Making change happen

Emily Gillingham Active citizenship, Influencing, Innovation, Participation and Leadership, Rights

Oxfam GB’s Head of Publishing, Emily Gillingham, explains why and how we developed a free, online course for changemakers, and what the early results show.

I’m hoping this course will help me focus my objectives a bit more and discover what small but important steps I can take towards promoting change, changing minds and minding our community.” This comment from one of our learners sums up why we developed the Make Change Happen course.

Inspiring, provocative, with hands-on activities that really help put together projects and actions to implement change.” And this comment, posted at the end of the course, gives us hope that we managed to deliver something that will help grassroots activists and community organisers to change the status quo.

The background to the idea

Seeing­­­ how power works, what the context is, where the levers of change are, and involving others are all key ingredients to achieving meaningful sustainable social and political change.

Sharpening awareness of how to influence change and increasing knowledge of our own assumptions and unconscious biases, while being adaptive and curious about where the possibilities for change lie, can all have a major impact on our confidence and effectiveness as changemakers.

Many activists already know this, and Oxfam runs skills-based workshops with changemakers and civil society organisations around the world to teach it.  We also present this learning through influencing guides on our Policy & Practice website, and the Influencing series on this blog.

We wanted to find an effective alternative way to share our learning with people anywhere in the world, so that they could directly apply it the changes in their communities and contexts. And we wanted to provide a space for people to connect and learn from each other’s experience – to deliver an experience of ‘collective action’ in practice. So, the idea to develop a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) took root.

The numbers

Make Change Happen is that MOOC and opened as a free, online course in October 2018. At 8 January 2019, 4716 people have enrolled from 156 countries. The UK, India, Spain, the US, and Australia are the top 5 countries while Philippines, Nigeria, Kenya, Brazil, Vietnam and South Africa are also in the top 20 by registrations. 2825 people have started the course so far, and 873 have taken part in the online discussion forums.

People have shared their aspirations for change, their challenges, what inspires them, self-awareness, and what they have found useful along the way.

These have been rich with shared experience and insight, outshining the learning content provided.  People have shared their aspirations for change, their challenges, what inspires them, self-awareness, and what they have found useful along the way.  They have also shared their plans for change; ambitious, heartening, and positive proposals for tackling a wide range of important issues.

Developing the course

We set up a core content team and a broader Reference Group to gather input from across the organisation and beyond at critical points in the course’s development. They provided case studies to illustrate the different ideas and connected us with changemakers who could share their stories.  Including the voices of those working now on social, political and environmental issues from different kinds of organisations in different contexts we felt was critical to support the learning.

One of the first things we did was to establish who the course was for and for what purpose.  We settled on three target ‘personas’, including a community organiser, a rural NGO programme manager, and a curious digital activist.  We referred back to what their needs and goals might be throughout the development to ensure the content was at the right level.  Our evaluation plan will help to tell us whether we pitched it right for that audience and what changes we should make for the next run.

We also had valuable conversations with others who have developed MOOCs in similar fields, such as the University of Cape Town’s Becoming a Changemaker, Amnesty International’s courses in human rights, the World Bank’s Citizen Engagement course, INASP’s courses for researchers, and the team behind the University of Oxford’s From Poverty to Prosperity.  We are grateful to all the colleagues and partners who contributed their ideas and experience to the project.

Early on we recognised that we would need a partner organisation who could provide deep expertise in distance learning and help us to turn content ideas into an actual course.   Open University provided this, supporting us with drafting the initial outline, creating videos and animations, and building quizzes and interactive elements. They also brokered our partnership with Futurelearn, a top MOOC platform with a strong focus on ‘social learning’ that supports peer to peer discussion.

The process of developing the course has been a real learning experience, sharpening our own thinking on change and how to effectively drive it.

Where next?

The first run of Make Change Happen will close towards the end of December although those who upgrade can gain ongoing access to the content and discussions.  We will soon have a good idea of how many learners completed the course and what their feedback is. We also invited around 30 individuals to act as ‘critical friends’, giving us specific areas for improvement.

In January, we will work with OU and Futurelearn to make changes to the course. For example, we already plan to combine some of the steps, and remove some of the jargon that managed to sneak in!  We will reopen it in March 2019, and again in June.  After that, we will re-evaluate the project before committing to future runs.

Time will tell what the real impact will be on the skills and confidence of changemakers around the world.  We intend to follow up with those who opt in to hear how their learning has impacted their approach to change processes.  Our ultimate hope is that the learning journey provided here gives power to people addressing unfair, inequitable economic, social, political and environmental situations wherever they are.  It is a contribution to the change that we wish to see in the world.

We are very grateful to all the learners in the course who have engaged so positively and with such passion to the discussions and given us feedback along the way.  We wish everyone the very best of luck on their change journeys!  To stay in touch, please join Oxfam’s changemaker community or follow our Influencing blog series.


Martin Lubajo