Our approach is to address complex social problems by understanding and transforming the form and function of community, state, and federal systems. We work with our partners and support them as they:

  • Question what is
  • Take risks
  • Initiate immediate action
  • Pursue effective implementation
  • Commit to learning and adapting
  • Develop their capacity as change agents

As part of Michigan State University, a land grant university, we aspire to learn and innovate in ways that work with each setting and all stakeholders to enhance their change efforts even after our direct involvement has ended.

Systems Orientation

We embed a systems orientation in all of our strategic design, capacity building, research and evaluation efforts.  A system is a collection of interdependent parts that interact with one another to function as an integrated whole. Approaching communities, governments, neighborhoods, and organizations as a system means examining and aligning the shifting system elements, the dynamic interactions between those elements, the manner in which the system provides feedback to itself, and the patterns that emerge over time.

A systems approach recognizes and respects the complexity of systems. This can be a messy undertaking!  Identifying the key elements of an ever-changing system helps bring clarity (and confusion) to stakeholders.  For example, there are frequently surprises as people discuss the root causes of the problem in question. Some groups determine that the problem that brought them to the table isn’t the real problem at all!

Problems within complex social systems have multiple, unknown causes. In fact, the causes of a problem can be different throughout a system. This means the same solution will not work for everyone and a given solution has unpredictable time delays and unknowable outcomes. The System Exchange helps groups navigate these complexities by recognizing small wins while remaining focused on the larger goals at hand, facilitating continuous learning, and providing technical assistance.

Our approach to systems change addresses the key elements that make each system unique.

Mindsets Attitudes, values, and beliefs that shape behavior
Components Range, quality, effectiveness, and location of services
Connections Relationships and connections across different system components and actors
Policies Policies, practices, procedures, and daily routines that shape system behavior
Resources Human, financial, and social resources that are used within the system
Power How decisions are made and who participates