The SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University has published three cases about the choices and dilemmas that confront groups of people who strive to make social change. These are like business-school cases: they are factual narratives that conclude with moments of choice that are meant to be discussed in groups, whether in high school, college, or in movements and organizations.
I am proud to have played a role in the project from the start. We felt that cases are really useful for teaching and professional development, but most actual cases provided by business schools, schools of public policy, and wonderful initiatives like The Pluralism Project and Justice in Schools focus on individual protagonists. We were interested in voluntary groups that must deliberate before they can choose. David Moss’s excellent Case Method Project does some of what we intended, but its focus is on high schools and American history, whereas we wanted to serve social movements with some current examples.
These are free, and we would love to know how they work in various settings.
What objectives, targets, strategies, demands, and rhetoric should a nascent social movement choose as it confronts an entrenched system of white supremacy? How should it make decisions?
The Montgomery, Alabama, Bus Boycott of 1955–1956 is a classic example of a social movement episode that accomplished its immediate goals despite severe obstacles. It catapulted the 26-year-old Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. into international prominence and launched similar episodes in many American cities across the South and then also the North. By investigating their situation and choices, you can develop skills and insights to use as activists today.
Should a faith-based organization take on an issue not of its choosing? Can relational organizing help its leadership support a new mayor while also engaging their base and holding their coalition together?
This is a case study about an organization in Minnesota called ISAIAH, a faith-based organization that works to expand the power and influence of people who have often been overlooked, especially poor people and people of color.
This case examines what happened when, to support a new mayor with whom the organization wanted to work, ISAIAH became involved in a divisive issue—not of its own choosing—that revolved around garbage. ISAIAH faced at least three choices: 1) stay out of the fight over garbage; 2) use mobilizing techniques to help the mayor win the garbage issue; or 3) use relational organizing to enter into a power relationship with the mayor in the garbage fight—even though most of the people in ISAIAH’s networks didn’t care much about the issue.
Can faith-based organizers garner enough support to win universal preschool in a racially divided city? How should a grassroots group manage a disagreement with its own powerful coalition partners?
This case study is about the AMOS Project, an organization in Cincinnati, Ohio, and its grassroots efforts to pass legislation that would provide preschool education for most of the city’s children. AMOS’s grassroots efforts increased the political pressure to pay for the program, but at one point, the whole effort seemed likely to fall apart. How could a grassroots network of congregations manage a disagreement with allies in the business community and achieve its goals?