My Healthy Organization Glossary

Explanations of key words used in the My Healthy Organization and Our Healthy Alliance assessments.  If you are a Social Change organization or alliance, these definitions may help describe concepts you are working with.  If you are a Social Services organization, you may learn about options for moving toward deeper engagement of your constituencies toward advocacy and organizing to address their needs.

Adaptive Capacity, Advancing Alliance, Alliance/Alliance BuildingCivic EngagementCoalition, Collaborative Impact, Culture Shift, Diversity, Developing Alliance, Emerging Alliance, Framing, Ladder of Engagement, Movement Building, Narrative Power Analysis, Network, Organizational Culture, Personnel Policies, Power Map, Progressing Alliance, Social Movements, Strategic Alliance, Strategy, Theory of Change, Transformative Movement Building, Worldview


Adaptive Capacity     Adaptive capacity is the ability to improve performance, relevance, and impact by refining strategy based on assessment of external and internal factors. Adaptive capacity requires broad awareness, deep internal relationships, strong external relationships, inquisitiveness, risk-taking and innovation.

Advancing Alliance  (Level 4)      Our Healthy Alliance describes an Advancing Alliance as the fourth developmental level of a strategic alliance: Shared long-term vision and explicit commitment to bring about lasting systemic change. Diverse strategies and tactics aimed at transforming policies, institutions, culture, individual attitudes and behavior, and reframing the larger public debate and social norms. Skills, resources and infrastructure aligned with scope of goals and matching alliance needs. Practices and policies are written, transparent, understood, and consistently implemented alliance-wide. Strategic and proactive planning, and commitment to shared power and leadership development at all levels. Visible commitment to movement-building with active strategic partnerships with several other alliances to scale up for broader impact.

Alliance/Alliance Building      Alliance building is the creation of formalized organizational relationships through which two or more organizations agree on shared vision, goals, strategy, and joint work. Alliance building is one component of Movement Building. See Strategic Alliance, Emerging Alliance, Developing Alliance, Progressing Alliance, Advancing Alliance.

Coalition      A coalition is a group of organizations taking on joint work that is usually structured around achieving short-term, single-issue, specific goals, demands, and wins. Coalitions are an important way for groups to have external impact, test working together, and to begin building political and strategic alignment.  Our Healthy Alliance is designed to foster Strategic Alliances that often emerge from coalitions.

Collaborative Impact      Collaborative impact is the large and deep change that occurs when alliances, groups of people, and individuals work together—not in isolation—with shared vision, long-term perspective, and aligned strategies.

Culture Shift     Shifting culture means identifying, exposing, challenging, and providing alternatives to the underlying beliefs, stories, and images that shape the present society, economy, laws, and institutions. Culture shifting is crucial for long-term social change.

Developing Alliance (Level 2)     Our Healthy Alliance describes a Developing Alliance as the second developmental level of a strategic alliance: Increased trust and experience working together, looking for new opportunities for collective work with intention to build capacity and power beyond short-term campaigns. A bit more structured. Basic awareness of, and an intention regarding planning, program, alliance design—at least by a few people—but processes still often informal or inconsistent. Scale of organizing may be somewhat limited and primarily responsive to immediate opportunities to win concrete change.

Diversity   For our purposes, diversity refers to participation of segments of the community who have been historically and currently oppressed based on race, class, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, generational age, and different abilities.  Your organization may also be concerned with geographic, cultural, religious or other forms of diversity.

Emerging Alliance (Level 1)       Our Healthy Alliance describes an Emerging Alliance as the first developmental level of a strategic alliance: A small, young, start-up alliance. Participant groups may have come together around a specific campaign or project focus without explicit commitment to collective, long-term work toward systemic change. The work is driven by a small number of committed staff from member groups; it may not have dedicated alliance staff or significant resources. Its structure is a bit loose or ad hoc, with informal processes and practices. It may be more spontaneous and reactive.

Framing       To paraphrase Charlotte Ryan and William A. Gamson, framing is how we help people organize their thoughts, highlighting certain events and facts as important and rendering others as invisible…. Framing is used in narrative strategy to convey our world view, values and solutions.

