A common challenge for funders supporting systems change is striking the right balance between recognizing a system's complexity and dynamism and simplifying it enough to fit into grantmaking processes and facilitate program planning, a report from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors finds.
The third publication of the Scaling Solutions Toward Shifting Systems initiative, a collaboration between RPA, Porticus, and the Skoll, Ford, and Draper Richards Kaplan foundations, the report, Seeing, facilitating, and assessing systems change: Learnings from the Scaling Solutions Toward Shifting Systems initiative (52 pages, PDF), examines how funders can best design and assess systems change progress. Based on workshops held in Colombia, India, Kenya, and the United States, as well as case studies of evolving practices in the field, the report found that funders and program partners often aim for different types of systems change — whether incremental (change within existing rules), reform (change to existing rules), or transformational (creation of entirely new rules) — each of which entails different tactics, priorities, and time horizons.
According to the report, much of the data funders and grantees collect is focused on resource inputs, activities, and short-term outcomes, with little of it illuminating whether and how funding contributes to long-term, systemic change, while monitoring and evaluation efforts are focused on discrete short-term projects and linear models of change rather than holistic and adaptive approaches.
Despite the many challenges funders face, growing interest in systems change presents an opportunity to address them in new ways, the report's authors argue. Recommendations for funders include engaging stakeholders, being rigorous and collaborative in gathering and analyzing evidence, and sharing best practices and lessons learned; mapping the systems they aim to change to better develop robust theories of change; recognizing that funders become a part of the systems in which they intervene and their entrance and exit affects those systems; working with government and the private sector as partners in systems change efforts; and empowering grantees by streamlining the grantmaking process, supporting collaboration across organizations and sectors, and being responsive to and deferring to the experience-based expertise of grantees.
(Photo credit: Clay Banks)