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Theory of Change

How Human Systems Dynamics Works in the World


Complex adaptive systems are a collection of individual agents who have the freedom to act in unpredictable ways, and whose actions are interconnected such that they produce system wide patterns. (Dooley)

In human systems, agents could be individuals, organizations, groups etc. that interact in unpredictable ways and create system-wide patterns through a process of self organizing.Such patterns are evident in the culture of a community, the emergent patterns of traffic patterns, family dynamics, group formation, the complexities of romantic love, the systemic responses to prison reform and on and on. 

Looking at the patterns (What do you see? Know for sure? Wonder?), then applying models and methods that are fit for function (So What are the differences between what I want and my desired pattern? So what constraints are there? So what makes sense?) until options for action emerge. Methods and models are helpful in thinking through So What search for meaning in the patterns and finding options for action. Then Now What will I do? Now what might I expect to see as change? 

In this Theory of Change, you are never far away from the right place.  By asking WHAT? you are examining the history of the challenge you are facing. Asking SO WHAT? considers the possibilities in present/forward. Asking NOW WHAT? is where you choose the next action.  You see the pattern(s) that exist with these questions and can use the patterns as leverage for change.  

Talk to me about applying this Theory of Change to your sticky issue.  I’m happy to help.  



                                                     graphic courtesy of HSD Institute



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