Social (Media) Change Model

There is something missing from the Social Change Model.

I have written previously about student leadership and the influence digital technologies have on identity development.  In those posts, I suggested adopting digital literacies into student leadership development programming and curriculum.  I have also challenged student affairs programs to respond to the ever-present need to develop digitally competent student leaders.

With little research to direct us, I offer the following 10 competencies for a DSL (Digital Student Leader)

10 Competencies for a DSL (Digital Student Leader)

  1. Online Self-Awareness and Reflection of Digital Profile
  2. Awareness of Emerging Technology Tools and Platforms
  3. Content Analysis, Sorting Accuracy and Quality from Fake or Misinterpreted Information
  4. Establishing Personal Virtual Boundaries including Privacy, Managing Time Spent Online and Overall Wellness
  5. Digital Decision Making Strategies: Based in Positive, Authentic and Constructive Activity
  6. Integration of Digital Technologies into Campus Leadership Presence through Community Building Methods
  7. Building Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)
  8. Articulating and Executing Professional Branding Blended with Career Strategy Online
  9. Cyber Conflict Resolution and Mediation
  10. Using Social Media for Social Good 

I developed this list based upon professional experience, published research around digital literacies, input from other student affairs professionals on Twitter and my intuition.  While curating this list, I found myself drawn to one particular student leadership model, but with little time to apply or include it.  The piece was getting extensive enough.

In this post I expand and apply these competencies to the Social Change Model.  I will first explain the model, including the seven vectors that evolve leaders into change agents.  I then stir the pot, challenging the theory to adapt to digital realities.  Due to length, in a future post I will offer examples to practitioners in how each tenant of the model can be applied to developing digital student leaders.

What is the Social Change Model?

Alexander and Helen Astin pulled together student leadership educators and higher education scholars in the development of the social change model.  Funded by an Eisenhower Grant, it took the team two years to develop.  Published in 1996 by the Higher Education Research Institute, this model is composed of three levels called individual, group, and community, for usage on college campuses focused on social responsibility.  Under each of these are seven values that fall into these three categories.  I will go in-depth, so if you are already well versed with this model, I would recommend you scroll down to the next section.

social change model edit

Individual Values – Personal reflection for better group and social level leadership.

  • Consciousness of Self – One’s self-awareness, as shaped in part by the influence of others.
  • Congruence – Fostering trust through authenticity; acting in accordance to one’s values.
  • Commitment – Sense of responsibility as determined by passion and investment.

Values are at the heart of this multilevel model, which are purposeful and collaborative in order to result in positive social change.  The beginning of this approach is Consciousness of Self, looking at how one is motivated to take action based upon their attitudes, beliefs, emotions and values.  This process of self-exploration and knowing themselves allows the next value of Congruence to be explored more in-depth.  Consistency is a key ingredient, where individuals are able to match up beliefs with action.  Being genuine, authentic and honest are also tenants within Congruency.  The last element at the individual level is called Commitment.  Referred to as ‘psychic energy,’ this force motivates students to serve.  It includes passion, intensity and duration.

The theorists argue that without consciousness of self or congruence, commitment will be misdirected.

Individuals interact with the Group process through what is called a ‘feedback loop’ (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996), since the way individuals act in groups are influenced by the characteristics of individual members.

Group Values – Leadership at the level of a group within community.

  • Collaboration – The intent to work together and thus multiply effort, while also gaining multiple perspectives.
  • Common Purpose – Sharing one vision, though individual connections to the vision may differ.
  • Controversy with Civility – Purposeful conflict that ultimately promotes the group’s development and ability to achieve positive social change for all.

Student involvement and leadership in college is synonymous with working in groups, many times called student organizations or programs.  Collaboration is referred to as a common effort, as individuals are being empowered and fostering trust.  Next, Common Purpose brings together the various talents of the group and develops a shared vision for active participation.  Finally in the group category is Controversy with Civility, as many times differences will arise between individuals.  The ability for the group to address these conflicts with civility will result in creative problem solving.  For both individuals and groups, the value of Citizenship results from leadership development connecting to the community and society.  Interdependence and responsibility for positive social change becomes a value of the leader.

“To be a good citizen is to work for positive change on behalf of others and the community” (Higher Education Research Institute, 1996, p. 23).

Society/Community Values – Leadership for purposes beyond self.

  • Citizenship – Seeing oneself as part of a greater whole, engaged in community and aware of issues that affect the entire group.

