Theory of Change

Research from Reimagining Social Change points to an approach that hinges on change at multiple levels – addressing structural conditions (policies, practices, and the flow of resources), examining power and influences (relationships, connections, and power dynamics) and transforming mental models (shifting deeply held beliefs and assumptions).

Upside-down triangle showing policies, practices, and resource flows as structural change (explicit); relationships & connections and power dynamics as relational change (semi-explicit); and mental models as transformative change (implicit).

Sustainable systems change only comes about when we shift the structures and conditions, relationships, and mindsets that create and perpetuate the problem; in this case, inequity. It requires challenging historic, existing, and often invisible power structures that have influenced personal beliefs and assumptions, relationships, access to resources, and who benefits from or is harmed by policies and practices.

The actions, behaviors, and beliefs people or groups adhere to based on invisible influence from power structures is referred to as a social norm which influences our mental models. Interventions that target social norms change are most effective in addressing and preventing gender-based violence and harassment. Social norms change involves shifting beliefs about gender roles, victimization, existing hierarchy, power inequality, and ideas about how the workplace should function.

There are multiple steps to effectively implementing social norms change. These steps require a variety of methods, tools, and interventions over multiple, distinct time periods. Identifying and defining a harmful social norm is an essential first step to developing responsive interventions. Next, through intentional engagement of all who are impacted by the existing social norm, a new expectation must be developed in order to change a harmful social norm. Finally, the changes must be effectively communicated and consistently reinforced to ensure its sustainability. As external social norms shift, internal social norms should remain responsive to continue to engage with eliminating harmful social norms and elevating social norms that promote safety, equity, and inclusivity.

Adaptive, consistent, & ongoing in a circle with the outer circle showing identify harmful social norm, change social expectations, communicate change, and reinforce the new norm with arrows between them.