Network for Exploring & Understanding Systems
Nothing happens in a vacuum. We never act purely on our own. We’re constantly interacting with the
individuals, businesses, institutions, and physical environment around us. These unending interactions are what make our
community complex. This complexity is an
asset—it makes our community vibrant, dynamic, and unique, a whole much greater
than the sum of its parts. But complexity
also makes our community difficult to understand and change. As a result, we too often see well-intentioned
policies fail or generate unintended consequences. Whether it’s obesity, a flu epidemic, or riots,
community connectivity means that all sorts of things are complexly
interrelated, and therefore seemingly unpredictable.
With NEXUS, we want to work together to understand Somerville’s
complexity and develop policies that enhance its strengths and remedy any weaknesses.
What is NEXUS? NEXUS is a policy approach rooted
in systems thinking, a tool for tackling complexity. Systems thinking is both a
world view and a process. It’s the view
that a system can only be understood when viewed as a whole, and not merely a
sum of its parts. It is also the view
that unexpected behaviors and unintended consequences result from the many interactions
between the parts of a system. Systems
thinking is also a methodical process for understanding problems and
With NEXUS, our goal is to use this
process and perspective to craft better public policy that will enhance our
How will NEXUS work? What will we produce? We will pilot our systems-thinking
approach by examining the family development system, drawing on the vision of
making Somerville a great place to live, work, play, and raise a family.
1: We’ll gather data so we can
understand what the family development system currently looks like. We’ll do this by engaging residents, service
providers, businesses, and city employees to tell us how they view the system.
2: We’ll synthesize this data into a
map of the family development system, which will show its key elements and how
they interact to affect family development in Somerville. We’ll get some help from experts who
specialize in systems thinking during this step.
3: We’ll use this map to identify
leverage areas in the system—those places “where a small shift in one thing can
produce big changes in everything.” Our hope is that the systems map will reveal
new and exciting ways to spur positive change in Somerville.
4: We’ll design policies to
influence these leverage areas.
5: We’ll evaluate the NEXUS approach
and the policies we produced through it, asking questions like: What worked
well? What didn’t work? What adjustments should be made?
Interested in learning more?
Contact the NEXUS team: