Introducing systemic design to support an Australian Government regulatory agency address complex problems

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Government regulatory agencies are important stakeholders in addressing complex societal problems and are beginning to recognise that these kinds of problems cannot be managed using traditional regulatory tools. This master’s thesis seeks to understand the current practice of a regulatory agency in addressing a complex problem and to determine whether this can be supported by methods from the field of systemic design. Existing regulatory problem-solving practices are examined and their limitations for addressing complex social problems are identified when viewed alongside concepts from systems thinking and complexity theory. A qualitative case study is then conducted within an Australian Government regulatory agency to understand their current practice in addressing complex problems and the various contextual influences. Systemic design practice is examined as alternative way to address complex problems. A comparison of the findings from the current regulatory practice with systemic design principles identifies numerous opportunities to introduce systemic design into regulatory practice. A specific systemic design intervention is developed to trial within the regulatory context. This is applied within a second case study in the regulatory agency to understand the design outcomes, benefits and limitations of the intervention. The thesis concludes that systemic design principles and methods have the potential to support regulatory agencies to navigate compartmentalised governance systems by establishing a shared frame of reference to problems and the co-design of new responses. It proposes that the incorporation of systems thinking and complexity theories within design methods increases the likelihood of them being taken seriously in the government sector and that methods need to be tested and adapted further to enable integration within existing regulatory practice.
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