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Process: Communicating for Change Part II

Centering voices that are often overlooked took precedence for nonprofit change agents desiring to connect people toward a desired change. Often, the act of centering new voices took place by convening dialogue with diverse stakeholders around a table (sometimes physical tables, but oftentimes just psychologically safe spaces primed for conversation) and creating enough psychological safety to draw out stories that regularly revealed hurts, needs, dreams, motivations, and passions. Edmonson’s research suggests that creating psychological safety is critical to the social change process because of its influence to engender social learning. For example, Edmonson (1999, 2004) states that the three major antecedents to psychological safety are trust, positive relations, and familiarity. With trust developed at the beginning of the change cycle, the hoped-for progression toward dialogue is an open exchange of thoughts, experiences, feelings, uncertainties, and/or lack of understanding (Howorth, Smith, and Parkinson 2012).

Dialogue creates space for people to connect to the change process by providing opportunities for diverse voices to speak toward the co-creation of the social change that will directly affect their communities (Kuenkel 2016). Primarily convened by the change agents themselves, or at least ideated by some of them with execution by external facilitators, dialogue was not only directed by the voices of others, but also convened to receive human interaction with strategic goals with the desire to be fully transparent in moments of decision-making. Further, dialogue was convened to ensure consistency in shared language and understanding surrounding the reason why decisions were being made. As such, dialogue was seen as a participatory process to include and involve others, thereby affirming the strong value that nonprofit change agents had for collective action rather than simple transactions. As Dutta underscores, moving toward action is especially important for people who normally live in the margins of society without the privilege of normally participating in dialogue (Dutta 2011). It is encouraging that the nonprofit change agents in my research worked toward social change with full awareness that their trustworthiness and integrity were on the line without action that showed their commitment to add value (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Open Dialogue & Collective Action

Interestingly, nonprofit change agents convened dialogic spaces as open concepts. This means that they did not necessarily facilitate dialogue with specific rules of engagement, but they took cues from the dialogue participants themselves, especially with regards to the direction of the dialogue, even if a specific topic had already been placed on the dialogue table. However, because of their deeply ingrained value for respect, human dignity/agency, and suspending judgement, nonprofit change agents naturally engaged the dialogic rules of engagement prominent in the literature without explicitly setting those ground rules (Isaacs 1999; Yankelovich 1999; Freire 2000; Buber 2002; Colwill 2015).

In dialogue with others, it was essential to the nonprofit change agents in my research that they connected people to a desired change by communicating vision, mission, hope, affirmation, and encouragement with intentionally positive language. Inspiring all engaged stakeholders by connecting the desired change to human emotions proved to strengthen commitment to and ownership of a change process. This continues to affirm that the change process is a very human experience that, when leveraged wisely with the intent for common good, has potential for collective impact that can ripple deep and wide. In fact, Seyranian states that “communication may be a key mechanism for change-oriented leaders,” especially when “emotional significance” is attached to a person’s “membership” in a group or collective (2014, 468-69).


Buber, Martin. 2002. Between Man and Man. Translated by Ronald Gregor-Smith. London, New York: Routledge.

Colwill, Deborah. 2015. “An Invitation to a Dialogue Table: Will You Come and Join Us?”

Christian Education Journal. 12, no. 1: 137-150.

Dutta, Mohan J. 2011. Communicating Social Change. New York, NY: Routledge.

Edmonson, Amy. 1999. “Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams.”

Administrative Science Quarterly. 44: 350-383.

Edmonson, Amy. 2004. “Psychological Safety, Trust and Learning: A Group Level Lens.”

In Trust and Distrust in Organizations: Dilemmas and Approaches, edited by R. Kramer and K. Cook, 239-272. New York: Russell-Sage.

Freire, Paolo. 2000. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Howorth, Carole, Smith, Susan M., and Caroline Parkinson. 2012. “Social Learning and Social Entrepreneurship Education.” Academy of Management Learning and Education. 11, no. 3: 371-389.

Isaacs, William. 1999. Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. New York, NY: Random

House Inc.

Kuenkel, Petra. 2016. The Art of Leading Collectively: Co-Creating a Sustainable, Socially Just Future. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Seyranian, Viviane. 2014. “Social Identity Framing Communication Strategies for Mobilizing

Social Change.” The Leadership Quarterly. 25: 468-486.

Yankelovich, Daniel. 1999. The Magic of Dialogue. New York, NY: Touchstone.

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