This model spotlights concepts of individual, group and community values.  It calls for leaders to be self-aware, congruent, in addition to committing to just causes.  Furthermore, leadership in groups should include collaboration, working toward a common purpose and using controversy to constructively solve problems.  In this model, individuals experience interpersonal dimensions of leadership development not only within the self, but also within the group.  As community and society responsibilities are generated, both the individuals and the group move toward positive social change labeled as Citizenship.  Students and groups dynamically move through these values, until moving into values and capabilities of citizenship.

“The interaction of all seven values contributes to an individual or group’s knowledge, skills, and beliefs related to socially responsible leadership” (Komives & Dugan, 2010, p.116).

Social {Media} Change Model 

The model written as is does not include the whole picture of today’s college student.  I am inserting {media} into it, because of the lack of recognition or inclusion in not only the model, but most leadership curriculum.

Let me clarify.  I support the social change model and have used it in programming, curriculum and development with college students.  But I’m challenging the model and the literature that has followed.  I have sorted through various publications including journals and books on (and inspired by) the social change model.  But technology, especially social media communication platforms are left out of the equation entirely, except for one instance.

In Exploring Leadership: For College Students Who Want to Make a Difference Susan Komives, Nance Lucas and Timothy McMahon provides an extensive text for student leaders using both a Relational model of leadership, which includes elements of the social change model.  This text is ‘hot off the press’, released April 2013.

These same authors have previously written about this leadership framework, as Komives, Lucas, and McMahon (2007) saw Relational Leadership providing purpose, inclusive, empowering, ethical, and process-orientated leadership views.

Leadership is “a relational process of people together attempting to accomplish change or make a difference to benefit the common good” (Komives, Lucas, & McMahon, 1998, p. 21).

Looking at the latest publication (2013), while an overall strong text, technology-like content is only brought up twice, containing less than three pages of the 608-page book.  Maybe the amount of words doesn’t constitute the value or weight placed on technology as the authors state,

“We could not have a chapter on Change without mentioning one of the greatest changes we have experienced in our society – the changes brought about by the use of social media. (2013, p. 427).

But from there, only three paragraphs follow.  Hum?  If it is one of the ‘greatest changes’ why isn’t there a more extensive exploration?

In the second mention, technology is discussed under Strategies for Change through a small section on Chang and Cyberspace, stating again the importance,

“We could not end a chapter on change without including some mention of cyberspace and the role of social media (p.491).”

It was disappointing.  Both times technology and social media were ever so briefly mentioned with the same examples repeated including how the Red Cross uses twitter in times of emergency relief and the influence social media had on Arab Spring Protests.

Authoring Leadership for a Better World, Understanding the Social Change Model of Leadership Development, Komives and Wagner (2009) even state that leadership and change are intertwined.  Further social change digs into the root of the problem, not just surface level issues.

My argument is this.  Social Media can aid in social change.  It is collaborative, complex, and constant, and can build a community of users.  But students need to be challenged to use it for these causes.  

But could it be that leadership educators, theorists and researchers need the most challenge of all?

I get it, when the Social Change Model was published in 1996 product advances from Macintosh or constant internet connection through WiFi or 4G were significantly different than today.  Technology is moving fast and social media has a dark side and sunny side of student usage.

So what is stopping leadership educators in reinventing this model?  It is extremely popular and applicable, so it is obviously applicable to our work.  But at what point do we need to push back?  When does it need to change?

Torres, Jones and Renn (2009) wrote about new approaches to identity, recognizing technologies influence on development.

“Greater congruence between on-line and ‘real life’ friendship groups results in greater consistency between on-line identity and ‘real’ identity; identity development in ‘real life’ is reflected in shifting expressions of self on-line through changing choice of images, quotes, group memberships, and so forth.  So, identity development may be observed through on-line expression of self, a potentially rich research approach.” (p. 595)

Let us also not be ok with stating that social media and technology are changing the game, but not committing the real-estate in our texts, curriculum, fiscal resources or 1-1 conversations to actually explore the content.

quote 4_social change 2I am not looking for web or tech-like terminology in the seven vectors, or a full chapter committed in every student leadership text like with Relational Leadership.  But I am looking for more application to reach students where they are in identity formation in person and online.  Weave it in with other content, as their activity online is just as intertwined in every part of their lives.

Could it be time for the Astin’s to call back the troupes as they originally did in the 90’s?  Maybe this time call upon new and mid level professionals, not just SSAOs, tenure faculty or high level researchers, who can provide fresh perspective and direct experience with todays college students.  Have our surroundings changed enough to reimagine this model?

