Finishing a 2nd Edition of How Change Happens – here are drafts of two new chapters for you to read. Comments please!

September 26, 2023

     By Duncan Green     

I spent the summer toiling away on updating How Change Happens. Luckily the weather was pretty rubbish, so I didn’t resent it too much. Most of the chapter updates were just that – adding more recent stats, a few new references, a generally more sombre take, given that the first edition appeared just months before Brexit and Trump. But there is one new chapter on digital activism, and the final chapter is a complete rewrite, so I thought I would put both of these up on the blog and ask for your comments (did this for the first edition, and they were invaluable). Tight deadline though – need comments/suggestions by 3rd October please.

Conscious of my (numerous) limitations, I asked my LSE colleague (and digital native) Tom Kirk to write the digital chapter. Here’s his intro:

‘In 1967, Buffalo Springfield released ‘For What It’s Worth’. It quickly became one of the most famous anti-war protest songs for a generation of Americans incensed by their country’s actions in Vietnam. Yet, it was inspired by a series of clashes the year before between Hollywood police and young people demonstrating against recently passed loitering laws that threatened to end the Sunset Strip’s liberal night-time economy. The memorable tune opened with the lines:

There’s something happening here / What it is ain’t exactly clear / There’s a man with a gun over there / Telling me I got to beware / I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound / Everybody look what’s going down

Those words were never far from my thoughts over the course of the early 2010s. Only the word ‘gun’ was replaced with ‘mobile phone’, and I was watching huge protests unfold, on- and off-line, in places and over issues that many had mistakenly written-off as stagnant, unspeakable, or oppressed. I also had a sense that by sharing content, changing my profile picture, signing emailed petitions, and debating developments with friends and acquaintances in chat groups that I was somehow part of them. This is despite being thousands of miles away, unfamiliar with the lives of the people on the ground, and with little in the way of certainty about what their overall goals or endgames were. 

This period was marked by techno-optimism. It centred around the growing belief that new information and communications technologies (ICTs), specifically the internet, were eroding old bastions of power and presenting new possibilities for those trying to create change. At the forefront were giant social media platforms owned and operated by well-known companies such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook. With instantly recognisable logos and zeitgeisty mottos such as ‘Don’t be Evil’, ‘What’s happening’ (Twitter, now X), and, albeit internally, ‘Move fast and break things’ (Facebook, now Meta), they promised new ways of connecting, sharing information and acting upon it. 

Writing in 2023, this optimism has largely dissipated. Elites in countries that experienced waves of protests during the 2010s have been able to return to power in different guises, governments routinely shut down the internet, opponents go online to hound activists and particular identities, and it is increasingly difficult to verify the veracity of digital content or even who its real authors are. As people increasingly live their lives online, there is also growing pessimism that their digital footprints are making them easier to track and control across all facets of existence. Others argue that persistent digital divides – gaps between those with access to and the capabilities to benefit from ICTs – limit the potential of digitally mediated activism, making it a pastime of the privileged. And AI may accelerate these trends in the coming years.’

Lovely writing, here’s the full chapter for you to comment on.

As for my new concluding chapter, here’s the rationale for the rewrite:

‘When this book came out in 2016, I was very reluctant to provide too much direction – I wanted activists to understand the importance of power and systems and the limits to their ability to change them, but also to show that by learning to dance with such systems, they can contribute to some of the wonderful changes going on in the world (and help defend against the dark stuff). 

Since the book was published, I have worked with hundreds of brilliant LSE students and senior aid sector leaders to discuss and refine these ideas, and I am now prepared to be a bit more propositional. Working with people from around the world trying to bring about change in the most difficult of circumstances, I think we have some useful ideas on how to bring about intentional change. Deep breath, here goes.’

At which point, the chapter takes readers through a sequence of exercises to explore problems and power, identify ‘points of entry’ for influencing, and then analyse stakeholders and what might persuade them to support, or at least stop blocking, the campaign in question. See what you think.

Here’s the full chapter. You can leave comments on the blog, or send them to me at dgreen[at] If you want to refresh your memory on the whole book, it’s Open Access here.

The book should be out in Spring 2024 – don’t worry, I’ll let you know!

September 26, 2023
Duncan Green


  1. Thanks a lot for making the chapter available and I am looking forward to read the book! I love the term log frame on steroids 🙂
    Some thoughts:
    1 People spend a lot of time on analysis – in my experience what is missing is the orientation of the analysis (what for?), too much pleasure on the cognitive side and being able to teach others afterwards. I try to get people to access their implicit knowledge as well, often hard to formulate, perceived as less important, however opens up so much more space for including local knowledge. The question looming in the background is: which type of knowledge is accepted?
    2 Next obstacle as you pointed out very well ist the bridge from analysis to drawing conclusions, in particular if they lead out of the comfort zone. Parallel to the analysis you need work to prepare people to deal with their biases.
    3 Looking at the fishbone analysis: it is more a collection of symptoms than analysis. I do not see it going deeper to detect patterns linking up the symptoms. The patterns would be a basis for ToC (for me)
    And there is a tendency to miss out on belief systems driving dynamics as much as behaviour or influences from the context.

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  2. The examples (Malawi and assessing who might matter to menstrual health) are pretty clear and the tools useful.

    I think for me, the implication that doesn’t yet shine through is around what is valuable. Given the existence of complexity and power dynamics, and the understanding that the work to be done is around contestation and change strategies, it suggests that certain intermediate steps (fostering unusual alliances, and building relationships generally; surfacing and sharing understandings of different issues; finding ways to frame social change that resonate with key audiences in a strategic rather than tactical sense) may be more important. This goes beyond entry points to achieve short-term change X, and asks for some reconsideration of what we value as “progress” toward long-term change (or perhaps, what distinguishes early steps in movement building from quick wins that don’t amount to much over time). See Guerzovich/Aston on layering, or TAF on coalition support over time (, on what might be different and more important outcomes.

    I think this could help move beyond more effective analysis at a tactical level. It gets at the product of a humbler and more realistic understanding of how change happens as a strategic engagement with powerful, dynamic systems that we hope to affect.

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  3. One of the dilemmas of an advocacy organisations is who do you prioritise. The people you are working with who would benefit from the change or constituencies that fund the change process to which you are acvountable. While working with religious conservative groups in Pakistan one could begin a slow, unglamorous process of building trust around problems they think important, and leveraging the power you have gained, to initiate a slow and cumbersome but sustainable process of change; or you could walk into the same group and begin change activities which few understand with a bang build up a story of heroism for the constituencies supporting you but end up doing more damage than good. Good advocacy must be rooted around problems people you want to change think are as important as you think

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