
Legitimacy • Innovation

The Mandarin: Government must shift focus from authority over people to stewardship of complex systems

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Bridget Nurre Jennions, Centre for Public Impact

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Government must shift focus from authority over people to stewardship of complex systems

Thea Snow calls for a shift away from government being about authority and control, and towards acting as stewards of complex systems - offering guidance on what this looks like in practice.

Originally published by The Mandarin.


Interestingly, while much of the literature around system stewardship is very new, the concept of government as steward is not. In fact, the word “government” derives from the Greek verb to steer. In its earliest incarnation, then, the role of government was described in a way which denoted a responsibility to steer (or guide or steward) citizens and communities in the best direction.

What sits at the heart of contemporary discussions around system stewardship is a recognition that government exists as part of many complex systems. For this reason, any shift to a system stewardship approach needs to be underpinned by a shift in thinking - from a linear, reductionist and control-oriented approach, to a way of understanding and interacting with the world in a way which is holistic, systemic and emergent. As I've written previously, governments thinking in systems need to adopt a more humble mindset; one which recognises that government sits alongside other actors in the system, rather than above or at the centre.


While system stewardship - as we've seen — is actually not a new concept, its importance as a way of understanding the role of government has become more apparent in recent times. This year, in particular, has laid bare the fact that government is part of a complex ecosystem — much of which it can't control. The COVID pandemic has revealed the interconnectedness of things. It has demonstrated how a virus, which affects the human respiratory system, can bring the global economy to its knees. The global response to COVID has required governments around the world to think and act more systemically and has highlighted the inadequacy of linear, siloed approaches.


Read the complete piece in The Mandarin.


About the Centre for Public Impact

The Centre for Public Impact is a not-for-profit founded by Boston Consulting Group. Believing that governments can and want to do better for people, we work side-by-side with governments—and all those who help them—to reimagine government, and turn ideas into action, to bring about better outcomes for everyone. We champion public servants and other changemakers who are leading this charge and develop the tools and resources they need so we can build the future of government together.

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