Strategy……or evolutionary purpose?

We recently blogged about Rhizome’s internal discussions on strategy. Here’s more on one perspective in that discussion:

Values are obviously very important in helping people make decisions about how to prioritise one thing over another when there are various options. But to continue the metaphor, if you arrive at any place on a map, and you have your compass with you, then your compass will help you find your way- if you know where you want to go. A compass doesn’t help you decide where to go. For me, having values without some sense of direction/purpose/strategy certainly helps in some contexts, but doesn’t do the job for me in terms of helping with all of the many complex and subtle decisions that are made in organisations. It leaves too much open to individual opinion and interpretation, which can then take a lot of time to process, normally in some kind of group context. That’s fine if you want to be in an organisation which spends a lot of time processing individual feelings, exploring interpretations and creating shared understandings about lots of stuff which is undefined- but not so much if you want to get a lot of stuff done effectively! Its like having a map, and a compass, but not knowing where you are going and not having any criteria about how to decide that either.

So I do think there is a need for some sense of organisational purpose, but not in the sense of a traditional ‘Mission Statement’. I find the notion of evolutionary purpose more helpful here than a traditional mission statement. More conventional ways of thinking about mission and vision involve a leader individually, or a group collectively, exploring and sharing their ideas about what they would like to happen/the world to be like/the organisation to do, find what is shared and create a sense of shared purpose around this. One of the problems with this is, as Brian Robertson, one of the founders of Holacracy says, that it can foster a sense of individual and personal attachment to the mission/ vision/ purpose of the organisation which the leader or group comes up with. These attachments can then get in the way of the purpose being achieved, as we can identify with them and this process invites our egos to get involved. Evolutionary purpose on the other hand is about listening to what needs to happen and being in service to that.

And its about a different kind of ‘listening’ too. The more conventional kind of listening to what’s required from the environment is often done in the form of market research, user-consultation, stakeholder engagement etc. These ways use our minds to engage with the world and what is needed, which is important and necessary. There is another form of listening, which is done beyond the mind. Its not rational or evidence based. Its more transpersonal, where we sense into what is looking to pop up next in the evolutionary unfolding of the universe. What is there, not yet manifest, but waiting to be realised? An organisational purpose which coalesces around this can be a powerful attractor. This is an example of where the two domains of personal/spiritual and group development overlap, and is where its helpful to an organisation for the people involved to have meditation and mindfulness practices. This is dealt with in the work of people like Andrew Cohen and Craig Hamilton’s spiritual teachings on the Evolutionary Impulse.

Its about making a distinction between pushing and pulling. If we have an idea about what we want to happen, we can push to make it happen, and our egos can get engaged and this makes getting it done complicated. On the other hand, if we listen to what is needed in the surrounding environment, that will serve the evolution of the whole, we can be pulled in that direction. Values obviously inform this, and so are necessary, but not sufficient. When we listen to what is needed, and an organisation’s purpose can be formed around this, we can then be in service of that. Being in service to an organisation’s evolutionary purpose can help us disidentify from our ego’s getting tangled up in achieving the purpose. And most crucially, it can provide criteria to help people in the making of the hundred’s of small decisions as well as the big ones, that are needed in any organisation which is being effective in getting things done.

And once there is a sense of purpose, values can help in working out how to achieve that purpose (how to get to where you want to go), and a strategy doesn’t have to be a fixed plan about how it happens. It can be a framework which is referred to which help people decide which path to choose from a range of available options in any one moment.

Nick

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Strategy…….or Unstrategy (here be dragons!)

mapbigStrategy, emerging strategy or unstrategy? 3 approaches the Rhizome coop discussed at our last meeting. We didn’t reach unanimity. We didn’t push for a consensus decision – in the relatively short time we had together it’s unlikely we would have reached consensus anyway.

We’ve grown in recent months and at the meeting potential new coop members were trying to get a better feel for who we are and what we do. So the question of our strategy arose naturally and inevitably. After all there’s usually a document somewhere that contains a mission statement, a set of objectives and so on, that allow the reader insight into who an organisation is, and what they try to do in the world and how they go about achieving it. Perfectly reasonable to expect Rhizome to have one. And yet we don’t.

When we founded Rhizome, Carl and I took a decision that we wouldn’t write policies and mission statements. Instead we’d publish our values and the work we were doing, and be held to account by being as transparent as we can through this blog and elsewhere. This post is in itself part of that drive for transparency.

So we found ourselves in tension (and I don’t mean to imply that’s a bad thing). We discussed whether the time had come to write our mission statement and plot our strategy; whether we could work with an emerging strategy by stating our desired end point but being flexible as to how we got there – adapting to the terrain as time and events shaped it; or whether we shouldn’t even map out an end point and simply continue to state our values and use those as a filter for all of the decisions we make – a sort of unstrategy.

If we worked by majority I’d say we were moving towards the latter, an unstrategy, a conscious decision not to put energy and time into creating a detailed map of the world and the work we do in it, but to put that same energy into cultivating and holding firm to our collective values and using those as a compass by which we navigate whatever terrain we encounter. I like this approach – it works for me. If we ever come across new territory, marked only “here be dragons” we’re not paralysed because we always carry our values compass with us.

But there are downsides, and it would be foolish to pretend there weren’t. And these were strongly articulated, meaning this is very much a live discussion within the coop.

One argument is simply about our credibility. We are asked to support and facilitate others in their attempt to map out the world and their path through it to their desired endpoint. And yet we might not have undertaken that same process ourselves.

Another is about identity and consensus. Can we have a clear and shared identity and purpose without a clearly defined strategy? And if we don’t have that clarity can we really do consensus decision-making. After all the final safety net of consensus is the block – a veto to stop a group doing something that would damage their integrity. Many would say that the yardstick against which the validity of the block is measured is a group’s shared identity and purpose. If we go down the route of an unstrategy, we’re substituting that with shared values – is that enough?

The discussion will no doubt continue when we next meet. We’ll also be posting more on the individual perspectives we’re hearing as part of the conversation. It’s an important dialogue. It may be a make or break decision for those interested in joining Rhizome. And as always we welcome your wisdom…..

Matthew

Strategic direct action – new guide

Tools for Change have uploaded a new Ruckus Society guide to strategic direct action.

An initial glance says it looks promising –  accessible, well formatted and coherent with case studies to boot.

 

Strategy: Hold the front page!

