How Do You Evaluate Systems Change? A Place to Start.

Dec 3, 2019 8:30 AM ET

Systems change has received much attention in recent years as grantmakers have increasingly set out to change underlying conditions that hold systemic challenges in place. The concept is becoming more concrete as foundations, community organizations, and collaboratives have made real change in their communities by using a systems lens. In addition, equity is increasingly recognized as essential for systems change work.

At FSG, we have learned a lot from our partners about what it takes to shift systems. And we’ve often been asked – how do you evaluate systems change? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. There are many approaches that one could take to effectively evaluate a systems change effort – and finding an effective approach involves:

  • Defining the system you are trying to shift;
  • Articulating a set of questions that will help you understand how change is happening within the system;
  • Determining what approaches have the capacity to surface changes and shifts in the system; and
  • Using the evaluation findings as a catalyst for learning and decision making.

A first step is defining the system you are trying to shift. This might initially require your organization to learn more about the concept of systems change. 

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