Monday, 31 May 2010

Social Movements and Healthcare; a confused application of theory?

I am perplexed by the rhetoric of applying social movement theory to healthcare. It seems strange to me that those in charge, with the power are creating what they they believe are "social movements". I suspect they are usefully taking some learning from social movements and then applying this learning to improve both project and programme management performance. This is a good demonstration of organisational learning and improved programme management.

My understanding of a social movement is it is started by the powerless, the forgotten voices. These people are united by a common cause and willingness to belong of a group identity. They push against those with power because they believe what the transformation change they desire is morally important, just and necessary. Anyone who opposes the social movement is seen as corrupt and unjust. The social movement wants to change the laws, wants political and social impact.

So when the power-full start to talk about creating a social movement I am a bit at sea. Yes, leaders can be trained to tell stories and speak with more passion (good leadership practice), though I believe the passion that social movement leaders exhibit is one of deep moral justice. This cannot be implanted into someone's heart or soul (let alone by those who hold the power)

Social movements are not narrow interest groups. They seek social transformation. An example in England right now is the EDL (English Defence League). They exhibit all the signs of a social movement. They are organised into divisions, protest, annoy those in power, and have a strong personal sense of what they believe is right.

How do social movements start? I suspect they are not created in the corporate boardroom. Certain events may trigger one as the publicity garners activist together. It could also be a compelling leader who knows how to speak to their people. Or a new generation that no longer wants the status quo. Teachers, writers and evangelists have also triggered movements.

Those power-full who want to create social movements are also perhaps ignoring the messiness and darker side of the process. Movements push against something. It is often not pleasant to be part of a process where the push against the established way of thinking results in a physical, intellectual and emotional battering. However, it is this side of the movements that provides their success. There is a persistency that only passion can bring. Taking just the nice bits and ignoring the other consequences is irresponsible.

Here are some tips if you are the power-full and want to try and benefit from the power of social movements.

a) find out who is doing what already on your area of interest. Can you support, in the background, so they move from being an interest group to something bigger (note, you work through them and don't enrol them into your own power-based program)
b) find out who the leaders are that people listen to, and support them to get their message heard. You will recognise a social movement leader when their rhetoric gets under your skin...
c) build in the story telling and organising principles of social movements into your own programmes, but know, always, that the goals of the program are yours from the power-full and may not be those of the grassroots.
d) If you are a corporation or large organisation then the grassroots are your customers - not your employees
e) when you feel a push against your power, stop, think and listen. In there may be the seeds of the same change you want, just presented differently.

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