Supporting ‘change agents’: ‘bubbles of knowledge’ and an ‘anti-hate crime community’

(cite as: Perry, J. (2019) ‘Connecting on Hate Crime Data in Europe’. Brussels: CEJI. Design & graphics: Jonathan Brennan.)

Understanding hate crime and implementing effective responses to address the problem involves societal, legal, institutional and individual change and transformation. This report and the national reports examine catalysts for and evidence of this change such as high profile tragedies that have sparked awareness, the passing of historic hate crime laws and the implementation of strategies and policies allocating responsibility and committing to measuring and supporting progress through data. A conceptualisation of hate crime reporting and recording ‘systems’ – sites of constant change that are made up of relationships of varying degrees of strength and effectiveness – has been developed, made visible and tested. Norms, standards and guidelines have been brought together to suggest an international framework, helping to define and focus efforts to change existing reporting and recording systems for the better. At the centre of this work are individual people who fit the following description, ‘a change agent is anyone who has the skill and power to guide and facilitate the change effort’.[1]

The perspective of these change agents pervades our findings. Thirty five individuals, almost evenly spread between CSOs and public authorities (16 and 13 respectively) and 6 researchers reflect the hate crime ‘community’ that crosses boundaries and connects professionals motivated to understand and address hate crime. Lunenburg observes that ‘change agents may be external or internal’.[2] Our research found that those ‘outside’ change agents were credited by public authorities as having been powerful guides in improving attitudes and effecting positive change.[3] Further, the process of change in the area of increasing reporting and improving recording does not take place within or outside one organisation. This research has explored the idea that change takes place across systems and over multiple boundaries and layers. As a result, change agents that spark, develop embed and protect progress can and must be found across the system.

This section aims to provide some answers to these questions: what motivates change agents? What supports and undermines them in their role? As one interviewee remarked, ‘oftentimes it is the personalities, it is the people’.[4]


Motivations of change agents

Our analysis of interview transcripts found three main motivators for change agents, ‘professionalism and professional interest’, ‘seeing direct results’, and ‘leadership support’.

Factors that relate to ‘professionalism’ or ‘professional interest’ were expressed more frequently by public authorities as personal motivators. One interviewee who has worked with professionals from a range of perspectives over several years commented ,


What motivates [change agents]? I think that it is quite personal. I think that it is the perception of their duty…I have seen police who want to change the police and perceptions of police. I have seen officials do their job because they believe in democracy and equality. I see people trying their best and reading books to better understand the phenomenon and I am seeing also people who are good at what they do, and so that is their image of themselves.[5]


This motivation was echoed by several other interviewees. One commented on the importance of, ‘professional commitment to doing a quality job, no matter the victim’s background’.[6] Another commented, ‘for me it is vocational’.[7] One interviewee observed that some change agents in the police and prosecution service, ‘forgo pay increases for a very long time because they care about challenging hate crime’.[8] One interviewee explained that being a part of embedding effective responses to hate crime is about ‘getting people to recognise and appreciate each other’s humanity.’[9] Several interviewees reflected that they were motivated by the fact that they found the topic of hate crime professionally interesting and intellectually challenging.[10]

One interviewee expressed the importance of bringing their professional commitment to equality into their personal life and conduct,


I am firm that [we] must fight against all those attempts that target any kind of minorities…When I see any signs of hate, I am always trying to interrupt. Even if I get singled out… We cannot turn our head, we can stop the public transportation, we can shout at him or her to stop otherwise I will call the police and so on. We can all play a significant role.[11]


The motivation of effecting change and seeing results was expressed by many interviewees, especially those from a civil society background. As explained by the following interviewees,

‘It is important to see some progress, some results. That at the end of the day, victims feel more secure, catered to, assisted.’[12]


What motivates us is success…if you manage to achieve at least some success then that really makes your work meaningful in that way…I think that we are quite lucky in that way. Every few months we have some success, maybe in a particular case. Maybe in convincing the police to do something differently. So that keeps the momentum going so that you meet the goals that you want to achieve.[13]


Another interviewee highlighted the fact that one meaningful step forward can lead to later steps where victims might encounter further barriers,


I think that one of the things that makes us feel better at the end of the day is because we can see the people we support. Because we don’t talk about numbers here we talk about lives. One life you support is real life. So that’s what gives us power. The look in the eyes of a person who has been supported…can be a good motivator to keep you going… whereas at the same time it is something that hinders our work, because we help that person, send them out into the system and the person falls through the gaps and holes in the system.[14]


A factor that appeared to be particularly important for public authorities was having support from senior management. As explained by one interviewee,


It is very important for me that [my organisation] has invested time, personnel and resources in the issue to address racist violence in [my country]. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to do this. The same goes for other organisations. The same goes for public institutions. So even if you don’t have the political will…at least you have the support of your department, your unit.[15]


