When Social Change Fails

Social Change and Activism Research is an integral component of social psychology because they are the forces that propel society forward and keep public issues away from constant stagnation. The key ingredients to social change include mass mobilization, social action, citizen participation, public advocacy, popular education, and the development of local services (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012). The beauty of social change is that is unites a community and shows the importance of awareness for public issues in order to ignite the force that is social change. The following post will discuss how important public advocacy, popular education, and citizen participation is when it comes to social change issues. The article discusses the failure of a 2010 educational overhaul in Newark, NJ due to a poorly executed plan for social action.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review posted an article titled “Community Engagement Matters (Now More Than Ever)” that describes the how a well-meaning educational reform completely failed due to poor community education and involvement. In 2010, Chris Christy, Cory Booker, and Mark Zuckerberg announced their plan to invest over 200 million dollars into Newark’s educational system. The plan was announced via the Oprah Winfrey Show. They expected the well-kept secret plan to go off without hitch; however, after their big announcement the entire plan completely flopped. According to the article Christie and Booker “adopted a top-down approach because they thought that the messy work of forging a consensus among local stakeholders might undermine the reform effort…installed a board of philanthropists from outside Newark to oversee the initiative, and hired a leader from outside Newark to serve as the city’s superintendent of schools” (Barnes and Schmitz, 2016). Rather than excite the members of the community, the community was left in the dark and the plan failed because the community members felt the plan did not meet the needs of the real issues effecting Newark’s education system. The community was completely blind-sighted and outraged: “Instead of unifying Newark residents behind a shared goal, the Booker-Christie initiative polarized the city” (Barnes & Schmitz, 2016). By 2014, 77 local ministries pleaded with Booker and Christy to drop the initiative due to the unbearably toxic environment that resulted from it.

The attempt for social action failed to educate the community properly, failed to draw a consensus from actual members of the community on what the issues were first, failed to excite mass mobilization and bring attention to the issue before the plans were released, failed to engage citizens and failed to create public advocacy from members within the city of Newark. The plan was a well-kept secret that the lawmakers unveiled swiftly onto an unsuspecting community, and the lawmakers failed to overcome the social boundaries necessary to induce social change in an underprivileged city.

The Barnes & Schmitz (2016) article stresses that in order to have successful social changes, the leaders must treat community members as “active partners.” Citizen participation is important in order to create a successful foundation for social change. This community empowerment will urge members of the community to be more actively engaged in social change and feel a sense of ownership over the changes: “It’s important, in other words, to view community members as producers of outcomes, not just as recipients of outcomes. Professional leaders must recognize and respect the assets that community members can bring to an initiative” (Barnes & Schmitz, 2016).

This is a clear example of how a well-meaning plan for social change failed to reach its estimated potential due to its failure to involve critical components for social change such as citizen participation, public advocacy, and appropriate education.



Barnes, M., & Schmitz, P. (2016, March). Community Engagement Matters (Now More Than Ever) (SSIR). Retrieved April 14, 2016, from http://ssir.org/articles/entry/community_engagement_matters_now_more_than_ever

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

1 comment

  1. Clearly, social change doesn’t always go the way its instigators want it to. Another good set of examples of this phenomenon can be found in an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review from little more than a year and change ago, if not in the exact same boat, than in the same general part of the lake.
    The first social enterprise they mention is Change.org, which has been wildly successful. It’s very easy to see and extrapolate just how much influence a very simple form of social change enterprise can exert, if it’s marketed right. The real trick is that they understand how the business world works. According to the article, “Ben Rattray and his team have not only succeeded in furthering their social mission, but they have also succeeded in creating a thriving business” (Nee, 2015). This fact appears to be critical in making social change happen. The article goes on to discuss the reverse effect with other enterprises, such as a restaurant who set up to donate their profits to charity, and a manufacturing company that set up in Liberia to assist with rebuilding the local economy. Both of the latter enterprises failed, and the social change their founders sought was not achieved (Nee, 2015).
    I think it’s important to recognize that simply having an idea, or the results of research, is not enough to implement social change as its been discussed during the course of the week’s lesson material and other posts. It needs to be well thought out, carefully molded, and executed with a solid business strategy to make it viable. If you can’t pay the cost of social change, said change won’t happen.

    Nee, E. (2015). Learning From Failure. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Feb 18, 2015. Retrieved from http://ssir.org/articles/entry/learning_from_failure

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