Advocacy, Education

Believe In

Author: Karen Copeland
[with much inspiration and guidance from BC Educator, Tracy Cramer]

Buy In. I can’t even begin to count how many times I have heard these two words over the years — in many different circles. It seems to be the ‘go to’ phrase that is used when a new (or re-designed) idea is being introduced and there is a need to get key stakeholders on board. There might be information meetings or even consultations designed to bring people alongside with the idea or decision. The goal is to generate agreement with and acceptance of an idea.


Here’s the thing. You can often tell when someone is trying to get you to ‘buy in’ to an idea. It can feel like a hard sell. The idea is touted as the next greatest, and you might feel like you are being held at arms length in the process. There is a lack of transparency and concerns are dealt with in superficial ways, always with a redirect back to the greatness of the idea. Sometimes, it can feel like the information is put forward in a way that feels arrogant and superior. At times, you might feel like it wouldn’t matter if you agreed or disagreed because the decision has already been made anyway. So you might stay silent, which then gets interpreted as agreement. 

About a year ago, one of my twitter contacts, educator Tracy Cramer, posted a request to be provided with  alternative words to use in place of buy in. She was introducing new concepts in her classroom and she felt uncomfortable with the idea of having to get students and parents to buy in. Tracy’s goal was not just to gain agreement for these new concepts, she wanted students and parents to really connect with and understand the benefits of the concept. I loved that she put this to the twitterverse, and didn’t just ask other educators for their thoughts, she asked parents too. After much feedback, Tracy settled on “believe in” as an alternative.

You know when you have those moments where you just connect with something, it just feels right to you? Well, this was one of those moments for me. I’ve spent the better part of a year thinking about this and why the distinction between buy in and believe in is important. 

To me, buy in is simply about bringing people to an idea. Believe in takes an idea further and is about creating the space for people to see how they are an essential piece of the idea. 


Believe in takes time and commitment to cultivate. It means partnering with others in different ways to teach and share the complete rationale behind the idea. As believe in is attained, the idea becomes stronger and passion for it naturally draws more people in. There is authenticity and transparency in the process. The goal is not just to obtain agreement, but to look towards ongoing improvement and implementation of the idea. Suggestions and concerns are welcome and sought out, not met with defensiveness or platitudes. Believe in recognizes that success is dependent on each stakeholder understanding how they are critical to the idea, and stakeholders are trusted and valued in the process.

I like to think the idea of believe in fits with the Diffusion of Innovation model of change (Everett M. Rodgers). It is not a one-off push to get agreement and then forget about it, as often happens with buy in. Believe in recognizes there is a continuum of change. There will be ‘early adopters’ who will share their passion for the idea or decision in the language their colleagues will need to hear it in. Believe in is an ongoing process rooted in taking an idea and making it stronger through partnerships that include open reflection and discussions.

There’s a little phrase I use frequently when I am giving presentations: Language Matters. A slight change in our words can change the motivation for our actions and result in a huge impact. It’s about time we moved beyond getting people to buy in to ideas and decisions and instead strive for the understanding and sustainability of BELIEVE IN.

Will you join Tracy and I on the #BelieveIn journey?

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