ABLe Change Framework

Resource Type


These resources include approaches for systems change that can be broken down into fluid stages involving stakeholder engagement in meaning making and decision-making. They often include multiple types of resources.

Systems Questions


What is the social network and how can we influence it?


What are the events, activities, actions, behaviors, and forces that affect the system, and how can we influence them?


How do we think and learn about the system?

Grantmaking Stages

Develop grantmaking strategy

Resources in this category can help you understand the system, identify outcomes and determine grantmaking interventions.

Identify and select grantees

Resources in this category can help you understand who is in the system, the strength and content of their relationships, who is missing and the power dynamics among them.

Shape and monitor grants

Resources in this category can help you as you implement and refine your grantmaking strategy. Some of the more participatory resources in this category overlap with other grantmaking stages.

Assess impact and learn

Resources in this category can help you assess impact and learn. Since learning is often an iterative and emergent process in systems grantmaking, these resources may overlap with other grantmaking stages.


Highly participatory


Someone who has been trained on the resource


6-12 months

What's its purpose in systems grantmaking?

To guide a participatory systems learning and change process.

What is it?

A six-step process for guiding stakeholders through systems change. The process includes the following:

  1. Define a targeted problem.
  2. Engage diverse perspectives.
  3. Scan system conditions influencing the targeted problem.
  4. Engage stakeholders in making sense of the system data.
  5. Develop a shared agenda and local infrastructure.
  6. Facilitate an action-learning process, which is an iterative cycle that combines design, planning, action and evaluation.

Refer to the graphic below for the detailed six steps.

When is it useful?

  • When a group of grantees and other social-sector actors must collectively understand the system to influence it
  • In systems bounded by community-level issues or by geography

What are tips and cautions for systems grantmakers and the social sector?

  • Participants need clear expectations and support to participate. 
  • The facilitator needs to be able to acknowledge and navigate power dynamics within the system, particularly if the grantmaker is present during the conversations.
  • ABLe works best with multiyear initiatives. However, the creators of the framework have found ways to incorporate aspects of ABLe into shorter initiatives of a few months. For example, the early childhood system building efforts in several states nationwide are using the system-scanning process to guide the system change design and strategic planning efforts in local communities.


ABLe Change Framework Resources

The ABLe Change Framework: A Conceptual and Methodological Tool for Promoting Systems Change

By Pennie G. Foster-Fishman and Erin R. Watson
American Journal of Community Psychology, 2012


Pennie Foster-Fishman, Ph.D.

Director, System exChange

Professor, Department of Psychology

Senior Outreach Fellow, University Outreach and Engagement
, Michigan State University