people crossing the street

Investing in Systems Change

Systems change means improving how systems work in order to achieve greater well-being and impact for all people, particularly people who have been marginalized or underserved.

At HealthSpark Foundation, we believe that our best investment is in creating a financially resilient safety net system that is accessible and effective for everyone who needs it. Because of this belief, we choose to invest our limited resources in enhancing the safety net system itself rather than in isolated programs or services. By investing in the system, we are addressing how the underlying components of the safety net system work together- ideally creating a more effective, equitable, and efficient system that has the capacity to deliver better outcomes at sustained scale over time.

What are the parts of the safety net system?

The safety net system in Montgomery County includes many parts: it includes the organizations that fund or provide human services, such as government, nonprofits, philanthropy, the faith community, and civic groups, among others.

The system also includes the rules and regulations that guide human services programs, contracts, funding streams, and mandates. Additionally, the safety net system includes policies, procedures, and practices that structure how services are carried out.

Finally, it includes cultural norms and incentives that guide how services are provided and how safety net partners interact with each other and with service users.

What is systems change?

Systems change means working to improve how these component parts work together, in order to achieve better outcomes for all people. Systems change could look like projects that realign relationships between funders, service providers, the community, and system users, shifting and redistributing power dynamics to create a more equitable playing field.

Systems change could alternatively include redeveloping rules and regulations or adjusting policies and practices to eschew those that create or reinforce inequity, ineffectiveness, or inefficiency.

Systems change also needs to address problematic cultural norms and incentives that reinforce current power imbalances, in order to achieve greater well-being and impact for all people, particularly people who have been marginalized or underserved.


Grantmaking for Systems Change

HealthSpark’s primary grantmaking is completed through The Innovation Lab grant program. Designed by our community partners, the Innovation Lab is a unique grant program that supports safety net providers while they design and implement systems change projects in Montgomery County. Click here to learn more about the Innovation Lab grant program, or here to see past projects.

Growing Capacity for Systems Leadership

Distinct from organizational leadership, systems leadership means crafting a set of skills and capacities that can effectively carry out systems change work. This includes skills in building effective collaborations, understanding and applying data to solve community problems, and effectively managing through change and transition. Starting in 2020, HealthSpark is supporting systems leadership through the Racial Equity Learning Community, a collaborative curriculum designed and implemented by the three county Collaboratives to increase racial and social justice practices within the social safety net. Learn more here.