THE MODEL FLOURISHING: Tipping Points for Social Innovation

A model to create flourishing societies

Grounded in context and necessity, THE MODEL FLOURISHING is a powerful method for social change.  It originally was developed for use with socially excluded people who live with the ebb and flow of conflict. Using a combination of human capabilities, human rights, human security, complexity theory, and grounded theory, the model takes a participatory action research approach to increase people’s agency and to create organizational and societal change.

Previous capabilities approaches have been theoretical—not grounded in certain contexts. Thus, they have lacked practicality for development planning, policy, and implementation. Furthermore, formed without an understanding of complexity, they have not offered the tools needed to create change in nonlinear, dynamic, and emergent environments.

Using quantitative and qualitative approaches, THE MODEL FLOURISHING is specific enough to create grounded capabilities maps and reveal societal tipping points—both powerful tools for creating social change. Yet, it is general enough that bilateral, multilateral, government, and nongovernmental organizations will benefit from its many applications. For example, the model can be used to:

  • Originate theories of change that are contextual and are connected to people’s capabilities, and also identify societal tipping points.
  • Create project designs and organizational strategies that emerge from societal tipping points and capabilities maps.
  • Develop sector-specific strategies that emerge from capabilities and tipping points.
  • Make grounded advocacy plans for specific contexts.
  • Generate social development policy to support the development of people’s capabilities.
  • Increase the capacity of local civil society organizations by co-creating capabilities maps and tipping points, which the organizations use to develop their strategic plans and advocacy agendas.
  • Design context-specific maps of capabilities to develop indicators of a flourishing society. The maps, if accessed, lead toward flourishing and, if denied, lead toward disadvantage.
  • Identify indicators to measure change in tipping points and capabilities.


landscape domains

Different groups within societies consider different sets of domains as important to a good life. Creating multiple maps—capabilities-type lists from categories, such as gender, disability, migration, and ethnicity—leads to an understanding of the capabilities landscape.

Landscaping domains is carried out with multiple groups that represent the overall landscape. Each participant in a group reflects on his or her personal and communal best moments in life, and, based on those historical events, considers which components lead to a good life. Group participants then jointly create a common list of domains.

Participants consider which domains—if missing—more greatly affect people’s ability to flourish than other domains. This ranking process is done so that it generates discussion, which reveals why certain domains are stronger than others. Discussion also begins to uncover societal tipping points.

unify domains

Whereas landscaping domains is designed to reveal which domains are present, the aim of unifying domains is to create a unified map of domains. One to two participants from each group involved in the landscaping domains exercise take part in a unify domains exercise to ensure that the previously developed domain maps will be represented in the one unified map.

Through narratives—which ground domains of flourishing to life experiences—group participants divulge the best moments of their lives. Note takers record key points of the good life. Following the use of participatory technologies that allow group members to reflect on and record life’s high points, participants are given the capabilities maps and supporting data that their landscaping domains group had developed earlier. Using the landscaping maps and the current narratives, participants then create a unified list of domain categories.

Reflecting on the landscaping data and the newly developed narrative data, participants create the domain descriptions. They broaden the categories to one main sentence that is supported by three to five descriptive ones.

The unify domains exercise is chronicled using audio recording devices, and the recordings are transcribed. After data collection, an analysis is conducted on the data from the landscaping and unify domains exercises. From this analysis, the initial tipping points are developed and the framework of the domain maps is solidified. Next, saturation is used to thicken the understanding of the map and tipping points.

saturate, map, and interrelate domains

The previously conducted grounded theory yields a list of domains. This list begins to create an understanding of societal tipping points.

Two processes are used to saturate, map, and interrelate domains, and to saturate tipping points. The first is theoretical sampling to interview key participants. Chosen based on their ability to saturate each domain and tipping point, participants are asked to share their life experiences of domains and tipping points. The use of narratives grounds the data. From these narratives, participants are asked follow-up questions to achieve saturation.

The second process is to survey participants. Each of the four parts of the survey is developed from the grounded theory analysis of the data previously collected during the landscaping and unify domains exercises.

The first set of questions provides data—such as gender, geography, and education—for ease of appropriate segregation during analysis. The second set further saturates the capabilities domains. The purpose of the third set is to for participants to rank which domains—if missing—more greatly affect their ability to flourish than other domains. A method of ranking and analysis shows the interrelation of domains in a nonlinear and interconnected manner. The fourth set of questions helps to further saturate the previously developed tipping points.

