Publication Day for How Change Happens 2.0. Here’s what’s changed.

June 13, 2024

     By Duncan Green     

The second edition of How Change Happens is published today, while I am loafing on a beach in Thailand and discovering the joys of digital nomadism (tough gig, etc). Publication day is always exciting for the author, and a matter of complete indifference to everyone else. Hey ho.

I’ll be posting a few bits and pieces connected to the new edition over the next few days. Once again the publisher, OUP, has kindly agreed to go straight to paperback, with a nice low price of £9.99. But even cheaper, the Open Access version has gone online today – it made a huge difference to the readership of the first edition, and I’m sure the same will be true with HCH 2.0.

Let’s start with what’s changed since the first version, published in 2016.  Note the date – it came out just before Brexit and Trump 1.0. Nightmare. Reading it again for the update last summer, the overall impression was how a cloud of pessimism and self-doubt now surrounds what I will call the  progressive enterprise of social change. That happy (smug?) sense of the arc of history bending towards justice doesn’t look as convincing – at the very least, the arcing looks like it could take a lot longer than we thought.

I reflected that in the book in various ways. A greater focus on how bad things happen/learning from the bad guys, a discussion on populism, drawing on Moises Naim’s excellent book,  and much greater attention to the global crackdown on civil society organizations, which has come to feature so large in INGOs’ concerns.

But I didn’t change the basic message of the book, which is that intentional change remains possible; activists can get better at it if they add a dash of analytical ‘reflectivism’ to their anger and courage. Quixotic? Optimism of the will? We’ll see by the time the third edition comes around I guess.

There are two other big changes. Firstly, my LSE colleague and friend Tom Kirk kindly filled a gap that was already present in the first edition, but which had become unmissable by 2024 – a new chapter on the role of digital activism. He’s writing a separate piece on that, so I will leave it to him (as a techno-neanderthal I should avoid writing about these things if at all possible….).

The third is the final ‘so what?’ chapter. This is quite a big evolution. In 2016, influenced by systems thinking, the critique of the linear planning mentality in traditional aid, and the essential unknowability of the future, I opted for a cautious ‘power and systems approach’, saying.

‘‘Unlike the conventional toolkit, with its typologies and checklists, I have settled on a combination of questions and case studies (lots of them). Together these can act as an engine of imagination.’

I still think questions and case studies are the way to go, but have added a third element. A more structured way of moving from an initial problem or goal to a change strategy, which has incorporated the lessons from 7 cohorts of LSE Masters students on our ‘Advocacy, Campaigns and Grassroots Activism’ course, and the fascinating conversations around the training on influencing we have been doing with a number of senior aid leaders. (That’s why I was in Thailand, before the ‘teleworking’ on the beach).

Central to these insights is the value of working through an issue in a fairly logical way. Here’s what the new edition says:

‘Most advocacy starts with a problem: climate change risks, violations of rights, absent or inadequate public services—the list of things we want to fix is endless. The trick is not to jump straight to our preferred solution, but to spend time unpacking the problem—there is even an apocryphal (sadly) quote attributed to Einstein: ‘If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it’. How I wish he’d actually said it!

There are several ways to unpack problems, which all basically do the same thing—start to unpick the many contributory factors in order to identify some promising ‘points of entry’ for influencing. In 2022, participants in one of our aid leader influencing courses gave up their lunch hour to construct an Ishikawa or ‘fishbone’ diagram’ around a problem they were all facing—vaccine hesitancy among the populations they were working with, mainly in East Africa. Here’s what they came up with:

They identified broad categories of causes (in the boxes at the end of the larger bones), and within those, sub-causes. They then looked for suitable points of entry based on some criteria: Is it important for your goal (in this case reducing vaccine hesitancy)? Does it look winnable? Do you or your organization have credibility/leverage on this issue? Are other organizations already doing it or are better placed than you?

This kind of starting point allows you to wrestle some sense out of a complex problem such as the reluctance to get vaccinated, without oversimplifying the causes. It uncovers some entry points you may not have thought of (if pharmacies are spreading rumours because they are annoyed about being cut out of the business, let’s get them involved). Finally, if, as often happens, your first efforts fail, it is easy to go back to the fishbone in search of other points of entry that might prosper.

Once you’ve picked a point of entry, it’s time to go back to the discussion on power. What kinds of power (e.g. visible, hidden, invisible) are relevant in solving/perpetuating the problem? What kind of redistribution of power is required?

The next step is to think about that clunky word, the ‘stakeholders’. Who makes the decisions you are trying to influence? Who might want to block them? Who are the ‘influentials’ who can sway both decision makers and blockers?

Invest time in understanding the stakeholders, then map them on a simple 2×2, where the two axes represent level of influence and level of support for the thing you are advocating for. Here’s an example from one of my LSE students on getting free menstrual products in Malawi’s schools:

In this case, the goal is changing formal rules (laws, policies, spending commitments), but mapping stakeholders is equally helpful when addressing norm shifts; it’s just the players that are different.

Once  you’ve identified the broad stakeholders, keep digging. Take the Malawian Ministry of Health—who is more important in getting rid of the tax on menstrual products? The Minister? The Permanent Secretary? A more junior civil servant? Is there a parliamentary health committee that can apply pressure?

Next, put yourself in their shoes: what might persuade them to support your campaign? Conversations with those affected? A piece of well-communicated research? The right messenger—someone they fear or respect? Or is it better to wait for a ‘critical juncture’—a moment when change becomes more possible, such as an election, or a crisis? Some influences are more below the radar: is your issue part of a historical legacy? How does it resonate with prevailing ideologies, religion, culture, and values?

Then (and only then) is it time to move on from analysing the problem and the system to ‘so what do we do?’, a combination of overall aims (strategies) and specific actions (tactics). The key point here is that the strategy and tactics need to reflect your understanding of the problem and the stakeholder mapping. If you just default to the kind of activism you always do, you’ve just wasted a lot of time doing the fishbones, etc.!

I still have nagging doubts about being this prescriptive, but the feedback from practitioners at all levels has been so overwhelmingly positive, that I have kept them to myself for the moment. See what you think.

Like all authors, I am shamelessly keen to promote the new edition, so if you want me to come and speak/launch/buy you lunch in return for a few sales, let me know.

Coming up: commentaries from Robert Chambers and Ha-Joon Chang and Tom Kirk on digital activism.

June 13, 2024
Duncan Green


  1. Pleased to hear there is a new version of this book. I look forward to diving in – please make sure it gets to Blinkist too (for lazy readers). Congratulations Duncan.

Leave a Reply