Systems Change Observatory


A research initiative by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship

What is the Systems Change Observatory?

The Systems Change Observatory (SCO) at the Skoll Centre of Social Entrepreneurship, Saïd Business School aims to build a community of practice and research, focused on long-term empirical study of systems change efforts in the social impact space, including pathways, challenges and solutions.

‘Systems Change’ is a term increasingly used to describe purposeful social enterprise initiatives and innovation, with a focus on system-level interventions. The concept is vibrant in policy and practice but has received little empirical attention from researchers. 

The project makes use of data on 100+ social entrepreneurial ventures to:

  1. Identify diverse entrepreneurial pathways.
  2. To recognise varied models and perspectives of systems change.
  3. To generate an aggregate landscape view of systems change drivers, process and practices.

What are our goals?

This research study explores pathways to systems change made visible in the starting points and initiatives of a large sample of ventures over time. The goal is to generate actionable insights, case studies and tools in support of systems change, both for practice and policy.

The research integrates insights from organisational design and strategy, institutional and funding contexts, the work of leaders and broader venture ecosystems.

Research process

Data on a screen with a purple hue

This is an exploratory research project. We start with both data from a large sample of ventures affiliated with the Skoll Foundation programmes from 2005 and interviews with individuals and organisations active in systems change efforts. The research makes use of over time data for the population of ventures. 

We anonymise and aggregate the venture data, with a focus on founding conditions, on-going features of ventures and conceptions of systems change.

A long-term sense of the possible

In the longer-term, the SCO intends to function as an observatory, building capacity internally and through partnerships, to notice activities, innovations and development in the social impact space. The intention is to pilot an approach to empirically study systems change with Skoll Foundation-supported data, then to expand this work to include venture data from other funders and incubators that target social enterprises at different stages of their development.

The team has intentionally started formulating a community of systems change practitioners, including funders, entrepreneurs, Skoll alumni, researchers and policy consultants to ensure the project addresses long-term concerns of this diverse community and follows an inclusive research approach.

Articles and updates

Our latest blogs, articles and insights from the Systems Change Observatory.