5 systemic guidelines to put in place

March 3, 2016       The NonProfit Times      

Problems are best handled if they are prevented from ever becoming problems. That’s easy to say, but trying to install system-wide quality can be a better approach than dealing with each disaster as it arises, even if it looks like more work.

That’s the idea put forward by David Peter Stroh in his book “Systems Thinking for Social Change.” Maintaining or improving a system is better than patchwork fixes, Stroh writes, and he suggests using systems thinking to inform an evaluation process in five ways. They are:

* Set realistic goals. Unrealistic goals hurt both the party setting the expectations and the party agreeing to meet them.

* Define clear key indicators and metrics. If necessary, create indicators and metrics that are aligned with people’s chosen purpose. In selecting them, include both qualitative and quantitative measures.

* Think differently about the short and the long term. There is a difference between quick fixes and short-term successes that build momentum toward a long-term strategy based on deep appreciation of the current issue.

* Look for consequences along multiple dimensions. Not all consequences are intended, but not all unintended consequences are bad. Look for resources that are developed or saved as well as those that are used.

* Commit to continuous learning. Use feedback from experiments and stakeholder involvement to refine systems analysis and theory of change over time.