Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Dimensions of Change: A Model for Community Change Efforts

Academic journal article The Foundation Review

Dimensions of Change: A Model for Community Change Efforts

Article excerpt

Keywords: Community change initiative, philanthropy, initiative design, systems change, children 0-5, first 5, place-based, evaluation

Change, in the broadest and deepest sense, is required to bring about a more just and equitable world. One response from philanthropy to the need for such change is initiatives that analyze and then holistically focus on an issue or location. Such efforts, referred to here as community change initiatives (CCIs), are called by a host of other names: place-based initiatives, systemschange efforts, and community-development projects. The definition from the Aspen Institute in its most recent monograph on CCIs offers a good starting place:

Although CCIs varied enormously depending on location, sponsor, and community capacity, the "classic" CCIs had similar design features. They analyzed neighborhood problems and assets holistically, created a plan to respond in a comprehensive way, engaged community actors, and developed a structure for implementing the plan. Each sought to achieve multiple results with a combination of inputs centered on some conception of "community." Their goals included individual and family change, neighborhood change, and systems change. They operated according to community and capacity building principles. A wide variety of programmatic activities were open to them, from human services to economic development to social capital building strategies. (Kubisch, Auspos, Brown, & Dewar, 2010, p. 9)

Community change initiatives in the United States span more than 30 years of experimentation, success, challenges, and failures. Over the years there has been an increasing body of literature that speaks to what works, what does not, and where there is more to be learned. These include papers from Connell and Kubisch (1998), Kubisch, Auspos, Brown, and Dewar (2002), Kubisch et al. (2010), and Brown and Fiester (2007).

The purpose of this article is not to provide a history of CCIs as others have already done, but rather to introduce a framework that can be used to think about, design, and evaluate change initiatives. The Dimensions of Change Model (see Figure 1) developed in 2011 by jdcPartnerships,1 a national consulting firm located in the San Francisco Bay Area, evolved as a way to make sense of the change literature being reviewed for its client, the First 5 Marin Children and Families Commission in Marin County, Calif.

The Dimensions of Change Model is offered as a tool for foundations, government bodies, consultants, and organizations involved in substantive efforts to bring about community change. The dimensions contained in the model offer a frame for addressing key aspects that emerge from the literature as fundamental to all change efforts.

This article presents the model, and then uses the work of the First 5 Marin commission as an example to stimulate reflection and discussion about such initiatives. Lessons learned about change initiatives, culled from the literature and augmented by the experience and reflection of First 5 Marin, are offered and aligned with each dimension of the model.

The Dimensions of Change Model

The Dimensions of Change Model has five discrete but interconnected dimensions - structure, parameters, intention, approach, and people - with core considerations provided in relation to each. As with all models, there are limitations to this one. The reality of planning for any change initiative will not neatly conform to a model regardless of the efforts made to develop a visual representation of such a nonlinear process. Designing and implementing such change is not linear; it is iterative, dynamic, and even messy.


The first dimension of change speaks to the structure of the organization. Initial decisions here (ideally prior to the start of an initiative) include who will lead and be involved and how the funding will work. Clarity in this area can be vital; change initiatives are lengthy endeavors and individuals involved often shift. …

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