Building movement size, strength and impact is of clear interest to campaigners. Recent work by academics in the field of peacebuilding and civil resistance provides new ways of looking at and achieving ‘scale’.
In a 2020 article which originally appeared in Interface: A journal for and about social movements, and is available for download below, Charla Burnett and Karen Ross define ‘scaling up’ as “a process of increasing the potential for positive impact at a higher level or scope than it currently is.” (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 560) The concepts and framework involved go beyond just measuring scale in terms of movement size to consider the improvements, growth, impact and capacity that can flow from positive changes in internal and external movement learning, communication, framing, and engagement.
The research the pair have undertaken, in concert with Yuliya Raschupkina and Darren Kew, draws on close to 200 sources, including nonviolence manuals and case studies regarding peacebuilding and civil resistance. Their insights have relevance beyond these fields and are useful for activists working with a range of issues.
While still a work in progress the authors view their scaling framework as a tool that can be used by campaigners to evaluate existing efforts and think about new ways of broadening and deepening impact. They warn that it should not be used a simple “checklist”, instead recommending that activists “draw from this model as a starting point for considering possible approaches in a way that moves beyond existing emphases on success and/or size.” (Ross, et al, 2019: 503)
The framework has advantages for activists in that it “shifts away from thinking about scaling up as a linear or chronological sequence of steps. Instead, the model views scaling up as impact-oriented and as an iterative process of social learning, where actions are shaped by reactions (by the government and/or other actors) to previous moves.” (Ross, et al, 2019: 497)
The following table (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 562) sets out the model in terms of dimensions and elements of scaling. A summary of key elements follows. Quotes and information contained in this summary are drawn from the two articles identified at the bottom of the page.
Table 1: Dimensions and Elements of Scaling Up Internal Strengthening External expansion
|Internal Strengthening||External expansion|
|Tactics for scaling||1. Strong commitment among|
|1. Increased membership and
development of partnerships
|2. Strong strategic plans||2. Engagement of external
third parties or international
|3. Diverse movement|
|3. Territorial spread|
|4. Shared messages and|
|4. Engagement with
|1.Internal sharing of|
information (use of media)
|1. Sharing information (use of
|2. Educational programming|
|3. Educational programming
for the broader community
|3. Engaging ideas across|
|2. .Strategic communication|
within the movement
|2. Strategic communication
toward the broader community
The authors state that the “framework distinguishes between “two dimensions of scaling: what occurs internally in order to strengthen the movement (internal strengthening); and what happens externally in order to enlarge the movement in size or space (external expansion). Although some activities clearly are relevant to both of these, most fall largely on one dimension rather than both.
We further distinguish between the “what” of scaling, or tactics for scaling that must be used as evidence of a scaled movement, and processes of scaling, that is, the concrete actions providing a basis for scaling. In addition, communication for scaling, while ostensibly a sub-component of the processes of scaling, is discussed separately because of its foundational nature that allows all other scaling processes to be achieved.” (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 561)
Although the elements often crossover and reinforce one another, they needn’t all be pursued simultaneously. Scaling up certain elements may not be necessary or may constitute a poor use of resources. If done too rapidly, or at the wrong time and in the wrong way, it can invite risks such as co-optation by the state or dominance by particular groups within the movement. It can also lead to key activists and groups becoming overwhelmed.
Internal Strengthening Elements
Strengthening the commitment of movement members
Tactics that build scale along these lines include the use of effective framing, support mechanisms for members and their families, and actions and activities that demonstrate and strengthen commitment. The involvement of high profile figures can assist with inspiration. Strong means of communication, active listening, and group dialogue can build strong internal bonds and help members avoid burnout.
