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Theories of change

What theories of change do activists use in their work? Watch this video to find out.

Activism is about making changes in society, but there are many theories of change that can underpin the work activists do. A theory of change can be understood as a description of why a particular way of working will be effective, showing how change happens in the short, medium and long term to achieve the intended impact [1].

In this video you will hear from our course contributors about the theories of change they have found useful for their own thinking and activist work. Deji’s work is grounded in the idea that social change requires us to put pressure on bodies of power by organising through democratic organisations and/or the workplace. Savena and Arda are guided by the principle of using creativity to make complex topics accessible so that others can participate in making changes in society. Peaks has been inspired by adrienne maree brown’s ‘Emergent Strategy’ approach, which advocates for change that emerges when people come together in a critical mass. They also emphasise the importance of working with a diverse range of people who bring essential perspectives to bear on topics of activism. Evani has found theories around racial capitalism, de-colonialism and abolition useful for grounding activist work. Yadira is driven by the idea that change can come about by increasing access to knowledge, tools and other resources. Our contributors also share why they do or don’t think it is important to have an articulated theory of change.

You have now heard a range of perspectives about theories of change. Which resonated the most for you? Are there any you would like to put into action in your work as an activist? Share your thoughts in the comments below. We invite you to read and respond to others’ comments too.


NVCO Knowhow, 2020. How to build a theory of change

United Nations Development Group, 2017. A perspective of theories of change from the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF)

Ashia Ajani, 2020. A reflection on how author and activist, adrienne maree brown, has contributed to rethinking how (and why!) we organise

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