Understanding the Tree of Alignment: A Theory of Engagement for Transformative Change

Inspire to Change
4 min readNov 14, 2023


By Nora F. Murphy Johnson, PhD

This article is part of our series on understanding the Tree of Alignment as a Theory of Engagement. (Note, January 11, 2024: There is a Tree of Alignment 2.0. Click here to see the latest version.)

In the quest for transformative change, whether in organizations, communities, or individual lives, understanding the dynamics and drivers of change is critical. The “Tree of Alignment,” a metaphorical concept, provides a comprehensive framework for fostering environments that are conducive to meaningful and lasting change. This blog post explores the elements of this theory of engagement — an alternative to a theory of change — and how they interact to facilitate transformation. And, as with any good theory involving people’s lives, we are starting at the bottom and working our way up.

1. Crafting Conditions for Transformation

Change is not something that can be imposed; it must be cultivated. Creating an environment that is receptive to change is the first step in the transformative journey. (Maintaining it is an ongoing commitment.) This involves building a culture of openness, flexibility, and resilience. In such an environment, individuals and groups are more likely to embrace new ideas, confront challenges, and engage in collaborative problem-solving. Read more.

2. The Power of a Compelling Vision

A compelling vision acts as a guiding star. It should be purposeful, equitable, and motivating, uniting stakeholders under a common goal. This vision provides direction and inspiration, ensuring that everyone involved is working towards a shared objective. The vision must resonate on an emotional level, creating a sense of purpose and belonging.

3. Guiding Principles: The Compass of Integrity

In the face of uncertainty and complexity, guiding principles offer a steady hand. These values-based directives ensure consistency and integrity in decision-making, especially during challenging times. They act as a moral compass, guiding actions and strategies in a way that aligns with the core values of the initiative.

4. Core Strategies: Pathways to the Vision

Core strategies are the primary approaches employed to realize the compelling vision. These strategies provide a clear direction for efforts, ensuring that resources and energies are channeled effectively. They act as the roadmap for the journey, outlining the steps needed to move from where we are to where we want to be. Strategies are high-level enough that they can be adapted to meet the needs of different levels of change and diverse contexts.

5. Levels of Change: From Personal to Systematic

Transformation is not a one-size-fits-all process; it occurs across various levels, from personal to systemic. Recognizing this breadth ensures a comprehensive and coherent approach. Each level of change, be it individual, organizational, or societal, requires different strategies and considerations.

6. Contextualized Implementation: Tailoring for Fit

The effectiveness of any strategy depends on its relevance to the specific context. Tailoring high-level strategies into specific actions based on the unique characteristics and nuances of each situation ensures that strategies are not only effective but also relevant. It’s about understanding the local culture, resources, challenges, and opportunities.

7. Ripples of Impact: Understanding Cascading Effects

In its concluding principle, the Tree of Alignment underscores the importance of a systems-thinking perspective in both learning and evaluation processes. This approach recognizes that every action, whether large or small, can trigger a cascade of effects, both anticipated and unexpected. Such a perspective promotes a holistic understanding of change, emphasizing the significance of interconnected elements and their respective impacts.

This systems-thinking approach extends beyond merely observing direct outcomes of initiatives. It involves actively seeking out and understanding the broader ripples of change that emanate from these actions. This means not only measuring the immediate results of an initiative but also exploring its wider, often more subtle, impacts on the system as a whole. By doing so, we gain a deeper appreciation of the multifaceted nature of change and can better gauge the true extent of our efforts.


The Tree of Alignment introduces a dynamic theory of engagement, crucial for understanding and facilitating transformative change. This approach, which emphasizes elements like fostering the right environments, creating a compelling vision, and adhering to guiding principles, equips individuals, organizations, and communities with the tools to adeptly navigate the complexities of change. With a focus on core strategies and acknowledging the different levels and ripples of change, it offers a pathway that is not only effective but also adaptable and resilient.

By prioritizing contextualized implementation and a systems-thinking perspective, this model steers away from the notion of reaching a final, unchanging state. Instead, it embraces the constant flux of circumstances, ensuring that engagement in transformative processes remains relevant, energized, and free from disillusionment. This theory of engagement is crafted for endurance and relevance, allowing participants to be part of continuous change without the risks of burnout or obsolescence.

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