What you'll learn

  • Organizing from the experience of doing it

  • Reflecting on your experience

  • Learning from your reflection

Course description

Leadership, Organizing and Action: Leading Change is a 14-week Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education online program designed to help leaders of civic associations, advocacy groups, and social movements learn how to organize communities that can mobilize power to make change. The program explores how leadership is exercised through mastery of five practices, including Public Narrative, Building Relationships, Structuring Leadership Teams, Strategizing, and Action.

The course is organized into nine modules, each with a specific learning and/or project outcome. People learn organizing from the experience of doing it, reflecting on their experience, learning from their reflection, and trying again. In the course, this requires leading an organizing project, reading background material, participating in lecture with Faculty Chair Marshall Ganz, writing reflection papers, completing skill practice assignments, taking part in section meetings, receiving coaching from your Teaching Fellow and coaching each other.

A unique aspect of the program is that participants are broken into groups and take part in a substantial amount of collaborative, online work. This group work provides a valuable opportunity to form a network of partnerships amongst colleagues and gain unique insights from fellow organizers around the world.

Course Outline

Course Overview

During this first module, we get acquainted and discuss our course goals, our strategy for achieving them, and our course requirements.

People, Power, & Change: My Project

Organizers start by asking three questions: who are my people, what is their problem, and how can they begin to use their resources to solve the problem? Who are your people? Who is your constituency whose values are at risk? What urgent challenge do they face? How could they turn resources they have into the power they need to solve the problem? How could you design a campaign to achieve an outcome that would help solve this problem within the next 12 weeks? This week, you will think through a “first draft” of your organizing campaign.

Public Narrative: Telling Your Story

Leadership requires enabling your people to respond to challenges that confront their shared values with purposeful action, as opposed to reaction. Public narrative can be a way to access the emotional resources required: mobilizing hope over fear, empathy over alienation, and self-worth over self-doubt. You may communicate an urgent challenge as a “story of now,” shared values as a “story of us,” and why you care enough to accept the responsibility of leadership as a “story of self.” It is not public speaking, messaging, or image making.

Story of Us and Now, Bringing it All Together

Building Relationships

Organizers build relationships among members of a constituency to create commitment to a shared purpose. Through relationships, we can come to understand common interests and develop the resources to act on them. This week, we ask you to reflect on whom you want to recruit to your leadership team and to practice conducting one-to-ones.

Creating Structure: Your Leadership Team

Strategizing: Turning Resources Into the Power to Achieve Purpose

Action: Mobilizing & Deploying Resources

Communities in Action: Organization

Wrap up: Organizers, Organizations, & the Future


Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School

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