Breaking the Pattern: Conference on System Innovation

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Rockwool Foundation Interventions Unit

Denmark has some of the best social systems in the world. And yet like many other modern societies we are now facing big societal challenges that those systems were not designed to meet. We need not just innovative solutions but system innovation.

How do we break the pattern and meet these big challenges in new ways?

Come and join us on the 25th of March in hearing from renowned international practitioners who have done just that – who have transformed how we understand and act on societal challenges through practical interventions that change systems. We will look at the approaches that supported their success – and the things that got in the way. We will unfold a framework for system innovation and we will take a look ‘under the bonnet’ at the roles and methods that can be used to change systems in practice.

The conference is by invitation. Participation on the day is free, but seats are limited. If you wish to attend the conference, you can sign up for the waiting list here


There is a need for system innovation when the systems we have consistently fail to address persistent challenges – for example, in Denmark, the same proportion of young people disconnected from education and work after 20 years – or when we face new social challenges for which our systems were not designed in the first place – such as caring for a growing older population.

Changing systems can feel like an impossible task. Systems are powerful, and many interventions fail to have real impact because they don’t gain traction with the wider systems around them. But it is important to remember that many of the social systems we have now are relatively recent creations – they themselves are the product of a long history of people working together to create and change systems. Our inspiring speakers demonstrate that it is possible to take deliberate steps to develop interventions that drive wider system change.


Systems change through a combination of efforts from many people working inside and outside systems. This year the ROCKWOOL Foundation’s Intervention Unit is embarking on an initiative developing knowledge and methods on system innovation, with the aim of equipping the people who are tackling society’s most pressing challenges – public leaders, entrepreneurs, social innovators, community leaders, social businesses and front-line innovators – with the practical tools for more systemic social impact. Building on the interest from our 2019 conference on system innovation, this event marks the start of a programme of activities connecting system innovation knowledge and practice internationally and in Denmark. Throughout 2020, you will be able to follow the work through workshops, articles and podcasts on our website.


11:00 – 11:20 Welcome

Elin Schmidt, President of the ROCKWOOL Foundation, and Helene Bie Lilleør, Chief of Interventions for the ROCKWOOL Foundation’s Interventions Unit.

11:20 – 11:30 It’s time to break the pattern

Charles Leadbeater (UK), expert in system innovation & Helene Bækmark (DK), former municipality director, creator of the Fredericia model for eldercare and founder of Bblik.

11:30 – 12:00 Two cases: Interventions that change systems

Al Etmanski (CA), author of several books on scaling social innovation and the serial social entrepreneur behind innovations that have shifted the power to people with disabilities and led to widespread changes in the disability system in Canada and internationally
Alex Fox (UK), author and CEO of Shared Lives Plus, an organisation reinventing the approach to care in the UK through networks of families opening their homes to people with special needs, thereby creating a new, distributed system of care.

12:00 – 12:30 Dialogue: Our power to change systems

Charles Leadbeater investigates what it takes to put system change into practice, in conversation with Al Etmanski and Alex Fox.

12:30 – 13:00 Lunch

13:00 – 13:25 Lessons learned: A framework for System Innovation

Jennie Winhall, Director of Social Innovation at the ROCKWOOL Foundation’s Intervention Unit.

13:25 – 13:45 How many interventions does it take to change a system?

Alex Sutton, senior grants manager, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, whose work shows how investing in research and combinations of practical interventions can break recurring patterns in the systems of migration and integration that the Foundation works with.

13:45 – 14:30 How do we break the pattern in Denmark?

Panel debate and question from the floor with Al Etmanski, Alex Fox, Alex Sutton, Jennie Winhall & Helene Bie Lilleør.

14:30 – 15:30 Reception with drinks and snacks

At the end of the conference there will be a reception with the opportunity to talk more with each other and today’s international presenters.

Our moderator for the day will be Charles Leadbeater (UK)

Minor changes may be made to the programme

On the day you will meet:

Al Etmanski (CA)

Social entrepreneur and author of “The Power of Disability – 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving, and Changing the World”.

Canadian Al Etmanski has, since the birth of his daughter Liz, who has a disability, worked to improve conditions for disabled persons all over the world. Al is behind several innovations that have changed the disability system, including a first-in-kind savings plan for people with disabilities, which has made it possible to start to break the connection between disability and poverty. Al focuses on how power structures, policy and culture interact with system changes – and on why legislation cannot bring about change on its own.

Alex Fox (UK)

CEO of Shared Lives Plus and author of “A New Health and Care System: Escaping the Invisible Asylum”.


Alex Fox is CEO for the UK network ‘Shared Lives Plus’, which is a network of families who make their homes and their family lives open to young people and adults who need more support with daily life. Alex was appointed OBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2016 for this work which is demonstrating a very different care system. Through this and his role as Vice Chairman at ‘Think Local Act Personal’ Alex focuses on what he calls ‘The Paradox of Scale’ – how to retain the value of intimate human relationships within large-scale systems of care. Alex advocates that it is possible to create practical welfare systems with real relationships at their heart.

Helene Bækmark (DK)

Former chief executive of Faaborg-Midtfyn Municipality, originator of the Fredericia model and founder of Bblikk.

Helene Bækmark is known for her progressive work on welfare innovation, of which

the most well-known is the “Longest time in your own life” project – also known as the ‘Fredericia model’ after the Municipality where it began – which has since changed the paradigm of municipal elderly care in Denmark. In addition to her previous position as chief executive of Faaborg-Midtfyn Municipality, in the last 10 years Helene has held executive positions for Elder and Disability Care in Odense Municipality and Care, Health and Employment in Fredericia Municipality. Today she has her own consulting business, Bblikk.

Alex Sutton (UK)

Senior Grants Manager at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.


The Paul Hamlyn Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-making foundations in the UK. Mr. Sutton works with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s ‘Shared Ground Fund’, which funds interventions addressing issues in migration and integration. Here Alex is deliberately supporting only those initiatives that have a clear systemic aim. On the day he will talk about the importance of developing interventions at all levels of a system, and will share what the Foundation has learned through their systematic work on breaking negative patterns in the wider immigration system.

Jennie Winhall (UK/DK)

Director of Social Innovation for the ROCKWOOL Foundation Interventions Unit


Jennie Winhall is a leading thinker in system innovation. She designs new services and interventions to create systemic social impact, such as the ROCKWOOL Foundation’s employment efforts for young people, NExTWORK. Jennie has spent many years experimenting with how to design interventions that change systems, previously through her work at Participle, featured in Hilary Cottam’s book Radical Help, which launched a series of new public services across the UK that exemplified a new ‘relational’ welfare system.

Moderator: Charles Leadbeater (UK)

Innovation expert, author and the ROCKWOOL Foundation Interventions Unit’s Senior Advisor on System Innovation


Charlie Leadbeater has been at the forefront of innovation movements since his report The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur was published in 1997, and advises companies, governments and municipalities around the globe. His best selling books include We Think: Mass Innovation Not Mass Production, and his influential TED talks on education and open innovation have been watched by millions of people. Charlie is a visiting professor at the Institute for Innovation and Public Policy at University College London and a partner in the system innovation agency ALT/Now. Charlie will be the moderator for the day.