The crowd roared with approval. Karen captured an idea that was now increasingly mainstream in social innovation circles: in order to make deep and durable progress on tough economic, social and environmental issues, we must change the systems underlying those issues, the systems that keep them in place.
While the idea of systems change is clear, the practice is not. The same month that Karen spoke at the Tamarack Institute, Donna Podems, an experienced evaluator, described just how difficult it is for social innovators and evaluators to describe what it looks like in their context:
I was asked to work with innovators in the national health program of an African country. When I started working with the group, they said, ‘We aim to shift the health system.’ After listening for a few hours, I said, ‘Honestly, I have no idea what you are doing, or what you are trying to achieve … and I haven’t a clue how to measure it. I don’t understand what it means to “shift the health system.”’ And they looked at each other and burst out laughing and said, ‘We have no idea either.’ 
Developing a clearer sense of what we mean by ‘change’ and results’ in systems change efforts is a high stakes challenge. We need it to sharpen our thinking about strategy. We need it to develop and track indicators of progress so that we can learn from our efforts. We need it to be able to communicate our work amongst our allies and those whose support us as we seek.
Thankfully, there are a growing number of excellent resources on defining, planning and evaluating systems change out there. Yet, because getting our head around what we mean by system change is important, one more won’t hurt. Evaluating Systems Change Results: An Inquiry Framework, describes three key types of results that social innovators and evaluators should consider ‘mission-critical’ in their work.
 Patton, Michael Quinn, McKegg, Kate, Wehipeihana, Nan. 2015. Developmental Evaluation: Principles in Practice. Guilford Press: New York. Page. 293.
- Read: Evaluating Systems Change Results: An Inquiry Framework
- Listen to a webinar with Mark on Evaluating Systems Change: A Results-Based Framework
- Learn more about our exploration of Evaluating Systems Change