Understanding Systems Development and the Impact of Systems Change
Strong Foundations For Our Youngest Children

Understanding Systems Development and the Impact of Systems Change

These resources support growing an understanding of the theory of collaboration and systems change work, including resources on the impact and outcomes of community based systems change and specific approaches to the work, such as collective impact.


  1. Evaluating Social Innovation – This article explores ways that common evaluation approaches and practices constrain innovation and offers lessons about an emerging evaluation approach— developmental evaluation—which supports the adaptation that is crucial to innovative change initiatives.
  2. Grassroots Action and Learning for Social Change: Evaluating Community Organizing – This article compares evaluation of community organizing to the evaluation of advocacy efforts, presents a framework for evaluating organizing, and discusses some lessons learned through the ongoing process of implementation.
  3. Pathways for Change: 10 Theories to Inform Advocacy and Policy Change Efforts – This article outlines theories most directly applicable to either understanding how policy change happens or how specific advocacy tactics play out.
  4. How to design and manage Equity-focused evaluations – This manual defines equity, why equity matters, why equity is so urgent now and what an Equity-focused evaluation is, explaining what its purpose should be and potential challenges in its promotion and implementation. Additional content covers how to manage Equity-focused evaluations, presenting the key issues to take into account when preparing for the Equity-focused evaluations.
  5. Nuts and Bolts of Building Early Childhood Systems through State/Local Initiatives – This article reviews the work of several states to build, or maintain, statewide community-based approaches to building early childhood systems, including key elements necessary for success and lessons learned.
  6. Beyond Parallel Play – This resource explores the roles and experiences of state – community partnerships in building early learning systems. The content includes six state case studies of building systems at the state and local levels.
  7. Comprehensive Early Childhood Systems in States – This resource outlines the values, principles, systems, and functions of early childhood systems work. The systems engaged are laid out graphically as ovals and the functions organize around these systems. While the content is focused at the state level it can be applied to local systems work as well.
  8. Integrative Thinking in Early Childhood: Developing Proximate Solutions to Contradictory Ideas in System-Building – This resource describes the nature of system building work, which involves balancing ideas that may be contradictory in nature and productively addressing them. Several sets of contradictory ideas are outlined, focused on either products and accountability or process and leadership.
  9. Needle Moving Community Collaboratives – This resource identifies the keys to success in the most effective needle-moving collaboratives.
  10. Building Early Childhood Systems: The Collaborative Leadership and Accountability Model - This paper describes collaborative leadership and accountability structures, highlights their impacts in states that are using this approach, and shares lessons learned.
  11. Four Actions Nonprofit Leaders Can Take to Transform Organizational Culture – This article describes the important role of organizational culture in productive work and outlines strategies that leadership can employ when a culture shift is necessary.
  12. Tension of Turf: Making it Work for the Coalition – This resource describes concerns about turf within coalitions and recommends these should be acknowledged rather than ignored. Through this approach, solutions to turf issues aim to blend the pursuit of individual interests with the greater goals of the coalition.
  13. Framework for Planning, Implementing and Evaluating PreK – 3 Approaches - This resource is a Framework designed to help address key questions facing those who are developing PreK-3rd grade approaches in their school, districts, and communities. From a planning and implementation perspective, the Framework helps users see the “big picture” of comprehensive and systemic PreK-3rd grade work and guides users in understanding how their own PreK-3rd strategies “fit” in the big picture, providing concrete examples of how to enrich and expand PreK-3rd grade approaches.
  14. The ABLe Change Framework: A Conceptual and Methodological Tool for Promoting Systems Change – This article reviews the ABLe Change Framework approach to the design and implementation of community change efforts; this approach provides simultaneous attention to the content and process of the work, ensuring effective implementation and the pursuit of systems change.
  15. Collective Impact – From the Stanford Social Innovation Review, this resource reviews several collective impact initiatives, highlighting how the aspects of the approach advance large-scale social change through better cross-sector coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations.
  16. Collective Insights on Collective Impact – This resource is a compilation of articles on aspects of collective impact, including such topics as the role of grantmakers, power dynamics in collective impact, aligning collective impact initiatives, and evaluating collective impact.