The TL;DR key points
2. Assembling an annotated bibliography about metachangemaking
3. The development of models of metachangemaking
Models of metachangemaking
How do we make “changemakers”? Put differently, how do we empower people with the motivation and efficacy to make a positive impact, to contribute to the wellbeing of humanity?
I’ll assume you’re already interested in this question, perhaps for reasons which I discuss in this other post here. Kuhan Jeyapragasan and I were talking about this, and an idea came up in our discussions: we can explore this question by doing research into so-called “models of metachangemaking”.
What is a “model of metachangemaking”? Well, let’s back up and look at a few concepts here.
As mentioned, a “changemaker” is just someone with the motivation and efficacy to make a positive impact on the world. Defined broadly as such, it encompasses terms that refer to more specific kinds of changemakers: examples include “weavers”, "altruistic leaders" or “effective altruists”, for instance.
“Metachangemaking”, then, is the process of making changemakers. It is a process reflected in the work of educational programs: for example, those by the Weaving Lab, by the Arete fellowship at Stanford University, by FUNDAEC and by others.
A “model” of metachangemaking is then a set of ideas or assumptions about metachangemaking—about how to make changemakers, as such. Every attempt to make changemakers explicitly or implicitly involves such models. For example, many such programs face the challenge of motivating people to make a change. To do this, some programs motivate participants by fostering empathy and concern for the suffering of others. Other programs reflect assumptions about human nature or about a motivating sense of purpose that humans should have to contribute to the advancement of society.
These different approaches to metachangemaking reflect different models. On some models, empathy and the awareness of suffering are important motivators; on other models, particular views about human nature and purpose are important motivators.
If we look at the landscape of metachangemaking, we’ll then see a diversity of models of metachangemaking.
This post is about how we might do research into these models—what I call “model research”, for short. Ultimately, this is the task of collecting, evaluating and developing of models of metachangemaking.
The ideal outcome of this is threefold.
First, to have a database of different models throughout the world, and this would ideally be as comprehensive as possible.
Second, to have an annotated literature of important work that bears on models of metachangemaking.
Third, to develop a comprehensive, evidence-based model of metachangemaking.
This last point may need some clarification. By an “evidence-based” model, I mean a model where careful attention is paid to the evidence about whether the model actually works. For example, as mentioned, some models motivate changemaking through empathy, and others motivate through particular understandings of human nature. For these models to be “evidence-based”, there would need to be evidence about whether, for instance, motivation is actually enhanced through such empathy or through such understandings. And of course, they would need to be "evidence-based" in the sense that the content of the program is putatively factual and supported by evidence: it ideally wouldn't reflect implausible assumptions about human nature, for instance.
But aside from being evidence-based, the model would also ideally be “comprehensive”. By that, I mean that the model would ideally feature a complete description of all of the main parameters of a metachangemaking process. What do I mean by “parameters” of a model? I’ll explore this in the next section.
Parameters of models
Speaking somewhat metaphorically, parameters are just the dimensions along which models can vary: two models may both consider how to motivate participants, but one might motivate participants in one way and the other might motivate them in a different way. In this case, they differ along the dimension of motivation insofar as they each have different ways of motivating participants.
So motivation is one parameter of models of metachangemaking. What are others?
Well, I’ll give you what I think is a list of salient parameters soon, but I’d first like you to consider the question by yourself: if you were to create a model of metachangemaking, what are the parameters you’d need to consider? And I ask this question because if I don’t bias you with my opinions first, perhaps you’ll see things I don’t, and if so, I’d love to hear from you as to how you answered the question differently.
Anyways, now I’ll share what I take the main parameters to be.
One set of parameters concern who is involved in the program and where it occurs. Here, there are different approaches: for instance, some programs work with adolescents since they are seen as more open-minded to exploring changemaking, while others focus on young adults since they strike a right balance of open-mindedness and capability.
Then there are motivational parameters, as discussed earlier, and we saw some examples of how programs can vary in this respect.
Then there are parameters about how to develop the competence or efficacy to be a changemaker. And again, there are differences here: some programs aim to develop competence by encouraging participants to think in terms of specific forces in society, while others even teach such things as Bayes’ theorem.
Then there are also practical parameters, and by that, I mean parameters concerning how changemaking is then to be carried out in practice during or after an educational program. For example, some programs have coordinators whose job it is to accompany the graduates of their programs while they carry out acts of service to society.
Then, there are also what we might call “metaparameters”. These are about features that are external to the content of the program, so to speak. They’re not features of the program, but they are still features that are about it, in some sense.
One such parameter concerns how people go about implementing the program: do they approach governmental organizations, for instance, or do they disseminate their research via online or other outlets in the hope that their models will be implemented? This parameter, I take it, also involves the problem of how education research and innovation is implemented into various programs—that is, the problem of how research is translated into impact.
Another parameter concerns how the programs are evaluated: for example, is a program evaluated based on the number of people who voluntarily choose to participate, or is it measured based on metrics of impact after a 15 year period?
That then, is an overview of what I take to be the main parameters of models of metachangemaking.
To summarize, these are:
A research program: components and impact
Model research is then research about any or all of these parameters of models of metachangemaking. Kuhan and I are eager to do this as our time permits, along with the help of others according to their interests and availability.
How, then, could we implement this research program?
Well, as a first suggestion, it could include at least the follow three components:
The first is a Google sheet of models of metachangemaking. Each row corresponds to a particular model of changemaking, and then some columns could refer to the parameters—with each cell being a brief summary of that parameter for the model (e.g. how it motivates participants). The idea is to gradually populate this sheet, developing a more and more comprehensive list of models. To develop this, we’d need to collaborate with various organizations, such as the Weaving Lab and the Center for Effective Altruism.
The second component of the research is an annotated bibliography in the form of a Google doc. It would ideally contain subject headings and key literature that is relevant to each of the parameters.
The third component is a collection of materials from different programs on a Google folder. For example, some programs would have syllabi or other participant materials that could be included in the folder. Of course, for privacy and other reasons, these materials wouldn’t be publicly accessible. They would be accessible only to those working on the research program, and they would be obtained with explicit consent from the relevant organizations.
These three components would then comprise the bulk of the program.
Of course, all this could require considerable work, but it might not be that daunting--for several reasons. First, many hands make light work: if many people are working on it over a long period, it could be easier to carry these things out. Second, even small contributions help, and so people can make a contribution to it without feeling burdened by further expectations or commitments. Third, progress has already been made in this area. For example, the Arete fellowship already has something of an annotated bibliography that is relevant to this area.
Those, then, are the components of the research program. Once they have been carried out, though, how would the program make a difference?
Well, it might do so in different ways. A report could be generated which summarizes the main findings of the program, and this could be distributed to various organizations, many of whom would be interested in it. Further, if people are interested, it could lead to spin-off projects that develop, work on or implement specific models of changemaking. The annotated literature and sheets could also be distributed and made available for organizations and individuals that are concerned with metachangemaking. And of course, other avenues might be attractive in the future too.
Just some ideas—but always open to more!