What's its purpose in systems grantmaking?
To create the conditions for people to self-organize in ways that disrupt and change system patterns.
What is it?
A framework for understanding how people interact with and influence systems. There are three parts:
- Containers are the boundaries of the system, which can be physical, organizational, behavioral or conceptual.
- Significant Differences are those differences among stakeholders (e.g., power, race, gender, values) that most influence patterns in the system.
- Transforming Exchanges are interactions among stakeholders that transform the stakeholders and their relationships.
It is one of the frameworks in a larger process, called Adaptive Action, for managing change in complex adaptive systems.
When is it useful?
- When developing the participants’ capacity to be systems thinkers
- When you are trying to build social capital among diverse participants
- When fragmentation, silos or power dynamics impair progress on an issue
- In systems bounded by a particular issue area or field of work
What are tips and cautions for systems grantmakers and the social sector?
- This model was created for use inside complex organizations, but it is also useful for larger systems.
- The model’s authors offer many tools and processes to expand or shrink the system’s boundaries (i.e., containers) and identify the most significant differences to bridge and facilitate interactions (i.e., exchanges) among diverse stakeholders. There are also concrete tips on how to move a system (e.g., use difference to disrupt the status quo).
- To facilitate transforming exchanges among diverse stakeholders, a facilitator skilled in managing power dynamics is often needed.
- The model provides a framework for thinking about grantmaking without being overly prescriptive in terms of defining a process. It can be integrated into other resources in this guide.
Facilitating Organization Change: Lessons from Complexity Science
By Edwin Olson and Glenda Eoyang
Jossey Bass/Pfeiffer, 2001
Executive Director, Jobs With Justice
Co-Director, Caring Across Generations
Glenda Eoyang, Ph.D.
Human Systems Dynamics Institute