Interviews are chronicled using audio recording devices, and the recordings are transcribed. Both sets of data are analyzed using grounded theory.

protect and create domains

The model incorporates human rights, which are connected to the newly developed capabilities map, to protect and enhance the capabilities domains. Use of participatory education methods that focus on human rights contribute to a better understanding of those rights. Furthermore, participants use the personal narrative process as a way to tie together occasions on which they were denied rights or were able to access rights. The recorded narratives are transcribed for use with grounded theory analysis.

What emerges is an understanding of which right protects which capability. Through a participatory process, participants connect human rights to the capabilities those rights protect. They receive small sheets of paper showing simplified human rights statements—one right per sheet. Participants also receive a large piece of paper showing a drawing of the recently developed capabilities map. The domains are written on that large sheet so as to leave space for each participant to record his or her vote.

Each participant places the pieces of paper with the human rights statements into the category of the capability domain the right is protecting the most. If no connections exist, the participant places the rights statement into a category called “right does not connect to any domain.”

After each participant has voted, the votes are combined and affixed on a larger chart. There, the number of votes in each category is totaled to reveal which human rights align with which capabilities within the given context. The rights that garnered more votes per category of the capability domain are then added to the capabilities map.

enhance domains

development of components. Again, grounded theory analysis is done to saturate capabilities domains and tipping points. Two key tools are created: a substantive ranked capabilities map that is connected to both human rights and human security, and contextual narrative tipping points for change.

member checks. The final step of THE MODEL FLOURISHING is to check the findings with institutional entities, such as governments, civil society, customary leadership, religious groups or community groups; this step also will help spur them into action and ensure accuracy of the framework. Dialogues are facilitated with context-specific groups about what implications they think this research has for their specific sectors. The focus is on how each sector can use the newly developed tipping points and capabilities map to shape their programming.

organizational emergence. THE MODEL FLOURISHING creates a substantive base on which multilateral, government, and nongovernment organizations can build development planning and practices. The model helps ensure that programs, policies, and strategies align with societal tipping points and capabilities.

Organizations can use tipping points and capabilities maps as tools for creating social change in a number of ways. Each desired outcome can be designed to fit the needs of the specific context and organization. For example, if the desired outcome is to create project designs or organizational strategies, the grounded capabilities and tipping points can be transitioned into processes that use action research for organizational change, such as appreciative inquiry or the search conference.

If, on the other hand, the desired outcome is social development policy, the tipping points can be turned into policy recommendations. Further, If the desired outcome is an advocacy agenda, the tipping points reveal where duty bearers are or are not fulfilling their obligations. The capabilities map frames human rights concerns so that they directly tie people’s capabilities into rights within a given context.

increased flourishing

As individuals and bilateral, multilateral, government, and nongovernmental organizations shift their focus to the fulfillment of capabilities, people’s flourishing will increase. THE MODEL FLOURISHING creates a grounded understanding of what an economy is for—primarily people—in specific contexts. Furthermore, societal tipping points, which directly tie to people’s capabilities, inform key ways to move society forward.

Through a continual process, an understanding of tipping points and capabilities will shift the economy from one in which individuals are deprived of their capability domains to one in which people achieve freedom of these same domains.

THE MODEL FLOURISHING sets in place a virtuous cycle toward the good life. As such, the initial research is a starting point. The model offers a way to create grounded public dialogue about the purpose of the economy and the best way to move a society toward that purpose. This process is ideal for creating innovative space for the identification of grounded capabilities lists and tipping points. Grounded capabilities list and tipping points are used to develop program design, overall strategy, policy, indicators, and advocacy agendas that lead to people thriving.

As always I would love to hear others thoughts or experiences. What are ways you have seen or used to identify tipping points?

Note: Dr. Matthew S. Will has over a decade of experience working and living in South East Asia and the Pacific. A sample of the use of THE MODEL FLOURISHING is seen in following articles: A Tipping Point in Terror: “Those Who Tell the Stories Rule Society.Mistaken Identity and the Discourse of Terror, “If Peace is Missing, We Can’t Do Anything but Hide” Peace a Priority in Mindanao, and THE RESPECT PRINCIPLE – Fertile or Corrosive – a Key to Peace in Mindanao.

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  1. […] Note:  Dr Matthew Will has over a decade of International Development experience.  He has lived and worked in the Philippines and the Solomon Islands.  He currently resides in Timor – Leste.  The model posed in this article is grounded in necessity of development practice.  This article was the result of two projects. The first was a project in the Southern Philippines done with the University of the Philippines which posed a resilience framework with domains and tipping points for people who face high levels of conflict. The second was a project in the Solomon Islands done with Oxfam which created a Theory of Change for increasing peoples voice.  Another article that used Grounded Theory is The Model Flourishing. […]