How to Influence the Way People Think to Change How Society Works

Powerful Tools for Scaling Impact in Any Sector

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The newest addition to our library of materials on systems change for social entrepreneurs, complementing the online courses on basics of systems thinking and working with government.

Why have we created this course?

Mental models are deeply embedded ideas and schemas in people’s heads about how things work or should work in the world. They could be compared to lenses which, when worn, project a picture of the world with some peculiarities — for example, certain groups of people in a system becoming invisible in the eyes of the broader public, or their contribution to the smooth functioning of a system appearing distorted or less significant than it is in reality, or important connections between elements in a system being muted or kept completely out of sight.

The ways of thinking shared across large parts of society play a critical role in establishing and maintaining systemic structures that manifest mental models in very tangible terms. Influencing the way people think, thus, has an effect on whether business as usual in a system is maintained or challenged. A new mental model adopted across some parts of society can provide the basis for contesting the existing order of things and power relations and can fuel the development of broad social movements which can shift systemic structures.


You can listen more in detail to why we have created this course in our Ashoka Systems Change Podcast: Season 3 Episode 1

"It's such good content. When you link it up with Ashoka's other content on systems change, working with government, scaling and funding pieces, it amounts to a lovely ecosystem of support for social entrepreneurs." Brendan Dunford, Ashoka Fellow from Ireland, founder of the Burren Programme.

Brendan Dunford

“These materials were greatly relevant and helpful for me and our work. They highlighted for us how important it is for everyone to have a role in changemaking and encouraged us to set up a meeting with multiple stakeholders and establish the tone for their participation as active participants.” Ximena Abogabir, Ashoka Fellow from Chile, Casa de la...

Fellow Ximena Abogabir

"I'm so glad that you have developed this course. Mindset shift is a critical part of the work of many social entrepreneurs, it certainly is a critical part of our work." Alison Lingane, Ashoka Fellow, co-founder of Project Equity

Alison Lingane

"The frameworks presented are clear and help us understand where narrative stems from so that we understand what sources to target to change the narrative. And I appreciate the suggestions for where we can go to further our knowledge." Meaghan Balzer, Academic Director of UHelp, Haitian Education and Leadership Program

Meaghan Balzer

To Outpace Problems, We Need More Changemakers Like You

You are here because you care about making a difference. Systems change is an important part of the changemaking toolkit. Enroll now to join a global community, striving together to maximize impact from any sector and from any role. Let's build an Everyone a Changemaker world, together!

changemakers like you

Course Syllabus

In order to see details of the modules, playbook and case studies, please enroll in the course. You will immediately receive a link to the full course which you can take at a comfortable pace starting any time.

Module 1: Why to Influence How People Think & Why This Course

An introductory video to the course in which we already discussed the definition of mental models that serve as lenses influencing people's behaviour and systems at large. We also cover some recommended logistics for course participants.

Module 2: Mental Models Behind the Problem and the Vision

This module will help you identify which mental models fuel the structural root causes of the problem of your concern and how they need to be transformed for a system to produce better results.
The prompts for this module are the problem tree, stakeholders’ thinking & behavior, the chain of demand, the formulation of a new desired mental model and exploring the feasibility of changes in thinking.

Module 3: How Mental Models Get to People’s Heads

In this module we explore the current narrative environment on your cause and the targeted narrative environment we would want to create.

Module 4: Different Segments in the Audience

Now is time to understand the social group we would like to influence and its different segments according to their openness to change, and figuring out who from the early adopters could be our allies and how.
We carry out the audience analysis for the cause of your concern and explore potential partners who can help you do this work in the best possible way.

Module 5: Immersing Audience into New Narrative Environment

For a person to adopt a new way of thinking, three different components need to be affected at three different levels. We want to make sure that people in our audience gain awareness on the issue, become willing to change thinking and behavior, and are capable to implement new thinking and new behavior in practice.
The prompt will help you identify activities to increase people's awareness, willingness and capacity to act in a new way at the individual, social and structural levels.

Module 6: From Shifts in Thinking to Tangible Systemic Changes

The final part of our journey will be about channeling the changes in public thinking and the increasing demand for structural changes to the eyes and ears of decision-makers in politics and business. This is the time to harvest the fruit of narrative work and turn it into tangible power in the system.
The playbook will help you formulate the steps in interacting with decision-makers in business and government.

Contact Us

The Team Behind the Course

Globalizer logo
Content, script, narration, course direction
Olga Shirobokova

Content support
Ashoka Team: Nadine Freeman, Odin Mühlenbein, Michela Fenech, Flavio Bassi
Topic experts: Ryan Senser, Jee Kim, Leslie Crutchfield, Bridgit Antoinette Evans, Nat Kendall-Taylor, Makani Themba, Kristina Mevs-Apgar
Ashoka Fellows: Tristram Stuart, Al Etmanski, Brendan Dunford, Trabian Shorters
Learning Experience Design: Maria Galaykova
Santiago Del Giudice, Nadine Freeman, Akash Bhalerao, Lorena García Durán, Ina Bogdanova
Participation and feedback to the course beta-version
Ashoka Fellows and their teams: Brendan Dunford, Jill Vialet, Katie Plochocky, Alison Lingane, Anne Basting, Conor Bohan, Meagan Balzer, Fletcher Harper, Marek Demner, Martina Kopecká, Jana Kavková, Martina Pařízková
We also thank Ashoka Latin America teams for their support.
Director of video production
Slava Makka
Jane Potapova, Ekaterina Zatsepina, Slava Makka
Motion design and animation
Slava Makka, Maria Makka, Fedor Orlov, Alexander Fedorov, Lisa Lokosova
Graphic design for Playbook and Case Studies
Marina Astashova
Podcast Sound Editor
Dmitry Krupenya
Spanish translation
Olga Shirobokova, Santiago Del Giudice, Hasan Bhatti
Feel free to contact us with feedback and ideas
for cooperation at [email protected]
Copying and adaptation possible with author attribution
Creative Commons License BY 4.0
Creative commons 4.0 license


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