Understanding system change through complexity theory: a case study in delivering a programme for adults with multiple needs

Meadows, L., 2022. Understanding system change through complexity theory: a case study in delivering a programme for adults with multiple needs. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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The aim of the thesis is to increase understanding of system change for people experiencing multiple and complex needs, applying complexity theory as a means of generating new insights into this challenging area. It further seeks to explore the role of Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) as an objective within a system change project, specifically its conceptualisation as a complex response to a complex problem. The research uses a qualitative, embedded case study design: the main case study is the system change project, and the specific objective of PIE; an embedded case study explores the implementation of PIE within one of the project’s partner organisations.

While the systemic nature of the issues facing people with multiple and complex needs is increasingly well-articulated, and there is significant interest in system change, a definitive understanding of how system change occurs remains elusive (OECD 2017; Birney 2021). Complexity theory is seen as having potential value in increasing this understanding but there is a need for more empirical research which applies the theory (Thompson et al 2016). PIE is seen as a complex response to the issues of multiple and complex needs (Cockersell 2018b). However, there is no literature which empirically explores this claim.

Complexity theory (although itself an ill-defined and contested theory) challenges traditional views of change as a deliberate and managed process (Haynes 2015). The findings of this research are congruent with this theoretical position, not least in the differential understanding of key concepts such as the ‘system’ and PIE which has implications for engagement with, and perceptions of success of, the project. The emergent processes by which the system change objectives (including PIE) developed were found to be non-linear, multifarious, path dependent, and impacted by local context. These complex processes of implementation also challenged the postulation of PIE as a complex response.

As well as providing an empirical example of the application of complexity theory, the research offers a theoretically informed challenge to the feasibility of delivering transformational, sustainable and beneficial system change; indicates the importance of ‘system’ redundancy; and emphasises the significance of values – both as part of the system change process and as an important (and often overlooked) facet of 9 complexity theory. It further indicates challenges to PIE as a complex response and the potential mitigation of these via engagement with complexity theory.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Meadows, L.
Date: May 2022
Rights: The copyright in this work is held by the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed to the author.
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Jeremy Silvester
Date Added: 28 Apr 2023 11:16
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2023 11:16
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/48846

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