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Introduction to campaigning and social change

The Social Change Grid

Introducing the tool

A key tool we can use to understand how change happens is SMK’s Social Change Grid™. It allows us to visualise the different ways that social change can happen. This helps us to structure our campaignplans, spot opportunities, identify gaps and build connections.

Intro to Social Change- SCG 1

The Social Change Grid is split into four sections or quadrants. Each one represents a different space where power is held and campaigning activity can take place.

  1. The top left deals with community power. It’s where individuals come together as a community of interest, either in a particular place or on-line. It includes community groups and online networks, whether formal or informal. Local businesses, social enterprises, and faith spaces (like churches and mosques) could also fit here.
  2. The bottom left deals with people’s experience and self-development. It considers how someone’s first-hand experience can inform social change activism and how a person can build their knowledge, skills and confidence.
  3. The top right quadrant is where public debate happens and opinions are formed.  It is the place of culture and social norms, of mass actions like social movements, activism, public protest, boycotts and stunts. The media is important in this sector, including the news, social media, advertising, and popular culture.
  4. The bottom right houses those who hold formal powers – like the ability to enforce the law or regulate a sector. Or who have significant resource and influence and so can command change. They include governments, international institutions like the UN or EU, the legal system, businesses, and big civil society organisations, like charities.

The location of activities within quadrants is important. The closer an activity is to the bottom of the grid, the more formal and predictable it is. And the closer to the right an activity is, the greater the number of people involved.

Social change usually includes a wide range of activities. To be impactful, your approach will need to include some activity from each of the four quadrants. And if you are not best placed to deliver an activity, consider who else you could partner with.  Here is a snapshot of the forms social change can take:

Intro to social change

If we now populate the Social Change Grid with groups and activities, it might look like this:

Social Change Grid with groups and activities

Case study: Freedom from Torture

In 2022, Freedom from Torture ran an award-winning campaign to challenge the Government’s deal to enable the withdrawal of UK refugees to Rwanda. Importantly, the campaign included activities in all four quadrants of the grid over its lifecycle: 

the image shows the Social Change Grid filled in with a thorough example of how Freedom From Torture carried out their #StopTheFlights campaign. Below are the different activities carried out in each quadrant: Institutional: April 2022 – government announces deal to enable withdrawal of UK refugees to Rwanda. Public: May 2022 #StopTheFlights campaign launch. Worst airline of the year award. Spoof airline website and media ads. Protests outside Real Madrid-Barcelona football match (PS clients). One-way tickets to Rwanda handed out at Conservative part conference. Torture survivors storm stage at global aviation expo in Amsterdam (Oct) Personal: Campaign leadership programme for refugees - helping them get involved in the campaign. Survivors campaign leadership programme in strategy + organising. Torture survivor in Glasgow organises demonstration Community: One Strong Voice activist network campaigning activity. Open letter to football clubs asking them to boycott airline. Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants secures petition signatures+ Open Letter condemning PS We can see a significant campaign win in the Institutional quadrant: Privilege Styles (PS) airline publicly withdraws from Rwanda scheme. 3 other airlines: Wamos, Airtanker, and Titan Airways rule themselves out of Rwanda scheme. University College London incorporates the campaign into MA on Human Rights course.

What did the campaign do? Here are some highlights:

A series of humorous creative actions as part of the launch (in the Public quadrant) included a spoof award and media adverts.  These actions amplified reach and put pressure on the airlines who had agreed to transport UK refugees to Rwanda.  Torture survivors (in the Personal quadrant) were actively engaged in planning these actions.

Partner organisations from the refugee and migrancy sector (in the Community quadrant) wrote lobbying letters and promoted a petition against the airlines.

As a result of this combined activity, four airlines withdrew from the Rwanda scheme (in the Institutional Power quadrant).

As a legacy, the campaign has been incorporated into a university course so that others will hear about its impact.

Homework Exercise

The cost of living crisis has left many families struggling to make ends meet. That’s because the prices of essentials like fuel, heating and food are rising quicker than incomes.

Using the Social Change Grid, think about different activities that could deliver change for those affected by the crisis.

Start with the ‘Community’ quadrant. Record any examples of changemaking activity that you can think of. Then move to another quadrant.

We’ve included an example in each quadrant to get you started. Aim to record at least one more idea in each one.

Social change grid Homework
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