What We're Thinking

Three Keys to Unlocking Systems-Level Change

The first step to solving an intractable social problem is to understand the system in which it sits. If you don’t, you might find yourself investing in a solution that is ineffective, takes more time or resources to implement, or even makes a problem worse. Taking in the bigger picture—what many of us in the social sector call systems thinking—requires that we understand a system’s many stakeholders, how they interact, and what influences them. Systems thinking means understanding the web of interrelations that create complex problems and rethinking assumptions about how change happens.

So what does it take to move from theory to practice when working on systems?

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Management Assistance Group, a nonprofit that supports movement building, partnered together to answer this question. We reviewed more than 175 websites, articles, books, and videos; conducted more than 30 interviews with systems experts and philanthropic leaders; and ultimately identified three ingredients necessary for overcoming common barriers and positively influencing systems.

To learn more about the three keys to unlocking systems-level change, read the full blog on the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s website.

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