System Innovation


What does it take to change a system?

Denmark has some of the best social systems in the world. And yet like many other societies we are now facing big societal challenges that those systems were not designed to meet. We need not just innovative solutions but system innovation. But how do we go about doing that?


The System Innovation Initiative is about equipping leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs with the practical knowledge and tools to tackle complex challenges in more fundamental ways.



Systems change can be unlocked through the Four Keys: a combination of shifts in Purpose - what the system is for, how Power is distributed, how Resources flow and Relationships are structured.

There is always plenty of incremental innovation going on inside systems to improve their performance. However, we need more fundamental system innovation when:


  • A challenge is ‘stuck’, and we can’t achieve further gains from the same system model. Our own research shows that, for example, the same proportion of young people have remained disconnected from education and employment for the last 20 years in Denmark, despite well-functioning employment services and increased investment. That points to a need for more fundamental system change.


  • Society faces a new or growing systemic challenge that our existing systems were not designed to cope with, such as an ageing population, or widespread mental challenges amongst young people. Here we need new kinds of systems, based on fundamentally different operating models, that are better able to meet these growing challenges.

How do we move forward when improving our existing systems is no longer enough?

It is easy to say that ‘systems need to change’ and much harder to do in practice: many social innovations fail to reach their full promise because they come up against barriers in the systems around them, or find themselves coopted back into the very systems they set out to change. And because systemic challenges cut across public, private and civic boundaries, responses to them also need a different kind of collaborative innovation across these domains. That’s why we want to bring to light the practical approaches we can all use to have more systemic impact.

This international initiative aims to close the gap between system theory and system change in practice. We work with experts in different aspects of system innovation and innovative leaders and entrepreneurs who have transformed systems in practice, in Denmark and around the world. The goal is to build the practical knowledge, frameworks, methods and relationships that can help everyone who is part of enacting system change – whether they be leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, policy makers or community advocates – to create the next generation of systems for public good.

What’s next?


The project was completed in 2023 under the auspices of the ROCKWOOL Foundation and has been handed over to System Shift Lab. Find our knowledge in the list below.