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The Ripple Effect: How change spreads in communities By Richard C. Harwood

Richard C. Harwood is founder and president of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. This document was prepared by the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation.


he “Ripple Effect” is about

Amid this backdrop, commu-

their efforts to help bring it about?

h ow c h a n g e h a p p e n s i n

nity-based strategies are enjoying

This is what The Harwood Institute


something of a revival. Many foun-

for Public Innovation, with support

It comes at a time when people

dation executives and national and

from the Kettering Foundation,

throughout the country yearn to find

local leaders believe progress is more

sought to answer. More specifically:

alternatives to prolonged political

likely to come at the community level

How does change move from

gridlock, toxic public discourse and

than it is nationally. The very idea

distinct “pockets” to the broader

mistrust in a whole host of institu-

of collective impact and its poten-

community — what does it take;

tions, organizations, and leaders.

tial for community change is gaining

who is involved?

At a time when significant trends,

currency. Indeed, there is a growing

which have emerged over previous

desire to figure out how communities

build over time in a community?

decades, are reshaping society —

can marshal their collective talents,

• What does it mean — and take

including dramatic shifts in family

assets, and people to address tough

— for a community to learn as

structure, widening income gaps, an

challenges. Communities are where

uneven economy that undermines

people live; collective action is what

the vitality of many communities

makes communities work.

and poor education systems that fail

But how does such change hap-

to give many youth a real shot at the

pen — and spread? What’s in play?

American Dream.

And how can one be intentional in

• How does momentum for change

it goes? • Where does the narrative of a community fit into whether the community can make progress or not? Start with embracing what we already know There are certain realities about how change happens in communities that often seem ignored, despite what we already know. For instance, change in communities seldom happens in a comprehensive way all at once, though we keep trying. There is no such thing as a “big bang” notion of change — and yet we long for communities to re-invent themselves through some spontaneous combustion. Nor does change occur merely because



The Illinois School Board Journal, January/February 2017  

A bimonthly magazine for public school board members and administrators highlighting issues in education.

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