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 intended changes. Others have simple templates to plan and communicate their chosen tactics and keep people heading in the same direction. Some groups rely heavily on written strategies and others find that regular dialogue works to develop a shared strategy. In our ‘Strategising for Change’ workshops, participants share and experiment with different approaches.

Something we’ve noticed about strategy is that folks are often confused or in conflict about key strategising terms: ‘strategy’, ‘tactics’, ‘goals’ and ‘objectives’, for instance, have lots of different meanings. What follows is a simple run down of the way we use some of these words – if it helps! We do not advocate “one right way” to articulate your strategy. But we do feel that community organisers and activists benefit immensely when they develop 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.

This page guides you through ten strategising steps. Our Campaign Strategy Guide provides  a more detailed  set of 27 process guides and 20 resources to help you and your groups thoroughly assess the political landscape and plan how best to accomplish your objectives. It’s available in hard copy and as a download.


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 and objectives, 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 and objectives)
  • 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 purposefully choose 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.

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Cutting the issue

It’s next to impossible to make a difference on a huge problem. How you ‘cut’ the problem into issues will influence your prospects of success, and the consequent impact. What parts of the problem (and the solution) are amenable to your influence?

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 (linked below).


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?



5. Critical path analysis

What sequence of changes or outcomes will take you from where things are now to achieving your social change objectives? What changes need to take place along the way? What assumptions underpin your critical path? What steps can you realistically bring about? Critical path analysis is one of the most powerful and challenging strategy processes. Contact us for examples and/or feedback as you hone this skill.

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Critical path analysis

A critical path charts a sequence of outcomes or changes that are necessary between where we are (here and now) and the resolution of the problem we’re campaigning to solve. This tool helps campaigners to articulate their assumptions about how the intended change will be brought about, step by step. It’s a powerful tool that challenges us to set tactics and communication to one side while we (first) develop a shared understanding about how things are most likely to change.




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.


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SWOT analysis

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.

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. Sometimes we have limited capacity to influence our primary targets, so it can useful to identify secondary targets: stakeholders who have more direct influence with 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.



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Spectrum of allies

An exercise to examine how different stakeholders view our campaign objectives and to consider tactics accordingly.


8. Objectives

What specific or tangible outcomes do you aim to achieve to further the campaign goals? Ideally, 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?). A clearly defined objective makes for a motivated constituency and successful campaign.

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

9. Tactics

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.




Some campaigning 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 your 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

There is no “one right way” to capture and communicate all the elements of strategy.  Some organisations have a preference for simple one-page tables. Others use longly narrative formats or complex documents that extend to 20 pages or more.  Some templates we’ve seen used effectively are:





Strategic planning template

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:

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How to plan a campaign

Seasoned transport campaigner Christine Laurence developed this 19 page manual to integrate the suite of practical campaign planning tools she collected and developed. Christine’s report of her Churchill Scholarship is one of our more popular downloads.

What are people saying about us?

Cherry Muddle, Australian Marine Conservation Society

The Community Organising Fellowship has rooted in me a deeper sense of belonging to an intentional, international movement to create the positive changes we wish to see in society, environment, culture and climate. The program delivery is varied, fluid and always interesting. The strengths and highlights for me include learning through shared experience and critical analysis. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed forging strong connections and bonds between fellow organisers, facilitators and guest speakers.
2015-03-17T21:02:16+11:00
The Community Organising Fellowship has rooted in me a deeper sense of belonging to an intentional, international movement to create the positive changes we wish to see in society, environment, culture and climate. The program delivery is varied, fluid and always interesting. The strengths and highlights for me include learning through shared experience and critical analysis. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed forging strong connections and bonds between fellow organisers, facilitators and guest speakers.

Leigh Ewbank, Yes2Renewables coordinator

Usually, organisers learn in the heat of battle – through trial and error, stress, and necessity. The Community Organising Fellowship has provided a rare opportunity to step off the campaign trail, slow down, and do some deep learning. The suite of tools explored in the program will influence my practice for years to come.

 By creating a ‘community of practice’ of organisers, those behind the fellowship have shown strategic leadership. The relationships the program has cultivated (within the cohort and between alumni) will pay dividends. 
2015-03-17T20:58:10+11:00
Usually, organisers learn in the heat of battle – through trial and error, stress, and necessity. The Community Organising Fellowship has provided a rare opportunity to step off the campaign trail, slow down, and do some deep learning. The suite of tools explored in the program will influence my practice for years to come.  By creating a ‘community of practice’ of organisers, those behind the fellowship have shown strategic leadership. The relationships the program has cultivated (within the cohort and between alumni) will pay dividends. 
Shani Tager

Shani Tager, Friends of the Earth

The fellowship has been really useful in helping me become more disciplined in the strategic planning process and able to clearly communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing. The facilitation team have been fantastic and having theory drawn out from our own experiences and then immediately applied to our campaigns means I’ll be returning to my team with a solid analysis of how we can be more effective.
2014-05-10T21:52:42+10:00
Shani Tager
The fellowship has been really useful in helping me become more disciplined in the strategic planning process and able to clearly communicate why we’re doing what we’re doing. The facilitation team have been fantastic and having theory drawn out from our own experiences and then immediately applied to our campaigns means I’ll be returning to my team with a solid analysis of how we can be more effective.

