Creating a Social Movement: Frame and Build the Case

First, attract the right players and create a solid foundation for your Grand Challenge.

I posted earlier about how the work of Dr. Christina Economos has contributed to my approach to facilitating Grand Challenges. Economos, a leader in the field of social change, studied past successful social movements that shifted Americans’ attitudes dramatically on systemic societal issues. She and her team developed a critical understanding of how social movements take shape. They identified ten key elements in the creation of a successful social change model. I have adapted those ten key elements into a model for addressing a Grand Challenge and grouped them into three phases. In this article, we examine the first phase,


Frame and Build the Case.

This is where it all starts. Three elements occur simultaneously at the beginning of a Grand Challenge:

  1. Framing the Crisis: The concern must be perceived as a crisis: a clear, dramatic, threatening problem that would personally affect the audience. Until enough people recognize the severity of an issue, a social movement around it cannot gain momentum. The right framing helps everyone feel a shared sense of purpose. While it may have an aspirational side, framing it as a crisis makes it a priority.
  2. Science-based Research: To raise public awareness and motivate action, it is vital to use solid facts. The support of unbiased science is essential in making the case for collective action and individual behavior change. People rely on the quality of the evidence they receive to make decisions about where and how they will take action.
  3. Economics: Money talks. When a significant economic cost associated with a social issue is demonstrated and where cost savings can be shown as a result of behavioral changes, any plan of action stands a better chance of winning broad support.

When done well, framing and building the case will attract the right players and create a solid foundation for your Grand Challenge.

Framing the crisis lights a fire under the concern or issue. Science-based research makes the case for taking action, while economics calculates the cost of failure to act.

In future posts, I’ll unpack the second and third phases.

[click here to download the infographic]

When I am working on a Grand Challenge, I use Dr. Economos’s ten key elements of a social movement as a diagnostic tool to get a birds-eye view of where additional work is needed. Try this with your team!

Solving social problems is inherently SOCIAL-it happens in community. I’m looking for researchers, academicians, and those on the front lines who are battling overwhelming issues. The community will include leaders in all aspects of society: nonprofits, corporations, government agencies, independent agents, and thought leaders.

If you’re passionate about Grand Challenges or would like to be, visit my Medium account, where I am publishing on Grand Challenges. Let’s work together to address these sticky, systemic, complex, and wicked issues once and for all, for the sake of future generations of life on Earth.

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