Social Change Wheel
In 2020, we introduced the Social Change Wheel 2.0 Toolkit featuring an updated Social Change Wheel that includes an inner ring of campus-based strategies that align with larger efforts for social change. The toolkit also includes reflective activities to help put the wheel into action in your work, on your campus, and with your community.
More than 15 years ago, Minnesota Campus Compact released the original “Social Change Wheel.” This image and document has served since to help students, staff, faculty, and others consider the wide variety of means available to make social change and how they fit together with the work of higher education. Over the years, this conception has been used as a tool for facilitation, reflection, education, and planning. Change is the driving force behind the Social Change Wheel, and so it is no surprise that while systemic issues persist and many ways to work toward social change have remained constant, our understanding of both social problems and solutions has grown and deepened over time. It is for this reason that we set out this year to update this resource to match our current context. Rather than use the disorientation of our current moment as an excuse to abandon community engagement, let us leverage this opportunity for reflection and creativity to chart new pathways forward together.
Our context has changed dramatically after COVID-19 as distance became a primary factor in our social lives, our learning design, and our partnerships. The direct service that we often rely on will be more difficult and in some cases not possible in the coming year. Nonprofit organizations are also more overwhelmed than usual responding to current demands with reduced resources. Those planning for the fall semester on campus continue to face multiple uncertainties and challenges, while at the same time, knowing that higher education’s commitment to community and civic engagement has never been more urgent. We recognize, too, that new challenges, tools, and strategies for social change have also sprung from our larger cultural shift to mobile computing, social media, and personalized media and information environments.
Our current moment has further reminded us that we must speak up, educate, and engage our communities in dialogue and action about systemic racism. The disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color has shown the pervasive and deeply-rooted inequities in our nation, as well as the reality that we each experience the world every day in dramatically different ways based on race. The death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis and the movement that followed made it clear once again that anti-racism, equity, and co-creation must be at the center of all we do. Social change must center the voices of those most impacted and must always consider the disproportionate impact on communities of color, especially addressing the ways in which anti-Black racism is firmly entrenched in our dominant systems and culture. Faculty and others planning community-engaged learning and experiences should ensure that reflection and learning about systemic racism is a part of any course that seeks to engage with social change.
With all of this in mind, we created the Social Change Wheel 2.0 Toolkit, which includes updated visuals, definitions, and planning resources with the goal of helping our network think creatively about how to sustain partnerships and expand community-engaged learning. The Social Change Wheel centers on anti-racism, equity, and co-creation, and has two rings: the outer ring focuses on ways to make social change broadly, and the inner ring focuses on the variety of campus-based strategies. The new design showcases a variety of possible alignments from center to campus-based strategies to ways to work toward broader social change, which we hope will activate your imagination and help to bring new perspectives and ideas to the table.
Some things to consider as you review the updated wheel and activities:
- Community needs must come first. While this is always the case, it is not always practiced. At times we start with our learning outcomes and try to design a project around those in a way that doesn’t center community needs. Community members and nonprofit staff in the moment have to focus on their immediate needs. We have to find ways to learn about those needs from them and then design courses and opportunities that fit.
- Flexibility is imperative. Students this year will be in a variety of situations with some able to come to campus and some not and some comfortable going off-campus to organizations and some not. Project-based community engagement offers opportunities to give students choices in their role in the project in ways that meet their health and safety needs and skills.
- Not all social change happens off campus. Students, staff, and faculty this fall will be facing trauma, economic insecurity, and more. We also know that the racism and injustice seen off-campus also lives on-campus. Additionally, students who do return to campus will need to follow the guidance of health professionals to stay safe. All of this means that we don’t have to go off campus to find needs that require social change. Focusing close to home offers great learning opportunities as well as more control over safety and security.
- Not all social change requires a community partner. As mentioned above, the burdens on nonprofit staff are extreme and are likely to remain that way for some time. Despite their interest, they simply may not be able to serve as a higher education partner for the time being. One reading of the wheel involves considering what elements of change happen outside nonprofit organizations and considering those. This may also mean using web sites and publicly available information to gauge the needs of partners and creating responses to those needs without requiring their active participation.
It’s important to remember that social change requires all parts of the wheel working together. This means focusing on the parts of the wheel most relevant to you and your work. It also means respecting the role that other parts play and considering how they fit together to create the world we want to see. We hope you’ll take the new wheel for a spin, and let us know how it helps to inspire change in your work, on your campus, and with your community.
Other related resources:
- The Social Change Wheel Model video overview, University of Minnesota Center for Community-Engaged Learning
- Social Change Wheel: Voting & Formal Political Activities video overview, IAMNCC
- Civic Agency Workshop: Social Change Wheel, IAMNCC
- Pathways of Public Service & Civic Engagement, Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University