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Systems Change Work

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Frameworks for changing large systems with small resources.

Frameworks for changing large systems with small resources.


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  • 1. SYSTEMS CHANGE WORK Innovation Network for Communities www.in4c.net 2006
  • 2. The INC Mission is to develop and spread scalable innovations that transform the performance of community systems. www.in4c.net Pete Plastrik 231-448-3169 [email_address] John Cleveland 616-240-9751 [email_address]
  • 3. Some Different Levels of Analysis
    • Individual
    • Process
    • Organization
    • Geography (e.g. region)
    • System
    • Field
  • 4. Inherent Difficulties In Systems Change Work
    • Changing large systems is very difficult work, and it comes with some inherent difficulties:
      • Complexity. Most systems are very complex, with multiple players and complicated patterns of relationships.
      • Non-linearity. Complex systems typically cannot be “directed” they can only be “influenced” or “disturbed.”
      • Delays. Cycle times are often long, and feedback loops can be obscure.
      • Scale. Your resources are usually very small compared to the size of the system you are seeking to influence.
      • Memory. Unless you find a self-reinforcing process for “going to scale” the system will “snap back” to its original state as soon as you stop “leaning” on it.
  • 5. What It Takes To Change A Large System
    • Plan
    • Understand the design of the system you seek to change
    • Decide where the system can be influenced (“leverage points”)
    • Understand how each leverage point can be influenced
    • Do
    • Build your competency to influence a leverage point
    • Try it out
    • Study
    • Test the results
    • Act
    • 7. Build a strategy for “scaling up”
  • 6. Changing A System
    • Scope and geography
    • System players
    • Relationships and rules
    • Current outcomes
    • Where can it be influenced?
    • Which have the highest leverage?
    • Examples of success
    • What are the strategies to change leverage points?
    • What competencies are required?
    • What innovations have potential?
    • Invest in others
    • Build your own
    • Build an implementation strategy
    • Define the migratory path
    • Prove it out on a small scale
    • Test the results
    • Plan/Do/Study/Act until it works
    • Consumer markets
    • Communities of practice
    • Public learning
    • Public policies
    1) Understand the System 2) Define leverage points 3) Define ways to change leverage points 4) Acquire competencies 5) Try it out 6) Test Results 7) Scale up PLANNING DOING
  • 7. Different Work At Different Stages
    • Every “system” goes through a natural evolution of stages – whether an organization, a natural system, or a field of practice. The typical stages include:
    • Emergence
    • Growth
    • Maturation (equilibrium)
    • Disequilibrium
    • Either disintegrating or re-invention and re-emergence
    • The work that is required at each stage of a system’s evolution is slightly different.
    Invent Grow Improve Reinvent Stabilize The focus of the systems change work is different, depending on the stage of development the system is at.
  • 8. Limitations Of Non Profits in Systems Change
    • Typically unconnected to real markets
    • Not well capitalized for front-end knowledge building or on-going knowledge creation
    • Funders don’t like uncertainty – pressure to “show results”
    • Business and revenue model relies on third party payments unconnected to customers – making feedback a management issue, not a market response.
    • There is often a mismatch between the kind of staff non profits have and the competencies required to influence leverage points.
    • Non profits are usually naïve about their level of influence – too often “romanced by the vision”
  • 9. Buttons And Threads – The “Tipping Point” Ratio of Threads to Buttons Level of Connectivity “ Phase change” (small input creates large output)
  • 10. Anatomy of A System (with School Examples) AGENTS (Players/Actors/Nodes): The entities who make decisions that affect the shape of the system and its outcome. (In schools = staff; students; parents; buildings; departments; the Board; employers; legislature; Governor;etc.) RULES (Paradigms/Mental Models): The criteria the agents/players use to make decisions about how to act. (In schools = assumptions about learning and assumptions about healthy organizations.) STRUCTURES (Connections/Paths/Links/Relationships): The structures that create opportunities for the agents/players to interact with each other. (In schools = classrooms; organizational structures; parent/teacher conferences; PTA’s; Board meetings; etc.) FEEDBACK LOOPS (Information/Indicators/Incentives/Consequences): Information the agents/players use to decide when to act on their rules. (In schools = student performance; staff evaluations; budget information; truancy; community satisfaction; Board elections; millages; etc.)
