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What does systems change look like?

Scaling up "Impact Laws and Policy", Scale Out "Impact Greater Numbers", and Scale Deep "Impact social roots"

By: Miranda Cobb, Learning & Evaluation Lead for Between the Bridges


Systems change can be a tough nut to crack in many ways. 

First, what is this system you are speaking of?! There are multiple perspectives and truths simultaneously at play. In fact, there are often multiple systems!

Second, how are you going to impact these systems? In Dartmouth North, Between the Bridges and a diverse network of actors has been working with a Collective Impact model to experiment in this regard. 

Third, what do the impacts look like? How does change show up when so many actors are working together in so many ways. What can you tangibly point to, or intangibly describe?


Over the course of 2020 (yes, we did manage to do some work during the pandemic!), the Between the Bridges initiative explored the question of impact and change with 32 members of the network. We heard experiences from the public sector, Dartmouth North residents and the community sector.


Impacts at different levels of the system

Themes Across Sectors & Scales

Individual level impacts

↑ Wellbeing & quality of life
↑ Knowledge, capacity & confidence

Organizational level impacts

↑ Organizational/institutional capacity
↑ Impact: ↑ effectiveness in achieving organizational mandates
↑ Leveraged funding & ↑ efficient use of funding
↑ Impact: improved business/profits

Community level impacts

↑ Trust & relationships
↑ Positivity & asset-based view of Dartmouth North
Residents are at the ♡ of the work
↑ Champions & advocacy for Dartmouth North
↑ Resources are unlocking, aligning & mobilizing

Systems level impacts

↑ Information flow & transparency between sectors
↑ Alignment & collaboration between sectors
↑ Effective & efficient use of resources within & between sectors

Impacts through different ways of scaling

Scaling deep

  • ↑ Trust & relationships
  • ↑ Positivity & asset-based view of Dartmouth North
  • Residents are at the ♡ of the work
  • ↑ Champions & advocacy for Dartmouth North

Scaling up

  • Public servants are more often incorporating lived experiences into policy development 
  • Specific policy change:
    • Council’s approval of Tiny Houses and Backyard Suites linked in part to Affordable Housing Lab

Scaling out

  • The Dartmouth North Library has scaled out food security and voter engagement programs, developed through participating with BtB
  • ↑ Collective Impact initiatives modeling from BtB
  • New populations being impacted: newcomers are less isolated & more involved/integrated in the community


The really fun part about this type of evaluation is bringing together impacts that no one person could guess at. The depth and breadth of impacts held by all the actors of the network pulled together is very exciting and a great motivator to keep at this sometimes heavy and challenging work.


Dip: check out this 5 min video overview of the findings or the stand-alone 2-page executive summary.

Dive: check out the 2-page executive summary at the start of the full report and click on any item to be taken to that part in the report.

Deep Dive: check out the full report.

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