Sheila McKechnie Foundation: unleashing Social Power: logo
Introduction to campaigning and social change

How changemakers think and behave

Introduction to tool

As changemakers, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time we start a campaign. Instead, we look for examples of what works elsewhere.Then we can apply that knowledge to our own work.

Take a minute to think about what habits, qualities or behaviours you expect to see in people who achieve social change?

The question is important. It helps us to understand how campaigns are won. For its Social Power Report, the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK) studied a range of organisations and individuals to understand the attributes that helped them to succeed.

SMK identified four key habits of successful changemakers. These are:

  1. Mission-driven: Focused on how to make the change happen, bringing clear analysis of the problem and how to solve it.
  2. Impactful: Work with others rather than competing, they understand what tools are available to them. They evaluate campaigns so they can build on successes and learn from mistakes.
  3. Relationship-led: Build relationships of trust across all their activities. They listen. They try to understand where others are coming from – even when it’s uncomfortable. 
  4. Flexible: Understand the need to adapt and respond to external events. They know change can take time and are resilient in the face of setbacks.

These are vital qualities. They allow changemakers to create power where it’s needed and resist power where it’s doing harm. And by fostering these characteristics in ourselves and others, we can find bold new ways of making change.

Impactful changemakers share common habits.  Here is a summary of the ways in which they think and behave around social change:

How changemakers think behave

Let’s look at a handful of these habits in more detail.


Social change takes time​, so it’s important to:

  • Stick with the mission ​
  • Learn from setbacks
  • Be resilient/build resilience
understanding other people

Understanding other people

“I don’t like that man; I must get to know him better.”

Consider and learn about:

  • Who you want to influence
  • How they think
  • Why they might change their minds


Social change often comes through a collaborative effort of many groups. It can be formal and public, or informal, or with insiders and outsiders.

knowing tools

Knowing our Tools

There are many tools and tactics to campaign with. E.g., Law, policy reports, social media, arts and culture, actions, letters, petitions, and more.

Choose the right tools for the moment or opportunity, and don’t be afraid to learn from other campaigners about what works!

Homework exercise

We all have the potential to adopt the characteristics of effective changemakers. But for most of us, it’s a work in progress.

Take some time to think about:

  • Which of the habits do you already have?
  • Which of the habits do you need to work on to make your campaigning more effective?
  • Think about a piece of work you’re finding challenging. How might introducing one or more of the habits of successful changemakers help?

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