Harnessing the potential of social movements, and generating impact at scale

29 February 2016


Reported by Tom Pryke, ESRC-funded CSaP Policy Intern (February - April 2016)

A Policy Workshop held in collaboration with Friends of the Earth, the Nesta Health Lab and the Cambridge Institute of Public Health, brought together a wide range of Policy Fellows from the health and environment sectors to discuss the role of social movements, innovation, and impact at scale.

Chaired by Dame Fiona Reynolds (Master, Emmanuel College, and member of CSaP's Advisory Council) the workshop kicked off with several short opening statements on how the health and environment sectors are uniquely placed to co-benefit from developing a better understanding of social movements – and the potential for generating impact at scale – with Cambridge being identified as an ideal testing-ground for collaborative efforts.

"Changing a population's health requires radical changes in behaviour"

Participants were then invited to consider (i) how people's identities and relationships shape action (and subsequently how a sense of 'membership' is advantageous in engagement), (ii) the importance of the scale of social movements, and (iii) how best to harness effective local-scale action and reconcile this with central government.

"The world isn't going to change by relying on fortuitous tipping points"

A roundtable discussion further explored these points and looked towards successful broader initiatives that had occurred in extremely different circumstances – e.g. the anti-smoking and pro-recycling movements – to see what lessons may be learned.

Discussions further considered the importance of environment on behavioural change, and the importance of focusing on creating the conditons for change, rather than over-relying on instrumental design. There was a feeling that a shift in approach was necessary, and that a co-ordinated effort was required for it to be successful.

The workshop concluded with a focus on how best to move forward, and a number of practical suggestions were made for future collaborative efforts. The need for continuing cross-community dialogue was acknowledged, both amongst the Cambridge community and further afield. Nevertheless, the energy and dynamism of the event did offer 'threads of hope', and the workshop was largely regarded as an excellent catalyst and platform from which future efforts could build.

(Banner image courtesy of Crispin Semmens via WikiCommons)

Dame Fiona Reynolds

National Audit Office