DFID is changing its approach to better address the underlying causes of poverty and conflict – can it work? Guest Post from two DFID reformers

October 10, 2014

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October 10, 2014

9 Ways to get northern constituencies involved in changing the world: useful typology

October 10, 2014
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Like everyone else, if Buzzfeed is any guide, I love a good list. I’m also increasingly obsessed with theories of change. So imagine my joy when I read Exfamer May Miller-Dawkins’ theoryofchangepaper ‘9 Ways to Change the World’, which offers not one, but two lists.

The paper is an attempt to come up with a typology of the ways organizations try to engage northern constituencies on global issues, but as an added bonus, it throws in a useful set of 5 ‘meta trends’ that provide the backdrop to their efforts:

  1. Geo-political shifts: decline of the North, rise of the G20 etc
  2. Migration, identity, and connection: ever denser networks of connections between individuals across the world, including migrant Diasporas. ‘Here’ and ‘There’ just not as divided as they used to be.
  3. Interdependence and learning: resource scarcity, climate change, rights – if we’re all in this together (to coin a phrase), a northern ‘us’ lending a helping hand to a southern ‘them’ doesn’t fit any more
  4. Science and technology: A great enabler of communications and contact but of course, open to abuse and no substitute for politics and power
  5. Space for citizen action: The rise of civic activism has been rapidly accompanied by attempts to repress it. Civil society space is very messy and in many places, dangerous. What role if any is there for more privileged northern citizens to give some backing?


Each of the nine theories of change gets a few pages, including an exploration of who has agency, and what kinds of tactics and infrastructure are required. They are:

  • Charity (self explanatory)
  • Market-oriented aid funding (supporting business and social enterprise)
  • Mutual aid and cooperation (preferred by many Diaspora communities, but also fairtrade and open source tech, for example)
  • Behaviour change (eg transition towns or changing consumption patterns)
  • Building empathy and global citizenship (often linked to school curricula, but also volunteering)
  • Social mobilisation (often involving campaigns to change government policy or practice)
  • Monitory democracy (scrutiny across borders by civil society or media)
  • Leadership and international networks (lots of programmes invest in ‘leadership development’ through training, scholarships etc. Affirmative action can help tilt the make up of such leaders to combat social exclusion.
  • Meta-movements: much looser ‘living life differently’ movements, eg Occupy. Aim for  a different way of living more than specific policy changes.

I want change


According to May:

‘These models demonstrate a variety of conceptualisations of where change is located, who the agents of change are and what infrastructure or tactics are required to bring about such shifts. Some models underscore the role of the nation state and domestic formal politics, while others privilege the local, or alternatively, transnationalism and global pathways to change. Some models reflect old realities of the dominant power of the ‘north’ and large INGOs, while others bypass traditional institutions and rely on direct connections.

Our hope is that people trying – in their various ways – to contribute to global justice will find this a useful framework for reflecting on and even reconceptualising their own approaches.’

Which is really the point – if they’re any good, typologies of this kind widen your mental map, pointing out some of the approaches you haven’t thought of yet, and which might be worth trying out.

And here’s their effort to squeeze all that into a monumental infographic




  1. Duncan, greetings from Manchester.
    Why ‘northern’ constituencies and not all hard-hit constituencies?
    Not a loaded question, just curious why you’ve singled out the north (btw I’m glad that you have since the theory of change is about to bee-come reality here in Manchester….sorry (worker) bees are symbolic in Manchester and I can’t get them out of my mind!).
    Mike, from Manchester!

    1. fair enough, but I think there’s a category difference between getting people to take action in their own interests (eg trade unions, social movements), and taking action in solidarity with people in other countries/situations. Would you agree? (and I’m assuming we’re both talking global North-South, not Manchester-London!)

  2. Would I agree?
    I guess so.
    I believe that it’s in everyones interests to take action that is collective and meaningful.
    By defining collective action, making it measurable, and by making sure it is attributable to an individual, we can – if we are collectively willing – develop a new way of measuring success (versus GDP which is of course no longer fit for purpose).
    Sorry i was talking about Manchester/London in my comment on the north! (Forgot how big you guys are!).
    Anyways, Manchester is developing its new economy around sustainable investment – you should find a way to get involved somehow or other since it’s all about collective action and sustainable behaviour.
    Thanks, Mike.

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