Vredesactie's strategic goal in newspaper format

I had the pleasure of working with trainers from Belgian Peace network Vredesactie recently, as part of the work I do for Turning The Tide. Steve, my TTT co-facilitator, and I travelled to Ghent to support a group in delivering strategy workshops to activist groups. We were quite clear from the start that it was a sharing, a dialogue. Our own experience is that strategy work can be tough, and is fraught with problems, especially in grassroots groups.

  • Some people understand strategy. The dangers are that they’re seen as a strategic elite trying to dictate the course of a wider group or movement; or that they actually do try to dictate the course of a group or movement without being given a mandate to do so.
  • Others could get it if they could find time to engage in a life already overfilled with activist commitments. For them strategy is a luxury that they cannot afford.
  • Others cannot engage with the rather cold logic of many traditional strategy tools, or don’t think big picture, and strategy can alienate them, make them feel stupid, or just frustrate them.
  • For some strategic thinking challenges existing power dynamics in a group, opening up the possibility of new ways of being and acting, and potentially lessening their role at the centre of the group.
  • A request for strategy may also be taken to imply that existing approaches are not effective, and cause offence.

This was one of the conversations we had, literally. We played out a conversation between these characters to see what it taught us about how we, as trainers, approached groups, and what the implications were for the tools and techniques we used to increase strategic action. We wanted to go into the workshop sharing the struggle of getting groups to ‘do strategy’, rather than just sharing tools for doing strategy. It was well received, and when we did turn to look at tools it was within a context of finding tools (and language) that would meet groups where they were at.

One tool I brought home with me was ‘Front Page’, a way of making setting achievable goals more accessible and enjoyable. Vredesactie folk went on to spend a day together after we left them, and tried the tool for themselves so you can see an example of what it looks like. The premise is so simple – mock up the front page of a newspaper reporting on your group having achieved its goal, then write some text to flesh out the picture. In doing so the group has some fun, and has a conversation about what it is they’re trying to achieve. Don’t be surprised if different group members discover they have different goals – that’s one of the hidden benefits of the tool – it makes these differing assumptions apparent.

Not sure when I’ll get a chance to use it, but it feels like a lively and useful addition to my strategy work.

Later in the year there will be a week-long gathering , in Belgium, to look at some of the same issues raised here. I hope that Rhizome will make a contribution, and do some valuable learning, of one kind or another

Counterpower – an interview with Tim Gee

Last year saw the publication of Tim Gee’s book Counterpower: Making Change Happen. We asked him to share his thoughts on the blog and here they are:

Why write the book now? Does the timing reflect your observations about the state of the social movements right now?
I began researching the book a few days after the 2009 G20 Protests in London, and the conclusion was written in response to the debates that followed the TUC march and associated protests in March 2011. Its publication almost exactly corresponded with the occupation of St Pauls. None of that was planned, but it reflects what the movement – and I as part of it – was doing.

Tell us about Counterpower – what’s your core thesis?
The power of any regime rests three main things –ideas (the ability to persuade us of their right to rule), economics (the ability to extract land, labour and capital from us) and physical coercion (the ability to punish us if we do not obey). If a movement can seriously challenge those facets of power, then elites will give away whatever concessions that they have to in order to maintain their rule – and so campaigns are won. If the movement is strong enough it can topple regimes altogether – hence the argument that a successful campaign is an unfinished revolution. The ability to remove the power of elites is our Counterpower.

What’s the most important message you’d like current or future campaigns to take away from the book?
I’d like to burst the myth that policy-making is a process whereby wise elites find the best solution for the most people. On the whole government policy is a reflection of the balance of power in society. Therefore for real social change we need to change the power balance. Simply designing good ideas and communicating them isn’t enough.

It’s relatively easy to analyse movements in hindsight, but did you get a sense through your research that the most successful ones planned their strategies and actually had an analysis at the time, or were they subject to wider events, to fortune?
Almost all of them had strategies and analysis, but it was often things not in the strategy that made all the difference. Take Indian Independence for example: Gandhi’s strategies have been much celebrated since, and were indeed central to bringing down the colonial regime. But India won its independence nearly 20 years after the Salt March. The last straw had been the mutinies in the army and navy in 1946, which were actually condemned by the Indian National Congress, as well as the Muslim League.

Many movements have grown in strength because of specific key events. Do you think that successful movements create these trigger events or just exploit the ones that happen anyway?
Trigger events are times when mass change can happen, because societies often need to be disorganised before they can be reorganised. But what direction that change takes is up to the agency of different forces in society and the actions and planning of the movement beforehand. This is reflected in the different changes that took place around the First World War. In Britain it was a trigger event for the extension of the franchise to women. In Germany and in Russia it was a trigger event for the downfall of the Kaiser and the Tsar respectively. But such events do not only lead to the redistribution of power. As Naomi Klein shows in The Shock Doctrine, the neoliberal right has in recent times been quite adept at using such moments to further consolidate power with the few.

Sometimes though, movements can create those moments, albeit on a smaller scale. As Martin Luther King put it in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail ‘We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive’. That can certainly be seen in some of the key events of the anti apartheid struggle. For example, following the nonviolent Defiance Campaign in South Africa in 1952 the ANC increased its membership fivefold, even though the uprising was crushed in the short term.

What role can the kind of support that we at Rhizome, and many other folk around the world, play?
The work of trainers and facilitators in social movements is often unsung in the official histories, and many names have been forgotten – probably at least in part because of a natural instinct of such people to push others to the fore. Nevertheless the pioneering work of the likes of Paulo Freire, Saul Alinsky, Bill Moyer, George Lakey, Gene Sharp (and his colleagues) and James Lawson is worthwhile reading for any movement tactician, and is reflected on in Counterpower. All of them have been central to analysing the dynamics of power, identifying ways that it can be dissipated, then supporting people to have the confidence and skills to do so.

Do you think there are key moments where that support can best be concentrated?
The book lays out a four stage model of movements – Consciousness, Coordination, Confrontation and Consolidation. Ultimately I think you need different kinds of support at different times. So conscientisation along the Frierian model is most useful at the first stage, community organising at the second stage, direct action at the third stage and then dealing with fall-out at the fourth.

Many of the successful revolutionary movements you cite in Counterpower have overcome significant repression. Do you think that there needs to be a high level of explicit repression before a revolution can take place?

Movements are born because of repression – usually in covert economic form. In general movements are overtly repressed only when they have started being successful. Therefore resilience to repression will be a factor of many successful campaigns.

