Why has progress been accompanied by so many setbacks? The answer is that the manner in which things shake out is about more than just people: it’s about the system surrounding people, the context and conditions that prevent or support social change.

According to Brenda, when trying to shift the patterns and behaviors in a system, it is important to acknowledge that systems naturally resist change. This is called system resilience, of which there are two kinds: engineering resilience and ecological resilience.

What are some principles to consider if you are trying to prevent snap back?

Snap back happens at multiple levels of a system: the individual level (an individual accepts, then rejects a new job definition), the organizational level (a nonprofit’s staff embraces then pushes back on new strategy), the initiative level (the power players in a city shift to more inclusive community engagement and, seeing its challenges, revert to more authoritative decision making), or the societal level (a global movement to adopt stricter carbon standards backtracks in implementation). But to keep snap back from occurring, at any level, focus on strengthening the resilience of the system’s new equilibrium while, as much as possible, weakening system resilience, or “muscle memory,” of the old equilibrium.

Here are a few strategies:

  1. Solidify new mental models (deeply embedded ways of thinking and doing that drive behavior) that you may have established. 
  2. Establish new relationships between people in the system who are not currently engaged with each other. 
  3. Support those who are marginalized in attaining positions of authority and power, in order to influence decision-making and the public narrative. 

Read the full article about systems snap back by John Kania at Stanford Social Innovation Review.