If social change campaigners are going to make the shift towards being, in Steve Andersen's words, "scientists for change"--that is, that we learn by creating hypothesis, performing experiments and collecting data on the results--then one thing we need as is some simple shared language for accurately describing the different types of campaigns that we are working on. Everybody knows, for example, that a political campaign is different from an advocacy campaign, and that a MoveOn campaign is different from a campaign to pass a bill through a state legislature. But up to this point, we've lacked a clear framework for objectively describing those differences.
Why does this matter? Well, if our work is fundamentally about performing experiments--and trying to repeat and build up on others' experiments, then we need to be able to accurately describe the kinds of campaigns upon which we're performing those experiments, so we can provide meaningful context for our results. Too often, we simply say, "These were our results; your mileage may vary," which is true as far as it goes. But imagine how much powerful it would be if we could say, "We performed this intervention on a group of campaigns consisting of Type X and Type Y, and found that it was effective for Type X, but not for Type Y."
Most other scientific disciplines have as part of their body of knowledge some kind of taxonomy that describes in objective terms the relevant qualities of their subjects. For example, river geomorphologists have several taxonomies they use to classify sections of rivers--which, like campaigns, are long, constantly adapting to their environment and changing it as well!
I believe that the Web of Change community is in a unique position to be able to develop a taxonomy of social change campaigns, and that if we were to do this, it would be a significant contribution to the ongoing conversation in our discipline. What's more, such a taxonomy could become a signature piece of enduring intellectual work that could be owned and refined by the Web of Change.
I'll be leading a session at WoC 2012 to explore these ideas and being a collaborative process to create a taxonomy that helps us more accurately describe our campaigns and understand how to better replicate our experiments in different contexts.
My quick top-of-mind brainstorm goes like this:
I found an interesting 2002 article that looked at public communication campaigns and proposed the following taxonomy:
Purpose: behavior change <> policy change
Scope: targeted <> broad
Maturity: younger, informal <> older, formal
How would you taxonomize campaigns? What are the most important attributes that can help us distinguish campaigns from each other, and understand when a tactic or experiment is likely to be repeatable and relevant?
Better yet, do you know of any prior work on this topic?