Change: Outside→In, or Otherwise?

The ways we decide to try to change systems should reflect the outcomes we’re seeking. This is another way of saying the means are determined by the ends.

When looking at the systems in our society that we can change, it’s relatively easy to see there is an inside/outside situation, no matter what system. Some systems include healthcare, economy, education, law, religion, food, and governments. These are systems because they have a structure, there is a certain way they behave, and they are interconnected both within and outside themselves. I believe they’re changeable because we’re a market-based democratic society with multiple levels of social transformation. 

Some systems can change within themselves. Ones that change continuously and on purpose are called learning organizations. Others require outside motivations, and even learning organizations require that push sometimes.
There are many ways to see this how this change works. Here are three:
  • Inside→Inside: For a brief time in the mid-2000s, I worked with the renowned Peter Senge. His emphasis on systems thinking had waned, but he was definitely known for it, and still is. He was the first person to lay down the notion that a group that continuously supported individual workers’ growth and systems change was by definite a learning organization. In learning organizations, change comes from within. 
  • Outside→Outside: This perspective reflects those working outside a system to affect people outside the system who want to change the inside of the system. In this case, anyone not directly employed or deeply affected by the system is an outsider. People within the system can also be seen this way too, so long as they don’t adapt the system’s predominant characteristics.
  • Outside→Inside: Working outside a system to affect the inside of a system means making the system you’re trying to change the location of your work to change it. This is also directly working to affect system decision-makers, leaders, and advocates, as well as leading programs for workers and other subjects within the systems in order to show them why the system needs to change.

In my work over the last decade, I have ascribed to the latter of these options. However, I have also participated in the first and second options, too. There’s no single right way for all times and all occasions, and depending on your personal perspective, you might adapt any approach at any given time.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at

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