Dr. Foster-Fishman's research interests primarily emphasize systems change, particularly how organizational, inter-organizational, community, and state systems can improve to better meet the needs of children, youth, and families. In her research and evaluation practice, Dr. Foster-Fishman is known for designing and applying innovative facilitation, team, and evaluation techniques that promote real-time learning, systems alignment, and participatory voice. To date she has published over 45 articles and book chapters that have examined how to effectively design and pursue change. Dr. Foster-Fishman also has over 25 years of experience as a systems, organizational and community change consultant. She has consulted with hundreds of public sector agencies, not-for-profit organizations, community and state-wide coalitions, and international, federal and state change initiatives aiming to improve their effectiveness and strategic alignment. She has worked closely with national foundations and state and federal funders to enhance their funding mechanisms and strategic approaches. Her frameworks for building collaborative capacity and for promoting systems change have been adopted by communities, coalitions, funders, and state and federal government agencies around the world.
TheABLe Change Framework is designed to help communities more effectively address significant social issues affecting children, youth, and families. The model is based upon the premise that communities can achieve transformative results when they:
Developed by Drs. Pennie Foster-Fishman and Erin Watson at Michigan State University, the ABLe Change Framework is a dynamic model of change that is adaptive to local conditions, providing stakeholders with the flexibility they need to effectively address targeted community problems. Drawing upon research on community change from around the world, ABLe Change provides a robust toolbox of powerful yet feasible strategies communities can use to pursue transformative change. This model is currently being used in several states to support their efforts to build effective early childhood systems so all children enter school ready to learn. The ABLe Change Framework is organized around 6 “simple rules” that, when pursued together, transform how community stakeholders work and learn together. The ABLe Change Simple Rules includ:
Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, BC Pulse serves as a backbone organization for supporting effective system change in Battle Creek, Michigan. BC Pulse has adapted the ABLe Change Framework and supports collective action and learning across Battle Creek stakeholders and organizations to connect, leverage, support, and align current and future system change efforts to better meet the needs of children and families. Specifically, BC Pulse:
The Pulse Survey was a collaborative data-collection effort designed to help stakeholders understand the conditions affecting the families of vulnerable children ages 0-5 in Battle Creek, with the intent of exploring and improving the delivery of health, education, and financial services and supports to those families. The survey was developed by the System exChange Team at MSU, BC Pulse, and an advisory committee representing organizations providing health, education, and financial services and supports in the Battle Creek community.
The Pulse Survey was launched in summer 2014; data was collected from 574 vulnerable families across 14 data collection sites in Battle Creek. The survey was designed around the community problem solving framework: a framework that reflects the ways key community conditions (e.g., service quality and accessibility, responsive providers, community mindsets, service coordination) contribute to individuals’ and families’ attitudes, knowledge, skills, and behaviors. The specific areas of interest within this framework were identified by members of the local advisory committee to guide the design and use of the survey.
Because past data collection efforts often obscured the inequities within Battle Creek, the Pulse Survey was intentionally designed to understand where and how disparities emerge. By oversampling vulnerable families of color, we ensured a sufficient sample size within each subgroup to allow us to conduct multiple subgroup comparisons on our targeted outcomes. Overall, this approach resulted in great insight about how specific populations differentially experience the system and success. Future Pulse Surveys will continue this practice, allowing participating partners to learn more about how disparities play out in the service delivery system and how to address them collectively.
The Impact Academy was designed to promote the effectiveness of change efforts pursued by community-based organizations. Too often, organizations pursue projects that include targeted problems, solutions, implementation processes, and evaluation & learning efforts significantly misaligned with the authentic needs and aspirations of local residents and the system or place conditions affecting their targeted problem. As a result, well-intentioned projects often fail to achieve their intended outcomes.
Through the Impact Academy’s training and coaching series and peer-to-peer learning network, participants learned how to enhance their strategic design, strategic implementation, and strategic learning efforts. Participating organizations engaged up to 5 members from their organization in this learning and capacity-building experience. In each training and coaching session, participants worked with others from their organization to apply key concepts to their work and future project plans.