You’re midstream in a systems change initiative. You’ve structured the problem, thought deeply about it, and are taking action to implement a strategy designed to achieve a specific objective. Now you need to observe — stay aware of changing conditions and be ready to adapt as necessary.
Why Observing is Important
You may be so busy thinking and acting that you rarely stop to observe what is happening. Observing may be a formal process, such as a project evaluation, but it may also be pausing to ask some questions: Is our strategy working? Why is it not working? Should we go back and think about this problem differently?
If you don’t observe, you can’t learn. If you don’t learn, you reduce your chances of solving the problem. Take these two observing actions regularly, regardless of where you are on the systems change continuum:
Reflect on your capabilities. Review your team’s and your organization’s capabilities and weaknesses (as National Fund regional collaboratives regularly do, using the National Fund Self-Assessment Tool). This way, you maximize your strengths in solving the problem and proactively shore up organizational weaknesses.
Scan the environment. Stay attuned to changing conditions (using actionable data, such as standardized equity metrics and real-time labor market information). If your problem changes significantly, you may need to revisit earlier steps in the systemic decision-making process to reassess your actions.
Observe Phase in Practice
The Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative is observing to understand fundamental issues of inequity and economic mobility and influence the public policies pursued by the local workforce development system.
To advance public policy efforts, the collaborative is partnering with local nonprofits to develop concrete racial equity strategies and advocate for local and state policy reforms that address fundamental obstacles to economic mobility.
Tools You Can Use in the Observe Phase
Use Data in Systems Change
Review high-level takeaways for using data in systems change and find additional resources for further exploration and application.