Systems change has been attracting the attention of a range of progressive charities, funders and practitioners who are interested in dealing with the root causes of social problems. But while there is a buzz about a subject relatively new to the social sector, it is easy to feel frustrated by the literature—much of what is written is abstract in tone and there are few examples of success.
We have produced this paper to address this problem and offer accessible material and recommendations for action. This systems change guide:
- Clarifies what is meant by systems and systems change
- Describes the main perspectives on systems change
- Outlines good practice for systems change
- Identifies what is and is not agreed upon by experts in the field
- Provides recommendations for charities, funders and the public sector on how to act systemically.
We hope this presents a manageable introduction to the systems change field, especially for those new to it, and also guides those interested in acting systemically to improve the lives of people in need. Our conclusion is that although it may not be as novel as some claim, there is a good deal of value in a systems change approach and it offers a welcome reminder of what effective action looks like when it comes to the pursuit of social change.
We welcome your feedback and are interested to hear how you are working towards systemic change
in your organisation or sector. Get in touch via info@thinkNPC.org or tweet us @NPCthinks using #SystemsChange.
With thanks to LankellyChase Foundation for supporting this work and all those who contributed their time to the research.
More from us on systems change
We think that, applied well, theory of change can support charities and funders to take a systemic approach to their work. This report identifies five common pitfalls that organisations fall into when using theory of change, and walks through five rules of thumb that will help organisations to use the approach to tackle complex problems.
Charlie Howard, The Owls Organisation & Maff Potts, Camerados
Charlie Howard and Maff Potts both lead innovations that insist we think differently about how people and institutions relate to one another. They disagree about how to work with systems, and they use this disagreement to drive creative thinking about tackling perennial social issues. Here, they are in conversation with Michael Little, the curator of The R Word. He reminds them of a key thing they have in common: that they are both working to adjust context of people’s lives, rather intervene directly.
Homelessness is a problem which has grown massively in the last decade. It is a complex issue that goes far beyond rough sleeping. Here we set homelessness in it's correct context, as a problem caused by systemic factors such as poverty, and suggest ways philanthropists can help.
Today we have published a guide to systems change aimed at de-mystifying the topic and helping practitioners engage with it. The logic for a systems change approach to tackling social problems is strong, but it means breaking down artificial boundaries and working with not only other charities, but funders, the public sector and the private sector too.