Communicating Evidence to Drive Social Change

Many people tend to have a sense that things were better in the past. Yet most all data of social welfare show a strong positive trend over time. Take crime rates. Most of us tend to feel that the world is a more dangerous place than it use to be. But actual crime statistic show that crime rates have fallen significantly over the last generation.

The problem is that our ability to communicate the individual case (the robbery that happened in another state, the murder that happened in another country) is dramatically better than our ability to communicate the total picture (the fact that you had much higher chance of being robbed or murdered in 1990 than you do today.

That’s one of the reasons effective communications can be so powerful. Even when we are doing things right, if most people feel that things are going wrong then we have little chance of continuing the activities that are leading to positive change.

For an excellent example of powerful communication, see this short video of statistics professor Hans Rosling showing how global standards of living have changed over time (this video is new for those of you who have see Rosling’s videos in the past).

(Click here to see the video if you are viewing this in an email)

What if every foundation created one video of this sort that powerfully communicated the most important information they knew of that was related to their mission? Image the power of a library of hundreds of evidence-based arguments or explanations of what actually works.


  1. Great video and interesting suggestion.

    I hope that anyone who takes up your challenge puts the time and effort into telling their stories as flawlessly and in such a compelling, engaging way. That really takes some doing!

  2. Hi Sean – I like the library idea. But I wonder whether there would be hundreds of explanations of what really works. There would be hundreds of arguments, certainly, but it seems like it’s so hard to really get at what works, and am I imagining things, or is the field generally not good at capturing that….

    • Yes, there would be hundreds of explanations and yes this isn’t a strong area for most foundations. But it sure seems like an interesting and useful experiment. Think about Participant Media (Skoll Foundation) An Inconvenient Truth. It was probably one of the most impactful philanthropy sponsored projects of the last decade. It seems to me that if foundations think they know good approaches to building a better future, they would be well served to try to communicate that message to others.

  3. Leah says:

    Thanks for this great article!

    I wish every foundation had the time and resources to contribute to such a library. Too often smaller organizations are overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks and don’t have the means to communicate their successes and milestones. It’s such an important thing to remind communities that good is being done and there are people affecting positive change.

    We’ve written a blog post in response to yours and hope that it encourages others to share the work they’re doing with their communities.