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Leadership and Large-Scale Change: What’s Working and How Do We Know By Claire Reinelt

LLC’s Newest Publication: Leadership and Large Scale Change, Available Now! (Foreword By Deborah Meehan)

We are pleased to share LLC’s latest publication which is a product that included an analysis of current research, more than forty interviews and the findings of a meeting that brought together fifty leadership development funders and evaluators.  This work was supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, American Express, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to learn about evaluation methodologies that are being used to understand the contributions of leadership development to large scale change, share early lessons from research and current leadership work about the kind of leadership needed and how to develop it. We believe the recommendations in this report can help to increase the impact of our individual and combined efforts and encourage you to download this report and share it widely with others who fund, run, and study leadership development.  Over the next several months, we will be featuring the work of contributors to this research.  Our first contribution is from Claire Reinelt, a seasoned and well respected leadership evaluator.


Leadership and Large-Scale Change: What’s Working and How Do We Know
by Claire Reinelt

Leadership programs and initiatives in the nonprofit sector have historically been designed primarily to strengthen individual leadership competencies and capacities so that nonprofit organizations function more effectively to achieve their missions. The underlying assumption is that when organizations are well-run, they will better serve their constituents and communities. While organizational leadership capacity is critical, LLC’s recent collaborative research project has shown that network leadership capacity is just as critical for communities, movements, and fields so that individuals and organizations increase their ability to work effectively together across boundaries, and align and leverage their knowledge and resources for greater collective impact. More and more funders are investing in collaborative and networked forms of leadership to get large-scale results (changes in population level indicators, laws and policies, shifts in beliefs, norms, and institutional practices). In LLC’s most recent publication, Leadership and Large-Scale Change we present three case studies of leadership and evaluation strategies that offer promising approaches for investing in collaborative and leadership that achieve large scale results.  These examples are meant to be illustrative of what’s possible if we focus and integrate leadership development in complex real-world contexts, stay intentionally focused on the large scale change we seek, and design leadership strategies that are evidence-based.

The three leadership approaches we highlight are:

  • Results-based leadership (RBL)
  • Collaborative network-building and partnership development
  • Movement alliance building

Results-Based Leadership

RBL is an approach to leadership that enables a cohort of leaders to make take aligned action intended to produce a population level result—for example, reducing the number of juveniles in detention or increasing the number of children entering school ready to learn. RBL programs blend program content and real-world context with leadership development. RBL is designed for cadres of multi-sector leaders, with different roles, whose work is more likely to contribute to population-level outcomes if they are taking aligned action together. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, in collaboration with University of Maryland and Results Based Accountability pioneers, designed and implemented the Leadership in Action Program (LAP). LAP creates a “container” to support leaders to work in high action and high alignment with each other to get things done. Leaders manage issues of power and authority, develop accountability systems, use data to make decisions,  address issues of disparities and manage conflict.The goal is to achieve a population level result in one measurement cycle. Evaluations have demonstrated that meaningful population level change is possible in this timeframe and that the leadership initiative was a catalyst for this change.

Collaborative Network Building and Partnership Development

The Health Foundation for Western & Central New York (HFWCNY) is investing in leadership to improve the health outcomes of frail seniors and children from communities of poverty in Western and Central New York. The program is based on the assumption that a network of diverse, highly skilled, collaborative leaders who have developed trusting relationships will result in the collaborative work needed to make progress on the complex factors affecting the health outcomes of seniors and children in the region. Fellows collaborate in teams and implement health improvement projects. HFWCNY uses social network analysis to measure the quantity of collaboration, and site visits and interviews to understand how collaborations are making a tangible difference in the quality of care and health outcomes for a target population. Fellows working in collaboration have the opportunity to apply for small grants to support their projects after the program ends to increase the scale and impact of their projects.

Movement Alliance Building

The National Domestic Workers Alliance developed the Strategy, Leadership and Organizing (SOL) initiative in partnership with generative somatics and Social Justice Leadership. SOL was designed to accelerate the development of local, grassroots leadership to take on more national leadership roles and to usher in a new culture of organizing to strengthen the domestic worker movement. The goal of SOL was to expand the scale and power of local and national organizing in ways that nurture healthy and generative relationships that are sustainable. The assumption was that sustainable change happens only when there is interdependence and interconnection among movement leaders, their organizations, communities, and movements. The Program for Environmental and Regional Equity developed a framework for quantifying and measuring changes in individuals, organizations, alliances and movements. Their multi-level evaluation approach includes both transaction (quantifiable and measurable) metrics like the number and diversity of partnering groups, how actively leaders and organizations participate, the rates of turnover and retention; and transformation metrics to capture how people, organizations, and movements are changed through collective efforts and how societal and political views have shifted as a result. Transformation metrics include the trust and alignment that carries over to new issues and shared work, and the ability to transcend organizational interests for long-term collective interests.

In the three case studies we describe, we highlight frameworks and tools being used to monitor and evaluate aspects of network and collective leadership such as:  alignment and action among organizations and sectors; network formation and the effectiveness of community partnerships; and alliance and movement building. Evaluating leadership contributions to large scale is still in its infancy. We need more research and learning circles among those who are engaged in these evaluations to develop better explanatory frameworks, pathway maps, stronger evidence, and improved evaluation tools.


What approaches are you using to measure and demonstrate the results of your leadership initiatives? How strong is the evidence you have for the collective and network impact of your leadership work? What evaluation tools and approaches have you found most useful and helpful?