People, power and change: How to organize a social movement

Course content

"In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others," de Tocqueville observed. Fulfilling the democratic promise of equity, accountability and inclusion requires the participation of an "organized" citizenry that can articulate and assert its shared interests effectively.

From the churches, unions, gun clubs and civil rights groups of the US to the women’s, peasants’, folk high school, labor and cooperative movements of Denmark, social movements have driven such organizing of people, fostering social change, development of institutions, and democratization. Movements change not only policies and politics, but also the people that participate in them, and shape “who we are” as communities.

In this course, we engage in the practice of organizing, and learn from practice. Students in this class will take responsibility for organizing a campaign or organizing project that addresses matters urgent to people in communities around us. Marshall Ganz defines leadership in organizing as “accepting responsibility to enable others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty”. In the course, we “try on” this kind of leadership practice in the environment surrounding us here in Denmark. We do so by asking ourselves three questions: Who are my people, what is their challenge, and how can they turn the resources they have into the power they need to address this challenge? Not doing for people what we can enable them to do for themselves is a guiding principle in working with an organizing strategy of democratic change.

NB! The students must expect that lectures are concentrated in the beginning of the semester, where lectures will be after 17 o'clock, while there will only be a few lectures in the end of the semester.


Bachelor student: 10 ECTS

Master student: 7.5 ECTS

Learning outcome


The class draws on a vast array of political science, sociological and psychological theory, and recent and historical cases of organizing projects from Denmark and abroad. The course invites students to bring their previous academic competencies from different fields to bear in the process of diagnosing and analyzing the societal problems that they wish to engage others in solving.



The course emphasizes the practice learning of skills and knowledge that emerges when engaging with the world outside the classroom. Students will learn five practices of organizing leadership: Building relational commitment through classic organizing skills such as the one-on-one-meeting. How to structure an effective leadership team in their own organizing campaign, and enable that team to reach a purposeful outcome by the end of the semester. How to motivate others to turn their values into action through public narrative. How to mobilize others into purposeful action needed to achieve such outcomes. And how to strategize with others, thinking strategically “on one’s feet”, about how people can combine their resources into the collective power required to achieve the change that they need. To help each other and themselves underway, students will learn how to give and receive coaching feedback on their organizing project.



The course aims to make students competent in engaging and leading others through an organizing approach to social change. Students do so through reflective practice with their own, self-initiated organizing project.

By the end of the semester, students will have developed their ability to learn in unfamiliar and uncertain settings – about the world, people, power, how social change can occur, and one’s own role in that. Students will be evaluated on the basis of how they demonstrate their ability to learn from success and failure in their organizing project, relate their learnings to the course framework, and draw implications for themselves as reflective practitioners.



This course has a heavy workload of practical organizing work outside of class, and learning comes primarily from individual and shared reflection on these real-world organizing experiences. Learning practice requires failing, and failure often make us more aware of what we have yet to learn. As such, learning from failure often means becoming better at what you’re worst at. To do that, we use our strengths to improve our weaknesses. If you are not prepared for this kind of reflective practice learning, you should choose another class.

Organizing campaign/project: The centerpiece of the course is the student’s own organizing project or campaign outside of class.

What is an organizing campaign?
An organizing campaign requires
• recruiting a group of people
• enabling this group to work together as a leadership team
• towards achieving shared purpose
• and achieving a result that advances this purpose before the end of the semester.

You may start an entirely new project, use work that you are already involved with, or intern with an organization. If you have a strong commitment to a particular organization, community, or a set of values, that could be a useful starting point.
In choosing an organizing project, students should pay special attention to how an organizing strategy is different from other ways of engaging with the world, such as marketing, social entrepreneurship, or information campaigns. Most importantly organizing requires enabling people to use their own resources to address a problem as they understand the problem.

Many students will experience will fundamental revisions throughout the semester. That is okay. The course pedagogy is learning from failure, and students are encouraged to dive in to begin experiencing failure early and fast.

Moreover, the course will consist of: lectures, skill sessions, teacher and peer coaching, reflection papers, class presentations. More information will be available on Absalon.

What is organizing?
Historical examples of organizing

  1. Ganz, Marshall. Organizing Notes: “What is Organizing?” 2015. (T)
  2. Ganz, Marshall.  “Leading Change: Leadership, Organization, and Social Movements”, Chapter 19 in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, Nohria and Khurana; HBS Press, 2010 (pp. 527-568) (T).
  3. Westerman, Wiliam. 2005. “Folk Schools, Popular Education, and a Pedagogy of Community Action.” In: Revolution and Pedagogy: Interdisciplinary and Transnational Perspectives on Educational Foundations, ed. E. Thomas Ewing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 107–32.
  4. Saul Alinsky, Prologue & Chapter 1, “The Purpose” from Rules for Radicals, New York: Vintage, 1989 (pp. xiii-23)
  5. Self-chosen readings that introduce one or more of the following: The Danish peasants’, folk high school, labour/workers’, religious, cooperative movements and/or other movements from the student’s home country, Denmark, or a third country.

Optional resources:

  1. How to organize to win. Ganz, 2018.
  2. (If proficient in Danish) Klausen, Kurt Klaudi. 1995. “Kapitel 2: Et historisk rids over den tredje sektors udvikling i Danmark”. In:. Frivillig organisering i Norden, Kurt Klaudi Klausen & Per Selle, København: Jurist- og Økonomforbundets Forlag.

