Collective system analysis


Use for

Identifying system features and actors that prevent or promote the planned system innovation in order to jointly decide on activities.


The matrix used is based on insights about the functioning of innovation systems (Klein Woolthuis et al., 2005).

What do you do?

You use an innovation system matrix to identify barriers to innovation. The columns of the matrix contain features of the system that might be relevant, such as the knowledge infrastructure, the physical infrastructure, legislation and regulations, standards, values and symbols, interaction between actors and the market structure. The rows contain the actors or organisations that sustain these system features.

Before starting, you identify the actors that play a role in the specific system innovation project. You also formulate the guiding questions tailored to the project's ambition for system innovation. The first question concerns system barriers: why are the current practices still not sustainable? The second question concerns system opportunities: developments within the system or outside it that could in fact facilitate the transition to a new system or the success of the project.

The next step is to organise a half-day workshop with the project team and the participants in the project. Once agreement has been reached on the guiding questions, the participants write down what they see as barriers and opportunities. The answers are entered in the cells in the matrix. This is followed by joint reflection. Herein the symptoms are traced to their causes and mutual relations can be explored in more detail. The final step is a discussion about the implications of the common analysis for the activities in the project.

If it proves impossible to reach a common analysis, the monitor can make the analysis on the basis of the discussions and interviews.

Related methods: there are similarities between this method and causal analysis, but system analysis is more concerned with predefined features of a system than with hierarchical cause-and-effect relationships.


The system analysis only produces good results if the actual or potential participants in the project or programme regard the current system as problematic and want to help make the transition to a new system. If the system analysis is performed in a homogeneous group, additional interviews are advisable.

More information

  • Mierlo, B. van., M. Arkesteijn en C. Leeuwis, C. (2010). Enhancing the Reflexivity of System Innovation Projects with System Analyses. American Journal of Evaluation 31(2), pp. 139-161.
  • Mierlo, B. van et al. (2010). Reflexive monitoring in action. A guide for monitoring system innovation projects. Boxpress: Oisterwijk.
  • Klein Woolthuis, R. J. A., V. Gilsing en M. Lankhuizen (2005). A system failure framework for innovation policy design. Technovation,25 (6), pp. 609-619.

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