Creating a Social Movement? Implement the Plan

After framing the case and gathering allies, move forward.

In the third phase of a Grand Challenge, “Implement the Plan”, synergy is spurred across the different initiatives underway. Early wins turn into sustained impact. 

At this moment, advocacy is critical, including both media and grassroots support. Where there are significant obstacles, call on your Champions to sway influencers. Use mass communications to reach large-scale audiences, raise awareness, and influence public opinion. Use the work underway to drive environment and policy change that supports the desired behavior changes.

Dr. Christina 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 and identified ten key elements in the creation of a successful social change model which I have slightly recast, grouping them into three phases.


In a previous article, I examined the first and second phases. In this article, we dive into the third phase.

Implementation Has Three Core Elements

Implement the PlanLet’s look at a real-world Grand Challenge to frame more concretely the three core concepts of implementation explored below. In 2016, the US industry group, the Certified Financial Planner®  Board of Standards (CFP Board), took up the challenge to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive profession where all contributors are supported, and one that better reflects and serves an increasingly diverse public.  This led to the creation of the Center for Financial Planning (the Center), charged with researching inclusion issues facing the profession and launching pilot initiatives to address them.

As a Grand Challenge spirals up, three elements communicate its urgency and efficacy outward to incite a social movement.

Advocacy: Raising public support is among the most effective components of group effort. (“Public” in this context means the target population rather than the general public.) This element is about communicating the case for change and recommending specific behavior changes. Dispatch your Champions to address specific challenges. Foster equity by giving voice to groups and populations experiencing the problem the Grand Challenge addresses. Their voices bring insight, power, and credibility along with realistic solutions.

For the CFP® Board, their audience was both certified financial planners (CFPs) and prospective certificants, the firms who employed them, and the institutions that train them. A crucial push was created to bring on board all college and university finance and business schools, creating more opportunities for prospective CFPs to discover and get involved with the profession. Champions onboarded the challenge at their highly visible companies, with direct financing from big, recognizable brands like TD Ameritrade, Merrill, Northwestern Mutual, and Prudential who also stepped up to sponsor yearly Diversity Summits. 

Mass Communications: To effect change at a societal level, everyone needs to get the word. Because a steadily growing number of people are getting news through the Internet and social media, while others still rely on broadcast, print, and direct mail, a Grand Challenge needs an integrated media campaign. 

For the Center, reaching those target communities—women, minorities, and young people especially—meant developing an easy-to-use career path tool on their website as well as an industry-wide job board, and unleashing a barrage of programs including numerous new scholarships and annual job fairs to attract candidates, new outreach to post jobs and opportunities in new and appropriate venues. A natural multiplier, the Center found, was executives and established planners reaching out to their alma maters, bringing them on board.

Environment and Policy Change: To induce individual behavior change, the environment around the individual must change. It should become easier to do the right thing than the wrong thing. 

For example, if you want to study finance on the way to becoming a CFP®, that college major—along with sufficient program slots—needs to be offered and accessible. One of the Center for Financial Planning’s first policy changes was to codify the curriculum and start beefing up new and existing college programs. “The more programs you have in business schools throughout  the country,” said the director of the Center at the time, “the easier it becomes to attract students, graduate them, and employ them.” 

Implementing the Plan is incredibly exciting because it’s where the rubber meets the road. It creates the impact of a Grand Challenge. By building on the earlier phases, Frame and Build the Case, and  Gather Allies, you are ready to get results!

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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