top of page

Mauri-Centred Systems Thinking

I recently completed a certificate from the global company IDEO, the first graduate class of Human Centred Systems Thinking (half joke).

I actually really enjoyed the programme, the tips, tricks, techniques, language and practice was extremely valuable.

Once again, indigenous ways of being and thinking surpass any award-winning western innovation organisation. While the course was 'limited' to human design, our indigenous lens requires us to look at 'all living-things design' with every living thing at the centre of the system we are designing solutions for. Mauri-centred Systems Thinking is how I'm referring to it now. Other than that simple but powerful difference I was impressed with the content and wanted to share some great takeaways from the course. Just in case people didn't want to spend that money and cram their assignments into the last week of the course like me (luckily I had a project on the go that aligned really well to the assignments) here are some of the highlights.

Visualise the System, Humanise the System, Redesign the System!

These are key steps to take. I found that visualising the system I was working on was by far the most powerful step for me. To think in systems is one thing, to see it in all different colours, shades, shapes and in its fullness improved my ability to instantaneously think more strategically about the whole system - where the power sat, where the value sat, where the interactions and connections were - and conversely where all of that was missing. Which in itself was a critical finding. All of this just from a couple of hours of sitting and methodically drawing all of the key people in the system. This is called a Network Map (see images below). Sidenote: there are many other maps that can be used eg. Process Map, Problem Map (use Uncle Google to check other maps out. Map choice depends on what you're working on and why).

To solidify the problem being solved, a How Might We statement guides where the system currently is (and its faults that need changing) to where it needs to be.

Though there are more, we were offered five lens to view the systems map.

  1. Alignment. what is the strength of alignment between groups? This can be based on priorities, perspectives, incentives or understanding

  2. Communication. what are the lines and directions of communication? These can be formal or informal ways of communicating across a network.

  3. Power. what are the sources of power in the system? This can be related to formal authority, like the power to make and implement decisions, or the power to influence decision makers.

  4. Influence. what is the nature and degree of influence? this can be based on things like money, emotion, knowledge, viability, trust etc

  5. Value. what are the exchanges of value? For me this could be anything of value to the system and its peoples eg. money, trust, spiritual sustenance, resources, information, knowledge.

Design Levers

Another key learning was the techniques of prioritising what levers to activate, once they were identified. Levers of design are the 'how to take action' to redesign the system. They provided six common levers to influence behaviours of peoples within the system, inspired by Jay Galbraiths star model.

  1. Strategy is a way to align the system around a common direction.

  2. Structure is a way to define where authority resides for key decisions.

  3. Process is a way to direct the flow of activities and information.

  4. Infrastructure is a way to nudge behaviours through shared tools.

  5. Talent is a way to grow the right mix of mindsets and skills.

  6. Incentives are a way to motivate people through hard and soft rewards.

Prioritising which lever to choose is an art in itself. One way to do this is to choose high impact levers that would be easy to implement. Prototyping and testing the lever design was encouraged, and is something I personally have always loved the idea of, having dabbled once or twice in (or more really) but again, I have come to a new conclusion about prototypes from this course.

Prototypes don't need to be Perfect!

The goal of prototyping is not to learn whether or not an idea worked. The goal is actually to learn about the system as a whole in order to get to the next experiment. Its a cyclical process where we should be consciously testing and learning - not directly solving. I was today years old when I learnt that.

In complex systems, prototypes assist to explore the system to better understand how it works, experience the system to understand how it feels and experiment with the system to see how it responds.


  • surface hidden connections in a complex environment

  • probe the system in a tangible way to uncover gaps and connections


  • build a shared understanding by helping people experience the system in similar ways - both functionally and emotionally

  • set the conditions for a compelling 'aha' moment that shifts mindsets and perspectives


  • change in one part of the system can produce unexpected behaviours in another

  • when provoking a response, observe the results and refine your approach accordingly

Reframing your Perspective!

