December 2, 2020

For the third and final Dean’s Discussion of the fall, Harvard Kennedy School faculty members Arthur Brooks, Erica Chenoweth, and Marshall Ganz shared effective strategies that can turn social movements into lasting public change.

Brooks, a professor of the practice of public leadership at the Kennedy School and Arthur Patterson Faculty Fellow at Harvard Business School, began the conversation by identifying a big hurdle facing social movements. “Successful social entrepreneurs have an idea of something that we need. But we don’t know we need it," he said. "People resist thinking in a new way about old problems. So success is about persuasion, not coercion.” Brooks also noted the time is right to garner support for positive social change. “Ninety-three percent of Americans hate how divided we’ve become as a country. My advice: grab the 93 percent; that's the new ethical populism.”

Building on that point, Ganz, the Rita E. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing and Civil Society, added that social change happens when you put issues in the context of values. “Values open up pathways of connection as human beings care about a lot of the same things," he said. "I think canvassing on shared values is one of the very positive things that's come along, because it reasserts the significance of relationships, public civic relationships.”

It is easy to underestimate the transformative power of social movements said Chenoweth, the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs. As an example, she cited the efforts of the Parkland School teenagers who were successful in compelling a number of women to run for office in 2018 and to include gun control legislation in their message. It’s also easy to overlook success if the number one goal is not achieved. “It is true that social movements don't always have the kinds of effects that their participants would like to see," she said, "but almost no progressive change has ever taken place without one.”

Dean's Discussion: Promoting Social Change Through Public Organizing and Social Movements


Arthur Brooks Photo

Arthur Brooks

Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership

Erica Chenoweth Photo

Erica Chenoweth

Academic Dean for Faculty Engagement
Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment
Marshall Ganz Photo

Marshall Ganz

Rita E. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing, and Civil Society


Sarah Wald Photo

Sarah Wald

Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy


Douglas Elmendorf Photo

Douglas Elmendorf

Dean of Faculty, Harvard Kennedy School
Don K. Price Professor of Public Policy