System Effects from Dr Luke Craven


Source: System Effects


When trying to change the world around us, we tend to assume everyone experiences the world in the same way.

That assumption is spectacularly—and scientifically—wrong.

Individuals’ lives are complex, unique and varied. The tools and methodologies we use to understand and address the issues impacting individuals must recognize that complexity.

System Effects helps decision makers respond to complex problems while at the same time embracing the uniqueness of individual experience.

Introducing System Effects

System Effects is a research methodology developed by Dr Luke Craven at UNSW Canberra, that captures the varied nature of individual experience to enable better intervention design. The System Effects platform was developed by Kumu in collaboration with Luke.

Drawing on soft systems, fuzzy cognitive mapping, and graph theory, System Effects can be used to ask a range of questions about a given issue, focusing on how different impacts, barriers, and enablers exist and are perceived within the system that surrounds it.

By beginning from the user-understanding of complex systems, the methodology helps re-centre lived experience in social science and policymaking practice.

System Effects supports the design of effective interventions by giving decision-makers tools to understand patterns that emerge across groups and communities, while at the same time emphasising the varied nature of individual experience.

How does it work?

Starting from a common focus, participants are asked to explore the barriers, impacts, and enablers present in their own lives. The result of this process is a personal systems map that captures the individual’s unique understanding and experience of the issue.

We can then layer these individual maps to build a picture of the wider community experience. Aggregating maps this way ensures no individual variable or causal connection is ignored, while highlighting the shared experiences emerging at the population-level.

By beginning from the user-understanding of complex systems, the methodology helps to re-centre lived experience in social science and policymaking practice.

How can it help me?

The results of the System Effects process can be used to:

  • Inform policy and program design

    How can policies most effectively address complex systems, given the diversity of individual experience?

  • Guide intervention implementation

    How can the implementation of policies and programs be effectively tailored to the systemic dynamics of particular contexts?

  • Evaluate systemic impacts

    How can we assess the systemic impact of particular interventions and their interactions with the contexts in which they are deployed?

How has it been used before?

System Effects is being applied to a wide range of issues by national, state, and local decision makers across the world.

  • Understanding the barriers to job market entry in Oslo, in partnership with the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV)
  • Understanding the systemic impact of disaster events in Sydney, in partnership with Resilient Sydney and the NSW Office of Emergency Management
  • Supporting social workers to deliver systemic care to persons facing homelessness in Newcastle, UK, in partnership with Newcastle City Council
  • Supporting the development of policy to prevent food borne disease in Cambodia, in partnership with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and USAID
  • Supporting effective environmental stewardship in New York, in partnership with the US Forest Service

Run your own System Effects survey

System Effects surveys are available through our online platform for $700/survey*. Each survey explores a single dimension (impacts, enablers, or barriers) of a particular focus and includes an unlimited number of responses.

If you would like help facilitating the survey process, we offer consulting services at $200/hour or $2000/day. Please email to discuss options and explore which route is best for your project.

* All prices in USD

Shifting the conversation from symptoms to systems