In Waging Nonviolent Struggle Gene Sharp talks about the use of Political Ju Jitsu – that is, causing the attacker to lose balance as a result of their own forward thrust. There are plenty of examples of repressive responses by governments backfiring against them – for example the police response to the Reform protests of the 1860s was what led to the resignation of the Home Secretary and then the passing of the second Reform Act in 1867. But the long struggle for the vote in Britain also shows that government repression can delay reform for years on end – as in the case of the 1794 treason trials, the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, and the brutal response to the Chartists and others in the general strike of 1842.

Perhaps an organiser on a different continent in a different century could have advised campaigners of both the past and present. Before his assassination, the Black Panther organiser Fred Hampton came out with some prophetic words: ‘You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution’.

So we don’t need to live in an explicit dictatorship for injustice to become so unbearable that it leads to revolution? Is a “European Spring” a possibility?
I see a revolution as any process that redistributes power from the haves to the have-nots. In most European countries there is a dictatorship of corporate power. So I  think it’s worth a go…

Watch an interview with Tim courtesy of London Indymedia

Tim Gee is the author of ‘Counterpower: Making Change Happen’, New Internationalist, 2011

So many tactics. So little time….

The Academy of Change (credited with a significant role in preparing the ground for the Egyptian uprising) have posted Political activists reveal 65 ways to start a Syrian revolution, which gives some examples of the range of tactics open to activists. Clearly Gene Sharp, and others, have compiled similar lists in the past, but it’s always good to see what’s current and is working in what context. Here’s a significant chunk of the post handily broken down for individuals, groups, and society as a whole:

The first 18 suggestions include ways that individuals can participate in the Syrian revolution, and this includes: providing food and medicine to protesters, utilizing the internet to convince people to participate in the revolution, transferring news and information to those demonstrating and protesting in Syrian cities, putting up pro-revolutionary posters, raising revolutionary flags, conducting dialogue with pro-government soldiers and police to convince them of the merits of the revolution, providing financial support to revolutionary activities, providing financial support to the poor, amongst other suggestions.

As for ways that groups (between 3 – 5 people) can participate in “developing the revolution”, this includes: painting the walls of certain important buildings in pro-revolutionary colors, changing the names of streets so that they bear the name of martyrs of the revolution, carrying out campaigns to convince neighborhoods of the merits of the revolution, defacing and fabricating official state-affiliated newspapers, making pro-revolutionary banners, obstructing certain streets with cars, creating a new constitution, and preventing government officials from going to work.

The website also included 25 suggestions for ways that groups of thousands of people can contribute to the Syrian revolution, and this includes: acts of civil disobedience, marching in the streets, including marches with demonstrators all wearing the popular anti-establishment Guy Fawkes “V” mask, taking part in strikes, bicycle rallies, withdrawing funds from government banks, not doing business with companies or shops loyal to the regime, amongst other suggestions..

As for the AOC’s suggestions for ways that millions of Syrians can join together to participate in the revolution, this includes; refusing to pay electricity and water bills, refusing to pay government taxes, boycotting official state celebrations and events, disobeying unjust laws, and other widespread acts of civil disobedience.

Am I advocating these specific tactics for the Occupy movement or others? No. Tactics are context specific. A tactic that forces the hand of a dictator may not even register here in the UK and vice versa. But we do need to be thinking of possibilities, customising tactics that work elsewhere, finding action that ordinary citizens can engage with, breaking down ideas and making them accessible, and of course getting the ideas out there.

Essentially this is an appeal to be strategic on some level or another. Strategy is a hard one – there are those I’ve spoken to who argue that we simply need to go where the energy for action is, which is as good a criterion to use as any since we can’t ever know the outcomes of our actions. Others advocate understanding theories of change, and planning each and every tactic like moves in a game of chess.

The Occupy movement has of course named itself by a tactic, which may limit its range. But a friend of mine reminded me the other day just how many ways there are to occupy. Clearly there’s the occupation of public space – bridges and squares, but, for example, there’s also the occupation of switchboards and websites (what used to be called phone or fax blockades – a constant barrage of calls, faxes, emails to a corporation or government that strains its communications systems to the point of breaking). I’m sure others spring to your minds as you read.

 

Dare to dream?

Environmentalists have been especially ineffective in creating any shared vision on the world they are working towards

Donella Meadows

Ouch!

Next week I’m facilitating a visioning day for folk from various Quaker sustainability projects . In dialogue with my contact, Sunniva, at Quaker Peace and Social Witness we decided to frame the day as a ‘visioning’ rather than a strategy day. For me this was about giving the group explicit permission to think creatively, to welcome intuition and emotion, and tap into their shared values.

However I’m hearing the language of strategy coming back at me from the participants as I ask them what they hope to get from the day. In response, I went as far as to sketch out an alternative, strategy focused agenda for the day. It seemed sensible to check out this disconnect. Sunniva sent me Donella Meadows‘ paper Envisioning for a Sustainable World to support her decision to vision rather than strategise. If I’m honest I groaned a little at seeing the academic format of the paper, but soon found myself absorbed and then inspired. I’ll leave it to Donella to say the rest:

    I have been honing my capacity to envision. I rarely start a garden, a book, a conference, or an organization, without formally envisioning how I want it to come out – what I really want, not what I am willing to settle for. I go to a quiet place, shut down my rational mind, and develop a vision. I present the vision to others, who correct and refine it help it to evolve. I write out vision statements. When I lose my way, I go back to those statements. Sometimes I still feel silly doing all this. I was raised in a skeptical culture, after all, and worse, I was trained as a scientist, with all “silly irrationality” drummed out of me. But I keep practicing vision, because my life works better when I do. Here are some things I have learned about the way vision works:

– Envisioning is not a left-brain activity, it doesn’t come from the part of me that does rational analysis. It comes from whatever part of me informs my values, my conscience, my sense of morality. Call it heart, call it soul, whatever is the source of vision, it is not rational mind.

– I have to keep filtering out any remnants of past disappointments, any tinge of negativism, any analysis of “reality.” I have to work actively to focus on what I want, not what I expect.

– I have stopped challenging myself, or anyone else who puts forth a vision, with the responsibility of laying out a plan for how to get there. A vision should be judged by its clarity of values, not by the clarity of its implementation path.

– In my experience that path is NEVER clear at first. It only reveals itself, step by step, as I walk along it. It often surprises me, because my computer and mental models are inadequate to the complexities and possibilities of the world. Holding to the vision and being flexible about the path is the only way to find the path.