Another pointed to both the importance and potential fragility of leadership support,


You have to see if [change agents] get rewarded in what they do. You have to see if the political leaders and their political supervisors will reward their investment in hate crime. So it isn’t very stable, because if the government changes and changes its priorities, then this person might have to change his job and not only not be rewarded but even stigmatised for their actions. You never know.[16]


Other interviewees pointed to the challenges of pushing or coaxing change in public institutions without the backing of leadership. Another described their role as, ‘stretching boundaries…..carefully’.[17] One interviewee highlighted the mix of caution and ambition that can characterise change agents in public authority settings, ‘Be bold but don’t be silly. Don’t get yourself hurt. If you can make small instrumental changes then go for it….you may only be able to chip away at things at the moment but things change….’[18] Pointing to the challenges of operating in an environment where the political situation can be hostile to the hate crime agenda, one interviewee maintained, ‘You keep going. You don’t give up. You try to find another way’.[19] One interviewee pointed to the significant barriers that face some change agents working in public authorities, ‘Colleagues don’t want to be working with an activist and managers don’t want activists as staff… sometimes you have to wait for an entire layer of hierarchy to leave before change comes’[20].

Depending on the context in which they are operating, change agents might be able to achieve high profile ‘big’ changes, under the radar incremental change, or simply manage to slow a reversal of hard won achievements. Identifying and supporting change agents in these diverse contexts can be challenging for intergovernmental organisations that need to work through national hierarchies and are themselves subject to continuous change.


Connecting change agents

One interviewee likened those working on hate crime across the public and CSO spheres to ‘bubbles of knowledge and practice’. This idea proposes a potentially useful concept that suggests the following characteristic: the potential for connection between ‘bubbles’ who come from varied professional backgrounds and who share similar values and commitment; the deep expertise that characterises many change agents; and the sense of professional isolation of working – or floating – in a context of low awareness, knowledge and scepticism. The ‘bubbles’ concept was introduced for discussion during interviews with other change agents to explore its conceptual strength. One interviewee identified international meetings such as the High Level Group on Racism and Xenophobia, OSCE-ODIHR’s National Point of Contact on Hate Crime meetings and other related meetings, as tremendously important spaces where those earlier in the journey to learn from those who are further on, or in one person’s words, ‘where the bigger bubbles support little bubbles’.[21] Another interviewee echoed this point and added, ‘Projects like [Facing all the Facts], institutional projects from EC, OSCE, etc. are very good chances to keep the right people in contact.’[22]

One interviewee pointed to the burden that can be placed on some change agents.


I think that these “bubbles” bear a very disproportionate burden because they need to be everywhere, all the time, they need to be available. That is the problem, they may be exhausted and overwhelmed, without having the opportunity to transfer their experience and expertise to other people in their institutions.[23]


One interviewee highlighted the factor of ‘luck’ in achieving positive change, ‘What makes the difference is the right people at the right time in the right place.’[24] Of course, it is rarely the case that all the pieces of the puzzle are in place at the same time and at the right time. Change agents move on, political circumstances evolve, sometimes dramatically. The flux of circumstances and combination of change agents at the national level can increase and decrease motivation as well as forge and weaken connections. More research is needed, possibly drawing on change management theory and practice to better understand how to support change agents and to increase the chance of effective, meaningful and productive connection. It would also be interesting to research the experiences and views of change agents at the European level.

Interviewees across all six countries pointed to the need for institutionalised professional recognition of specialist roles as part of existing continuing professional development structures. One interviewee suggested setting up an international practitioners network to support hate crime specialist from all professional backgrounds.[25] This thought was echoed, by another interviewee who suggested, ‘The ideal thing would be to have a permanent connection between the “bubbles”’.[26]

This report and research cited by it reflects the increasing challenges faced by all those committed to making hate crime visible and effectively responding to it. The recommendations section considers how to best invest and encourage these pivotal individuals and their relationships.




[1] Lunenburg (2010) p. 1.

[2] Lunenburg (2010) p. 1.

[3] See ‘mechanisms and principles of connection’ section.

[4] Interviewee 1.

[5] Interviewee 4.

[6] Interviewee 16.

[7] Interviewee 28.

[8] Interviewee 29.

[9] Interviewee 32.

[10] E.g. Interviewee 10, 30.

[11] Interviewee 8.

[12] Interviewee 2.

[13] Interviewee 7.

[14] Interviewee 3.

[15] Interviewee 2, this point was echoed by interviewees 17 and 18.

[16] Interviewee 4.

[17] Interviewee 17.

[18] Interviewee 32.

[19] Interviewee 6.

[20] Interviewee 14.

[21] Interviewee 18.

[22] Interviewee 17.

[23] Interviewee 4.

[24] Interviewee 17.

[25] Interviewee 11.

[26] Interviewee 17.