Organising for Social Change: academia and the 3rd sector


Dr Winston Kwon tells Teaching Matters about ‘Organising for Social Change’, a new, outward-looking and multidisciplinary course within the Business School.

This semester I launched a new course called Organising for Social Change, which focuses on the challenges of hybrid organisations such as social enterprises and voluntary organisations in developing, resourcing and implementing interventions for social and environmental impact. When designing Organising for Social Change, I wanted to create a multidisciplinary course for 1st and 2nd year students. For non-business students, this was to introduce them to organisational studies in a 3rd sector context. For business students, this meant an immersion into ‘non-business’ topic such as social capital, civil society, inequality and marginalisation.

The challenge at the outset was to find an approach that could help the students not only understand, but also get a more visceral ‘feel’ for these topics. Having taught reasonably large courses of 230+ students, I was familiar with the challenge of engaging students in large lecture settings. It is difficult to have substantive discussion if the students don’t prepare for the lecture. Another issue is that in the classroom, it is difficult for students, most of whom are from reasonably comfortable backgrounds, to gain a visceral and emotional feel for these very real social issues. To do so, I am getting students to consume much of the course content through videos, and to create videos as their main piece of coursework.

For the latter issue, I spent months engaging with social entrepreneurs in Edinburgh’s 3rd sector community to develop relations with and eventually recruit 12 social enterprises and voluntary organisations, with a total of 4-6 students assigned to each project. These projects encompass a very broad range of social issues including food literacy, energy poverty, digital inclusion, homelessness and mental health. The remit of the group work project is to create a 10-15 minute video on how their host organisation creates social value and impact for their stakeholders, particularly their funders and beneficiaries. These host organisations have been enthusiastic about a video report as this is something that they can use to start conversations about their effectiveness in communicating with crucial stakeholders. In other words, five students came and spent some time observing your organisation and activities, and “this is what they saw”. The host organisations can also reuse as a further means of promoting themselves to their stakeholders and so they are left with something very tangible. The nature of the video format also forces students to think deeper about how to craft an engaging and coherent message. The video production process does require time, so I anticipate that this when the ‘group’ in group work really is needed.

With regards to the former, in developing the syllabus, I found that many of the authors of articles that I was going to use, often already had engaging videos already posted online. To take advantage of this, I posted the relevant readings and videos to Learn. Each set of weekly materials has been accompanied by an online quiz to track how and what content was consumed and the level of comprehension. As of this writing, the feedback from students has been very positive. Short 5-15 minute videos are a very effective way to communicate concepts ahead of lectures. This has allowed me to spend more of the lecture in discussion and to ‘connect the dots’ between concepts, rather than to spend time fully explaining each concept. These videos are also serving as basic primers for the students as for how to explain concepts in a more visual way.

Over time, this hybrid combination of approaches might help us build bridges between the University and the organizations of Edinburgh’s 3rd sector community. I expect that this will also inspire and motivate some students to pursue careers that put greater emphasis on social and environmental sustainability – and of course more articulate and effective communicators.

Winston Kwon

Dr Winston Kwon is a Chancellor’s Fellow in the Business School and the course organiser for Strategic Management. His current research interests concern how language can serve to support or resist strategic change, and the role of social enterprises in challenging environmental sustainability and social inequality.

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