– Vision is not rational, BUT rational mind can and must inform vision. I can envision climbing a tall tree and flying off from its top, and I might very much want to do that, but that vision is not consistent with the laws of the universe; it is not responsible. I can envision the end of hunger, but careful modeling tells me that it can’t be accomplished tomorrow; it will take time. I use every rational tool at my disposal not to weaken the basic values behind my vision, but to shape it into a responsible vision that acknowledges, but doesn’t get crushed by, the physical constraints of the world….

– One essential tool for making vision responsible is sharing it with others and incorporating their visions. Only shared vision can be responsible. Hitler was indeed a visionary, but his vision was not shared by the Jews or the Gypsies or most of the peoples of Europe. It was an immoral, insane vision.

– Staying in touch with vision prevents me from being seduced by cheap substitutes. If what I really want is self-esteem, I will not pretend to achieve it by buying a fancy car. If I want human happiness, I will not settle for GNP. I want serenity, but I will not take drugs. I want permanent prosperity, not unsustainable growth.

– Vision has an astonishing power to open the mind to possibilities I would never see in a mood of cynicism. Vision widens my choices, shows me creative new directions. It helps me see good-news stories, pockets of reality that could be seeds of a wider vision. I see what I should support; I get ideas for action.

– People who carry responsible vision become, in some sense I can’t explain, charismatic. They communicate differently from cynical people. Even if the vision isn’t overtly expressed, it’s there and it’s noticeable. Inversely, many progressive, dedicated, “realistic” people unconsciously communicate their underlying hopelessness. Being around them is a “downer;” being around visionaries is a constant inspiration.

– I have rarely achieved the full expression of any of my visions, but I have learned not to be discouraged by that. I get much further with a vision than without it, and I know I’m going the right direction. I can take comfort in my progress, even while I continue to bear the tension of knowing I’m not there yet.

I am a practical person. I think of myself as relentlessly realistic. I want to create change in the world, not visions in my head. I am constantly amazed, but increasingly convinced, that envisioning is a tool for producing results. Olympic athletes use it to make the difference between the superior performance their trained bodies can achieve and the outstanding performance their inspired vision can achieve. Corporate executives take formal classes in vision. All great leaders have been visionaries. Even the scientific, systems-analyst side of me has to admit that we can hardly achieve a desirable, sustainable world, if we can’t even picture what it will be like….

….Of course having a vision isn’t enough. Of course it’s only the first step toward any goal. The grandest vision will get nowhere without proper information and models and implementation (and resources, labor, capital, time, and money). There are great difficulties in all these steps of social change and much work to do. I’m by no means indicating that we all become nothing but visionaries. I think what I’m advocating is simply that we make the world safe for vision.

That means, at the least, that we take a mutual vow not to go around squashing vision — our own, or anyone else’s, and especially not that of young people. Of course having a vision isn’t enough. Of course it’s only the first step toward any goal. The grandest vision will get nowhere without proper information and models and implementation (and resources, labor, capital, time, and money). There are great difficulties in all these steps of social change and much work to do. I’m by no means indicating that we all become nothing but visionaries. I think what I’m advocating is simply that we make the world safe for vision. That means, at the least, that we take a mutual vow not to go around squashing vision — our own, or anyone else’s, and especially not that of young people.

Are we nearly there yet?

From time to time I find myself in discussion (or facilitating discussion) about whether or not campaigns and campaigners should declare their true colours and publish their vision and the route map for getting there. It’s not often that happens. More likely an organisation takes a step by step approach, raising awareness of, and lobbying for a ‘next step’. Yes the info on aims, vision, strategy might be available, but it’s not what the public encounter.

An example that springs to mind is fair trade but there are many other possibilities. The campaign for fair trade has focused on getting consumers to switch to fair trade brands of common goods. That’s gone hand in hand with working on companies to provide a ready source of those commodities that meet fair trade standards. In that respect it’s been a stunning success with the Fairtrade mark being very widely recognised and being the top ethical mark, in recognition terms here in the UK.

The problems sometimes raised are that this approach, fair trade or otherwise, simplifies issues, and leads consumers to believe that if they just switch to fair trade tea and coffee then all’s well with the world, which obviously it’s not. So what we need to do, the argument goes, is place fair trade in context of the wider issues of trade justice and the global economic system. Others argue that that’s too much for Joe Consumer to cope with in one bite and so on. I’m sure you’ve ‘been there had that argument’.

And of course it’s far too simplified a summary. Many fair trade insiders will (with much justification) say that they do a lot of awareness raising about wider trade justice issues. The problem is that work can get lost in the process of trying to formulate a simple understandable message for the public. It doesn’t fit easily on the side of a packet or on a leaflet.

There’s a danger that we end up with something akin to taking a small child on a long walk – “we’re almost there…. just around the next corner…. just keep walking for a while longer”. It’s a parallel I draw consciously, because it risks being a rather ‘parental’ approach.

Give it to me straight, I can take it

Last night I attended an open meeting of the Transition Leicester steering group. The group was looking for fresh energy and input. Several new folk , myself included, turned up. In one small group discussion I was part of we were looking at the strategic direction of Transition Leicester and very early on the question of whether the group revealed its full agenda arose. Was that too radical for folk to cope with? Do we talk changing lightbulbs and making your own compost and sideline talk of alternatives to capitalism until a later stage?

I prefer straight talk, cards on the table, and all that. But it has to be framed right. It seems to me that intellectual argument, facts and figures will only get us so far. What makes people undertake lasting change is a shift in values. In fact I’d argue that it’s a reconnection with existing values that The Man prefers us not to remember we have. All that commonly held stuff about equality, justice, humanity and compassion’s inconvenient for a consumer society, but I do think it’s present in all of us. We’re heavily sedated by all our consumer toys and told that self-centredness is a virtue. Turn on the TV for long enough and it’ll scream “me, me, me” at you.

So it’s not about radicalising people’s political views (although for some that might go hand in hand), it’s about articulating our values and connecting the dots to actions that embody those values. And if you buy into this argument then I think it’s good news because it’s simply (!) a case or reminding people what they already know to be true and showing some ways forward to rebuilding a society based on that truth.

Anti-capitalism, for example, frightens many people. But if it’s just about relating to others from  a position of common humanity and letting that run its natural course…. nowt too radical there. Make it a ‘system’, conceptualise it, and it can become too distant, too irrelevant for many, and risks becoming the preserve of the academic or activist elite. Whatever change we are making, and asking others to make, it has to be framed in human terms, or so it seems to me (today at least!)

