Four Strategies for Transformation

Systems Analysis

By: Steve Waddell – Staff Lead, SDG Transformation Forum; Principal, NetworkingAction

Four distinct strategies undertaken to realize transformation are described in a new article in Stanford Social Innovation Review. Two cases are presented to illustrate the strategies: marriage equality (same-sex marriage) in the US and the energy transition in Germany. They suggest that any particular transformation requires development of all four, although their relative importance and relationships may vary with the issue, context and transformation stage.

Four Strategies for Large Systems Change, by me, looks at strategies through two dimensions. One is a spectrum from a focus on destroying the old to creating the new. The other is from confrontation to collaboration.  This produces four quadrants, described in the Figure and Table.

Forcing Change: This is the warrior strategy, with deep historic roots. It is associated with, at an extreme, civil war and more commonly with demonstrations and protests. With the more common tactics, Greenpeace is an organization recognized as a particularly competent. This strategy plays an important role in creating energy and space for the other strategies.

Doing Change: This is the entrepreneur strategy. It is a more recently developed transformation strategy, now commonly associated with social entrepreneurs. Ashoka and the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship are important supporters of this strategy.  Practitioners of this strategy lead in creating the possible new futures from scratch.

Co-creating Change: This is the lover strategy that has grown up in the last few decades with multi-stakeholder work that makes collaboration between diverse stakeholders a core element in transformation. Globally it is associated with Global Action Networks like the Forest Stewardship Council and the Global Compact; there are now many thousands of these collaborations more locally, and increasingly associated with collective impact as popularized by FSG.

Directing Change: This is the missionary strategy. It is associated with people in leadership positions in traditional organizations that must transform. These people must be skillful at shifting large structures from one operating logic to another, which often involves changing the former entity beyond recognition. Practitioners must passionately hold to the transformation vision, because of the pressure of the historic system towards inertia. In business, this is associated with the truly committed participants of organizations like Businesses for Social Responsibility.

The four quadrant figure provides one way for mapping transformation efforts and seeing the transformation systems around a particular issue and all the initiatives that are part of it. This is the basis for building more powerful transformations systems, and developing the rhythm and relationship between the strategies. The article closes with six lessons.

  1. Each of the four strategies can contribute critically to one transformation.
  2. Particular transformations emphasize a particular strategy.
  3. As a transformation progresses, the comparative importance of each strategy changes.
  4. The particular circumstances and environment that a transformation confronts determine the order of the strategies and their interaction.
  5. Enabling environments support experimentation and the creation of networks.
  6. Each strategy requires distinct competencies.

The article is available for free download until May.


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