Leading Systems Change: A Workbook for Community Practitioners and Funders

Published September 2019
By: Heather Mcleod Grant, Adene Sacks

We are living in a time of systemic problems in America—from rising income inequality and the opioid crisis, to increasing gun violence, to failing education and health systems, to extreme weather events induced by climate change. This has many social change leaders asking: Just how can we collaborate to change complex systems that no longer serve us? How can we rebuild communities to have equity at their center? And what kind of leadership is required to change systems?

Leading Systems Change—by Open Impact co-founder Heather McLeod Grant and Adene Sacks of the With/In Collaborative—tackles these questions head-on. The book is based on two community change experiments we helped lead over the past six years in California’s Fresno and Stanislaus Counties, with funding from the James Irvine Foundation. Each New Leadership Network (NLN)—which engaged nearly 100 local leaders—comprised three weekend convenings designed to help diverse cohorts of leaders develop the new skills, mindsets, and tools needed to better understand their communities and act on local systems to drive greater impact.

In the book, we introduce the five foundational approaches we believe are essential to creating collaborative cross-sector networks for local systems change. The book includes an updated case study that walks readers through the process of building leadership networks, along with a number of tools, frameworks, and resources available for download—creating a playbook for other communities facing similar challenges. As we write, “We hope it helps fill a gap in the field, spark a conversation about what kind of leadership is needed now, and ultimately, catalyze the kinds of change needed in so many communities.”