The spark for today’s sermon was a lively debate I found myself in last night on making change. One member of the small group seemed to be advocating a very traditional top-down, academic, model of change. I’m going to paraphrase, and I’m aware it’s not an argument I have immediate sympathy for, so apologies if that comes through loud and clear and I stereotype…. “To make change we need knowledge, to access knowledge we need to speak an appropriate language, and oh dear, how do we communicate that to the masses who don’t speak the language? We need to educate them as they aren’t currently capable of understanding the change that is required”.

I’d prefer an approach that allowed for the possibility that people already have the answers and the experience to make change and all that’s needed is a drawing out of that experience, a sharing, and a collective analysis. And that can happen in any language. The best one? The language of the people making the change and not the language of academics, facilitators, professional campaigners or capacity builders.

So step by step or let ’em have it? I’d like to think that if we take the time to connect with the humanity in the issues we are active on, and phrase them in the language of the people we’re communicating too, then we can afford to be open about our vision from the start.
Implications for day-to-day activism? There’s a comments field below….

 

 

Mapping the activist experience

Take a look at Chris Johnston’s latest post: A journey through time, space and Leed’s global justice movement. It would be easy to be put off by the Leeds-specific title and the early mention of the-less-than-thrilling-named Customer Journey Mapping, but hang in there.

There’s something here for anyone trying to start, sustain or facilitate activism. Chris’s Activist Journey Map is well worth replicating for your group, network or organisation. Possibly a useful variation on other mapping tools for group’s strategy or visioning, or for designing support for networks of activists?

Campaigning – a SMART choice?

Thanks (again!) to Dwight Towers for bringing Political Dynamite’s recent post redefining SMART objectives for campaigners to our attention.

If you’ve read our ramblings on Strategy you’ll know we’re engaged in a constant quest to find ways to make strategic campaign/action planning accessible, and this is a step on the way. All that business language, all those management tools are a turn off to many activists. The redefined SMART, (headlines below – read the full post as the summary doesn’t do it justice) is more human, has elements of vision and values in it, whilst still retaining some common sense, pragmatic thinking. A nice balance.

S – Success focussed (rather than specific)

M – Movement building (rather than measurable)

A – Ambitious (rather than achievable)

R – Reactive (rather than realistic)

T – Targeted (rather than Time-bound)

Here’s some additional thoughts culled from a comment I left on the original post.

‘A note on Reactive: Political Dynamite are absolutely right, when they define reactive campaigns thus:

On the other hand, successful campaigns do need to be reactive. They need to be quick on their feet. And they need an answer to the question ‘What do we do if the government ignores us?’.

But there’s the danger that it’s misinterpreted to mean ‘sit and wait then respond’. Whereas effective campaigns take the initiative whilst also having the nimble footwork that allows them to also respond to unforseen events. Even the smallest group can set the agenda if they’re audacious enough (there’s a couple more A’s for you!).

Also, let’s not assume that the government is the target. There are many that would say behind every elected government are unelected corporation pulling the strings

Here’s some alternatives to think about:

  • Shared ____ (values, process, aims, goals….fill in the blank as appropriate)
  • Sustainable – personally, as a group, and in terms of planetary footprint
  • Resilient – building a campaign that builds a community that weathers the adverse changes that face us all
  • Resourceful – innovating, imaginative and inspiring – moving beyond and reinterpreting old tactics, making us laugh, gasp, or just plain sick with envy that we didn’t think of it first
  • Tenacious – accepting that any campaign is hard work and hanging in there for the duration, not taking no as an answer, not being cowed by the size and apparent ‘might’ of the system

I’ll be taking some of this thinking into future strategy workshops and meetings. As always, any learning will be shared right here.

Clicktivism & critical paths

We’ve touched on online activism before on this blog and spent quite a lot of time on strategy. So it seems appropriate to mention Chris Rose’s latest campaign strategy newsletter particularly the  Degrees of Annoyance article sparked by recent controversy over the e-campaigning methods of 38 Degrees. Well worth taking the time to read.

And since we’ve also referred to critical paths before I thought I’d quote the following from the article:

I’d suggest plan a campaign leading to a real change objective, with a properly researched Critical Path of steps which have to come about in order to make that real-world change happen. This forces you to understand the dynamics of the process you are trying to influence, and creates natural milestones which define progress and success – or lack of it.  It is reaching these change-points rather than the outputs which may be deemed necessary to try and get there, which should be used to judge success.  That makes numbers engaged online, or particular actions by particular online campaigners or supporters, a means and not an end.

This is a difference between tactics and strategy – the critical path must lead to the strategic outcome, while the tactics are used to help you get along the way.  Without a critical path you may have an end goal in mind but then no way of knowing whether a particular tactical activity – be it online or offline – is ‘working’.  How many meetings with politicians, how many direct actions or letters written, how many advertising billboards, community events, website visits or click through conversions are needed ? There’s no way of telling.  Don’t let enthusiasm for particular tactics replace a critical path strategy.

Building Bridges

Monday saw me on an early train to Wellington, Shropshire to facilitate Bridge’s staff and trustee ‘Visioning’ away day. It was a fairly short notice piece of work for me, but made much more possible by the clear brief and draft agenda Bridges’ co-ordinator provided. The real pleasure about this job was that using participatory tools wasn’t an option, it was right there in the brief.

Bridges themselves work with schools and community groups using participatory methods like Philosophical Enquiry (or P4C as it’s sometimes known). We didn’t use P4C on the day, though it’s something I’ll be exploring for the future. However we did use a host of other participatory methods, including de Bono’s six thinking hats. I also took the idea of local radio interviews, which I recently used in a strategy training and tweaked it to help the group explore differing stakeholder perspectives of their work. Add to that a highly entertaining session called History of the Future and we were ensured an energetic day together.

Green hat thinking in progress

Sadly the end point was, as is often the case, too ambitious. I don’t believe in creating unrealistic expectations, so I levelled with the group right at the start – whilst we’d try our best I doubted we’d get as far as they were hoping to. I’d already had that conversation with Davina, the co-ordinator.

I’ve written before about the challenges of undertaking work like this in just one day. It’s a source of endless frustration to me that fantastic organisations like Bridges simply don’t have the resources to be able to give these processes the time they really take and they’re left using other means to finish off processes and finalise important decisions. This is something I’ll be thinking about more. If I come to any conclusions I’ll share them here. If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

One very basic piece of learning from this, for me, is that it’s far more intelligent to plan the process for finalising the work before the day begins. Towards the end of the day, when everyone’s brain is beginning to ache from such concentrated creative exertion, is not the best time to have to improvise a system for collaborating on creating near-final draft documents, taking the final decisions, and communicating the outcomes to the group. But that feels a little like working on the assumption of failure. Bridges will be using online collaborative tools.

