Policy change is a central and vital function of government, but it includes a complex system of stakeholders and issues that are trying to be addressed. Successful policy attempts to solve deep-rooted societal problems. This is easier said than done. However, strategies can help make it a reality. As Forward Wayne County continues its focus on Government and Policy, we will discuss systems change and its role in creating meaningful changes in both policy and communities.

What is Systems Change?

So, what exactly is system change, and how does it work? Systems change addresses the root causes of social problems and helps relevant stakeholders find new ways to solve those issues. Ideally, it should bring about a positive social impact. An example of this method could be implementing safer crosswalks to address walkability or accessibility issues.

A vital component of this approach is to acknowledge that systems change is not a linear process and takes time to fully implement. The process will have highs and lows, but progress will happen if momentum is built.

 Successful Strategies

Relationships play a critical role in the success of systems change. While it is paramount to address social issues, it is equally essential to understand the systems and their connections. We are all interdependent. Meaning, we are all connections within a system. Working together, we can make greater impact. And the more you work together, stronger relationships get built.

Systems change includes several key features that must be considered for initiating change. Those features include building a foundation, facing current reality, making explicit choices for the future, and bridging the gap between the current and future reality. 

Key Features of Systems Change

  • Foundation: Beginning to engage stakeholders and build the capacity to collaborate.
  • Reality: Understanding and accepting a social challenge needs to be properly functioning.
  • Choice: Stakeholders committing to making a change for the future and crafting solutions.
  • Bridge: Starting to shift the system and integrating new theories and models.  

This approach is not going to tell you or the stakeholders to change. Systems change helps ensure new ideas and connections are considered and integrated into the solutions for a social problem. This may mean that you or other stakeholders change naturally.

The Wayne County Government implements this process regularly. One of those instances was with the Hoosier Enduring Legacy Project (HELP). During the planning phase of HELP, local stakeholders and organizations were brought together to form committees that helped identify the County’s most pressing issues. Additionally, the general public was invited to participate in community workshops to provide feedback and opinions.

Collective Impact

One of the best ways of implementing systems change is utilizing a collective impact model. Collective impact is a way to bring people in the community together and spur social change.

Collective impact features coalition building or helping create local partnerships by uniting people on a common cause. A typical framework will include a common agenda, shared data measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support.

Collective Impact Framework

  • Common agenda: Creating and implementing a shared vision.
  • Shared measurement: Collecting data and measuring results.  
  • Mutually reinforcing activities: Various community activities are happening, but a plan of action manages and coordinates them.
  • Continuous communication: Communication remains open and consistent.  
  • Backbone support: Provide support to initiatives and coordinate participating organizations.   

Was it Successful?

Several metrics will help inform you on the success of systems change. One of the more glaring indicators is if change or progress has occurred. This should inevitably lead to some impact on the community.

How do you track this? It is vital to continually collect data and evidence related to the addressed social issue. Additionally, managing and tracking feedback from the public will help create a more informed analysis.

Systems change is an excellent first step to take in creating social or policy change. It will give you a course of action and framework to follow. More importantly, systems change helps bring relevant community partners and stakeholders to the table.

Visit the Government and Policy page on Forward Wayne County’s website to learn more about this process and its role in implementing change.      

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