Strengthening strategic planning
“The process of strategic planning includes multiple aspects: creating a clear vision; engaging in capacity building exercises (including those that ensure a strong member commitment); developing internal monitoring and evaluation mechanisms; and utilizing techniques to help build consensus and/or resolve conflicts within the movement.” (Ross, et al, 2019: 509)
Strategic planning is important because it serves as an act of forward thinking, but also because it creates space for dialogue, communication, and trust building, which help movement organizations and/or coalitions build consensus around tactics to be used in specific campaigns. The actual act of planning together also builds ownership over the process of movement activity, making plans more applicable for members to implement. It empowers group members to define their own roles, makes them accountable to other members and can foster deep emotional bonds. (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 568)
The findings also underline the importance of discussing and creating means of monitoring and evaluation to map how plans are carried out and modified, as well as to gauge the outcomes they produce.
Diversifying movement membership
“Diversification of movement membership refers to a broadening of the cross-section of the population actively involved with movement activities. As scholars have noted, diverse membership can serve to reduce the social distance between the oppressors and oppressed.” (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 569)
It is suggested that the complexities and tensions which can arise from the rate and scale of diversification in campaigns, particularly where oppressed groups are concerned, be addressed via “diversity assessments or implementing sensitivity training using intersectionality, strategic messaging, group dialogue, and the creation of movement specific identity.” (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 570)
The creation of a shared message or ideology
The creation, adoption, and adaption of collective movement identities and ideologies which resonate with members can also help scale internal capacity and impact. Tools that can aid in this include collective framing of goals and beliefs, dialogue, group strategy creative, community events, storytelling, and meeting with other groups and movements.
“Networking and building relationships with potential members – that is, individuals actively involved in some way with movement activities – is key to influencing social change.” (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 571).
External factors and the context in which movements are operating affect this element of scaling and must be taken into account. This is true in general, but also in relation to framing messages and communication in ways which appeal to different people and potential allies across society.
Partnership and coalition building
“Numerous scholars suggest that engaging external parties and building partnerships across movements helps disseminate movements’ messages quickly and more efficiently by taking advantage of already formed networks and relationships. Indeed, coalition building creates opportunities for increasing a movement’s leverage and ability to persuade government actors.” (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 573)
At the same time such diversification can run the risk of the movement being co-opted by groups with differing agendas or goals. This risk can lead to partnerships being viewed with hostility or suspicion by existing members.
In addition to increasing the number of activists, movements can scale up in size by increasing their geographical spread… Territorial spread is important to gaining legitimacy, diversifying the movement, and recruitment of new membership… The process of territorialization can empower and protect marginalized groups that otherwise might remain isolated… Expanding the territorial spread through increasing membership is dependent on how well a movement is able to manage the diversification process. (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 572)
“In the process of organizing actions beyond their initial geographic base… movements for nonviolent change provide adherents with a greater capacity for confronting and challenging the state. This capacity is particularly effective when territorially dispersed branches of a movement are organized as networks, rather than hierarchies… in addition to scaling the size of networks, nonhierarchical networks enable movement branches to engage in tactical innovation, thus potentially broadening impact through use of a wide-ranging set of activities. Coalition-building can help support territorial growth by amplifying the causes of activists with similar goals.” (Ross, et al, 2019: 512-13)
Engaging External Parties
“A special kind of partnership occurs with third party, non-movement actors; these linkages are important for movement scaling because of their potential for bringing diverse support to the movement, as well as for the possibilities they generate for obtaining information and resources, and for putting pressure on government regimes.” (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 574).
Tapping into networks and forming relationships with those who are not initially part of the movement, or who may never fully be part of it, can also provide insights into opponents’ thinking and positions as well as alert activists to moves by police, bureaucracies, companies and other actors. As with other elements the risk of co-option must be considered. Meetings, workshops and retreats with specialists, academics and other non-movement parties can also scale up movement knowledge, capacity and strategic thinking.
Engaging state leadership
“Movement literature emphasizes that engaging state leadership is fundamental to regime change and to changing oppressive legal and political structures… Nonviolent movements often rely on government actors to gain information, advocate for the movement’s goals, and to create less violent environments for civil disobedience. Dialogue, relationship building, negotiations, and strategic messaging can help to scale up strategic nonviolent action as part of civil resistance campaigns. However, when handled improperly, engaging state leadership can be harmful and even dangerous.” (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 575-576).
