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strategy

A map that charts the territory between our current position and the achievement of our intended change objectives can help us achieve our purpose and avoid the sense of being overwhelmed that often accompanies social and environmental activism.

Our maps can be simple or complex. Some campaigning organisations develop complex explanations of how they believe their strategies will contribute to change. Others have simple templates to plan and communicate their chosen tactics and keep people on the same page.

In our 'Strategising for Change' workshops, participants share and experiment with several campaign planning templates.

Something we've noticed about strategy is that folks are often confused or in conflict about key strategising terms: strategy and tactics, goals and objectives in particular. What follows is a simple run down of the way we use some of these words - if it helps! We do not advocate the "one right way" of campaigning but we do feel that community organisers and activists benefit immensely from developing a shared understanding and language. Our list below suggests a sequence for developing strategy, but in reality there's no one right way and the best campaign strategies are developed iteratively and revisited frequently.

1. strategy

A strategy for a social change campaign can be as simple or complex as you and your group determine. It should communicate your theory of change, the political context you are working in, the problems and solutions, your goals, power analysis, tactics and timeline.

The Midwest Academy propose a simple campaign planning grid with columns for each of the following elements of strategy: vision; goals; objectives; organisational considerations; constituents, allies and opponents; tactics; and timeline.

The Democracy Centre recommends nine steps to plan advocacy campaigns based around a sequence of simple questions. By answering each question, campaigners develop each element of their strategy:

What do we want? (goals)
Who can give it to us? (audiences)
What do they need to hear? (messages)
Who do they need to hear it from? (messengers)
How do we get them to hear it? (delivery)
What have we got? (resources; strengths)
What do we need to develop? (challenges; gaps)
How do we begin? (first steps)
How will we know it's working, or not working? (evaluation)

By experimenting with these processes and reflecting on how they’ve contributed to your campaign impact, you’ll get a sense of what works best for your group.

2. campaign scope and goals

‘Cut the issue’ to narrow down bigger picture problems into more manageable parts. What are all the different ways the problem is experienced? How is it framed by different groups? What part of the problem or bigger issue do you intend to work on? It might be helpful to frame it as a solution or partial solution. Name the problem, identify issues and justify which one/s you plan to tackle.

The campaign focus might include a ‘problem statement’ that defines the social or environmental justice that your group is most concerned with. What part of the problem are you trying to solve? How does resolving this issue address the underlying problem and root causes?

The ‘cutting the issue’ exercise can help you define your goals. (Note: We tend to use 'goals' as the bigger picture steps toward your vision and 'objectives' to denote the more specific steps you are hoping to achieve along the way.) How do you want things to be? If this issue or problem is resolved, how will the situation have changed? How will justice be achieved? Objectives should be discrete and directly linked to the scope. It is generally best to focus on one campaign objective or limit to two or three. If your objectives are sufficiently different, it may be worthwhile developing separate campaign plans.

Cutting the issue (212k PDF) - It's next to impossible to make a difference on a huge problem. How you 'cut' it will influence your prospects of success. What part of the problem is immediate, concrete and winnable?

3. vision

What does the situation you are working towards look like? What does the social or environmental change that you are working on feel like when you are there? Paint yourself a picture. This helps when you're communicating with others about the world you hope to create through your campaign or community action.

Two useful processes you might use are the Institute for Sustainable COmmunities' questions for developing your objectives> and the 'What is your political vision' exercise (below).

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.
What is your political vision? - Exercise to help your group define the characteristics of political life in the ideal future as expressed in roles, relationships, and values in decision making.

4. situational analysis

What is the context? What political, economic, cultural or other factors are creating or maintaining this problem? What are the root causes? What factors are likely to help or hinder you in achieving your objectives? Who benefits from the problem being maintained? Who would benefit from it being changed? Are certain groups experiencing these injustices more than others? What are civil society groups doing about the situation?

Forcefield analysis/ Macro strategy exercise (Tug of war) (212k pdf) - This activity examines various forces that affect a movement including external groups, internal division, psychological powers and blocks. Macro Strategy is a kinesthetic way to introduce this activity.
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.
Mechanisms of change quotations (230k pdf) - Resource containing numerous famous quotations that relate to four mechanisms of change: persuasion, accommodation, coercion and disintegration.
Problem tree analysis (180k pdf) - This exercise is used to analyse the root causes of a problem and to identify the primary consequences. The tree provides a visual
structure for the analysis.
SWOT analysis (234k pdf) - An activity to examine internal and external factors that hinder or facilitate a group's advocacy strategy. This is a useful activity to help you refine goals, objectives, and activities.

5. critical path analysis

What sequence of changes or outcomes will take you from here to the vision of your campaign goal area being resolved? What changes need to take place? What assumptions underpin your critical path? What steps can you realistically bring about?

Critical Path Analysis (512k PDF) - Challenges community organisers to envision a sequence of changes on the path to their desired social changes. One of our favourites.
critical path template
'Naming political assumptions' exercise - An exercise to help your group's members identify the political assumptions that shape their opinions and analysis.
Critical path building: a different view - Nick Gallie's take on critical path mapping (excellent!)

6. organisational considerations

What organisational considerations do you need to bear in mind? What are your philosophies and policies? What are our strengths? Constraints? Consider key organisational priorities such as gender and cultural diversity, and fundraising objectives. What level of priority does this campaign have? What resources are likely to be available for this campaign?

