Creating Enduring Social Impact: A Model for Multi-Sector Transformational Change


  • Marty Jacobs Saybrook University


Multi-sector, Transformational Change, Transformative Learning, Organizational Learning, Complexity, Complex Adaptive Systems, Organization Development, Dialogue, Stakeholders


The nonprofit and public sectors are in the midst of a paradigm shift from addressing community concerns individually and competing with each other for existing funding to working collaboratively and thinking collectively across sectors to solve some of society’s most intractable social problems. This transition requires new approaches that challenge assumptions and generate new knowledge. Existing models for change, while theoretically sound, are difficult to adapt to multi-sector transformational change because they are mostly targeted mostly toward single organizations in the corporate world. Undertaking multi-sector transformational change, change efforts that cross the nonprofit, public, and/or for-profit sectors, is substantially different than the vast majority of change efforts that take place within a single organization, differing in scope, complexity, and leadership.

This paper describes a new model, the Emerging Systems Transformational Change Model (ESTCM), specifically designed to address the unique needs of multi-sector change efforts. It is built on the theoretical framework of complexity science and complex adaptive systems, organization development, transformative and organizational learning, and multi-sector transformational change. ESTCM consists of five phases: (a) discovery and dialogue; (b) deepening, refining, and assessing; (c) infrastructure, communication, and coordination; (d) ongoing implementation and progress reporting; and (e) learning, celebration, and sustainability. These five phases represent a cycle that is designed to be iterative, building on new knowledge gained from the previous cycle. Aside from providing a new approach to multi-sector transformational change, the significance of ESTCM is its adaptability and flexibility.

Author Biography

Marty Jacobs, Saybrook University

Marty Jacobs is currently a doctoral student in Organizational Systems at Saybrook University. Her research interests are in transformative and organizational learning in multi-sector transformational change, as well as complex adaptive systems and system sciences. She has been teaching and consulting for twenty years, applying a systems thinking approach to organizations. Marty has served on a variety of nonprofit, professional, and school boards over the past twenty years and has also written for The Systems Thinker, Vermont Business Magazine, American School Board Journal, Leverage Points Blog, Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, and Confident Voices for Nurses on topics related to organizational learning, leadership, systems thinking, workplace culture, board governance, and community engagement.