Processes of Scaling
Sharing Information/Use of Media
“Media (and social media) can be engaged both internally, to provide information to existing activists (e.g., through use of social media groups), and externally, to disseminate messages in local as well as international contexts, potentially leading to broader support… information plays a crucial role in shaping individual choices about involvement, as well as more broadly providing information to activists about movement activities… social media can help to reinforce the activist identity of individuals and contribute to their continued commitment. Engagement with media, especially social media, can also provide a foundation for amplifying messages across movements and thus for strengthening coalitions.” (Ross, et al, 2019: 514)
“As a process, educational programming can be used both as a tool for strengthening the work of existing movement activists, and as a way of disseminating ideas externally to gain supporters and movement adherents. Moreover, as membership increases and the diversification process introduces greater movement complexity, educational programming can help manage hierarchical inequalities within movements and facilitate adoption of alternative institutions and more equitable practices. These alternative systems foster dialogue and build relationships between diverse membership, thus further strengthening the commitment of members…” (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 578-79).
Internally, training and education can also help maintain discipline around shared norms concerning acceptable forms of action. It can further encourage scaling and effectiveness through the development of skills ranging from internal and external communication and negotiation through to administration and campaigning.
On an external level “educational programs for the broader population can draw in individuals who are interested in the messages of an initiative. For instance, trainings in nonviolent direct action open to the public (not just movement members) can spread ideas related to the use of nonviolence as an approach… [and] broaden awareness of issues the initiative aims to address, including awareness of shared ideological commitments across movement coalitions.” (Ross, et al, 2019: 515)
Engaging ideas across movements
“[The] emulation of others’ ideas and nonlocalized action (as exemplified in the use of strategies and campaigns beyond their initial settings) are central mechanisms by which movement ideas and actions are spread, not only to other local actors, but also potentially at global scales.” (Ross, et al, 2019: 515)
Communication for Scaling
“[M]essaging and framing are both used to strengthen nonviolent movements internally and help to facilitate external scaling up… We question whether successful outcomes can occur if foundational relationships and a strong, shared ideology are not already set in place through dialogue, open and free communication, and trust.” (Burnett & Ross, 2020: 579-80).
Strategic communication processes
Communication is central to engagement with all actors, both internally (e.g., for resolving disagreements/coming to consensus within the movement) and externally for mobilizing support from potential regime defectors and from the public more generally (as well as international/3rd party actors)… negotiation is a communicative tactic not only for pressuring the regime, but also for convincing members of the power structure to defect, and for building stronger cohesion within the movement by enabling the management of internal conflicts and facilitating coalition-building. (Ross, et al, 2019: 516)
In addition, the authors point to the usefulness of “dialogue facilitation, that is, communicative approaches that invite dialogue, as a way of creating consensus orientations internally among movement activists as well as engaging with the government or one’s opposition.” (Ross, et al, 2019: 516)
“Framing refers to the creation of meaning and use of key symbols to highlight movement interests as well as the challenges that they mount to dominant actors. In other words, framing is intentionally used to convey a message about the movement’s ideals and goals. Its use permeates multiple tactics for scaling…
Frames—in the form of messages that movements send, either through the media, through expressions of their demands and ideology that are presented at protests or demonstrations, or perhaps via educational activities—can help, at an individual level, lead to the process of cognitive liberation that is perceived as central to recruiting movement activists…
The way that framing occurs shapes the potential for creating coalitions or partnerships between diverse groups within the movement… although the process of framing is closely linked to increasing movement size, in its purest form, framing focuses on amplifying or replacing ideas and messages—for instance, by challenging dominant societal narratives that might delegitimize the movement, or engendering support through incorporation of new symbols that display alternative norms and resonate with the broader public.” (Ross, et al, 2019: 517)
- Burnett, C., & Ross, K. (2020). Scaling up nonviolent action: Do scholars and activists agree?. Interface: A Journal on Social Movements, 12 (1).
- Ross, K., Burnett, C., Raschupkina, Y., & Kew, D. (2019). Scaling‐up peacebuilding and social justice work: A conceptual model. Peace & Change, 44 (4).