Many social movements lack the resources to thoroughly analyze the factors that influence their impact. We developed a framework to help identify critical contextual factors for movement success and analyze how their movement can effectively contribute to intended social change.
Using this framework, we have drawn applicable lessons from social movement case studies: While social movement actions often target policymakers, we show how movement actors can achieve political change by targeting their actions at institutional and economic actors that block intended political change. Many debates revolve around which forms of action are most effective. However, we emphasize that when social movements seek to influence the actions of corporations, the characteristics of the targeted corporations are critical to the impact of movement activities.
In addition, our framework integrates new elements in the analysis of the factors that influence the effect of movements. These innovations are the inclusion of existing barriers that can affect the change intended by social movements, and monitoring mechanisms that can help sustain the changes achieved.
Read the full report here to learn more about our framework and the insights that make social movement strategies more effective.
A mental model to analyze the contribution of social movements to social change.
We understand social movements as important causal drivers of social change. However, movement actors often lack the capacity to develop a conceptual understanding of their impact and design a sound strategy before implementing their activities. For this reason, we developed a conceptual framework for social movements’ contribution to social change that can serve as a mental model for movement actors. It enables them to systematically analyze their impact and other factors that influence their goals. It also creates a basis for strategy development that takes these factors into account.
The scientific evidence on social movements as causal drivers of social change is mixed. The complexity of social contexts and various contextual factors make it difficult to clearly attribute social change causally to movement activities. Therefore, we propose to stop focusing on how social movements cause social change. Instead, we should think about how social movements contribute to that change. To this end, we develop a contribution framework of change and show how this framework applies to three types of social change: political change, changes in corporate action, and changes in public opinion. The models applied are based on evidence from case studies and from meta-studies of different case studies.
Applicable insights from applied models of social change.
Among other things, our first applied model shows how movement actors can achieve political change by targeting institutional and corporate actors that block the political changes intended by the movement. With respect to changes in corporate action, the applied model shows that the success of movement activities depends more on the characteristics of the targeted corporations than on the characteristics of the movement activities. It also shows that monitoring mechanisms need to be established to maintain the social changes achieved. The public opinion change model emphasizes that linkages between new ideas and existing mindsets are a critical prerequisite for changing public opinion. Furthermore, it highlights society’s collective memory as an important monitoring mechanism for social change.
Shifting the focus from causation to contribution to social change empowers social movements and funders by enabling a better understanding and different assessment of movement activities. With this framework, social movements have a mental model that aids their strategy development and campaign planning, and helps them consider critical contextual factors, barriers to change, and monitoring mechanisms.
Literature for further reading
- Amenta, E., and Polletta, F. (2019). The cultural impacts of social movements. Annual Review of Sociology, 45(1): 279-99. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-073018-022342
- Martin, A. W., Dixon, M., and Nau, M. (2017). Leveraging corporate influence. Social Movement Studies, 16(3), 323-39. https://doi.org/10.1080/14742837.2016.1259105
- Soule, S. A., and King, B. (2015). Markets, business, and social movements. In The Oxford Handbook of Social Movements. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199678402.001.0001
- Young, K., and Schwartz, M. (2014). A Neglected Mechanism of Social Movement Political Influence: The Role of Anticorporate and Anti-Institutional Protest in Changing Government Policy. Mobilization: An International Quarterly, 19(3): 239-60. https://doi.org/10.17813/maiq.19.3.91h76wxr70674775