  • 11. Ways to Change A System
    • Change the players
    • Change the rules
    • Change the relationships between the players
    • Change the feedback loops
  • 12. Some Common Stages of Systems Change STAGE 1 High Quality Individual Transactions STAGE 2 A Network of Relationships STAGE 3 Leveraging Relationships to Change Systems Purpose of This Stage Demonstrate the value of practice or policy innovations in individual situations. Show constituencies that new practices lead to new outcomes. Build a network of long-term relationships of mutual trust and respect with key players in the system you are trying to influence. Use your relationships to create novel combinations of assets (people, knowledge, capital) that can leverage broader change in the system. Conditions for Success
    • The new innovations accomplish outcomes that your stakeholders care about.
    • You have capable and stable processes/systems for delivering these innovations on a repeatable basis.
    • The innovations can become self-sustaining over time.
    • You pick your first implementation environments strategically.
    • Your individual transactions have been of a high enough quality to earn you respect in the market place.
    • You don’t compete with people you need to collaborate with.
    • You have a deep enough knowledge of the sector to know who the important players are.
    • Your commitment to change is long term enough to wait for relationships to mature.
    • You are competent at relationship building as well as service delivery.
    • You have some deep knowledge of the dynamics of the system you work in.
    • You are willing to think big and bet on your intuition. 
    • You have the competence to organize highly complex transactions and relationships. 
    • You are lucky enough to do the right thing at the right time.
  • 13. Ways To Build System Knowledge
    • ( Step 1: “Understand The System ”)
    • Do your own research
    • Build off of prior experience
    • Contract for outside research
    • Convene the “field”
    • Make “learning grants” to “probe” the structure of the system
    • Become a player in the system
  • 14. Big Systems and Small Places Systems Points of Intersection in Systems Places
    • A key tension to manage in community systems change work is the balance between making changes in larger systems that transcend a place, and integrating multiple changes in those systems in a particular place. Most community work requires both kinds of expertise. Doing this work requires:
      • Determining which kind of work is required to solve a particular community problem.
      • Figuring out what control the stakeholders in a particular place have over the performance of systems that transcends their geographic boundaries.
      • Understanding where the intersections are between multiple community systems, and whether working on a subset of systems will produce the desired results, or whether a more comprehensive strategy is required.
  • 15. Five Kinds of Strategies for Spreading Practice ( Step 7: “Scale Up” ) Strategy Description Developing Public Policies Persuading government bodies to revise, adopt and implement laws, regulations, investments or services that advance practices. Fostering Communities of Practice Building learning networks among individuals and organizations that can voluntarily develop, adopt and rapidly spread new tools and practices. Influencing Markets Creating incentives for business, organizations, and consumers to make economic choices that support desired outcomes. Changing Power Relationships Mobilizing low-income people and communities to secure representation and voice in public, private, civic and cultural decision-making processes that affect their lives. Promoting Social Learning Using educational processes to provide large numbers of individuals with information that influences their personal behaviors.
  • 16. Different Ways to “Get to Scale” ( Step 7: “Scale Up” ) Developing Public Policies Fostering Communities of Practice Influence Markets Change Power Relationships Promoting Public Learning Scaling Mechanism Government decisions Collaborative learning Value exchange Political power Persuasive information Form of Innovation Policies (mandates, regulations, investments) New, improved practices Products, services and enterprises New players in governance positions Information, messages and experiences Scale Target Wide range: targeted constituencies to general public Organizations sharing similar concerns Size of the market Political jurisdictions Targeted audience (with key characteristics in common) Constraints Resistance of opponents Ineffective enforcement or implementation Organizations may lack time, resources, readiness for learning processes Consumers may not have purchasing power. Products may not attract investment. Established interests will vehemently defend their turf Audience may lack access to information or doubt credibility of messenger Audience may not be empowered to act on the information
  • 17. Some Tools To Support the Strategies Public Policy Communities of Practice Influencing Markets Changing Power Relationships Social Learning
    • Public policy advocacy at the local, state and national level
    • Policy research
    • Education of elected officials
    • State-level referenda
    • New legislation
    • New administrative rules
    • Policy monitoring and compliance reporting
    • Litigation and setting of legal precedents
