Chapter 3

Working out your theory of change

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A theory of change explains how we think change happens. It can show some of the assumptions we make about what creates social change. In this section, we will outline some of the main theories of change so you can use them to help shape your strategy.

Demand the change we want to see! 

This theory of change understands power to be located in governments, in the hands of decision makers at the local, national and international level, and also in the hands of managers of large organisations – i.e. those who have ‘power over’ others. 

To achieve your campaign aims within this theory of change, you need to demand those who hold power take action to make the change you want to see.

You can achieve this by directing your campaigning efforts towards power-holders, asking them to do what you think is right. 

Tactics within this theory of change include:

  • Voting
  • Encouraging others to vote for specific politicians who support your aims
  • Withholding resources through boycotts and disinvestment 
  • Lobbying
  • Petitions
  • Writing and presenting policy papers or statements
  • Engaging with other forms of democratic participation such as initiating a referendum or citizens’ initiative 

Build the power we need to create change 

This theory of change understands power to be located in relationships between people like us. It means we can have ‘power with’ each other. 

To make change within this understanding, you need to build connections within and across our communities, slowly building our own power to create the changes that we want to see. 

This approach involves encouraging people to make decisions collectively about what they need, creating the organisations and groups that bring into being to make change. This could involve setting up a solidarity network of mutual aid and support, creating a community garden or building a new institution. 

Change ourselves to change the world 

This theory of change understands power to be located within ourselves – our own ‘power within’. If we can transform ourselves, our consciousness, our attitudes and actions then wider change will naturally happen. This is especially true if enough people also commit to this inner change.  

A good place to start is by addressing the prejudices we hold. Once you understand how your own actions, beliefs or biases can negatively impact others, you can start to transform your actions and bring the change you want to see into being. 

Tactics include: 

  • Change your consumer habits to be more sustainable, e.g. giving up flying
  • Become more aware of how you interact with others so you don’t replicate racism and sexism
Questions for reflection:
  • Which of these theories of change appeal to you the most?
  • Can you see how elements of all three of them are relevant to your issue?

Discover more

Here are some useful links