Common problems

The table below lists a few common causes of why collective action activities may cease, and provides suggestions for how you and your change team can respond.

Problem Area Details Suggestions for addressing the problem
Lack of support

A lack of support and unwillingness to participate in the social movement leads to a reduction in collective action efforts.  Similarly, apathy can hinder or limit collective action efforts. This may be due to uncertainty or a lack of agreement regarding the shared concern or desired change, or in the role and agency of frontline staff as informal leaders and change agents.

If individuals or groups feel the social movement is a gimmick or not new, or they perceive the social movement as not credible or valuable, they may limit their participation or openly criticize collective action.

Seek to understand the concerns of individuals about taking action.

Consider reframing the shared concern or desired change to make it more meaningful to others, and use change agents and other influencers to build support and momentum.

Reconsider timing if support remains low due to competing priorities.

Limited engagement by change agents

Change agents self-determine their level of engagement. This can be reduced for many reasons, such as:

  • the social movement is at its early stage;  
  • there is a lack of clarity regarding how to get involved;
  • it is unclear if all change agents are welcomed and encouraged to get involved and be part of the change; 
  • the emerging leadership of change agents is not fostered, and the social movement lacks strategic direction; and 
  • the social movement is in appearance only, and the roles and leadership of change agents are limited to those determined by others, such as senior management teams.

Be inclusive and welcome anyone who is interested in getting involved and being a change agent.

Develop a list of actions that change agents can take.

Limits to individual and/ or collective agency

Individuals may want to take action, but do not know how to advocate for a cause or are fearful of publicly taking action due to perceived or actual risks. This may stem from their personal experiences of lacking power due to disenfranchisement or discrimination. 

Individuals may be resistant to take individual and collective action, because of fear of uncertainty, ridicule, rejection, or possible losses (e.g., job loss).

Remember that personal conviction or intrinsic motivation is more important than formal skills or positional power. Don’t worry if you lack skills or a formal job title.

Be aware that many social movements have been led by people who are motivated by a strong personal mission.

Strive to be as transparent as possible regarding any potential risks involved with engaging in individual and collective action.

SOURCES: Bibby et al., 2009; Carson-Stevens et al., 2013; Hilton & Anderson, 2018; Waring & Crompton, 2017; White, 2001; Wynn et al., 2011.