The message I would pass on is this: To not help students realize the potential to be change agents on tools like social media are a missed opportunity in curating the type of leader required to create change in our now digital world.

Final Thoughts 

Preparing this post, I tweeted that I would either be criticized or possibly praised for this post.  I warned that I’d be stirring the pot.  It may be viewed that my writings are too technology/social media centric or that I don’t have enough valid research or theoretical understanding to apply what I have proposed.

But what is the alternative?  Keep ignoring the elephant in the room?

quote 4_social change final

I happen to enjoy and am fascinated by the elephant (in this case, social media communication tools), full of possibilities for community building and engagement.  However, if left as is, of course the elephant will knock things over and possibly even cause a stampede.

So, if we can provide the skills, conversations and applications for college students and student affairs educators alike on working with ‘the elephant’ for good; how to be a change agent with these tools, then wow.  Professionals and students may be empowered to do more social good than we could have ever imagined.

I seek to be a change agent.  I write this post because I am following what the Social Change Model encourages, to recognize the need for change.

As noted earlier, I will be following up this post with another that will include concrete examples on how to make the model social media friendly.  This will include using digital literacies into each vector, adding reflection questions and applying purposeful activities that push the conversation of digital leadership.

Join the discourse and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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For all references used in this and all posts on this blog, refer (here).

Photo image adapted by Mel Judson

9 Responses to Social (Media) Change Model

  1. Tyler miller February 13, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

    I really think you are onto something, but I am not sure it’s as radical as we may think. I believe what social media and the internet does is add an extra “dimension” to these current models (both social change and relational).

    You have the social change model, but you need to add a new dimension to it- almost a sort of virtual dimension.

    Let’s start with consciousness of self. It’s one thing to know yourself, it’s another to be aware of your online identity. Then congruence- it’s one thing to be congruent within yourself in the day to day, it’s another to have an online identity congruent with yourself and possibly even your online identity.

    So adept leaders will grow not only in the spheres around them, but this can also be applied to social media. A leader is at their best when they can navigate BOTH dimensions of virtual and real relationships and are competent moving between both. Some students will be highly competent online and on social media but in a room full of folks may not be.

    So I think you are right, but I think the models ALSO work online and on social media.

    • Josie Ahlquist February 15, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

      Lots to think about here. What is wonderful about theory and leadership models is that it provides a baseline to build onto as things evolve!

    • Rushda March 31, 2014 at 4:13 am #

      Wow, what a passionate and eye opening perspective on leadership. My thoughts while reading this blog, is that the current college(from the country i am in, refers to varsity) students will be automatically learning this new skill within their lives whether like it or not.

      If you post anything on any social media platform that is the flavor of the week, you will be “followed” and judged as a “leader” by the number of pokes, likes, pings, comments etc. you receive. But this “leadership” is short lived as the followers move on to the next best or hottest posts or topics.

      In order to remain or sustain the the role of leader on any social media platform, a college student has to become creative and inventive and constantly research to keep the followers following, this is above all the studies and it an added effort. If you wanting to be social media leader or front runner, this must be done.

      But it is becoming the norm and college students are making this part of their everyday life, so it is the responsibility of educators to guide, encourage and promote what social “media” can do for the greater good of a society/societies.

      but we dont live in a perfect world and there is always good and bad. this needs to be dealt with and the skills taught as well.

      i liked the reply form Tyler Miller, this virtual dimension must be added, incorporated but also investigated.

  2. Susan R. Komives February 15, 2014 at 6:13 am #

    Thoughtful and informed posting; I appreciate the challenge and learned from this perspective. Thanks, Josie. Susan Komives

    • Josie Ahlquist February 15, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

      Thanks for reading! Much of your work will serve as the leadership arm of my dissertation research, allowing much exploration into the digital realm for students. I appreciate your open perspective on my thoughts and look forward to future conversations.

  3. kristaknj February 17, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    Josie, I really can’t get enough of this post. Social change is my jam and I am an advocate for using social media toward this purpose. I offered somewhat of an opposite perspective in my blog: where I shared my concerns about how social media is creating an immediate response to a social issue or crisis, but it’s not fostering the longterm response needed to truly create change. I have to think that this question you’ve posed is really something that could potentially have a huge impact on my student affairs career and will really shape the work that I do. I’d love to continue the conversation and can already feel a blog post brewing in response! Looking forward to connecting more.


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