In Recoding Organizational DNA, the experiment is proving the hypothesis

In Recoding Organizational DNA, the experiment is proving the hypothesis

Posted on February 11, 2015 by Michael Corley

Eight months ago, The Patterson Foundation had a hypothesis:

Complex community issues can be addressed –and change can take root within organizations– if those working on the issues are given the opportunity to learn, explore, share and challenge assumptions in a “safe” and productive setting. Included in this setting is a room that supports discussion, a purposeful agenda, goals to achieve between meetings and a mechanism to enlist constant feedback from the attendees. The participants working on the issues also need to be the decision makers – think CEOs, board chairs, senior staff etc.

Recoding Organizational DNA, an initiative that provides that time, space and expertise for local organizations working with homeless families, is proving that hypothesis.

On Jan. 9, each of the 16 organizations participating in Recoding Organizational DNA presented answers to the following questions:

  • Why did your organization embrace the three objectives of the Marbut plan?
  • How has your organization embraced these three objectives?
  • What is your organization doing differently?
  • How does your organization envision the five sectors (government, nonprofit, business, media and citizens) coming together in the future and what will be your role?

The presentation session -- CELEBRATING – LEARNING – SHARING --- reflects the three reasons for bringing 75 people together one last time:

  • Celebrating – these 16 organizations spent 20+ hours together over six months discussing organizational change, institutional structure and the societal challenges surrounding the homelessness issue… and nobody got hurt!  This was worthy of celebration.
  • Learning – Throughout the previous five sessions, participants learned about the other organizations and explored the nuances related to changing how things are done. The final presentations provided one last opportunity (under this initiative) for everyone involved to learn.
  • Sharing – As stated, each organization learned something valuable during this process. Most of the learning occurred in relation to the three objectives of the Marbut Plan. The presentations provided a final opportunity for the groups to share what they learned.

The presentations, each only eight minutes long, provided an energizing and engaging opportunity for each of the organizations to take center stage. (Some even wore costumes for their presentations!)

As The Patterson Foundation reviews its work on the 7-month, 6-session, 5000+ man hour Recoding Organizational DNA initiative, we ask: what did we learn and was it a success?

What did we learn?

  • Change within an organization is hard. Change across a system of organizations is even harder.
  • In order for “real” systemic change to occur, each of the stakeholders (staff, board, donors, clients, volunteers, etc.) must be engaged and educated about the change being implemented.
  • Change doesn’t happen without board support.
  • Change can happen very quickly if all stakeholders are aligned with the CEO and board.

Was this effort a success?

Based on the 87.5-percent response rate on the final survey, and the following comments, I would say yes.

One of the survey questions and a sample of responses:

In what ways has your organization grown through its participation in Recoding Organizational DNA?

  • Enhanced board and staff commitment to vision and guiding principles
  • Modified our view (director and board) away from outputs (number of children we serve) and to outcomes (grades, attendance, etc.)
  • The board is now more aware of how we are involved in engaging clients towards self-sufficiency, and we are in the process of reevaluating our existing outcomes
  • Collaboration with other organizations to better the community
  • Relationships with other organizations to build our board and sustainability
  • Greater focus on outcomes vs. outputs.  Helped to build collaborative relationships with other organizations

So what happens now?

The experiment continues. Several leaders plan to continue the conversations to advance system- centric concepts that will engage the community to diminish homelessness. By engaging businesses, nonprofits, government, media and citizens, lasting community change can be a reality. It takes a common language, focus on proven practices, and willingness to give up the status quo and take action.


  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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