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Disrupting our thinking about how and why change happens

Many in philanthropy share a common vision of a future where philanthropy is helping us advance to a more equitable world, including that:

  1. Philanthropic work is more centered on the roots of inequities and ultimately has a greater impact on the social issues it seeks to address.

  2. Philanthropy has shifted their relationship to their stakeholders, acting with greater humility and empathy, and giving more room for others to shape their strategies, leading to "true and direct" participation of those in the system.

  3. Philanthropy is accountable and transparent, including publicly sharing their theories about how change will happen.

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There are many shifts in the existing system needed to get closer to this vision. One of these is making visible the "black box" of philanthropic and systems change strategies, helping us collectively see how systems are (or are not) changing.


A new initiative, Causal Pathways, seeks to help philanthropy and other funders open-up the black box of strategy and systems change by building awareness, will, and skills to use evaluation approaches that can make sense of causal relationships without depending on more traditional experimental and quasi-experimental approaches.

The Causal Pathways initiative was initially launched by the Walton Family Foundation in 2021 with leadership from Jewlya Lynn at PolicySolve and a network of methodologists and evaluators around the world participating. It is expanding in 2023 to include co-leadership with the Center for Evaluation Innovation and ORS Impact, an expanded network of partners and actions, and new funders including Humanity United and The California Endowment.

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