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Home > Learning Resources > SYSTEMS ANALYSIS

A systems analysis is a method for researchers and practitioners (e.g. local government officials, urban planners) to attain an overview and integrated perspective of a whole system under study, such as a city. For the systems analysis, existing studies and data are integrated and complemented with desk research and input from scientific experts and individuals. The systems analysis can be useful for urban planning, governance and other processes that require an in-depth understanding of a system and its main properties, persistent problems, dominant developments and innovative actors. It is necessary to do a systems analysis before continuing to the following phases of the Urban Transition Management (UTM) process. In order to define the problem and create a vision, having an integrated overview of the system is essential to identify the main system’s properties, interactions and problems.

The end products of the systems analysis can take different forms, but usually include documents like a text, presentation and/or poster. The concluding document(s) give an insight in the current state of the system, persistent problems, a sense of urgency and the challenges ahead. It should include: (a) analysis of the current state of the system, (b) description of the core values of the city, (c) selection of provocative quotes for propositions, based on interviewees’ perspectives on the city, (d) analysis of the relationships of flows between stocks, (e) analysis of the dominant culture, structure and practices (regime), as well as emerging alternatives (niches) and major landscape pressures, (f) analysis of the main strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the city for the current situation and/or future situation. In Urban Transition Management processes, the systems analysis will be used as a basis for discussions in the transition arena.

The methodology of the systems analysis consists of four steps: 1) System definition, 2) System structuring, 3) Data gathering, 4) Data assessment and analysis. First the boundaries of the system in terms of space, time and themes are defined. The system (elements and characteristics) is then structured using the SCENE model. The SCENE model structures information according to the sustainability triangle, consisting of the social, economic and environmental domains. Data is gathered for the systems analysis using a combination of desk research, interviews and expert sessions. The analysis of the current state of the system reveals relationships between the elements of the system, developments over time, persistent problems and positive trends within the system. It also identifies the dominant culture, structure and practices and defines the main strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

The systems analysis is time intensive and requires one or preferably more committed individuals that execute the four steps. The involvement of additional stakeholders is suggested at different steps in the analysis (e.g. interviews of stakeholder during data gathering, stakeholder workshop during system definition and structuring). Preliminary knowledge is not required, but sufficient data availability on the system under analysis is a prerequisite.

The systems analysis requires high time efforts by one or preferably more individuals that collect data and execute the analysis. Sufficient data about the system in question needs to be available. Workshops and interviews with experts or identified actors from the system can be used to collect additional information for the analysis and/or to validate the systems analysis. For these events, meeting rooms are needed. During a workshop flipcharts, sticky notes, pens and big white sheets are needed. The interviews require a good preparation with appropriate interview questions and they need to be recorded.

This tool can be used in any module as an exercise to acquire an overview of a system in question. It can be used as a group assignment in the Urban Transition Management module, in which a group of students conducts a systems analysis.