Systems Masterclass Session 11: Aligning Mental Models and Approaches in Systems Change Efforts

1 May 2024 – Social change actors increasingly are recognizing that many social problems are enmeshed in complex systems, and changing the systems that keep those problems stuck in place is the only meaningful way forward. However, those involved in these efforts, including evaluators, rarely articulate the mental models being held about how change happens in systems, even as our decisions collectively influence the strategy and how progress is understood and measured.

We need to be aware of our mental models and why we are using them. If they conflict, we need to understand why and whose model should drive the change process. This awareness enables us to align our strategy, learning, and evaluation approaches with those who are influencing systemic change and those who are affected by it.

Two mental models are commonly used with systems change efforts. This session will explore these two mental models, help participants to uncover their own, and discuss how we can better align our mental models in both strategy and evaluative practices. It will focus particular attention on the systems emergence model, which is less understood and underutilized in philanthropy and evaluation. The session will end with concrete examples of what it looks like to align both mental models with our strategy, learning, and evaluation practices.

Participants developed a better understanding of the following:

  • Two mental models for systems change that are commonly used.
  • The implications of the mental models for strategy, evaluation, and learning.
  • Concrete examples of what it looks like to align mental models with strategy and evaluation approaches

This session is part of the Masterclass Series on Systems Thinking curated by ECDAN and NORC, accessible here:

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