Early on in the process of exploring your system they provide you with Reframing Techniques to look differently at the complex environment you're endeavouring to untangle. There are more, but here is a list of five shared.

  1. Zoom In to view the system from a human perspective. By focusing on individual people within the system, you can uncover deep neds - and meaningful solutions - that can be hard to see from a distance

  2. Explore the system through multiple different views. By examining all the stakeholders and looking at the situation from each of their unique angles/perspectives. To do this can give you a more holistic view of everything that may be happening within the environment

  3. Expand the boundaries of the system to include your entire industry or eco-system. By widening your aperture you might find inspiration in unexpected places.

  4. Examine the analogous sectors for inspiration. This is another way to expand your perspective and find innovative solutions. [This one was one of my faves!]

  5. Study the natural world for a fresh perspective. They said, according to (only recent) literature referenced that people like nature live within systems of relationships and resources, we can follow natures example and design more holistic solutions. Well duh!!

I found examining through analogous sectors was a really interesting exercise and I thought of more analogous sectors or systems that could be useful, particularly in our kaupapa-driven 'industry' ;)

If you want to try it, a couple of examples they gave were to look to the transport industry if you are solving challenges within a health system, or look to the hospitality industry if you are solving challenges in an education system. Go on, try it!

From a te ao māori perspective example 5 goes without saying - well I hope it does. We were raised and taught that we are the environment. The inter-relational complexities of all living things includes humans, we are just another part of the natural world so of course we should look to our taiao (natural environment) for answers for what actually in comparison are very simple human problems. Mother Earth or Papatuānuku as Māori refer to her, regenerates in cycles, to cleanse herself and to prepare for new seasons and amongst other things, to provide for her children and all other living things - the tangible and intangible. Contrary to buzz words the human race use, she doesn't actually sustain/maintain herself - she evolves - she regenerates in sync with, and in response to all other living things around her.

Now there's a whole blog series in that so I'll leave that where it is. [Whispering hint: regeneration - think about it].

Measuring for Impact

They briefly touched on this in the later course content. I actually think that Measuring for Impact requires its own blog as well. One day, I will get around to pulling one together from my own, and others experiences.

Once you have decided what to change to 'dissolve a problem' (which is far better than just solving a problem) you then look to establish monitoring to see if the action you designed is creating the right impact - the desired impact, or any kind of impact if you're desperate lol.

Attached below in the image grid is a small view into what to do and think about when planning your measurement framework. In my humble opinion, critical questions to pose to yourself are: what mindsets need to change and what indicators would tell you that the desired change is occurring??

The course purported that the activities and tasks required to measure for impact can be categorised under three key steps.

  1. Clarify the objectives

  2. Identify the data needed to track the objectives

  3. Prioritise a manageable set of metrics and design how to collect for them.

And finally, because I've run out of time and inspiration for this blog, all of this reminded me of a recent kōrero from a Wellness Summit we held last year. The Summit brought together an impressive and broad line up of academics and practitioners to stimulate a rural community toward designing their own Wellness Centre through transforming the entire local health system. At that hui Pā Rob McGowan reminded us that we had to 'listen' to the taiao (environment) alongside the people in order to design the most impactful wellness centre for all. "Don't forget to engage the environment into the conversation"

Te Awa Tupua (the Whanganui River Claims Act 2017) legally requires us to 'speak' to the environment, 'speak' to the Whanganui river through Te Pou Tupua; listen to the ancient body of water, and act upon what we 'hear'.

It is through this ancient wisdom, to be able to harness the whispers of our ancestors, that we will truly unlock the solutions to ultimate wellness, for people and for place. I think that one way that we can do this is as we are designing new systems we take a Mauri-centred approach. As we practice this approach we grow it, improve it and deepen our understanding of how our ancient wisdom coupled with modern perspectives can enhance the world we live in today, for all. Mauri-Centred Systems Thinking is another win for Indigenous ways of thinking and being!

Mauri Oho, Mauri Tū, Mauri Ora.

77 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page