Giving Compass’ Take:
• In this Stanford Social Innovation Review post, Democracy Fund discusses four lessons it has learned to put systems thinking into practice — and how others can follow suit.
• How many organizations are ready to take action within a systems framework? It requires patience (and resources), but the rewards are plentiful.
In recent years, systems thinking — a discipline that helps us understand interdependent structures of dynamic systems — has emerged as a powerful force for change in the philanthropic world. Borne out of the realization that significant and sustainable social change requires more than discrete interventions, systems thinking has become de rigueur for any foundation looking to create impact at scale.
But what does systems thinking and change look like in the trenches?
Here are four lessons based on our findings that may help others pursuing systems-based strategy:
1. Customize the process to the needs of stakeholders. Though systems thinking can serve a variety of ends — including supporting sense-making and analysis, building new strategies, or communicating with and aligning stakeholders — any given application of the process might prioritize these objectives differently.
2. Employ an “ecosystem of tools” that serve different purposes. Each tool in the “systems thinking toolbox” serves a different purpose; organizations must therefore deploy them with discernment and intentionality.
3. Apply a developmental mindset to the process. Taking “two steps forward, and one step back” at times can feel frustrating. But acknowledging this dynamic on the front end can actually help alleviate the pressure to get each step in the process “perfect” and ultimately lead to stronger, more thoughtful articulations of a systemic strategy.
4. Recognize that systems thinking is organizational change. To succeed, organizations need clear, strong leadership committed to shepherding the process and fostering the supportive environment that encourages best thinking.
We recognize, however, that our journey continues, and we are eager to continue to learn from our experiences and those of others in the field.
Read the full article about systems thinking and a view from the trenches by Srik Gopal, Donata Secondo, & Robin Kane at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
If you are looking for more articles and resources for Impact Philanthropy, take a look at these Giving Compass selections related to impact giving and Impact Philanthropy.
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