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Theories of Change

Theories of Change

In order to make change you need to decide how you think that change will come about, and base on your actions on your best guess. For collective work to be effective it’s important the theory of change is shared. This topic includes activities and discussion starters for exploring different theories, as well as details on some particular approaches.

Photograph of hand drawn letters in blue and black on a white background. The word is 'Change'.

Exploring roles in social change movements

Holly Hammond’s presentation to Progress 2019 on ‘Rebels and Reformers Unite! Exploring roles in social change movements’. Social movements are made up of many individuals and organisations with varied strengths, perspectives and theories of change.

Diagram from Doing Democracy showing 4 roles of activists and the text that is included in this article.

The Four Roles of Social Activism

The following excerpt from Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements introduces the crucial four roles required for social movement success. Activists need to become aware of the roles they and their organizations are playing in the larger social movement. There are four different roles activists and social movements need to play in […]

Cover of Tim Gee's book 'Counter Power: Making Change Happen'

Frameworks for Winning Change

Social change can be messy and challenging work! It helps to have frameworks to make sense of the situations we find ourselves in and plan for the way ahead. This article outlines four models, by Martin Luther King, Jr, George Lakey, Bill Moyer and Tim Gee.

Moving The Rock: Shifting Power for Sustained Change

This article explores the ‘moving the rock’ concept put forward by Daniel Hunter in his book Strategy and Soul. The concept has been valuable for campaigners and organisations reassessing their theory of change and particularly how they engage politicians and supporters.

Photograph of a large group of people in a rural paddock. They are holding signs and banners reading 'No Gas Mining on Our Prime Ag Land'.

Time to move the rock

A follow up article from a workshop presented at Progress 2015 by Holly Hammond and Sam La Rocca with a video presentation from Daniel Hunter. The workshop explored Daniel’s metaphor ‘politicians are like a balloon tied to a rock’.

Photograph of a window with curtains opening.

Workshop: Assessing and Opening Policy Windows

A process guide to be used in training workshops and planning sessions. The workshop introduces the idea of ‘policy windows’ and ‘political opportunity structure’ and enables participants to critically evaluate the political opportunity structure apparent in current campaigns.

Diagram showing Problems, Proposals and Politics all leading with arrows to the Policy Window

3 resources to assess and open policy windows

The policy window is an opportunity for advocates of proposals to push their pet solutions, or to push attention to their special problems. When everything comes together a problem is recognised, a solution is developed and available in the policy community, a political change makes it the right time for policy change, and potential constraints are not severe.

Photograph of hand drawn letters in blue and black on a white background. The word is 'Change'.

Theories of Change

Getting clear on our theory of change can be personally empowering as well as important for alignment within organisations and campaigns. These notes are from a workshop by Naomi Blackburn, drawing on the Resource Manual for a Living Revolution and Australian Student Environment Network curriculum.

Photograph of posters reading 'Building Alternative Institutions', 'Care taking & service delivery', 'Social change through personal change'.

Mechanisms of Change: A guide by The Change Agency

A process guide to be used in training workshops and planning sessions about theories of change. This session facilitates political analysis, reflection and dialogue. Why start with a theory of change? This isn’t asking people to be academics, it’s just about being clear about our own and each other’s assumptions.

Cards read: 'The social movement that has had the biggest impact on me...', 'I became an activist because...', 'When it comes to politics Iam a...', 'One ingredient in my vision of utopia is...'

Naming political assumptions: A guide

A process guide to be used in training workshops and planning sessions to identify the political assumptions that shape our opinions and analysis. Analysis and planning is improved by being aware of the lens through which we see the world. Our lens is influenced by our assumptions and values.

Cover of Original Power's Building Power Guide - features a drawing of a turtle in red.

Cyclone Warning: A training guide for solving problems

This is a training process guide to explore different approaches to solving community problems, investigate how different problems require different approaches to change to solve them, clarify the differences between community organising, community development, advocacy and service delivery.

This is an Uprising

Joel Dignam reviews Paul and Mark Engler’s 2016 book This is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century. TIAU is an analysis of social change, how it has occurred, and how contemporary campaigners may make it occur again.

Smiling archers carry cut out letters spelling peace.

Nonviolence

As a means of radical social change, nonviolence draws on a rich history of people’s struggles from around the world. Grassroots people’s movements have brought down dictators, stopped armies, undermined corporations and halted entire industries with nonviolent resistance.

Smiling archers carry cut out letters spelling peace.

Strategies For Peace

Johan Gultung identified three major approaches to peace: peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding. Strategies can be applied proactively, to prevent violence occurring or reactively to reduce the likelihood of violence reoccurring. Each strategy on its own cannot really be effective in creating peace without the application of the other strategies.

Aerial photograph of huge crowd filling Federation Square and surrounding streets.

The power of unions to make change

Nadine Flood from the CPSU presents at Progress 2015 on the dynamic tension at the heart of the union movement’s theory of change – as both grassroots movement and the large representative and regulated institutions.

Large crowd gathered in front of the library. In the foreground someone holds up a placard reading 'Let Them Stay'.

The fight for the rights of people seeking asylum

At Progress 2017, GetUp!’s Shen Narayanasamy shared the strategy and critical lessons learnt during campaign work to protect the rights of people seeking asylum. To be effective the campaign needed to engage many different stakeholders across the movement and centre the lived experience of people most impacted.

Image of the book cover "Ideas for Action"

Ideas for Action

Anne O’Brien reviews Ideas for Action: Relevant Theory for Radical Change by Cynthia Kaufman. Kaufman connects theory with the day to day dilemmas that activists face in the practical work of challenging injustice.

Cover of The Activists' Handbook.

The Activists’ Handbook

Aidan Rickett’s The Activists’ Handbook is a powerful guide to grassroots activism. Naomi Blackburn reviews the early chapters of the book which are particularly relevant to Theories of Change.

Black and white photograph of protestors walking along a railway line.

Surviving the ups and downs: Part 2

In the second part of this article Mark and Paul Engler further explore Bill Moyer’s Movement Action Plan and its implications for social movements.  The perception of failure For those encountering the MAP model for the first time, the biggest “Aha” usually comes with Moyer’s stage five. The previous stage — stage four — is […]