How Change Happens

I have been studying and participating in social movement since I was in high school. I’m pretty sure that How Change Happens is the first book I’ve read on the subject written by someone in a business school.

In fact, as Leslie Crutchfield suggests, my assumption that movements have to grow out of protests was mistaken. Instead, she suggests that movement come in a wide variety of forms, and some that are not based in anger and frustration, alone, may be critical for the times we live in today.

Furthermore, Crutchfield and her team considered movement that she and I don’t agree with–like the NRA–in building an argument about how change happens. That, too, is long overdue.

In fact, she covers fourteen movements ranging from political ones like the ones I’ve been involved in to seemingly apolitical ones like efforts to combat a wide variety of diseases. Her conclusions mesh with the ideas a group of us are coming up with as we consider building a peacebulding movement in the United States.

  • Focus on the grassroots. Movements work when they have strong local bases, whether local is defined physically or on line. Too many failed movements lack the backing she thinks is key. Even more importantly, grassroots movements have to be locally driven, not imposed from on high, much as my peacebuilding colleagues argue about local peacebuilding.
  • Varied strategies. Successful movements define their strategies to some degree locally as well. It is critical that movements can point to successes, but in a federal system like our own, those successes will vary from place to place and time to time.
  • You have to change hearts before you can change policy. Organizations like mine can do all the lobbying they want in Washington, but major policy change is only possible when there is strong grass roots support for it. It may not happen then, either, but a strong grass roots base is a necessary, if not sufficient, ingredient for movement success.
  • Build broad coalitions especially with your “adversarial allies.” No movement exists on its own. They all have competition. Successful ones find ways to bring together all or most of the groups that demand change in that particular space.
  • Break with business as usual. Rarely does a successful movement today succeed by copying what worked in the past. They have to try new tactics and strategies that fit their situation.
  • Be Leaderfull. This is a term that Crutchfield created to describe organizations that give space for the emergence of new leaders at all levels–hence the idea of being full of leaders. That is often hard when movements have a charismatic and dedicated founding leader. Still, successful ones find ways of having those leaders leave their personal egos at the door enough to build strong grass roots support.