Social Sector Self-Assessment

Many social sector actors have a long history of bringing about systems change. Such change includes:

  • Expanding or innovating a service that alleviates the immediate needs around a particular problem through more and/or better service (e.g., species preservation or food pantries);
  • Coordinating service delivery and/or policy advocacy efforts to achieve a systems-level outcome (e.g., close the racial disparity in and increase overall high school graduation rates);
  • Redirecting resources and attention from one part of the system to another (e.g., create market demand for sustainably sourced fish or shift funding for LGBTQ rights from the United States to other countries);
  • Addressing the root causes of a problem (e.g., reduce fossil fuels);
  • Creating an alternative system (e.g., alternative education or local sustainable economies); and
  • Building a movement with many diverse organizations and individuals using multiple strategies simultaneously to change systems at scale (e.g., reproductive justice).

The people involved in these systems change initiatives have developed a strong grasp of the fundamentals. These basics have become well-known best practices (e.g., seeing the big picture of interrelationships, focusing on root causes rather than symptoms, and grounding solutions in the perspective of people directly affected, etc.). Social sector actors continue to innovate and strengthen the tools, methods, and frameworks for systems change. This includes learning how to influence complex systems, developing a group’s capacity for systems thinking, integrating equity and power sharing into systems change efforts, and bridging strategy and implementation to achieve transformative results.

How are you integrating systems thinking into your change initiative? Take this assessment to find out. Based on your answers, we will suggest some ways that this resource guide can support you as you increase your systems change effectiveness.


We assume that you are part of a group of people leading a systems change initiative.

We refer to this group as your team. Most of the activities below are done by your team – not by you alone. However, as you take the assessment, you should answer for yourself and not for your team. What are you doing directly and indirectly through the team?

If you are working on multiple initiatives, it is best to focus on one program or initiative over time when answering these questions.

For each of the following statements, indicate how frequently you do the action or strategy. It will take 5 to 7 minutes to complete this assessment.

1. How frequently do you think about the interrelationships between all the parts in a system, their relationships to the whole, and what emerges out of the whole? Definition: Think of parts broadly — social, ecological, legal, economic, political, and many others.
Structures and Archetypes
2. How frequently do you step back to see the structures or archetypes that are governing the system? Definition: Structures and archetypes refer to the relationships among patterns over time (e.g., limits to growth or increasing voter disenfranchisement).
3. How frequently do you understand how disparities emerge at the individual, interpersonal, institutional or organizational, and structural levels of a system? Definition: Disparities are differences that are disproportionate for some more than others.
4. How frequently do you engage system stakeholders who are directly affected and those who usually are not included to understand and be responsive to their perspectives? Definition: Engage could be informing, consulting, or involving more closely.
5. How frequently do you map out the social network(s) and continually reflect on how these relationships, group dynamics and power differences among network actors might affect the system over time? Definition: A social network refers to who people are, the different relationships among them and the quality and purpose of those relationships.
Surface differences
6. How frequently do you surface differences among stakeholders and have challenging conversations to address these differences (e.g., around mental models, strategies, identities, power, etc.) Definition: A mental model is the set of beliefs, values and assumptions that individuals have about a system.
Consolidate and share power
7. How frequently do you consolidate and share power among the stakeholders (e.g., small and large groups, grasstops and grassroots, administrators and frontline, funders and grantees, etc.)?
8. How frequently do you think about how the system may be affected by different assumptions (e.g., non-linear variables), contexts (e.g., timing or geography) and unintended consequences? Definition: Non-linear means that the relationship among these variables can be two-way, circular and disproportionately large or small.
9. How frequently do you think about how the system may be affected by emergence. This means that as one part of the system changes, other parts of the system change in response, and vice versa. New parts of the system, patterns of behavior, and properties can be generated within the system and across the whole system at any time.
Unexpected Patterns
10. How frequently do you think about how the system may be affected by unexpected patterns of behavior? Examples include irregular patterns (e.g., ups and downs), unstable patterns (e.g., when the pace of change speeds up or slows down) and tipping points (e.g., permanent systems change).
Learn and Adapt
11. How frequently do you participate in an iterative and experimental process to learn and continually adapt the team’s strategy. That is, frequently assess the system, what you are doing, and why and change your strategy (and possibly your goals) based on what you learn? Definition: The iterative and experimental process ensures that you use rapid feedback loops for learning what is and is not working in real time.
About you
What sector are you in?
What sector are you in?
What is your organization's geographic focus?
What is your organization's geographic focus?
What is your organization's annual operating budget?
What is your organization's annual operating budget?
What are you most interested in learning about at this time?
What are you most interested in learning about at this time? Select all that apply.
If your interest is not noted above, please describe it here.