Systems Thinking For Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results

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Chelsea Green Publishing, Sep 24, 2015 - Business & Economics - 264 pages

Donors, leaders of nonprofits, and public policy makers usually have the best of intentions to serve society and improve social conditions. But often their solutions fall far short of what they want to accomplish and what is truly needed. Moreover, the answers they propose and fund often produce the opposite of what they want over time. We end up with temporary shelters that increase homelessness, drug busts that increase drug-related crime, or food aid that increases starvation.

How do these unintended consequences come about and how can we avoid them? By applying conventional thinking to complex social problems, we often perpetuate the very problems we try so hard to solve, but it is possible to think differently, and get different results.

Systems Thinking for Social Change enables readers to contribute more effectively to society by helping them understand what systems thinking is and why it is so important in their work. It also gives concrete guidance on how to incorporate systems thinking in problem solving, decision making, and strategic planning without becoming a technical expert.

Systems thinking leader David Stroh walks readers through techniques he has used to help people improve their efforts to end homelessness, improve public health, strengthen education, design a system for early childhood development, protect child welfare, develop rural economies, facilitate the reentry of formerly incarcerated people into society, resolve identity-based conflicts, and more.

The result is a highly readable, effective guide to understanding systems and using that knowledge to get the results you want.


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Systems Thinking for Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results

User Review  - Publishers Weekly

This dense volume will be of genuine use to many in the nonprofit world, but is far too mired in professional argot for lay readers. Stroh, cofounder of the real estate advisory firm Bridgeway ... Read full review


Why Good Intentions Are Not Enough
A Catalyst for Social Change
Telling Systems Stories
Storytelling for Social Change Shaping a Systems Story The Elements of Systems
An Overview of the FourStage Change Process
Building a Foundation for Change
Engage Key Stakeholders Establish Common Ground Build Collaborative Capacity
Bridging the Gap
Systems Thinking for Strategic Planning
Two Systemic Theories of Change Organizing Leverage Points Integrating Success
Becoming a Systems Thinker
MultipleArchetype Diagrams

Making an Explicit Choice

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About the author (2015)

David Peter Stroh is a founding partner of Bridgeway Partners ( and a founding director of He was also one of the founders of Innovation Associates, the consulting firm whose pioneering work in the area of organizational learning formed the basis for fellow cofounder Peter Senge’s management classic The Fifth Discipline. David is internationally recognized for his work in enabling people to apply systems thinking to achieve breakthroughs around chronic, complex problems and to develop strategies that improve system-wide performance over time.