Systems change has been increasingly attracting the attention of those in the social sector who want to deal with the root causes of problems. But, despite the buzz, much of what is written is abstract in tone and practitioners can struggle to know where to start. We worked with Lankelly Chase to research the subject in depth, and to demystify the topic for charities and funders.
We undertook a wide-ranging review of the systems change landscape, including interviewing experts, reviewing key sources of literature, and convening an advisory group comprised of leading thinkers and practitioners who provided support throughout the research process.
We distilled our findings into a systems change guide that offers an accessible introduction to the topic. The guide outlines the basic concepts, maps out different perspectives on systems change, and identifies what is and is not agreed upon by experts in the field. It also outlines practical principles for systems change and reflects on learning for charities and funders that want to act more systemically.
In 2018, we worked with Lankelly Chase Foundation to produce a follow-up publication on how theory of change can support charities and funders to take a systemic approach to their work. As with the first guide, we reviewed the literature and interviewed experts from around the world. We also brought together practitioners to explore tensions and synergies between theory of change and systems change. These conversations delved into knotty issues of power, culture, and language.
Our final report Thinking big: How to use theory of change for systems change presents practical insights from our research and conversations. We identify five common pitfalls that organisations fall into when using theory of change, and walk through five rules of thumb that will help organisations to use the approach to tackle complex problems.
Our systems change guide has become one of NPC’s most popular reports, with over 15,000 downloads to date. Our follow-up report has also been very well-received with nearly 5,000 downloads in its first year and positive comments on social media.
We also learned a lot from the research process and have been embedding the learning into our consulting and research practice.