The final stages of the vision in their raw form - a "visual mess"

Even though we didn’t reach the end point the group were hoping for, they enjoyed and valued the day. The were very complimentary about the choice of tools we used across the day, and appreciated the rare opportunity to engage with each other and get to hear each other’s viewpoints. The negatives were mainly to do with time: “not enough hours in the day”. There was a comment about the collecting of thoughts on what Bridges overarching vision might be – that the board with post-it notes on it was a “visual mess”. Fair point – had we had longer I would have moved on to break the emerging themes up more cleanly. We had to stop and move on to ensure a system was in place to finalise the work. However, it’s still not appropriate for the final mental ‘snapshot’ to be a confusing one, especially when tidying it up is the work of minutes. The last word from Davina:

Everyone in the office is very pleased with how the day went, myself included. One of our Trustees was very quick to praise your skills – and is often quick to find fault

More strategy resources – useful tools and techniques

The folk at The Change Agency have added some new resources to the strategy pages of their website. Some of the new resources are listed and linked below, but you might like to check out the pages if you haven’t recently.

  • Mechanisms of change (233k pdf) – An exercise which explores the different ways social movements can bring about change and how these different mechanisms can help when selecting tactics.
  • Vision gallery (229k pdf) – A tool for envisioning specific features of the kind of society participants would like to create, and facilitating development of a common vision and shared values.
  • Tactics relay (259k pdf) – An activity to assist participants to think critically and creatively about potential tactics and to reinforce social change frameworks.

I also raided a corporate website recently for some visioning  tools: scroll down for History of the Future, which I’ve since used with reasonable success and will definitely use again.

Want to read more? See our previous post on strategy resources

https://rhizomenetwork.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/strategy-resources-useful-tools-and-techniques/

The chemistry of storytelling

Some of you may have read our thinking on story-based strategy in previous posts.

Unsurprisingly I pricked up my ears when Ron Donaldson’s The ecology of knowledge blog mentioned the chemistry of storytelling and took me to Marguerite Granat’s post which succinctly explains the role of story in our society.

Strategy and activism: hairdresser or architect?

As promised here are some edited highlights from the interview with Milan Rai and Gabriel Carlyle. The interview was recorded on a small digital voice recorder in a tent at the Peace News Summer Camp. Unsurprisingly the sound quality was low and I won’t inflict it on you. Instead I’ve trawled through it and transcribed the following nuggets.

But first why Mil and Gabriel? Mainly because they seem to constantly be looking to the next step in the campaigns in which they’re involved (Voices in the Wilderness and Justice not Vengeance to name but two) whilst simultaneously trying to create accessible campaigns and build the wider movement.

“I think having a more strategic approach is about letting go of that tight grip on that particular tactic or family of tactics and being willing to look at the range of things that will help you achieve the intermediate goals, the best intermediate goals, towards what you want to do…” Milan Rai

Why the focus on building the Movement?

MR: On Afghanistan there’s been so little activity going on and so whatever was done, in a sense, was good. Movement building that has been near the top of my agenda: how can we increase the amount of energy people have for doing things around Afghanistan?… I think there is what I decide for myself is the best use of my time and energy and then there’s what ends up being the best thing for me to do with a group of people… I wouldn’t say that I’d go 180° to what I’ve decided is a good idea to do but I would end a long way in order to end up with a situation where at the end of the whole process the people who have been organising it feel good about the experience and that they have gone in the direction that they’re happy with so that they have more energy to carry on.

GC: I think “is this the best use of my time?” and all the rest of it but in practice a lot of what one does, at least after that initial step has been taken of trying to get people together to do something, even if one’s got a clear conception of it oneself, in practice a lot of the moves you subsequently make are forced on you by factors you can’t really control… I’m aware of the strategic issues but I rarely get to put any of them into practice…

MR: I disagree with you because when you say you don’t practice strategy what you’re talking about is sitting down and making a strategic plan and putting all the elements in place to follow through on getting to that goal. But I think that you have certain skills and certain abilities and knowledge and resources that you can lay your hands on, and networks. And what you do is you figure out how we get to the next intermediate goal towards ending the war and building a movement big enough to stop all these wars happening. I think you’re doing that all of the time but not in a “I’m writing the blueprint for the next 5 years” kind of way. It’s making that assessment of what you have available and building from that, and I think you do that all of the time.

I think that my personal judgement is that the overriding strategic priority that I have is to encourage every single person I meet around activism to feel better about being an activist and about being involved, and to try to create an environment in which they feel heard and strengthened and supported and I think that’s the most important thing. Creating an environment in which people are encouraged to take another step, to get a bit more involved and to feel a little bit stronger in their opinions… that’s the way you do campaigning. It’s from people feeling more confidence and strength that more activity happens and maybe some of it won’t be the best use of resources but it’s something.

Intermediate goals?

MR: For example, trying to think about how to encourage people in the military who are feeling dissident about the war in Afghanistan, to make them feel they have some support out there and make them feel stronger in taking a stand, in making a difference, and for their families to feel there is support out there for that kind of thing… that’s an intermediate goal towards ending the war in Afghanistan and building a political and social force that is capable of stopping wars of aggression like this happening in the future.

What if cold dispassionate strategy says “do one thing”, but our passion and excitement tell us to do another?

MR: I think what happens in practice is that people cluster their activities around a family of tactics and so they apply those tactics to situations: they are direct activists so they do direct action around stuff. I think having a more strategic approach is about letting go of that tight grip on that particular tactic or family of tactics and being willing to look at the range of things that will help you achieve the intermediate goals, the best intermediate goals, towards what you want to do…

I think it’s perfectly sensible for people to say “I have expertise, or we have expertise, in doing a certain thing. If there’s a campaign going on there’s a contribution we can make in this particular way”. At the same time I think that the most important thing to do is figure out what your preferred intermediate goal is and to work out the best way to make that happen. And it might be that doing a direct action at this particular point is not the best way.

It’s about what fits the intermediate goal and a willingness to let go of the tactics and to try to figure out the set of actions that will help move you towards that.

GC: I’m not saying the only consideration, but a key consideration is efficacy rather than making your self feel militant or comfortable. I think all these things have at least 2 ways to face. When you do something there’s the effect it has on the external world and there’s the effect on the movement you’re trying to grow. So if we’re a direct action group but were going to stop being a direct action group to write letters because that’s what we’ve concluded from our strategic analysis is effective, and everybody goes home and nobody writes a letter then you haven’t factored in a key part.

