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Published -
November 15, 2021

Making change: What works?

Movements change the world. Throughout history, loosely organised networks of individuals and organisations have sought changes to societies – and won. From the abolitionist struggle and campaigns for voting rights to #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, the impact of movements can be seen everywhere.

To better understand what should be true of a movement for it to better realise change, the Youth Endowment Fund commissioned the IPPR and Runnymede Trust to investigate what has worked for other movements trying to solve complex, seemingly intractable social problems, just like youth violence.

The IPPR and Runnymede Trust’s report explores what worked and didn’t work for four movements from recent decades. These were: LGBTQ+ rights, race equality, climate action and health inequality.

The insights in this report will shape our work, as part of the movement to prevent children becoming involved in violence.


Insight 1: Evidence alone cannot change the world
The most effective movements seek to change the goals of society relating to their cause and the mindsets of those with power and the public at large. For example, the LGBTQ+ movement has helped transform attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people and, in turn, has shifted institutions and wider society from a position of persecution to greater equality.

Insight 2: Movements need a well-developed ecosystem of influence
Our research suggests that the most effective movements seek to build three key characteristics:

  1. Breadth (diversity): The ecosystem has a broad range of different groups and activities, from rebels (such as Black Lives Matter (BLM), Extinction Rebellion and OutRage!) to reformers (such as Runnymede, Green Alliance, Stonewall). This allows movements to simultaneously push for change from different perspectives, using different methods.
  2. Depth (capability): The ecosystem’s groups have sufficient resources and ability to undertake these activities effectively including money, talent, and knowledge. This often requires philanthropists to crowd in funding.
  3. Inter-connection (community): The ecosystem is well connected, whether tangible (such as formal convening organisations) or intangible (eg trust and shared language). This allows organisations to specialise and coordinate change activities – ensuring they add up to more than the sum of their parts.

Insight 3: Successful movements are rarely organic: they require active cultivation
The most effective movements have active ‘cultivators’. These organisations do the work that is in everyone’s interest but no-one’s individual responsibility.

Insight 4: Successful movements prepare for and then harness external events
Throughout history, high-profile events that the status quo cannot explain or effectively respond to are catalysts for change. These events can offer a movement the chance to increase the reach and perceived significance of their cause – as well as reframing how the public or powerholders see it. They can also disrupt or catalyse new sources of power.

Insight 5: Movements must mine their assets – and address their limitations
Movements differ in ‘what they have to work with’ when seeking to make change. Movements that have the biggest chance of success focus on issues that are relatively simple and which impact a large population who can be mobilised to support change. Causes that are more congruent with existing systems or norms are more likely to succeed.