Iceberg theory

Unpacking the elements needed for deep, long-term change

Decorative only

Iceberg theory is spur:'s interpretation of the Systems Thinking Framework.

This canvas helps to understand and map different domains that need to be addressed in order to create deep and long-lasting change. It is a simplified, but effective framework. 

Iceberg theory analyses three domains: Actions, systems, and paradigms. 


Actions are the things people do, the events they attend, the actions they undertake, etc. They’re the tip of the iceberg as they’re easy to see, yet only make up a fraction of the picture (E.g. riding a bike to work). Build up enough Actions and you start to form a cohesive mass of actions - which leads to consistent behaviours or habits.


Systems are the processes, logistics, and resources that underpin actions (E.g. bike lanes). These aren't the visible actions you're looking to create, but they're intrinsic parts of the equation.  Systems support Actions, and without them, Actions would just sink.


Actions are what is done, Systems are what supports Actions. So, Actions rest on a foundation of Systems. Yet, all of these float within a sea of Paradigms. You may have excellent Systems, and identified Actions, but if the target cohort does not believe in or want to take that action, nothing will occur. (E.g. I could bike to work, and use those bike lanes, but I think it's dangerous and I'm not fit enough.) Changing and influencing Paradigms is crucial to achieving the desired behavioural outcome.

In order to create effective change, all three must be satisfied. This framework encourages participants to think deeply about each through the lenses of current vs desired future. By mapping these domains, across both present and future, it provides an effective tool to understand what needs to change and what a solution may look like - as well as any assumptions or gaps.

Click here to download an A3 PDF of the canvas.