System analysis – looking at challenges in an integrated way

Society is in constant flux. Global developments are placing great demands on governments and organisations. TNO Vector helps them engage in these transitions and respond to developments around them. We do this using a system analysis: that means we approach issues in an integrated way, looking at the social system as a whole, rather than its individual components.

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What is the systems approach?

The issues we are facing in the 21st century are complex. This is due to the pace of technological innovation, geopolitical developments, and societal challenges. What solves one problem now could cause another problem later. That is precisely why we need to look at issues in an integrated way and not just from the perspective of a single policy area. This is the systems approach, which results in a system analysis.

Examples of complex challenges that many organisations are facing today include:

  • Climate change
  • The nitrogen problem
  • Social inclusiveness
  • Geopolitics and implications for critical raw materials

What these themes have in common is that they are all complex issues. They cannot be solved from just one policy area or perspective. If an organisation is facing any of these challenges, we perform a system analysis. We then look at system level for ways to reduce future risks and increase opportunities. In this way we take other policy areas into account.

Systems thinking means looking ahead and adapting

For an innovation to achieve real impact, it is important that it is geared towards a particular challenge. In other words, it should be a solution to a problem, not a solution in search of a problem. The rapid pace of societal change makes this more difficult. Systems thinking and system analyses can help us look ahead.

After all, foresight is needed if we are to respond innovatively today to the challenges of tomorrow. This is impossible if we have a narrow focus on isolated issues. We then run the risk of solving only ‘simple’ and visible problems, without considering complex causes or domino effects.

To address the transitions of the 21st century, agreement is needed on the end result we are hoping to achieve. This cannot be assessed realistically without an overview of the complete picture. A system analysis helps create that overview.

Read more about our methods