Common Themes and Opportunities
Although the initiatives described above include a variety of systems models and theories, they share some common themes: leadership, strategic planning, supports, and the use of data and communications
Common Themes Across Initiatives
- Leadership roles: Initiatives include one or more leadership roles that are designed to unite partners and the public around a common vision.
- Strategic plan: Initiatives establish a cohesive plan that articulates a common vision from which to build, enhance, and sustain systems to improve services and policies for children, youth, families, and communities.
- Supports: Initiatives involve staff and clients in planning and training and provide ongoing support for process and policy changes that result from systems building efforts.
- Data: Initiatives use data to inform decisionmaking and improve services.
- Communication: Initiatives use many methods to provide open communication among partners, leadership, and staff and among the initiatives’ project/services and clients.
Opportunities for Improving Cross-Sector Systems
- Systems building includes both structure and process.
- Building a system is an ongoing process that takes place in phases. Systems development and systems implementation may require different functions. Resist the temptation to build a system focused on a single point in time.
- The greater the number of services, sectors, or programs to be integrated, the more complex the work is and the harder it is to accomplish. Many initiatives maintain a narrow focus, such as early learning, to move forward successfully and quickly.
- Children and families are impacted by all facets of family life, community resources, and even the current state and national context. Pay attention to the intersections and interconnections across subsystems that touch children and families.
“A central axiom of the organizational development field is that the different parts of any system are interdependent: changes in one part of the system will be reacted to, and often resisted by, other parts of the system…desired changes in frontline practice require accompanying changes in the other dimensions of the service system if they are to be successful and be sustained.”
Finally, systems are ever-changing and must be continually evaluated to determine whether they meet the needs they were built to meet or if they need to change to accommodate emerging issues. In The Water of Systems Change, John Kania and others argue that “systems change is about shifting the conditions that are holding the problem in place.” In the article, the authors delve into six possible conditions—policies, practices, resource flows, relationships and connections, power dynamics, and mental models—that could be targets for strategies toward systems change, whether structural, relational, or transformative.
Figure 3. The Water of Systems Change Targets for Systems Change
 Cohen, E., & Ooms, T. (1993). From “good enough” to “best possible”: An assessment tool for the Child and Family Services plan. The Family Impact Seminar. https://www.purdue.edu/hhs/hdfs/fii/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/pf_fis05suppreport1.pdf
 Kania, J., Kramer, M., & Senge, P. (2018).The water of systems change. FSG. https://www.fsg.org/resource/water_of_systems_change/#resource-downloads