Systems Change Funding
Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) launched the Scaling Solutions toward Shifting Systems initiative in 2016 in order to encourage funders to collaborate and place longer-term, adaptive resources to fund and accelerate scalable solutions targeting systemic changes around pressing global issues. Past research conducted for this initiative has established the value of flexible, long-term, collaborative, and learning-oriented funding models in scaling solutions and impact, and facilitating systems change. The latest report, Seeing, Facilitating and Assessing Systems Change, builds on these past insights while exploring new territory to stimulate further learning and collaboration. Following are excerpts.
- A common challenge for funders trying to understand the systems they aim to change is striking a balance between two major priorities: 1) recognizing a system’s complexity and dynamism, and 2) simplifying a system to facilitate program planning and to fit into grantmaking processes.
- Funders and program partners aim for different types of systems change: incremental change (change within existing rules), reform (change to existing rules), and transformation (creation of entirely new rules). Each type of change entails distinct tactics, priorities, and time horizons. See transformation.
- Funders and their program partners collect a vast amount of data every year. However, much of it is unused and tends to focus on resource inputs, activities, and short-term outcomes. Of all the data collected for projects supported by philanthropy, very little of it illuminates whether and how funding contributes to long-term and systemic change.
- Funders interested in systems change face a variety of challenges, ranging from limited resources to disagreement over goals. However, the growing interest in systems change presents an opportunity to confront these challenges together in new ways.
- Monitoring and evaluation attached to philanthropic funding tends to be tied to short-term, discrete projects and linear models of change. As such, the benefits of good evaluation practice cannot be tapped to explore systems change, which require more holistic and adaptive approaches.
- Engaging stakeholders, being rigorous and collaborative in gathering and analyzing evidence, and exchanging lessons with others is essential for promoting and scaling best practices in systems change.
- By mapping the systems they aim to change while developing robust theories of change, funders and program partners will better see how systems function, where promising leverage points and opportunities for intervention may exist, and where unintended consequences may arise.
- Recognizing that funders become a part of the systems in which they intervene means that both their entrance into, and departure from, these systems have consequences, intended and unintended. Funders should be sensitive to this influence, incorporate it into funding considerations, and manage it to the extent possible.
- Government is typically a crucial partner in systems change efforts. With outsized resources and policymaking capacity, government can be indispensable to systems change. Although philanthropy can be instrumental in catalyzing significant change, funders and their partners will often need to engage government to recognize and ideally scale their work.
- The private sector, including enterprises and investors, is a significant part of most systems that funders endeavor to change. By involving the private sector more fully in systems change efforts, funders and program partners can access another lever to shift systems.
- Strategies emphasizing streamlined giving, inter-organizational and cross sector collaboration, active learning, and appropriate deference to the experience-based expertise of grantees facilitate systems change. The takeaway for funders is clear: shifting systems to address climate change, racial inequities, mass incarceration, educational inequality, and other pressing, multi-layered issues begins with a systemic shift in the philanthropic sector’s own funding models.
The report was written by Heather Grady, Michael Brown, Joanne Schneider, Kelly Diggins, and Naamah Paley Rose of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.