Breaking the Walls of Complex Systems Change in Cities: A Service Ecosystems and Psychological Perspective

Research Repository

Tim Posselt, Manuel Riemer, Randy Sa’d, and Brenna Walsh

Applied Research / MARC Partnership / SMI Development and Mobilization / FEI Network Development


Provides a theoretical argument for systemic management practices by outlining what it means to view the city as a complex system.

Highlights the management challenges SMIs need to address by outlining what kind of transformative action is needed on the organizational and individual levels.

Publication date: Oct. 17, 2022


To meet the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement, municipalities must facilitate transformational change at a local level. This requires a shift in the mindsets of city leaders and other stakeholders, as well as the transformation of strategic management practices. This article derives recommendations for policymakers and research recommendations based on the view of the city as a complex system.

At an organizational level, cities need to develop strategies that represent the diversity of their citizens and integrate localized social, environmental, and economic goals. The following changes are needed to achieve such strategies:

Mindsets: Systems-oriented mindset

Relationships: Distributed power, equitable relationships and genuine collaboration


  • Purposeful vision, iterative strategic planning
  • Sustainability-centric performance management
  • Equitable and collaborative stakeholder engagement

At an individual level, city leaders and staff need to develop three kinds of knowledge:

  • System knowledge
  • Transformation knowledge
  • Action-guiding visions


Dr. Tim Posselt |