Making systems thinking human with accessible educational resources

The Omidyar Group

Research and Strategy
Visual Design

Intractable to understandable

Systems thinking is a powerful tool for tackling intractable, dynamic social impact challenges. It reveals patterns that perpetuate situations and identifies points of leverage that can have the greatest potential for impact. Unfortunately, this potent approach can be held back by its academic framing. Historically, this methodology is presented in complex, inaccessible ways.

The Omidyar Group (TOG), an ambitious philanthropic organization focused on intractable issues, wanted to change that. They approached Daylight to help make systems thinking more human, both to help TOG initiative teams and to support the broader social impact community.

Mashing up TOG's deep systems expertise with Daylight’s relentless desire to make things actionable and human, we built a powerful toolkit that gives practitioners a step-by-step approach to applying systems thinking. Our workbook, videos, and systems thinking +Acumen course have reached thousands of systems thinkers and doers around the world.

"How might we turn systems thinking into a simple recipe that anyone can follow?"

The peanut butter & jelly approach

As we dove into the development of the systems thinking workbook, the PB&J recipe metaphor served as a constant reminder of the simplicity we wanted. Like any complicated culinary dish, we split the systems journey into sections, and then broke each step into plain, simple language. This step-by-step approach, paired with real-life examples gave TOG initiative teams the powerful but accessible tools they needed to apply systems thinking to their intractable social-impact challenges.

"This [toolkit] has helped us look at problems in the system and understand how to address them rather that going straight for short term solutions. This will hugely impact the way we work to develop the agricultural sector."

Agricultural Value Chains project team, USAID

The "why" and mindsets of systems thinking

Systems can be a long and intense process that requires significant team time and effort. To ensure that teams were willing to take on that commitment, TOG wanted teams to really understood the "why" and mindsets behind systems thinking. Corresponding with the workbook, Daylight created a collection of compelling videos to help make these abstract concepts tangible and comprehensible to both internal teams and external stakeholders.

Unifying visual language

To keep the material both inviting and consistent, it was important to have a distinct visual language that tied the larger systems experience together, from workbook to videos to facilitation to workshop materials. Daylight designed the systems practice branding to be both optimistic and mature, a natural extension of The Omidyar Group brand. The experience was enriched by bespoke iconography and a distinct systems journey visual that acted as a visual reminder for where one might be in the systems experience.

14000+

people working for foundations, non-profits, NGOs, and other social impact organizations across the globe are harnessing this toolkit