Two useful processes are SWOT analysis and team types.

Team types (120k PDF) - An opportunity to reflect on behaviour and work together to understand each other more deeply.

7. allies, constituents & targets

When you map out the stakeholders in your campaign, allies are the stakeholders you can work with, build alliances with, and share resources with. Constituents are “the community”, the people you want to side with your position and help apply pressure to your target. Your target is often a decision maker - someone who can give you the change you want, in representative democracies these are often politicians, ministers, or members of parliament. Often these become primary targets and it can useful to identify secondary targets who are stakeholders who have some influence over the primary target. If your primary target is the CEO of a corporation, then your secondary targets might include shareholders.

A power map can be a useful reference and shared analysis during a campaign. This is a simple tool to identify where key stakeholders (allies, targets, opponents and constituents) stand in relation to your campaign objective, and their relative levels of influence.

Power mapping (60k PDF) - Map out who's who to prioritise points of influence or change, and generate ideas for strategy: a great exercise pre- or mid-campaign.
power map template (36k Word doc)
Spectrum of allies (289k pdf) - An exercise to examine how different stakeholders view our campaign objectives and to consider tactics accordingly.
Spectrum of allies handout (500k pdf) - This resource is to be used in the Spectrum of allies exercise.

8. objectives

What specific or tangible outcomes do you aim to achieve to further the campaign goals? Objectives should be strategic, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-specific (SMART). Objectives are based on your situational analysis (looking at the range of potential issues), critical path (how can each issue be resolved) and organisational considerations (which issues do we have the capacity to tackle and which fit our organisation the best?).

Some processes that are useful here include revisiting your critical path, drafting then SMARTening your objectives, and forcefield analysis for each objective.

SMART objective writing (155k pdf) - An exercise to turn your group’s desired changes into objectives that are Specific and Strategic, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound.

9. tactics

Lee Staples quotation
Tactics are the social action activities that you use to achieve your goals and objectives but the strategy is the sequencing of these in a logical and strategic way. List and detail the tactics required to achieve each campaign objective. Decide which tactics will deliver the greatest impact for the energy and resources you invest. Apply agreed tactics criteria to assess and justify tactics.

Tactics analysis (229k pdf) - An activity to assist groups select effective tactics by thinking more strategically.
Tactics analysis handout (233k pdf) - This resource is used in the Tactics Analysis activity.
Tactics relay (259k pdf) - An activity to assist participants to think critically and creatively about potential tactics and to reinforce social change frameworks.
Tactical timeline (229k pdf) - This activity guides groups to develop their strategy by sequencing tactics.
Ten commandments of activism (100k pdf) - Some wise words from Saul Alinsky.
Rules of power tactics (223k pdf) - This resource outlines Saul Alinksy’s guidelines for selecting tactics (source: Rules for Radicals).

Many organisations adopt a set of criteria to assess potential tactics. The Midwest Academy has developed a checklist for tactics to assess potential tactics.

Can you really do it? Do you have the needed people, time and resources?
Is it focused on either the primary or secondary target?
Does it put real power behind a specific demand?
Does it meet you organisational goals as well as your issue goals?
Is it outside the experience of the target?
Is it within the experience of your own members and are they comfortable with it?
Do you have enough leaders experienced enough to do it?
Will people enjoy participating in it?
Will it play positively in the media?

10. evaluation

What will success look like and how will you know when it’s happening? Be sure not to emphasise the outputs that are easiest to count. Focus instead on the outcomes that really matter to your objectives. The Change Agency has an ongoing action research project to learn about advocacy and campaign evaluation. Click here for details, resources and links.

Success indicators need to be directly linked to your objectives and might include:

outputs: What quantitative results will be brought about by your activities. What will be the results?
outcomes: What changes will be brought about?
impact: What will be longer-term results or changes?
indicators: How will you know you have achieved your objectives? What are the changes that you will be able to observe?
means of verification: How can you prove these changes have occurred?
details of how and when the campaign plan will be revised.
identify who will be responsible for gathering the data for monitoring success indicators, how they will do it and how regularly reports will be completed.

piecing it all together

Four templates we've seen used effectively are:

tCA strategy chart - The anatomy of a campaign strategy: a chart illustrating elements of strategy and processes your group can use to develop them.
tCA campaign strategy template (84k PDF) - the Change Agency's template incorporating elements of strategy and suggested processes to develop each element with members of your group
Basic strategy grid (48k PDF) - An adapted version of the Midwest Academy's community organising grid, this simple table provides one way of putting together key pieces of a strategy.
Campaign Strategy Grid (63k PDF) - US-based activist Phil Radford developed this ten-column grid with headings that prompt you to consider both big-picture questions about vision, goals, objectives, sociopolitical context, and why you have chosen this particular campaign, as well as operational questions about tactics, messages and timeline.
Strategic planning template (72k Word doc) - This format has been used by medium-sized environment groups in their annual planning cycle. A simple table requiring vision, objectives, resources and performance indicators. The table is also useful for evaluation purposes.

If you have additional tools, templates or examples of strategies you're willing to share, please let us know. Thanks to Christine Laurence for sharing with us her excellent campaign planning manual >

How to plan a campaign (424k PDF) - Seasoned transport campaigner Christine Laurence has developed this 19 page manual to integrate the suite of practical campaign planning tools she's collected and developed. Christine's report of her Churchill Scholarship is one of our more popular downloads.