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The Mechanics of Culture Change

While each culture campaign is unique in its issue and the communities it engages, we have found that successful culture campaigns hold three common threads: Intended Results, Core Principles, and Best Practices.

We share them with you here in the hope that this will spark meaningful progress on issues that matter to you and your community.

Intended results

  1. A successful culture change campaign will engage more people. More resources will become available, and more partners, leaders, and ever-better ideas will emerge.
  2. The issue will move beyond divisions of politics, culture, geography, socioeconomic status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, class, race, ethnicity, age, and disability.
  3. The momentum will create space for policymakers to act, regardless of political party, by changing the paradigm in which we all operate.

Core Principles

  1. Focuses on shared connection to the issue and common experiences, even though people’s “whys”—their motivations for participating—may differ.
  2. Actively, authentically engages with new communities who previously haven’t felt at home in the movement.
  3. Centers on the willingness and ability of regular people to work together.
  4. Encourages everyone to take action in ways that work for them.

Best Practices

  1. Well-designed, thoughtfully conducted research yields essential structure: problem definition, agreed-upon mission, and a clear solution. Importantly, the research process also organically engages new experts, develops community relationships, and builds greater understanding among all who care about the issue.
  2. An empowering, positive, and unifying brand, connected to everyone’s shared values, knits together powerful creative, maximizes exposure, and inspires broadly. It’s important to seek top-notch, social media-savvy brand partners (donated or paid: here’s some inspiration).
  3. Mass exposure with diverse messengers. Culture is all around us and culture change campaigns must be everywhere, delivered by unusual messengers. Here, a top-notch comms planning media partner is essential (again, donated or paid).
  4. Lots of ways to get involvedmore on-ramps. If you ultimately want to change attitudes and assumptions, you have to give individuals many opportunities to behave differently. By elevating stories of everyday people taking action in all different ways, you create a new normal: “It’s just how we do things here.”
  5. Define metrics of success and set benchmarks. Culture can be amorphous, so it’s easy to brush off the notion of measuring the success of a culture change campaign. All the more critical, then, to design rigorous evaluation to assess progress on long- and short-term goals.

We’d like to leave you with one galvanizing thought: a culture change campaign is built on trust.

Trust is why you invest up-front in relationships and community-building in communities that care about the issue but are not typically engaged in the issue’s mainstream movement. You create space for authentic, community-driven conversations centered on connecting to and caring about the issue. 

Trust allows you to partner with leaders and organizations to develop meaningful action plans with their communities. With that knowledge, you can then leverage resources from the issue’s mainstream movement and from philanthropic and corporate partners to directly support them.

When a culture change campaign is built on trust, you take the hardest and most potent step: lose central control and let a thousand flowers bloom.

Related Reading

  1. this Kurston Cook

    Imagining a Black Power Index

  2. this Katie Fox

    Evaluating Power Building: A Paradigm Shift for Evaluators

  3. this Lindsay Hanson

    Case Story: The MacArthur Foundation’s Approach to Evaluation and Learning

All Insights