Social Change: Tipping Points and the Psychology of Engagement

Posted on June 23, 2015 by


Crowds_via-JJordanI’m not a psychologist, but I’m a student of why people do what they do. I’m especially intrigued by the dynamics of engagement. When causes two people to connect? What allows group energy to transform a team into a crowd? What are the tipping points of social change?

In the social change space, this is a critical topic.

Non-profits and early-stage change movements must spark engagement on demand, and do so repeatedly over time. Success here can be a make or break factor. We’ve talked in past chat’s about engagement as a “ladder” – a useful metaphor that helps us visualize different rungs or levels of engagement. Awareness might be the first level. A ‘like’ or ‘RT’ might be one above that. Telling a friend might be one above that. Perhaps next is writing a check. And so on. At the top, we find people living and working where change is happening around them, hands on, fully immersed, and as committed as can be.

To me there’s an inflection point on that ladder, a place where the level of commitment jumps from ‘passive’ to ‘active’.  That’s where some magic happens. It may be rare. But it’s at the core of large-scale success in this space, the holy grail of many social entrepreneurs. The inspirational forces that create the mental ‘hook’ must be potent, intuitive, and high impact.

What motivates social tipping points? What must be present? Let’s discuss.

  • Q1. Is common ground enough to grow group engagement, or is something more needed?
  • Q2. How do we build and/or inspire the critcal mass necessary to ignite a large-scale, possibly global spark?
  • Q3. At what rung of the ‘Engagement Ladder’ does passive turn to active engagement?
  • Q4. Does every social change movement or NFP experience a tipping point?
  • Q5. Can tipping points be managed and orchestrated? Or do they simply happen if they happen?

The study of complexity may help us a bit here. Large groups of people basically represent social ecosystems. If there’s critical mass in such a system and the conditions are right, tipping points can happen.

But they say complex systems can’t be controlled. Is social change thus left to chance?

I hope you find our discusions of social change as exciting as I do. We meet each 4th Wednesday at 1pm ET, using the hashtags #smchat #socialchange to track our conversation. Please join us. We look forward to comparing notes.

Chris aka @sourcepov

Posted in: Social Change