Key Points

Social systems structures stem from underlying paradigms that are made up of beliefs, perspectives, and assumptions. Changing paradigms is a powerful way to change social systems. Such change is difficult and old paradigms keep pulling systems back to their former state.

This article examines three types of partnerships that focus on these deep structures and paradigms, and that go beyond implementing a project or initiative to create fundamental, lasting change in the underlying beliefs, perspectives, and assumptions on which such systems are grounded.

The functions of each type – project focused, formal-systems-focused, and community-grounded partnerships – are identified, along with the ways each partnership maintains attention to paradigms and systems thinking. The configuration suggests ways for funders and initiative and organizational leaders to enrich their capacity to bring about systemic change within communities.