MR: The passion versus rationality question – I can completely see that that’s how it feels as a dilemma. I look at it in a slightly different way, which is to say that there’s a difference between different kinds of activity which in terms of what kind of reward you perceive you’re getting from it…

If you’re a hairdresser within an hour or two, virtually immediately, you work on something; you see it change; you get feedback from the people involved – generally positive; you get paid straight away; and it’s all done. You’ve got immediate effect on the world, immediate feedback of appreciation and support, immediate financial pay-off, and it’s all taken place in a couple of hours.

Whereas, at the other end of the spectrum, if you’re an architect you may spend a long time designing some duct which no-one is ever going to see, and there’s a huge chain of people between you and the building going up. No-one’s ever going to thank you for that duct. And there’s a large gap in time and space between you doing your work and the end result.

I think what I’d say is that whatever kind of activism you’re doing of whatever family of tactics there has to be a mixture of stuff, where there’s some stuff that is long-term – no immediate visible effect kind of thing because that’s essential for social change – and stuff which you get some visible pay-off that something has changed because of what I’ve done, not within a couple of hours, but within an appreciable amount of time.

Can’t get no satisfaction?

MR: It’s about being clear what you personally find satisfying and then finding out whether you can give people satisfactory experiences which are just about them – it’s not about the world changing, but it might involve some change in the world that they find satisfying with different families of tactics. And I think that’s slightly different from passion and rationality

What advice would you offer to an activist group?

GC: It’s very simple stuff, obvious when it’s pointed out to you. And even if you know about it, having your attention drawn back to that stuff: What are you trying to achieve? If there’s some completely impossible goal what is the nearest thing you can think of, which is the intermediate goal as Mil was saying. What’s the most effective action? Do you live on the doorstep of some major player in the war? Do you have a local base? What is the thing that’s the largest increment or step that’s actually feasible? Then looking at the resources you have to deploy and seeing if they match up, and do what you can do that’s constructive.

Strategy resources – useful tools and techniques

As promised at the start of our strategy conversation, here are some links for further reading and tools and techniques:

Readers of our blog may be familiar with story based strategy as told by smartMeme, particularly their Re:Imagining Change publication. They also have downloadable worksheets for the various  strategy steps, also on their resources page.

smartMeme also recommend Beyond The Choir’s Tactic Star as a tool for ensuring that tactics are well thought out

Turning The Tide’s training manual which includes the common strategy tools:

Training for Change have a host of innovative approaches including two we’ve specifically mentioned in recent posts:

The Change Agency also have a useful website. There are many overlaps with Turning The Tide and Training for Change, but some useful additions too, such as:

  • Cutting the issue – a tool to help groups decide where, on a massive issue, they can make a real difference

We need to mention Chris Rose’s Campaign Strategy website (and e-newsletter). In a recent newsletter Chris outlines 8 basic questions activists can ask to help them plan and act more strategically

Zhaba facilitators’ collective have a range of tools on their website including a variation of F analysis, Royen’s Mill, and a tool for creating a communication-based campaign

New Tactics InterTactica blog by Phillipe Duhamel, whilst focused on nonviolent struggle, has quite a few posts on the strategy of the nonviolent struggle

Mindtools also have a whole host of free resources on their site – many of which are commonly used in strategic planning. You may want to start in the project management and problem solving pages

Want to read more? Try our follow up post with more resources

The values of strategy?

I’ve been working up an agenda for a 2 hour strategy workshop at the Peace News Summer Gathering – co-facilitated by Rich at Seeds for Change. It’s great timing – happening alongside the conversation that’s been taking place on this blog about strategy.

We want to start where people are at and help them explore what values they currently use to make their activist-related decisions: why this campaign and not that one… this action rather than that action… this type of activist group or organisation and not another?

Which of these actions speaks to your values?

Then we plan to use a local radio style interview to get them thinking about those values and uncover the strategic elements (or lack of them) before moving on to introduce and practice a couple of tools mentioned in the various posts – smartMeme’s Battle of the Story and critical path analysis (aka stepping-stones).

Starting from people’s values seems like an intelligent thing to do. One of the reasons why Rhizome, Seeds and Turning The Tide facilitators have been exploring strategy over the past couple of months is the sense that much of what’s currently on offer leaves people feeling cold. It alienates rather than included and therefore makes consciously strategic thinking (and therefore strategic action) less likely  – except of course for the few for whom these kind of thinking processes naturally work.

Going in at the level of values should engage people at a level at which they really care. Of course values might not be the only criteria activists need to consider when planning action – and we’ll be asking the group we work with on Sunday what else they feel needs to be part of an effective strategic process.

We’ll also be exploring the area of shared values. Groups working from individual values and assuming that they are universally held within the group are storing up trouble for later. So an explicit conversation on which values are ‘mine’ and which ‘ours’, needs to happen.

Clearly there’s also the issue of whether there are identifiable pressure points, triggers or fulcrums (fulcra?) we need to focus on to be truly effective. Once identified, the challenge then becomes finding effective ways to act that start from our shared values. It’s unlikely we’ll manage to cover this latter area in the 2 hours we have… a follow-up workshop, maybe?

I’ll let you know how it went next week…

Strategy: a small NGO perspective

Peter Chowla from the Bretton Woods Project shares some insights on strategy for small NGOs, taken from the BWP’s current round of strategic planning. You can hear his thoughts in this 10 minute interview:

pchowla_interview

We’ve also transcribed a few nuggets below:

Why do strategy?

Seven Years on [from our last strategic review], after a global financial and economic crisis, massive changes in international power relations between big countries and a change in government in the UK, I think we felt we needed to take a step back, look at the way we work with other groups and other organisations and look at the power dynamics of the situation we’re trying to change and have a more overarching view for how we can influence these institutions. Without taking a step back and looking at it from a broader perspective we were afraid that we were going to be going down trodden paths that lead to nowhere.

The challenges?

It’s taken a heavy amount of our time… but we also feel that if we do this decision right now it’ll be time really well invested for the next five, maybe ten, years

It’s slower than we hoped but I think that’s probably a product of the fact that we’re taking really important decisions… it takes time to come to consensus … [that] reflects the experience all of us have.

Resources – not just time but also money to put into having consultants help us…

It takes time to come to consensus. We’ve had some differences of opinion within the staff here, we’ve had to work through those and come to compromises…reflecting the experiences all of us have.

