Systems Innovation Programme

With the Systems Innovation Programme, we aim to provide actionable innovation perspectives for complex societal challenges. Moreover, we are developing a methodology to facilitate transdisciplinary research, as this way of working together is indispensable for systems innovation.

Complex challenges

Our society is increasingly confronted with extremely complex problems and transitions, such as climate change, pandemics and the energy transition. All these challenges involve 'system failure': due to extensive complexity, there is a lack of a common goal and action perspective for the various actors involved (government, knowledge institutions, business).

The TNO Systems Innovation Programme

Our programme is aimed at developing an action perspective for these complex societal problems and at initiating transitions in which actors innovate together. With our approach – systems innovation – we can work with customers and partners to identify new leverage points to initiate or accelerate innovation and social transitions.

'It is a common misconception that if you put just a few smart motivated people together in a box, all their knowledge will automatically come together, like a puzzle. So in practice, that doesn't work.' - Josephine Sassen-van Meer, Senior Scientist Integrator, TNO

A systemic approach requires that a complex issue be understood simultaneously from different disciplines and social sectors: the transdisciplinary approach. By crossing disciplinary and sectoral boundaries, our approach integrates both academic perspectives and the context from the outside world.

The programme distinguishes itself by its strong focus on the production of a substantiated and practical action perspective, the aforementioned transdisciplinary approach and the possibility of linking the breadth and depth of substantive TNO knowledge to major societal challenges, business and government interests.

From wicked problem to collaborative solutions

Climate change, pandemics, scarcity of materials... They are wicked problems. Turn one knob and you affect the whole system. The complex issues we address at TNO therefore need a systemic view. That's why - precisely at TNO - we are engaged in systems innovation.

In this video, team members explain what the Systems Innovation programme is all about.

‘Complex problems often lack action perspectives for the government, companies and knowledge institutions. We are investigating how to deal with complexity. By thinking and acting together in a different way.’ - Frans van Gemerden, Programme leader TNO.

Way of working

TNO is working on the ultimate methodology, to initiate and accelerate transitions together with partners. Transdisciplinary work is part of this.

Want to get started?

Would you also like to get started with this new way of working together? Contact Josephine Sassen – van Meer or Frans van Gemerden of the Systems Innovation Programme team.

Our ambition

TNO has the ambition to significantly strengthen its capabilities in the field of systems innovation. In this context, the Board of Directors established the strategic systems innovation programme in mid-2022. To strengthen TNO's capabilities in the field of systems innovation, three objectives have been formulated:

  • TNO has its own proven systems innovation methodology (with an emphasis on a scientifically based, practical approach), to be used within the organisation that can also be offered third parties;
  • TNO has built up a track record consisting of a number of system perspectives for complex societal issues
  • TNO has optimised its internal organisation around systemic research and innovation.

To achieve these objectives, three programme lines have been developed: develop, deliver and organise. From these programme lines, TNO can add value with a unique approach for customers who are confronted with complex social tasks and transitions.

Download the paper: Transdisciplinary Research: If it’s so important, why aren’t we all doing it?

From attractive conceptual notion to real-world applied practice.

Acknowledging that you don’t know everything can be hard

Over the years scientists have regularly contributed to some impressive breakthroughs. But that does not mean that they are omniscient. Tackling the great challenges of society requires more than a scientific perspective.

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