Ladder of Engagement      A ladder of engagement is the intentional processes and structures used to move people or organizations from lesser to greater participation and leadership.

Movement Building      Movement Building is the coordinated effort of individuals, groups, and community institutions to build readiness for social movements, intentionally spark them, or sustain them once they’ve started. Movement Building involves collective processes and infrastructure that create shared vision, strategy, and action across different areas of social justice.

Narrative Power Analysis     According to Center for Story-Based Strategy, narratives are the stories “humans use to understand the world and our place in it. Stories are embedded with power— the power to explain and justify the status quo as well as the power to make change imaginable and urgent.” “Narrative power analysis provides a framework to extend power analysis into … the intangible realm of stories, ideas, and assumptions that frame public perception of the situation and the players in question.” (Center for Story-Based Strategy)

Network      “A network is a set of relationships among a group of ‘members’ — individuals or organizations. Members use those relationships to achieve their individual and collective goals. Some networks are organized according to a formal structure, with dues-paying members and professional staff. Other networks are informal, fluid, or ad hoc.”  (Douglas Easterling, “Building the Capacity of Networks to Achieve Systems Change”) Our Healthy Alliance is designed to foster Strategic Alliances, which are one form of network.

Organizational culture    Organizational culture refers to the informal, often invisible ways the organization works, or can be more explicit intentional values and norms that an organization agrees on to guide internal relationships. Organizational culture is reflected in everything from the look and tone of publications, how the office is set up and the style of meetings, to how people feel they are treated and how they relate to one another.

Personnel Policies     Personnel policies are rules and guidelines for workers about performance and organizational behaviors, reflecting values of equity, fairness, and inclusion for social justice organizations.

Power Map      A power map is a visual representation of a collective analysis of specific campaign goals in relation to competing agendas, power, external conditions, decision-makers, potential allies, and opponents. Alliances can use power mapping to develop strategy, a shared picture of goals, and alignment regarding theory of change.

Progressing Alliance (Level 3)     Our Healthy Alliance describes a Progressing Alliance as the third developmental level of a strategic alliance: Clear analysis of structural injustice and inequities and commitment to work together over the long haul. More alliance-wide shared vision, values, cross-member understanding. Increased clarity about membership roles with some investment in internal capacity-building and leadership development. Understanding of alliance niche in broader movement landscape and seeking partnership with other alliances and coalitions for increased impact. Higher level of stability, increased awareness of internal and external factors, and commitment to long-term planning. Moderate level of capacity and infrastructure in place.

Social Movements      A social movement is collective action in which a critical mass of people align around vision, values, and goals for transforming society’s culture, institutions, and structure. Successful social movements radically shift the way we think, the way our society and our communities are structured, the way we live, and even who we are.

Strategic Alliance     Strategic alliances are a very advanced form of collaboration for long-term impact that is characterized by deep trusting relationships and a high level of alignment on vision, strategy, and worldview. Our Healthy Alliance is designed to foster strategic alliances.

Strategy     A strategy is an intentional plan of action used to move toward shared vision and goals in the context of specific conditions, opportunities, and resources. An organization or alliance determines the appropriate mix of strategic capacities to meet its goals.

Theory of Change     A Theory of Change (or Theory of Social Change) is how an individual or group believes societal change happens. An explicit Theory of Social Change presents the assumptions about how systemic changes happens (“people most impacted by the problem have the best understanding of the situation”) and maps out who needs to do what — and how they are linked — in order to achieve long-term goals. When a Theory of Change is explicit it can shape the development of goals and strategies and is refined by new insights and observations.

Transformative Movement Building      Transformative Movement Building is an emerging term that elevates transformation, not just change, as the core purpose and practice of movement building. “Transformation” means that individual people experience a profound emotional, physical, and spiritual shift in themselves and that collectively they experience and create new visions, relationships, processes, and structures for every aspect of society.

Worldview      A worldview is a set of ideas, beliefs, and values through which individuals, groups, and cultures interpret and interact with the world. A social justice worldview refers to a broad political frame about how issues intersect, common root causes of injustice, and how social change happens.

Also see terms related to Civic Engagement and Electoral Organizing from the  Alliance for Justice glossary.