Advice for other NGOs?

it really pays to do your homework in advance. That means don’t just organise an away day and think you’ll go and sort everything out. You need to have thought through the options, done some research, plan ahead. We find it helps to write things down so everyone’s on the same page 

Planning campaigns at the grassroots

In this post we interview Kathryn Tulip of Seeds for Change Oxford who has been working to make strategy more accessible to grassroots campaign groups.

You can listen to the full interview (12.5 minutes) or Kathryn’s top tips for facilitators (2.5 minutes). Apologies for the background noise. For those that prefer the written word, we’ve transcribed some of the interview below, including paraphrasing the top tips….

Challenges strategy poses for grassroots campaign groups?

Many find the idea of long-term planning daunting, and the creation of timelines that go on for periods of up to 5 years quite tricky to deal with in terms of thinking about where they might be in their campaigns, and their ability to commit to that length of time.

The experience of having created plans in the past that haven’t been fully implemented – maybe being a little over-enthusiastic about what resources they had available and commitments   to carry forward the strategic plan… grassroots groups go up and down in their energy levels and numbers involved in the group, and … a strategic plan isn’t being well supported by the group process. They can’t fulfil the plan and that becomes a negative factor because they’re not making progress in the way that they hoped they would.

In many groups there are hierarchies and there are some people who seem to be more naturally strategic thinkers…. maybe [their strategy] is presented in a very charismatic and a very positive way and people find themselves agreeing with it, but it seems it’s not a democratic process. The shared thinking behind the strategy isn’t owned by the group and that can create hierarchies between those who do the strategic planning and those who follow on behind

Ways forward?

Think of strategy not as a fixed plan but as a discussion, a way of thinking about what might happen, what the outcomes are, the way to put ourselves in the best position to reach those outcomes without getting too bogged down in detail… a discussion of possibilities so that we’ve created more fertile ground

Top tips for facilitators?

  • Mind your language – the language of strategy, aims, outcomes, targets, tactics is quite militaristic and puts some people off. Think in terms of planning campaigns and stepping stones instead
  • Tackle the gender divide – experience shows that more men engage with strategy than women. Perhaps it’s the language or the traditional planning tools and processes
  • Advertise for accessibility – bear the above points in mind when you advertise a strategy session and use language that works for all
  • Beware linea r tools! – many strategy tools encourage linear thinking “if we do A then B happens” these are “fitted to some people more than others and frankly might not be what’s happening in the outside world if you think about the organic nature of our world”

And finally – one for your strategy toolkit….

Stepping stones to strategyKathryn has been exploring critical path analysis, but renaming it (for obvious reasons!) as stepping stones. There are various versions of the tool out there. Here’s one from Training for Change.

What’s strategy ever done for us?

I thought it was time for a more upbeat post on strategy whilst I find the time to edit 2 interviews that I hope to post soon – the first with Kathryn Tulip of Seeds for Change focusing on overcoming challenges in facilitating strategy at the grassroots, and the second with Peter Chowla of Bretton Woods Project offering insights into their chosen strategic process and how it’s benefited them as a small NGO. But in the meantime a reminder of what activists might gain from ‘doing strategy’….

What’s strategy ever done for us?Well apart from winning campaigns, allowing us to set the agenda, focusing our resources most effectively, helping us prevent burn-out, and therefore changing the world for the better? Not much.

Campaign strategy is a huge topic. Often it seems like a topic suited most to the more academic amongst us, to strategy geeks, to the kind of people who enjoy creating GANNT charts, PEST or SWOT analysis. Many strategic thinking tools are dry. They lack the passion that drives us as campaigners and activists. Maybe that’s a good thing? Maybe we need to step back, put our passion to one side, and look objectively at what we’re trying to change. Or maybe we need to let our passion have its head and guide our campaigns and actions. No doubt we’ll talk about tools for strategic thinking another time. Here we want to focus on ‘why be strategic?’

So with apologies to the Pythons, back to the question – What’s strategy ever done for us?

Whether you advocate objectivity, or passion there are very strong arguments for doing some strategic thinking. Here’s a sample of them:

Strategy allows us to set the agenda. How many campaign groups spend their days (and nights!) constantly reacting to the agenda of the governments, councils or corporations that they are campaigning against? Or firefighting the latest media article? This model of campaigning can be exhausting. Don’t you sometimes wish that our side of the story was being heard by more people, more often? Strategy can deliver that. It allows us to plan ahead and explore how we can get the message out there, by direct contact with the people who matter, through audacious direct action that the media just can’t ignore, or by creating our own independent media. It can put our opponents on the back foot running to keep up with us.

Strategy helps us to map out the landscape in which we’re campaigning. Who’s out there? Who’s working with us? Who’s working against us? Where can we be most effective? What are the natural alliances we could forge? All of this thinking helps us find the right action for our campaign group to take. Often, for example, the direct action element of the campaign might be missing or weak. Someone needs to step into that role and take action. Thinking this way means we don’t duplicate the work of other groups, unless more of the same is needed. It also means that we’ve thought about who the powerholders really are and not just jumped to the easy conclusions. Behind that politician may well be a corporate lobbyist pulling the strings!

Strategy keeps us sustainable – a bit of forward thinking gives us the luxury of planning to:

  • also look after ourselves as a group – making sure we take the time to improve the way we communicate, to have fun together, or to prevent unwanted hierarchies or bad habits developing, for example
  • bring in new people (and keep them involved!)
  • raise any money we need to fund the campaign
  • share skills so that we don’t become reliant on a few experienced individuals
  • take breaks when we need them, knowing others have the information and skills to carry on the campaign
  • build links in the community right from the start and not at a moment when relations are strained
  • make time for the positive actions that build alternatives to the problem as well as the negative tactics that are all about stopping the problem

Strategy can see us through the hard times. Understanding strategic models – analyses of how change happens in society – can help us deal with those moments of a campaign when it looks like we’ve lost momentum, and we begin to despair that change will ever happen. For example, Bill Moyers in the Movement Action Plan talks about a fifth stage of crisis and burn-out for activists at the heart of the campaign happening just before, or even alongside the campaign developing unstoppable momentum. Sometimes we’re just to close to the campaign to see how much we’ve actually achieved and what we have to celebrate. Good strategy involves plenty of celebration!

So there you go – four good reasons to take time to do strategy. If you need more convincing, take a look at some case studies from around the world put together by those lovely folk at the Change Agency. If you want to share you experience, add your comments or get in touch.