Our approach to change

Organizing is a practice of leadership whereby we define leadership as “enabling others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty” – Marshall Ganz

Our approach to change

Our approach to change is an adaptive community organizing and public narrative practice that equips people with the leadership skills and capacity to respond with the agency to the challenges of today. It is born out of decades of organizing experience, complemented by insights of social science, and tested through training campaigns on the ground.

These practices were developed by Marshall Ganz, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, and his associates. The framework remains alive and evolving, constantly being applied and adapted by the Leading Change Network community and taught to new cohorts of leaders each year. So far, 32,000 people have been trained.

Practicing leadership – enabling others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty – requires engaging the heart, the head, and the hands: motivation, strategy, and action. We believe there are five key leadership practices: public narrative, relationship building, structure, strategizing and action. Our framework is based on mastering these five core leadership practices.

Public narrative

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? If not now, when?”
Rabbi Hillel, 1st century Jerusalem sage

Leadership requires enabling your people to respond to challenges that confront their shared values with purposeful action, as opposed to reaction. Public narrative can be a way to access the emotional resources required to do this. In our pedagogy, public narrative consists of three stories: one’s own story (story of self), that of one’s community (story of us), and that of a current moment of challenge (story of now),

This articulation of the relationship of self, other, and action is also at the core of our moral traditions.

Relationship building

Leadership in organizing is based on relationships. Organizers build relationships among members of a constituency to create a commitment to achieve a shared purpose. Relationships are rooted in shared values.

One way we can locate shared values is by sharing stories of self. Another way to look at relationships is as exchanges. We each have certain interests and resources. Since most of us cannot realize our goals by relying entirely on our own individual resources we need other people in our lives with whom we can create productive exchanges.

Through relationships, we understand shared common values, identify common interests, and develop the resources we need to act on them.


Leadership is crucial for any successful campaign, but leadership is not about one person. It is the practice of a team. Structuring a team is a strategic choice. We build distributed leadership teams, in an interdependent leadership model (in a snowflake structure) that strengthens commitment and responsibility for different areas of work, and continuously brings out new leaders and space for them to develop their leadership skills.


A strategy is how we turn what we have into what we need to achieve what we want. Because of the uncertainties we face, strategic action is an ongoing creative process of understanding and adapting to new conditions, and reflecting and re-strategizing throughout the journey. It is both analytic and imaginative; figuring out how we can use our resources to achieve the goals to which we aspire. Rooted in a theory of change, our strategies provide a roadmap that takes us from where we are today to achieving our desired change in an ever-changing environment.


Moving our people to action ties everything together. Organizers mobilize and deploy resources to take action based on commitments they secure from others. The way we mobilize resources influences how we can deploy them and vice-versa. But whatever the constraints, acting requires mobilizing others to commit time, money, energy, and often, courage. Action also usually takes the form of tactics we deploy to achieve strategic goals. Here we mobilize others to commit time, money and energy. We also develop the creative tactics needed to achieve our strategy and catapult our work to other parts of the community, thereby bringing more people into our campaign.

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All over the world, organizers, leaders and organizations are adopting and adapting these five leadership practices to build power within their communities, campaigns and organizations.