New funders who want to support the best work in reducing incarceration want to know: Where is the right place to plug in? What pieces can we bite off, and how do we choose? What are the greatest leverage points? How do we ensure that our investments don’t make the problem worse? How do we understand our investments in relationship to others? And one of the most important and elusive questions of all: How do we “change the narrative” of the dominant culture to create a real demand for criminal justice reform?

A framework called “social movement ecology,” developed by Carlos Saavedra and Paul Engler at the Ayni Institute can help donors orient themselves to this issue and thereby better navigate these hard questions.

'For a large-scale social change effort that integrates many different kinds of work and gets at root causes, I have found that the most helpful tool is the social movement ecology framework described by different wedges: personal transformation, alternatives, and changing dominant institutions.

So how can the social sector use this model? There are a lot of possibilities. In my experience, the ecology framework serves four main purposes:

  • Mapping: For funders trying to figure out where to plug in, the movement ecology framework can help assess the wedges most pertinent to their organizations (based on our various institutional commitments), as well as identify groups and people whose leadership and campaigns could have the most impact.
  • Diagnosis: When groups or leaders clash, the ecology can help assess whether that clash is interpersonal or a result of a misunderstanding between different theories of change.
  • Strategy: The framework pushes the sector to build strategies that will accomplish its goals. As mentioned above, an inside-game strategy usually needs pressure from structure organizing and perhaps mass mobilization in order to overcome serious political obstacles to change.
  • Collaboration: The ecology map helps illuminate which leaders and groups can best collaborate to amplify impact. The framework also assists funders in supporting collaboration by providing a basic common language for meeting and strategizing.

Read the full article about social movement ecology by Chloe Cockburn at Stanford Social Innovation Review.