Engaging the Power of Collective Action

This week marks the 29th anniversary of the arrival of the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament in Washington D.C. after a nine month trek on foot across the United States. Participating in the peace march with a thousand other committed souls was a defining era of my life, in part because of the sense of collective action I built with others.

There is something about joining in collective action that is incredibly inspiring, uniting a group of passionate people who are actively working to create a better world. The relationships we built survive to this day; we continue to inspire each other with the myriad ways we are interacting with our world to create positive change.

The peace march was undoubtedly a unique situation, but a sense of collective action is something that is of benefit to any organization. Collective action is defined as a collection of individuals acting as a cohesive unit (in person or virtually) in which they have adopted a shared definition of a problem.[i] Working together and sharing meaning creates a sense of belonging and loyalty to the organization, the cause, and to each other.

Nonprofits can think of their communications with members and the public as one of the building blocks for collective action. Social movement scholars recognize that there are three components to any persuasive message calling for collective action: a diagnosis of the problem, a proposed solution (prognosis), and a call to action. Using an example promoting gun safety legislation from the League of Women Voters of Oregon:

  1. Diagnosis: What is the problem? Who is responsible? “There are critical loopholes in current background check legislation.”
  2. Prognosis: What is the solution? “Legislators need to know these are common sense health and safety measures, not infringements of Second Amendment rights.”
  3. Call to action conveying collective value and urgency: “This is too important for Oregon not to move forward. Help make your vote count.”

The diagnosis, prognosis, and call to action all help to create a shared understanding of the issue and a sense of collective power and urgency. Next time you are writing any type of communication intended to change attitudes or behaviors, think about including all three components in order to build a sense of collective action, whether planning a cross-country march or simply circulating a petition.

Image used with permission © 1986 DanCoogan.com, 602.220.9192, All Rights Reserved

[i] Bert Klandermans, “Framing Collective Action,” in Media and Revolt: Strategies and Performances from the 1960s to the Present, ed. Kathrin Fahlenbrach, Erling Sivertsen, and Rolf Werenskjold (New York, NY: Berghahn Books, 2014), 41–58.

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