Creating Technology for Social Change

The Whistleblowing Cycle of Change

How does change happen? What factors cause and influence it? To understand how change occurs, we must first determine what specifically we want to change. In general, I think there are two major desired outcomes of change, policy changes and attitude shifts. These two goals of change are not distinct nor are they end goals as change is an endless cycle where one factor affects everything else.

The first type of change alters established policies or creates new policies. Here, policy refers to laws of a country or state, rules of a company, set procedures for a task, or generally any concrete rule, law, procedure, or commonly accepted tenet on any scale. Policy change is a sort of incremental change that can clearly be mapped. While it depends on attitude change to some extent, it often only requires attitude change in a few specific people who have the power to alter policies.

The second type of change shifts public opinion or attitude on a particular topic. This is much harder to measure or cause reliably. People’s attitudes and opinions are shaped by many factors, too many to track or count. We can examine some key common factors for a specific person, like the media they are exposed to, opinions of the people they know, and any personal connections to the topic at hand, but we cannot examine all the things that form a person’s attitude. Furthermore, these factors can be extremely difficult or impossible to measure accurately so it is hard to examine attitude change beyond the individual level without grossly simplifying it to the point of uselessness.

Change only brings more change. It is a constant cycle with some finite but very large number of factors where each factor affects every single other factor directly or indirectly. Even the goals of change most people seem to have in mind, policy change or attitude shift, are just factors in the cycle of change. There is no way to track all the factors or even properly cover the important ones because the importance of any factor depends on the very specific situation.

Change is not an isolated progression. Other people will be working towards different goals that conflict with what you want to achieve. Some people could also be working for change that benefits your goals as well. All factors in all cycles of change are connected.

The diagram at the top of the page illustrates my theory of change for the most part. It does not encompass all of the factors since there are too many but it captures the general idea. The two goals of change are in the blue circles and some important additional factors are in the green circles. All of the factors lead to all of the other factors either directly or indirectly. In the diagram above, the connection between two factors is represented by the thickness of the line between them. The degree of influence of one factor upon any other depends upon the thickness of the direct line between the two and the lines on any indirect paths between the factors. Finally, conflicting cycles of change are represented as connecting to all factors. Supporting cycles of change could also connect to all factors in the cycle.

The goal of civic media is often to strengthen a cycle of change. Civic media encompasses quite a bit so the exact role in the cycle can vary drastically. Most obviously, civic media falls in the media category in my cycle diagram. It can be used to publicize movements, discuss ideas, ask for resources, and highlight injustices. Civic media, and media in general, can also be a tool. Tools can be used to organize movements, learn more, give people a platform for voicing their concerns, and make connections between pieces of information. Civic media can contribute to most factors in the cycle of change.

Whistleblowers generally aim to create or strengthen a cycle of change to address corruption, wrongdoings, and injustices. In my final project, I will first examine the whistleblowing cycle of change. This means identifying the key factors in the cycle by looking at some past whistleblowing cases. Second, I will analyze the role of two factors in the cycle, participatory media and technology. Third, I might consider some ways those two factors can be used to further strengthen the whistleblowing cycle of change.

What are the key factors in the whistleblowing process of change? The most important factor at the start is probably the method and route pursued. Some whistleblowers choose to report problems to someone higher up in the organization. Others go to outside authorities. Some go directly to the media or go to the media after traditional authorities fail to respond. The route chosen depends upon many factors such as the wrongdoing being reported, the organization involved, protections available, risks and repercussions, and the other options pursued. All of those factors and more are very important in determining the initial route chosen and indeed if a potential whistleblower reports the wrongdoing at all.

After the wrongdoing has been reported, the importance of the various factors shifts a bit. The factor of greatest importance is now the outcome of the process. The exact factors this depends upon vary based on the route initially pursued but some examples include media response, opinion of those it was reported to, public opinion, whistleblowing policies and laws, strength of supporting movements, the offense reported, and power of the person at fault or organization involved.

What, then, is the role of participatory media and technology in the whistleblowing cycle of change? In the early stages, participatory media could be used to blow the whistle and technology could be used to protect the whistleblower or transmit documents. In the later stages, participatory media could be used to mobilize support for the whistleblower and raise awareness of the wrongdoing. Technology can be used to post and process documents and protect supporters. Those are just a few examples and it is often not entirely possible to distinguish between the factors of participatory media and technology because there is a lot of overlap. This is especially true in whistleblowing today where leaking websites and communities around them are and create many forms of high-tech participatory media.

How can participatory media and technology be used to strengthen the whistleblowing cycle of change? To determine this, I first need to see how they are used today and the benefits and downfalls. Some examples can be seen in the links throughout this post. Generally, I think the key to using participatory media and technology in the whistleblowing cycle of change requires identifying existing strategies and modifying them to better increase the effectiveness of whistleblowing and decrease any harm. Of course, increasing effectiveness and decreasing harm are subjective phrases that encompass many factors and bring up lots of ethical questions when it comes to whistleblowing. In any situation, there are surely those who will interpret those phrases differently and who will be working within their own counter-cycles of change to slow the cycle of the whistleblower.