We’re the Metachangemakers Project, an interdisciplinary team of researchers based primarily at Stanford University.
In this post, we’ll describe the “what”, “why” and “how” of the project—in other words, we’ll explore what we do, why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it.
What is the Metachangemakers Project?
The world faces many challenges: climate change, racial injustice, corruption and gender discrimination, to name only a few.
We use the term “changemaker” to refer to individuals with the motivation and self-efficacy to make a positive impact on the world and to address its challenges. We believe that often everyone benefits from making a positive impact on the world. This includes the changemakers who themselves often derive meaning and satisfaction from making a positive impact. And we also believe that the world would be a better place with more changemakers.
We use the term “metachangemaking” to refer to processes and programs that aim to cultivate changemakers. For example, one historically important program was run by the Highlander Folk School, a program attended by students who eventually contributed to the Civil Rights Movement, including John Lewis. More recent programs include, for example, the initiatives supported by the Ashoka Foundation as well as FUNDAEC’s efforts throughout Latin America to foster within individuals both the desire and capacity to contribute to the wellbeing of their societies.
As a team, we study such processes and programs to better understand the process of metachangemaking.
Why be interested in the project?
There are several reasons why we think this project is important.
First, we see the cultivation of changemakers as a uniquely powerful way of making a positive impact in the world. For instance, the world faces many problems, and helping to make many problem solvers may be better than just being one problem solver. (In fact, one of our researchers has a blog post discussing its potential impact here.)
Second, the world faces a growing number of important challenges which compromise the well-being of humanity. Examples include the multiple exigencies of climate change, racial injustice, inaccessible healthcare, pervasive poverty, the pervasive mistreatment of women, potentially unsafe use of powerful technologies, pandemics, global catastrophic or existential risks and growing mental health concerns. Each of these problems is profoundly important, in some cases claiming countless lives and negatively impacting the lives of millions more--including future generations. Society needs a growing number of capable changemakers if it is to successfully address these and the myriad other challenges confronting our world. Metachangemaking aims to help address this need by fostering such changemakers.
Third, the process of metachangemaking is fascinating in its own right, touching on topics such as what motivates individuals, what wellbeing consists in and what it takes to be an effective agent of change in today’s world.
So that is a little bit about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
Now for the question of how.
How do we carry out the project?
Ultimately, we’re interested in understanding the most promising approaches to metachangemaking—that is, in understanding the most promising processes or programs that make changemakers.
How, then, do we do this?
First Step: Program and Literature Research
In investigating any topic, a first step is to get a sense of what we know about it, what we don’t know about it, and what we need to know about it. For instance, every scientific paper starts with something of a literature review, especially to show how it is contributing to questions that have not already been answered.
In this respect, we think there’s two salient sources of knowledge about how to make changemakers: first, various programs which aim to cultivate changemakers on the one hand, and, second, the academic literature which touches on pertinent topics on the other. We call the project of studying such programs “program research”, and we call the project of studying the academic literature “literature research”.
Both of these projects have tangible outcomes. The program research would yield a “map of metachangemaking”—that is, documentation about the different efforts to make changemakers throughout the world. Such a map might be useful to distribute to various programs in order to foster a network of metachangemakers.
The literature research would produce an annotated bibliography—that is, a guide to some of the literature about how to make changemakers, supplemented with useful comments and summaries. The bibliography would touch on various topics, such as how to foster the motivation, skills and mindsets that are important for changemaking. It would also ideally feature historical cases studies that illustrate metachangemaking or various theories about it—as well as other kinds of informative research, such as experiments.
The program and literature research would also give rise to a report of the lessons learned by metachangemakers, the challenges they face, and potentially useful next steps for the practice of metachangemaking. This would be valuable for practitioners of metachangemaking, such as those who design and implement programs for cultivating changemakers.
All of these outcomes would facilitate the first step of the project: that is, advancing our understanding of what is known and what we need to know about metachangemaking.
Second and Third Steps: Original Research and Model Development/Implementation
A second step is to conduct any necessary original research about metachangemaking. This might include, for instance, developing theories about some aspect of metachangemaking or conducting original experiments to advance our understanding.
This would then lead to a third step: developing and implementing models of metachangemaking. By a “model” of metachangemaking, we mean a fairly comprehensive set of ideas about how to cultivate changemakers: on some models, for example, changemakers are cultivated through imbuing people with a sense of identity as a changemakers and having a network of coordinators to accompany them in carrying out specific acts of service to society. These and other models reflect specific ideas about how to cultivate changemakers. And when it is possible, we are interested in building on these ideas and testing them in practice.
This project and the others are all depicted in the graph below.
The ultimate upshot of all of this, we hope, is a valuable contribution to the wellbeing of humanity—to help change the world for the good of all. We welcome all who are interested to join us in this effort!
Authors: The Metachangemakers Project (with helpful comments from Ollie Stephenson and Brandon Reynante)