Learning to organize

  1. Marshall Ganz. Organizing Notes: “Learning to Organize: Notes, Questions, and Helpful Hint #1” 2015.
  2. M.S. Kierkegaard, “When the Knower Has to Apply Knowledge” from “Thoughts on Crucial Situations in Human Life”, in Parables of Kierkegaard, T.C. Oden, Editor.
  3. Thich Nhat Hanh, Thundering Silence: Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake, "The Raft is Not the Shore," (pp.30-33).
  4. Carol Dweck, Chapter 1, “The Mindsets” from Mindset: the New Psychology of Success (2006), (pp.1-10)
  5. Coaching as Leadership Practice , adapted from work of Ruth Wageman, Marshall Ganz (2014)
    Also available in Danish as: Lederskabsudvikling gennem coaching
  6. Donald Schon, The Reflective Practitioner, Chapter 2, “From Technical Rationality to Reflection-in-Action” (1984), (pp.49-69). (T)

Strategizing I: People, power and change in your organizing project

  1. Marshall Ganz. Organizing Notes: “People, Power and Change”, Charts and Questions. 2016
  2. Organizing case 2: The Campus Carlsberg case. (2017)
  3. Hahrie Han, How Organizations Develop Activists, “Chapter One, Introduction” (pp. 1-28).
  4. John Gaventa, Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley, Introduction, (pp.3-32). Organizing and collective impact I: Christens, Brian & Paula Inzeo.

Optional resources:

  1. Widening the view: situating collective impact among frameworks for community-led change (2015).
  2. Organizing and collective impact II: Complementary or in Conflict? Community Organizing and Collective Impact (video, 43 min)

Telling your public story

  1. Marshall Ganz, Organizing Notes: “What Is Public Narrative?” Charts, Questions. 2015.
  2. George Marcus, The Sentimental Citizen: Emotion in Democratic Politics, (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2002), Chapter 4, “Becoming Reacquainted with Emotion” (pp.49-78)
  3. James Croft, “Catch Them Before They Jump”, Harvard Kennedy School, (2010).

Building relational commitment

  1. Marshall Ganz. Organizing Notes: “Relationships”, Charts, and Questions. 2015.
  2. Malcolm Gladwell, “Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg,” in The New Yorker, January 11, 1999 (pp. 52-63).
  3. Ian Simmons, “On One-to-Ones,” in The Next Steps of Organizing: Putting Theory into Action, Sociology 91r Seminar, (pp. 12-15) 1998.
  4. Mark Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Sociological Review, 78:6 (pp. 1360-79)
  5. Elizabeth McKenna and Hahrie Han, Groundbreakers: How Obama’s 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America, Chapter 4, “Building in Depth by Investing in Relationships,”p.89-129.

Optional resources

Coaching in organizing

  1. Re-read from week 1: Coaching as Leadership Practice, adapted from work of Ruth Wageman, Marshall Ganz (2014)

Structuring leadership teams

  1. Jo Freeman, "The Tyranny of Structurelessness," Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 1970, (pp.1-8).
  2. Baggetta, Matthew, Hahrie Han, and Kenneth T. Andrews. 2013. “Leading Associations: How Individual Characteristics and Team Dynamics Generate Committed Leaders.” American Sociological Review 78(4): 544–73.
  3. Baggetta, Matthew. 2017. “Leader” should be plural. Mobilizing Ideas.
  4. Richard Hackman and Ruth Wageman, “A Theory of Team Coaching”, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 30, No 2 (Apr. 2005), pp. 269 – 287.
  5. Liz McKenna and Hahrie Han, Groundbreakers: How Obama’s 2.2 million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America, Chapter 5, “Creating a Structure to Share Responsibility” (2015), (p.130 –152).
  6. Hackman, J. R. (2002). Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances. Cambridge: Harvard Business Press.

Mobilizing action

  1. Pamela Oliver and Gerald Marwell, “Mobilizing Technologies for Collective Action,” Chapter 11, (1992), (pp 251-271), in Frontiers in Social Movement Theory, edited by Morris and Mueller.
  2. Richard Hackman, “Designing Work for Individuals and for Groups”, adapted from J.R. Hackman, Work Design in J.R. Hackman & J.L. Suttle (Eds.) Improving Life at work: Behavioral science approaches to organizational change. Santa Monica: Goodyear Publishing Company, (1977).
  3. Andrews, Kenneth T. 2001. “Social Movements and Policy Implementation: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty, 1965 to 1971.” American Sociological Review 66(1): 71.

Strategizing II – tactics and timeline

  1. Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals, Tactics, (pp. 126-136, 148-155, 158-161). (P)
  2. Organizing case 1: Olivia Nielsen and the rope winder womens’ strike of 1898. Jens Kristian Rasmussen (2017)
  3. ...

Mobilizing and organizing, online and offline

  1. Tufekci, Zeynep. 2017. Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. S.l.: Yale University Press.
  2. Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change: why the revolution will not be tweeted”, in The New Yorker, October 4, 2010. (T/P)
  3. Ben Brandzell, “What Malcolm Gladwell Missed About Online Organizing and Creating Big Change”, in The Nation, November 15, 2010.

Organizing and institutionalizing

  1. Andrews, Kenneth T. 2001. “Social Movements and Policy Implementation: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty, 1965 to 1971.” American Sociological Review 66(1): 71.
  2. Knudsen, Knud. 1991. Organisationsbyggernes tiår i Danmark. Arbeiderhistorie Vol 91, s. 137-159 (OR: English summary).
  3. Due, J., & Madsen, J. S. (1999). Septemberforliget og den danske model, baggrund, indhold og udvikling 1899-1999. Copenhagen: Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening og Landsorganisationen i Danmark. (OR: English summary)
  4. Septemberforliget. 1899. ( (OR: English summary)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28