    • Tax policy
    • Peer learning networks
    • Trade and professional associations
    • Best practice documentation
    • Sectoral networks
    • Practice field development
    • Conferences and workshops
    • On-line affinity groups
    • Awards, prizes and certifications
    • Development of new professions, career paths and degrees
    • Professional accreditation
    • Research and development
    • Tax subsidies and preferences
    • Market regulation
    • Investment strategies:
      • Debt
      • Equity
    • New investment vehicles (e.g. CDFIs)
    • Voluntary certifications and standards (e.g. LEED)
    • Product rating systems (e.g. Consumer Reports)
    • Shareholder activism
    • Market development
    • Enterprise development
    • Political organizing
    • Community Benefits Agreements
    • Community organizing
    • Coalition development
    • Leadership development
    • Civic engagement strategies
    • Public education campaigns
    • Public information dissemination
    • Labeling requirements (e.g. food labeling)
    • Mass media campaigns
    • Internet-based communications campaigns
  • 18. Tools for Spreading Practices Public Policy Communities of Practice Influencing Markets Changing Power Relationships Social Learning Persuading government bodies to revise, adopt and implement laws, regulations, investments or services that advance practices. Building learning networks among individuals and organizations that can voluntarily develop, adopt and rapidly spread new tools and practices. Creating incentives for business, organizations, and consumers to make economic choices that support desired outcomes. Mobilizing low-income people and communities to secure representation and voice in public, private, civic and cultural decision-making processes that affect their lives. Using educational processes to provide large numbers of individuals with information that influences their personal behaviors.
    • Public policy advocacy at the local, state and national level
    • Policy research
    • Education of elected officials
    • State-level referenda
    • New legislation
    • New administrative rules
    • Policy monitoring and compliance reporting
    • Litigation and setting of legal precedents
    • Tax policy
    • Peer learning networks
    • Trade and professional associations
    • Best practice documentation
    • Sectoral networks
    • Practice field development
    • Conferences and workshops
    • On-line affinity groups
    • Awards, prizes and certifications
    • Development of new professions, career paths and degrees
    • Professional accreditation
    • Research and development
    • Tax subsidies and preferences
    • Market regulation
    • Investment strategies:
      • Debt
      • Equity
    • New investment vehicles (e.g. CDFIs)
    • Voluntary certifications and standards (e.g. LEED)
    • Product rating systems (e.g. Consumer Reports)
    • Shareholder activism
    • Market development
    • Enterprise development
    • Political organizing
    • Community Benefits Agreements
    • Community organizing
    • Coalition development
    • Leadership development
    • Civic engagement strategies
    • Public education campaigns
    • Public information dissemination
    • Labeling requirements (e.g. food labeling)
    • Mass media campaigns
    • Internet-based communications campaigns
  • 19. Some Cautions
    • The process is iterative not linear
    • Your theory about how the system works needs to be always treated like a hypothesis
    • You need rich and robust feedback to continuously evolve your theory
    • The primary use of a theory is to help you:
      • Decide what feedback matters
      • Make sense of the feedback
      • Decide how to act on it
    • “ Learning organizations” manage this cycle with a combination of discipline and adaptability; and they stay open to “surprises”
    • There is a fine line between a good theory and dogma
  • 20. Systems Theory Drives Foundation Design
    • Your Theory of Systems Change:
    • System dynamics
    • Leverage points
    • Influence opportunities
    • Current competencies
    • Who are your grantees?
    • How are they selected?
    • What activities will you fund? Not fund?
    • What level of funding?
    • What relationship will you have with grantees?
    • How much control do they have?
    • How will you organize yourself internally?
    • Who has decision-making authority?
    • How will you learn from your grant making?
    • How will success be measured?
    • How will change be sustained?
    • What is the strategy for “going to scale”?
    Grantee Selection Grant Focus Grantee Relationships Feedback Sustainability Organizational Design
  • 21. There Are Choices In Each Area
    • RFP vs. strategic selection
    • Picking established competence vs. developing capacity
    • Broad vs. focused
    • Common vs. diverse across sites
    • Top down vs. bottom up
    • Established framework vs. creating one
    • Hands off vs. operating
    • Internal vs. external staffing
    • Outcomes vs. process measures
    • Qualitative vs. quantitative
    • Markets
    • Communities of practice
    • Public learning
    • Public policy
    • Your Theory of Systems Change:
    • System dynamics
    • Leverage points
    • Influence opportunities
    • Current competencies
    Grantee Selection Grant Focus Grantee Relationships Feedback Sustainability Organizational Design