Building Software Together

Appendix M: How to Change the World

Tech gurus like Musk, Bezos, and Zuckerberg don't actually want to change the world: they just want to own more of it [Robinson2021]. If you would like to set your sights higher than that, the ten rules below are a good place to start; if you'd like to know more [Brown2007] and [Manns2015] helped me, and I hope they will help you.

If you cannot be brave—and it is often hard to be brave—be kind.

Sarah Kendzior

Be sure this is where you want to focus your efforts.
It's going to take years, it could well fail, and there are many other things you could do, so be sure this particular change is the one you want to fight for.
Ask those who will be affected.
"Nothing about us without us" is always a good motto, and asking for opinions often reveals potential allies.
Be specific.
Few people would argue in public against fair hiring practices in principle, but the organization has to implement something specific in order for that to mean anything, and people very well might argue against those specifics. You should therefore pick something specific and achievable and make a concrete plan for achieving it. And start with whatever is likely to have broadest support, because success breeds success.
Figure out who has the power to make that change and what they care about.
Your neighbors don't make policy for your local public school: school board trustees do, so that's who you need to influence. Help someone who wants the same change as you get elected, or help someone who doesn't oppose your change with something they care about in exchange for support for your cause, but whatever you do, do it for the people whose vote counts. Conversely, figure out who is going to be negatively impacted by the change you want and what you can do to help them: for example, if it's going to eliminate jobs, what else can those people usefully do?
Build alliances,
"I'll help you if you'll help me" makes the world go around. It's hard when people want the same thing for very different reasons, but this rule is not cynical: people whose beliefs are aligned may still have different priorities. (The flip side of this rule is to accept that some people will never be your allies: if everyone wanted it, you wouldn't have to push for the change.) People who want the same thing you do, who have a high profile (either inside your group or externally), or who have a wide range of connections are all useful allies.
Test the waters.
At every stage, refine your idea and presentation in front of a small group first. But remember: when done honestly, refining your idea sometimes means accepting that you wanted the wrong thing. And note that it can be useful to ask someone to be the official skeptic: giving them a way to critique in private may temper their public criticism, and you just might convert them.
Keep it visible.
It's easy to start a blog and create a Twitter account, but that very ease has reduced these channels' impact. Is there a newsletter you can be included in (which makes you look more official)? Can you make a presentation as part of some other event (rather than organizing a gathering of your own)? Can you get someone with a higher profile to mention what you're doing and point people your way? Can you post notices in the lunchroom? The elevator? The washrooms? Local restaurants? And always share a single point of contact that someone actually checks (frequently).
Collect data but tell stories.
Sooner or later someone is going to ask what financial impact this change is going to have, so be ready for that. Data about other changes or from other organizations helps a lot, but data doesn't have nearly as powerful an impact as stories. Don't explain what kind of people this will help: explain how it helped a specific person, or how it would make a specific person's life better. And if you've never cried when telling that story, tell a better story.
Learn how to run meetings.
You don't have to be a great public speaker, but you won't accomplish much if you don't know how to run a meeting Chapter 2.
Celebrate when you can, grieve when you need to.
Burnout is an occupational hazard for everyone trying to make meaningful change, in part because we get so used to doing things on our own at the start that we don't share the load even when there are people to share it with. Not all of your allies will become your friends, but those who do will be able to share your victories and commiserate with your defeats like no one else.