How Change Happens: a framework, some case studies, and some reading

Why are ‘change studies’ not a recognized academic discipline? Politicians, social movements and NGOs think about little else, and portray themselves as ‘change agents’, but the intellectual basis for thinking about political and social change seems particularly arbitrary and threadbare. In discussions on this issue at various book launches and seminars, a few people have asked for references, so here goes:

In an annex, From Poverty to Power sets out an initial framework for analysing change, arguing that it can be disaggregated into four kinds of components:

  • Context (big picture stuff like demographics, new technologies)
  • Institutions (both formal and informal)
  • Agents (including active citizens and effective states)
  • Events (economic crises, natural disasters, elections)

The book argues that understanding change involves unpacking how these different components interact and generate particular pathways of change. Here’s a graphic that tries to show the interaction with the core theme of the book, active citizens and effective states.

The book then applies this methodology to eight case studies:

  • A revolution and land rights for Bolivia’s Chiquitano people
  • Winning women’s rights in Morocco
  • African success stories: Botswana and Mauritius
  • Winning pond rights in the fishing communities of Tikamgarh, India
  • South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign
  • India’s campaign for a National Rural Employment Guarantee
  • The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty
  • The 2005 Gleneagles agreements

Unfortunately, these are not available as separate PDFs, so you’ll have to download the relevant sections of the book here.

This work in turn draws on two main sources, an excellent background paper by Roman Krznaric, comparing the change models used in 14 different academic disciplines, and some pioneering work on ‘drivers of change’ by DFID. It’s also worth looking at Sue Unsworth’s paper for a recent ‘how change happens’ panel we organized at the Development Studies Association annual conference in London. I’ve also blogged before on shocks and change, and complexity, chaos and change.

I’m keen to develop this work further, not least because Oxfam GB has introduced a process of ‘national change strategies’ through which each country programme has to conduct a three yearly national change analysis on which its work should be based, and we need a decent toolkit for analysing change. All suggestions for further reading welcome!

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4 Responses to “How Change Happens: a framework, some case studies, and some reading”
  1. Lianna

    I think your Annex link has broken! Can you please repair?

    Thank you so much for making your book open access. As a newcomer to Theories of Change, brilliant to find so much all in one place.

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