The System exChange
The System exChange provides powerful tips and ideas for transforming your local community.
The last issue of the System exChange introduced the concept of a community systems approach and provided a series of tools and resources to help your local effort. Click here for this last issue.

This week's System exChange builds on these ideas and highlights several additional approaches for using a community systems approach in your community.
Powerful Systems Change Practices:
Address the Whole Person
Fragmented Systems

In most communities, organizations are typically focused on a single “problem area” (e.g., health, housing, poverty, education, etc.) and only address local needs connected to their particular scope of work. 

Unfortunately, this approach can lead to a fragmented system of supports that does not adequately meet the needs of the “whole person” (Healthy People, 2020).

Examples of the multiple needs of a whole person (commonly referred to as the social determinants of health ) include:

Economic Stability
  • Employment
  • Expenses (e.g., utilities, child care, household expenses, medical bills)
  • Debt
Neighborhood and Physical Environment
  • Availability and Quality of Housing
  • Transportation
  • Safety
  • Access to healthy food options

  • High quality Pre-K-12 education
  • Literacy & Language
  • Vocational training
  • Higher education
Community and Social Context
  • Social cohesion
  • Support system
  • Community engagement
  • Discrimination & Equity
Healthcare System
  • Healthcare Access
  • Primary Care Access 
  • Quality of care

What is a "whole person" approach?

Many communities are now pursuing an alternative approach to problem-solving that considers how each organization can address residents’ multiple needs either directly or through creating a coordinated service network.

What would a "whole person" approach look like in your organization or community?

Use the reflection questions below to consider how your organization could more effectively address the needs of the whole person.

Reflection Questions

1)Think about the individuals your organizations works to support….what local community conditions influence the opportunities, choices, and options these individuals have to reach health and wellbeing?

2) How could your organization address these multiple needs and circumstances? Consider the following ideas:

  • Screen and refer: screen clients for multiple basic needs (see table above for example areas) and refer to local supports. If needed supports aren't available, raise these issues with local collaborative efforts to problem solve.

  • Expand efforts: be creative about how your organization’s efforts could simultaneously address individuals’ multiple needs. For example – how could efforts to improve people’s access to healthy food simultaneously built their social relationships and engagement?

  • Partner: connect with other organizations addressing the basic needs experienced by individuals touched by your efforts and look for opportunities to share relevant information, co-locate staff, and pursue joint funding opportunities.

 Powerful Systems Change Practices:
 Embed New Simple Rules
Whether we realize it or not, we all follow an internalized set of principles or simple rules that guide our decisions and behavior (Eoyang & Holladay, 2013).

  • Some simple rules help us act in ways that support shared goals, like the simple rule “Put clients first.” 

  • Other simple rules actually get in the way of us reaching our goals, like the simple rule “Do whatever it takes to get funding.”

It can be valuable to reflect on which simple rules are currently guiding your organization and/or community, and how those rules are helping or hindering your ability to pursue shared goals.

Reflection Questions

1) What simple rules are you and others in your organization/community currently using to guide your actions and decisions? 

2) Which simple rules are helping to reach shared goals?

3) Which simple rules are getting in the way?

After reflecting on these questions, consider which simple rules you want to keep…and which you want to replace with new rules that can promote actions and decisions more aligned with your goals. 

ABLe Simple Rules

ABLe Change proposes six simple rules to help organizations, groups, and communities pursue their goals. Consider if any of these simple rules could enhance the work in your community.
Think Systemically
Understand and address the multiple, interacting conditions (e.g., mindsets, policies, connections, power dynamics, resources) causing local community problems.
Engage Diverse Perspectives
Engage people from multiple viewpoints to better understand local problems, design solutions, carry out action, and learn whether efforts are starting to make a difference.
Incubate Change
Help people in different roles across the community (leaders, staff, and residents) initiate quick, feasible actions to move change efforts forward and create change.
Implement Change Effectively
Put conditions in place to ensure strategies are carried out effectively (e.g., build local readiness, capacity, diffusion, and system alignment).
Adapt Quickly
Quickly identify, understand, and respond to emerging problems and opportunities – and rapidly share feedback with relevant individuals and groups across the community to help guide their decisions and actions.
Pursue Equity
Identify, acknowledge, and tackle the systemic root causes of local inequities – and build conditions to promote greater equity in the community.

Want to Learn More?
Check out the following resources to learn more about using a systems lens to guide your work.
by Donella Meadows includes powerful approaches for using a systems lens during problem-solving. 

CHIR Connection
Talk to your CHIR about using a Community Systems Approach! Reach our to your CHIR backbone agency to share ideas, discuss complex problems, and take action.
Join the Discussion on

Statewide CHIR Discussion Topic:
How are you taking a "whole person" approach within your change efforts?

Q: I love the 6 ABLe simple rules - but sometimes I forget to use them given everything going on. What are some ideas for how I can integrate them more into my daily work?

A: Look for ways to embed the simple rules directly into your existing processes and documents. For example, how could you add the simple rules into meeting agendas, strategic planning templates, or service protocols? Sometimes it also helps to keep things visible - some people have found it useful to print out the simple rules and tape them up at their desk as a constant reminder.

Submit your questions on the Contact Us page of the the MICHIRLearning website .
If you find this publication useful, forward to your colleagues and encourage them to subscribe !

Want access to more information about community transformation? Check out the Michigan CHIR Learning website !! This website includes information, tools, and resources to help support local collaborative efforts.

August 2019
Have an idea for a future update? Email us at:
Eoyang, G., & Holladay, R. (2013). Adaptive action: Leveraging uncertainty in your organization. Stanford University Press.

Healthy People 2020. (n.d.) Social determinants of health. Retrieved from