Tenacious Change

Change is a threat when done to me, but an opportunity when done by me.

Rosabeth Moss-Kanter

2017-07-17 - TC 1500x1000 - With Swoosh - Trans

Tenacious change is positive community change that is resistant to snapping back to the way things were before. Community change in the short-term is always possible when enough resources are brought to bear on a social problem. Long-term and sustainable change is another thing. When the funding cycle ends or funding priorities shift to another problem, communities are often in danger of returning to their previous, or worse, states. Tenacious change is change that sticks, stays, and is “roll back” resistant.

Tenacious Change

Tenacious Change is an approach to organizing and working together to solve complex social problems through collective leadership, community engagement, and coordinated action. Tenacious Change is about making a collective impact that lasts because it is achieved by the community, for the community, and with the community.  Tenacious Change is an initiative of Tom Klaus & Associates based upon original community engagement research on the Roots to Fruit of Sustainable Community Change framework conducted by Tom Klaus, PhD (Tom Klaus & Associates and Eastern University) and Ed Saunders, PhD (University of Iowa School of Social Work). Tenacious Change operationalizes the evidence-informed and measurable Roots to Fruit ecosystem for sustainable community change.

What It Does

Tenacious Change begins with a diverse collaboration or coalition that comes together to address a social problem that is adversely affecting a community. It is especially concerned for changing the circumstances of community members who live day-to-day with the problem. Tenacious Change is a strategy that can help to improve community life on a variety of issues, including, but not limited to:

  • Poverty reduction
  • Elimination of homelessness
  • Prevention of alcohol or drug abuse
  • Improvement of high school completion
  • Prevention of teen or unplanned pregnancy
  • HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infection rate reduction
  • Bullying prevention
  • Gun violence reduction and prevention

How It Works

Tenacious Change works by creating the supportive conditions within a community that allow the necessary change tactics (e.g., programs, projects, initiatives, etc.) to emerge and be implemented until they are part of the “fabric” of the community. The two supportive conditions established by Tenacious Change are broad and meaningful community participation (including by those most affected by the problem) and public will to embrace the change and allocate the resources needed to make change.

  • Community participation: Achieved through the collective leadership and shared decision-making of a cross-sector, diverse collaborative community group that ensures the meaningful participation of both “content experts” (professionals & funders) and “context experts” (community members with lived experience of the social problem being addressed).
  • Public will: Achieved through continuous, intensive, targeted, and high-quality community engagement through individual, small group, and mass communication efforts.

Community participation done well and the application of public will will result in community ownership that makes the change enduring and resistant to being “rolled back” in the future.

Tenacious Change in Your Community

Tenacious Change offers an alternative vision of evidence-informed community change that is anchored in relational trust, authentic collaboration, ownership of change, and the power of community. If you have that figured out already, great!

If you need help, though, we are here. We offer training, consultation, and resources on the factors and processes essential to Tenacious Change. These include, in part:

  • Understanding change and complex social problems
  • Community readiness for change
  • Who are the “Context Experts” and “Content Experts” and how can they work together?
  • Community engagement and the Stages of Community Transition
  • Creating community ownership (not just buy-in)
  • Meaningful participation through shared decision making
  • Building a high functioning coalition
  • Continuous system learning through coalition self-assessment
  • Why community engagement matters

To schedule a free consultation on implementing Creating Tenacious Change, email TenaciousChange@nonprofitgp.com or call 240-319-8525.


Photos from the first Tenacious Change event in Honolulu, HI, hosted by Hawai`i Youth Services Network on January 10-12, 2017. Many thanks to HYSN staff Judy Clark, Darlene DuBrall, and Regina Jacobs!