Barefoot Guide 4 'Exploring the Real Work of Social Change'

'Exploring the Real Work of Social Change' is an initiative in which over 40 development practitioners from 16 countries co-created a high quality, practice oriented learning resource, freely available online for everyone to use. The guide was completed in 2015 and launched on the 26 March at the World Social Forum in Tunis. The Barefoot Guide 4 is the latest in a series produced by the Barefoot Guide Connection, a global and local community of social change leaders and practitioners, from many countries, sharing diverse practices to deepen and develop approaches and initiatives to contribute to a changing world.

All guides are freely available online and bring stories, analyses, approaches and resources of interesting practice from around the globe, each under a key theme. Each Barefoot Guide is written by a collective of practitioner writers and published in an illustrated format that is simple and lively, breaking away from the dry, alienating and academic style.


Many social change practitioners, in all walks of life, are wanting to move beyond isolated, project-based change activities. Many "projects" are proving to be short-lived, unsustainable and lacking in life and ownership. The future lies in more integrated, multi-actor programs of change requiring very different understandings of change and the strategies, approaches and practices that make them possible.

The Barefoot Guide 4 shares many working examples of such integrated, multi-actor programs and reveals the real work that lies behind them, to inspire, guide and support social change leaders and practitioners. They represent working and successful initiatives that contribute to change that is inclusive, co-creative and holistic.


Experienced practitioners from countries on all continents were brought together for a 5-day writeshop in Johannesburg in late 2013, where they surfaced and shared their stories and workshop the practice that lay behind their work (the "Real Work") - drafts were written and then completed through further online collaboration over the next few months, after which a smaller group of editors and illustrators completed and published the Guide on the BFG Connection Workshop.


- The Write-shop itself is a unique methodology enabling the hidden and less visible dynamics of change practice to be surfaced, seen and understood, resulting in unique insights and connections of value to those interested in deeper and long-lasting change
- this process brought together people from 16 countries, co-creating a product (guide) with high value, high quality content
- The Guide contains ‘Real stories of change’, grounded on practice
- It is dealing with all levels of change, including social transformation and systems change in practice, where today many are talking about the ideas of transformation and systems change, the Barefoot Guide 4 goes into the 'how' and what it means for practice.


- The BFG4 has been downloaded over 12.500 times
- It is being voluntarily translated into French, Vietnamese, Swahili by user groups (as with the other BFGs)
- This year the Barefoot Guide Connection is aiming to harvest the impact of all guides for user groups.


Funding was a challenge as donors don't appreciate the value of thinking about and sharing practice, and are often too project implementation oriented, while this this was practice and process oriented rather than instrumental implementation. However this was overcome by asking participants to pay for themselves, which they happily did.


- The BFG Collection hosted by CDRA, can mobilise horizontal learning processes by distributing the costs
- The write-shop process design was further developed and has since been used in many processes in South Africa, Vietnam, Laos and Sri Lanka.
- Writing to learn and learning to write is a powerful method that helps people reflect on their experiences and document: two things that need attention in civil society development


South Africa


Cape Town