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Change doesn’t happen over night. It takes time and dedication, and where movement builders often go wrong is trying to do too much too fast. To avoid this crucial error, one of the most important first steps is to determine the kind of change you want to make.

At Purpose we work on creating four types of change:

  1. Behavior change: shifting individuals’ habits and behaviors
  2. Perception change: reframing issues to change public opinion, beliefs and narratives
  3. Policy change: shaping political outcomes and decision-making processes
  4. Infrastructure change: creating channels and processes that change how change happens

The thing about change is this: in order be successful, social movements must drive toward multiple types of change over the long term. Successful campaigns, however, should focus on one type of change at a time.

What does this look like in practice?

Let’s look at the LGBT rights movement in the United States. This movement has created all four types of change, and by doing so has contributed to a profound societal shift where we now see unprecedented rights for and embracing of LGBT individuals.

But this change didn’t happen all at once. The movement is made up of countless campaigns, the most successful of which seek to advance one type of change at a time. The examples below highlight the importance of focusing on a single type of change, as well as metrics for success that can be used to track progress.

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Behavior Change: GLSEN No Name-Calling Week

By “banning” name-calling and celebrating positivity in schools, this GLSEN campaign aims to put an end to the bullying of LGBT students. Thousands of schools, with support from over 60 partner organizations, participate in the annual event. Throughout the week, students, teachers, and administrators work to shift students’ behavior by celebrating those who stand up to bullies and by holding different seminars to teach everyone involved about how to rise above bullying.

Measuring behavior change can be done in a number of ways – for example, by surveying participants before and after the campaign or through real-time observation. In the long run, large-scale behavior change can contribute to wider perception change within an organization or community.

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Perception Change: My Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding

Planes, trains and automobiles – and even a helicopter – were used in the making of this campaign, which took a playful approach to highlight the injustice of the situation of same-sex couples in the U.S. and change the narrative on same-sex marriage.

The campaign, a partnership between the ACLU and Purpose, asked same-sex couples in states where they couldn’t be married to submit their most creative ideas for traveling to a state where they could be married. Five couples received $5,000 for their weddings.

My Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding helped to change the narrative of the national debate over same-sex marriage – which had long been dominated by political or religious narratives – by using humor to depict the highly impractical and seemingly senseless reality same-sex couples faced. By reframing the issue, the campaign played a role in the larger wave of perception change happening in the U.S. at that time.

How do you measure perception change? Often, the success of campaigns like My Big Gay (Il)legal can be seen in how the media adopts new frames around issue. My Big Gay (Il)legal Wedding, for instance, got extensive local coverage in states where same-sex marriage was illegal. Thanks to the campaign, local newspapers in traditionally conservative states such as Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, and Arkansas covered the issue of same-sex marriage in a positive way.

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Policy Change: Principle 6

A great example of policy change can be seen in the Principle 6 campaign, a partnership between All Out and Athlete Ally. Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter is the non-discrimination clause; thanks to the efforts of the Principle 6 campaign, this clause now offers athletes protection from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

The campaign took place prior to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, where many people face discrimination because of their sexual orientation. Russia has a reputation for violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals, and so there was serious concern for athletes traveling to Russia as well as the LGBT community living in Russia.

Thanks to international pressure stemming from the campaign, which included a petition that received over 300,000 signatures, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declared that for the first time in history, Principle 6 would cover sexual discrimination as well.

Policy change can be measured in a number of ways. Beyond the obvious result of actually seeing the policies changed, there are incremental signs of success that are important to watch for. These can include public comments from policymakers in support of the policy the campaign is pushing for, or a denouncement of the policy it is working against. Policymakers may also adopt the campaign’s platform and messaging.

With Principle 6, for instance, key leaders adopted the message of the campaign: President Obama presented a criticism of the Russian anti-LGBT laws by assigning openly gay tennis star Billie Jean King, among others, to the Sochi Olympic delegation, while refraining from attending himself, and British Prime Minister David Cameron and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon made similar remarks during the event.

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Infrastructure Change: All Out

All Out works with its partner organizations to connect the 2 million people who have joined their community to different local and global initiatives. By doing so, All Out has raised money for everything from an LGBT homeless shelter in Poland to the Uganda Pride Parade.

Infrastructure change changes the way change happens (often through digital means). In this case, All Out is working to eliminate the distance between its members and individual efforts happening around the world, allowing for rapid support and contributions.

In their most recent fundraiser, All Out raised the $17,900 needed to support their partners in Uganda after a violent police raid, which forced organizers to cancel Pride events. The police raided a Uganda Pride event, and people were beaten, sexually assaulted, and humiliated by police. All Out reported that one young man even jumped from a window in fear.

In less than 24 hours, All Out was able to raise the funds needed to cover immediate medical and safety costs for their partners. Without All Out, the Ugandan pride organizers might have had to spend months looking for funding or applying for grants, and news of their cause would probably never reach an international audience. The digital infrastructure All Out has created made the response time for this crisis nearly instantaneous.

Big thank you to Hannah Bottum, who played an integral role in helping to author and research this piece.


Emma Bloomfield
Director of Learning