The Stew BLOG

Stewards are Hopeful as the Case for Systems Change is Increasingly Seen and Understood

Jane Erickson, Project Director | 06/10/2020

We are experiencing multiple systemic crises at once—including Covid-19, racially-motivated violence and injustice, and an economic recession—and one result is that more and more people see and understand that our lives and livelihoods depend on each other and on a system that is poorly designed for equitable outcomes.

As we learn alongside one another to determine how to bring about a better system—designed for everyone to thrive, without exceptions—ReThink Health is committed to asking a diversity of leaders about their efforts to navigate system changes during this time of crisis and transition, and sharing what they say with stewards across the world.

We launched our Tracking Poll for Stewards of Well-Being back in April, and we will continue to field and display responses—watching how they evolve as 2020 progresses. The 34 stewards we reached for the initial poll are working locally and nationally across many areas of practice (health, education, climate change, economic renewal, and beyond) and types of organizations (government, business, philanthropy, nonprofits, and more) to drive system change for equitable well-being. What follows are highlights from what we learned.

Will there be lasting system change in the wake of Covid-19?

The vast majority (94%) are either somewhat or slightly confident that the answer is yes. None are extremely confident, however. And a small amount (6%) are not at all confident.

What is happening right now that either helps or hurts stewards’ efforts to achieve equitable system change?

Over a quarter (28%) noted that the case for system change is as clear as ever—especially connections between health and the economy. As one respondent shared, “It’s hard to ignore how the current application of capitalist principles, which permeates throughout our global economy, is out of step with our world now.” Others (19%) agreed that while the case for change is especially strong right now, so too is the pull of business as usual. Ulcca Joshi Hansen from Boundless notes that “Our systems were designed and have been refined to maximize the well-being of some at the expense of the many and in ways that disproportionately impact communities this country has been willing to oppress.”

A handful (6%) noted that large, well-resourced institutions aren’t changing their practices to benefit others—and that structural issues driving the inequities that have been made so visible during the pandemic aren’t substantively shifting. It will be interesting to hear how stewards think about this in June, when we next field the poll, given the energy and activism that have come to the foreground in the past few weeks after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others.

What do stewards think are the most important norms, practices, and structures to let emerge—and let go of—to help the future system that they envision to take hold?

Here’s a chart showing of the strongest themes that emerged:

It’s clear that stewards are united in their belief that these unprecedented times can be a tipping point for long-needed transformative change. And while many are uncertain about the prospects for that change to really take hold, they are clear-eyed about what it will take to get there. As Eric Walker of Open Buffalo remarked, “The way forward is centered in an authentic reversal of entrenchment and withdrawal—a de-escalation of winner-take-all issue engagement, opening multi-stakeholder partnerships to “multisolve,” and suspending many commonly held viewpoints of technocratic actors in the field. Crisis calls us to our muscle memory or to find new ways forward.”

Head over to the Tracking Poll for Stewards of Well-Being page to learn more. You’ll access stewards’ full responses, and see how they evolve over time. Our June poll launches today and will be open through the end of the month! We invite you to participate and to spread the word with your networks. You can access the June poll here, and sign up here to be included in future polls.