Using Art to Center Humanity in Our Theory of Change

Nearly seven years ago, Living Cities began its racial equity journey. However, it wasn’t until recently that we explicitly named race and racial equity in the work that we do . We realized that we couldn’t achieve our North Star – All people in US cities are economically secure and living abundant and dignified lives – if we weren’t focused on BIPOC communities. In response, we updated our mission and vision, and shifted our portfolio to reflect this commitment to racial equity.

As members of Living Cities’ results team, we recognized the need to develop a new Theory of Change as well—one that explicitly named race to ensure that analysis is ingrained in all the work that we do. As we started creating our Theory of Change, we heard from our staff that the initial drafts felt cumbersome and full of industry jargon. It was a complicated flowchart with dozens of text boxes and arrows everywhere. It became a tool that constrained our imagination rather than providing us with a roadmap to do our work. The problem was that our Theory of Change felt cold and emotionless. We wanted to move and inspire people because we know that we at Living Cities can’t achieve our vision alone.

In our racial equity journey, we discovered that we couldn’t always use our heads, we had to use our hearts. We found that art has been especially helpful for connecting us to our emotions, imaginations and humanity—which we knew we needed to bring into our Theory of Change for it to be effective. We were fortunate to work with chivita espacial, an artist who uses art to connect her community-building and organizing work. She facilitated a conversation with our staff about our Theory of Change and what our work means to us. The process helped us distill the essence of our new portfolio and the change we wanted to have as an organization. As a result, we were able to transform the flowcharts into a simple circular model.

chivita also used the Theory of Change conversations to create artwork that reminds us that the heart of our work to change systems is the people who make them up. We need to focus on the individual and the roles they play within the system.

You can download the artwork by clicking “Download this Resource” above. The piece is divided up into three sections—Person, Role, System—because the Theory of Change is rooted in the person-role-system framework. We believe people need to use the formal and informal power in their role to change the systems they inhabit to create a world where all people can live abundant, dignified and connected lives. Watch this video from AECF to learn more about this framework.

The artwork includes questions to help guide reflection about your own work. We hope it’s useful as you reflect and reimagine what is possible when racial gaps are closed.

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