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  • Writer's pictureJames Ozden

Highlights from Social Change Lab's 2022 Research

It’s Social Change Lab’s first year anniversary! It’s been a pretty busy year, and we’re very grateful to everyone who has supported us so far, whether that’s feedback on our work, sharing it, donating, or giving advice.

We’re reflecting on some of our research from the past year, and wanted to share some pieces we thought were particularly interesting and relevant, in case you missed them. We also wanted to highlight some good media coverage of our work, such as by:

  • The Guardian, who covered our work on the radical flank effect and polling of Just Stop Oil from April 2022

  • Deutsche-Welle (DW) also covers our April 2022 polling for Just Stop Oil, with generally a great overview of the evidence base behind activist tactics.

  • New Statesmen who covers our more recent polling from November 2022, finding evidence that increased awareness of Just Stop Oil leads to increased support for moderate climate groups. (See an unpaywalled link here).

  • Vox discusses where the most effective climate donations might be, and discusses our cost-effectiveness estimate for Extinction Rebellion (an older piece of work of ours).

  • Stanford Social Innovation Review - I (James) wrote a piece for SSIR in April 2022, which turned out to be their 10th most popular article of 2022! In this, we cover some of the reasons why philanthropists might consider funding grassroots social movements within their portfolio of giving.

Without further ado, here is some notable research we produced last year, in no particular order:

What was our key takeaway or finding? Over a week of disruptive protests by Just Stop Oil, where they blocked the M25 motorway around London, we found support for and identification with more moderate climate organisations increased by a statistically significant amount.

Why did I think this was interesting? This was the first time this effect, the radical flank effect, had been studied in a ‘real-world’ setting for an ongoing campaign, using public opinion polling. It backs up experimental work on the same topic (e.g. Simpson et al., 2022) so it felt like a real victory to have lab results confirmed by empirical evidence in a more applied context. Also much to my surprise, we didn’t actually find that people disliked Just Stop Oil at the end of the campaign, as we found in our previous polling for JSO from April. I predicted this would happen, and I was quite surprised to see this. We’ll be releasing additional analyses of this work intended for academic publication in the next month or two, so keep your eyes peeled.

For Twitter-inclined folks, you can see (and share!) some key findings of this survey in this Twitter thread.

We released this report fairly quietly, and it didn’t get too much attention, so I wanted to flag it as offering some interesting insights from social movement organisations (SMOs). In short, we conducted an informal survey of 16 individuals from 13 different SMOs, working on climate change or animal advocacy. We did this because we wanted to understand what are the perceived bottlenecks that hold SMOs back from achieving more impact, and what could be done to best support SMOs in being more effective.

What was our key takeaway or finding? There were several interesting findings from this report, but I’ll just pull out a couple:

  • The mean salary across all the organisations we surveyed was $29,000, and the median was $24,000.

  • The top 3 reported limiting factors for SMOs to have greater impact were:

1. A lack of qualified and capable unpaid activities and volunteers

2. Lack of public awareness about the issues they were campaigning on

3. Difficulties with internal culture and conflict.

  • Almost 75% of organisations think they could spend additional money even more cost-effectively than they currently do, due to being able to take on larger projects, particularly around mobilisation and comms.

  • 67% of an organisation’s total funding came from their single largest donor, on average. Relatedly, there was a strong desire for increased funding diversification.

  • There is a clear need for movement trainings, particularly in campaign design and volunteer mobilisation, as well as operational support with fundraising, finance and other administrative tasks.

Why did I think this was interesting? In terms of tangible information about how SMOs operate, I think this report provides more information than most places (e.g. size of orgs, salaries, their biggest concerns, key priorities with additional funds, etc.). It also underlined the importance of trainings in terms of movement building, particularly in key areas where organisations felt like they didn’t have enough internal experience (campaign design or volunteer mobilisation).

This is also one of the few places we provide concrete recommendations to funders who want to support social movement organisations, so if that's you, check out our report!

3. How effective are protest movements? Our summary report from July 2022

This report was the culmination of our work looking at the outcomes of protest movements, whether on public opinion, policy, voting, corporate behaviour or public discourse. It was our first large report, and pulls together evidence from our literature reviews, expert interviews, public opinion polling, and case study on Extinction Rebellion (see all of this individual work on our research page).

What was our key takeaway or finding? Again, we had several important findings here, but a quick summary of them would include:

  • Voting behaviour across four protest movements was influenced by approximately 1-6 percentage points, observed via natural experiments.

  • Shifts in public opinion of 2-10% were observed, across both experimental and natural experiment settings.

  • Protest can significantly influence agenda-setting and public discourse, encapsulated well by Dunivin et al. (2022). The authors find that Black Lives Matter protests generated attention for relatively novel concepts, such as systemic racism of prison abolition, that persisted for six months after the protests concluded. Specifically, the authors find that daily visits to the Wikipedia pages for “systemic racism” is 5.5 times greater six months after the George Floyd protests, relative to the previous year.

Why did I think this was interesting? To my knowledge, there had been no overviews or summaries of all the protest outcomes literature, making our report a novel contribution. We tried our best to highlight all the key outcomes that SMOs are trying to achieve, whether that is shifting policy, influencing public opinion, shaping discourse, voting behaviour or corporate behaviour. One key outcome we didn’t include, primarily out of time constraints and limited data, is the impact of protest on movement-building. This is another key outcome that can lead to long-term successes of social movements, so I hope further research by ourselves or others can include this component.

For the rest of our research, check out our full research page here! If you're interesting in donating to support our work going forward, you can do so here.


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