Giving Compass' Take:
- English Sall and Jeffrey C. Walker propose a framework for systems-level social change, incorporating impactful tenets from two contrasting approaches.
- Combining tenets from top-down and bottom-up leadership approaches may appear quite counterintuitive. How can we embrace ideas from different thinkers in order to construct more comprehensive systems-level social change?
- Read more about the oft-debated differences between top-down and bottom-up philanthropy.
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Traditionally, there have been two ways of leading a social organization: either a handful of powerful individuals, groups, or organizations dictate an organization’s course, or those who have proximity to the social problem and its solution lead the way.
The former—top-down leadership—was once the most widely practiced approach. Now, many view it as largely obsolete. There are exceptions, for example in military command-and-control structures, regulatory systems where rules designed to ensure public health and safety need enforcing, and organizations that are in serious need of a turnaround. But particularly when it comes to generating broad-based social progress, the model has proved inadequate. Time and again—at the national, state, regional, local, and community levels—a top-down approach has failed to deliver effective solutions to social problems, because it doesn’t consider feedback, input, or buy-in from those most affected by the issues at hand.
By contrast, bottom-up leadership strives to incorporate the insights of those who know what will and won’t work for their communities; it seeks to reflect the democratic evolution of institutions brought forth by the people. But while the “let a thousand flowers bloom” philosophy underlying this approach typically encourages innovation, it also tends to consume more time and resources, and often struggles to identify and scale the most powerful solutions.
Neither of these leadership models lends itself to the kind of multi-dimensional approach needed for true collaboration, or the cyclical process of ideation and information sharing that can solve complex social problems. To meet these needs, we recommend a different, third approach we call “locally driven, network supported,” or LDNS. This model marries the best elements of the top-down and bottom-up models, and encourages an ego-less, fluid, intentional approach to systems-level social change.
Read the full article about solutions for systems-level social change by English Sall and Jeffrey C. Walker at Stanford Social Innovation Review.