What's its purpose in systems grantmaking?
To align diverse stakeholders around a shared understanding of why a complex social problem persists and identify leverage points that might improve systemwide performance in sustainable ways.
What is it?
A four-stage process to collectively engage stakeholders across a system in systemic change by harnessing the energy and sense of urgency that generates from creative tension,1 which is the gap between current reality and vision for the future. These four stages are iterative and nonlinear:
- building a foundation for change,
- facing current reality,
- making an explicit choice about the future, and
- bridging the gap between the current reality and the future.
- 1. Drawn from: Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. (Doubleday, 2006).
When is it useful?
- When stakeholders have trouble seeing how they contribute to the problem and what they can do to optimize the whole system instead of just their part of it
- To identify leverage points and integrate them into a systemic theory of change
- When systems are bound by a social change issue that can be addressed at a local, state or regional level
What are tips and cautions for systems grantmakers and the social sector?
- The four-stage process is flexible. There is space to incorporate other tools and frameworks.
- It is critical to engage diverse stakeholders early on in order to create accurate maps. The stakeholders should be varied enough to generate divergent thinking.
- During the second stage, a facilitator skilled in managing power dynamics, who is comfortable with conflict resolution, may be needed for successful catalytic conversations.
- The process includes powerful questions that foundations may ask of staff, board, grantees, and others to transform how they think about their goals and strategies. These questions can be used to help people think and act systemically. They can be found in the article “Leveraging Grantmaking – Part 2: Aligning Programmatic Approaches with Complex System Dynamics.”
Systems Thinking for Social Change: A Practical Guide for Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results
By David Peter Stroh
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015
Above image reproduced with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing.
Leveraging Grantmaking: Understanding the Dynamics of Complex Social Systems
By David Peter Stroh
Foundation Review, 2009
Leveraging Grantmaking – Part 2: Aligning Programmatic Approaches with Complex System Dynamics
By David Peter Stroh and Kathleen Zurcher
Foundation Review, 2010
David Peter Stroh
Co-founder and Principal, Bridgeway Partners
Co-director, Applied Systems Thinking