Naomi Hodgson, community organiser, NW NSW

I can emphatically endorse the value of this time to build skills and awareness in strategic thinking and in specific and practical community organising tools. I am sure that with concerted application of the course content I will become a significantly more confident and effective organiser. Furthermore, the value of the relationships that have been forged among the cohort offer great potential for future collaboration and support to help build a more coordinated, cooperative and powerful environment movement in Australia.
2015-03-17T20:49:16+11:00
I can emphatically endorse the value of this time to build skills and awareness in strategic thinking and in specific and practical community organising tools. I am sure that with concerted application of the course content I will become a significantly more confident and effective organiser. Furthermore, the value of the relationships that have been forged among the cohort offer great potential for future collaboration and support to help build a more coordinated, cooperative and powerful environment movement in Australia.

Peter Archer, World Vision

I have shared with my friends and family that this workshop was the most valuable training I have done. It came at a time when I had become aware of my passion for grassroots activism. The follow-up support equipped me quickly and powerfully to put my learning into practice and age my confidence a huge boost.
2014-03-30T08:11:05+11:00
I have shared with my friends and family that this workshop was the most valuable training I have done. It came at a time when I had become aware of my passion for grassroots activism. The follow-up support equipped me quickly and powerfully to put my learning into practice and age my confidence a huge boost.

Harry Jennens, The Climate and Health Action Network

The Fellowship has increased both my skills in community organising and my confidence in sharing these skills with others.  The immersive workshop format has provided precious space for face-to-face learning, sharing ideas with facilitators and other delegates, and building strong relationships with current and future collaborators in the climate movement.  I am confident that our entire cohort will go on to empower others in our communities, and that we’ll continue to support each other in this work.  The Fellowship will be instrumental in helping us build a broad, diverse and powerful movement.
2015-03-17T19:36:21+11:00
The Fellowship has increased both my skills in community organising and my confidence in sharing these skills with others.  The immersive workshop format has provided precious space for face-to-face learning, sharing ideas with facilitators and other delegates, and building strong relationships with current and future collaborators in the climate movement.  I am confident that our entire cohort will go on to empower others in our communities, and that we’ll continue to support each other in this work.  The Fellowship will be instrumental in helping us build a broad, diverse and powerful movement.
Julie Lyford

Julie Lyford, Groundswell Gloucester

Such a long fight. Without you and the Change Agency we would be floundering. Thank you so much for your energy, passion, wisdom and guidance and for all that you do in changing the world.
2016-09-30T13:24:47+10:00
Julie Lyford
Such a long fight. Without you and the Change Agency we would be floundering. Thank you so much for your energy, passion, wisdom and guidance and for all that you do in changing the world.
Bob Bingaman

Bob Bingaman, Sierra Club National Organizing Director

The fight to protect the environment is a fight of organized people against organized money.  For those in Australia who want to take on and be successful in this fight, the Community Organizing Fellowship provides the opportunity to learn, practice and implement strong grassroots organizing skills.

There is no better place to learn the craft of organizing, then immediately apply those learning to today’s most relevant climate and environmental campaigns, than the Community Organizing Fellowship.  The program is an in-depth immersion into the craft of grassroots organizing.  Going through this program will transform campaigners and how they think about and implement campaigns which build grassroots power to achieve significant environmental victories.
2014-05-29T13:00:49+10:00
Bob Bingaman
The fight to protect the environment is a fight of organized people against organized money.  For those in Australia who want to take on and be successful in this fight, the Community Organizing Fellowship provides the opportunity to learn, practice and implement strong grassroots organizing skills. There is no better place to learn the craft of organizing, then immediately apply those learning to today’s most relevant climate and environmental campaigns, than the Community Organizing Fellowship.  The program is an in-depth immersion into the craft of grassroots organizing.  Going through this program will transform campaigners and how they think about and implement campaigns which build grassroots power to achieve significant environmental victories.
dave & gemma

Dave Muhly, Sierra Club

What began at Pittwater as a collection of skilled campaigners became a cadre of skilled organizers by the final day at Baden Powell. On Sunday evening as we gathered, I overheard one participant chatting with another at a picnic table and heard, "challenge, choice, outcome" as part of her conversation. Another commented at the final circle at how what had seemed like such a large group at Pittwater now seemed like a much smaller group, reflective of how closely this group had bonded as a team despite their vast differences in geography or organizational size or style, but based on a common goal and identity. Concepts like "building teams" and "building relationships" were part of the normal parlance and just a cursory review of the evaluations to date show an increased appreciation for and attention to leadership development and strategic planning. A number of participants reminded me of my off-the-cuff set of definitions about the differences between mobilizing, campaigning and community organising (focusing on local power), and one told me she has it on the wall of her office to inspire her every day. This has been the successful launch of an ambitious and visionary program. Many thanks to James and Kate for their vision, wisdom, and care in developing and nurturing the curriculum and the cohort. Kudos!

2014-09-15T10:27:41+10:00
dave & gemma
What began at Pittwater as a collection of skilled campaigners became a cadre of skilled organizers by the final day at Baden Powell. On Sunday evening as we gathered, I overheard one participant chatting with another at a picnic table and heard, "challenge, choice, outcome" as part of her conversation. Another commented at the final circle at how what had seemed like such a large group at Pittwater now seemed like a much smaller group, reflective of how closely this group had bonded as a team despite their vast differences in geography or organizational size or style, but based on a common goal and identity. Concepts like "building teams" and "building relationships" were part of the normal parlance and just a cursory review of the evaluations to date show an increased appreciation for and attention to leadership development and strategic planning. A number of participants reminded me of my off-the-cuff set of definitions about the differences between mobilizing, campaigning and community organising (focusing on local power), and one told me she has it on the wall of her office to inspire her every day. This has been the successful launch of an ambitious and visionary program. Many thanks to James and Kate for their vision, wisdom, and care in developing and nurturing the curriculum and the cohort. Kudos!
John Edye

John Edye, March 2017

James and Fee... Thank you for your inspiring leadership, commitment and engagement. You are epic facilitators, and the first workshop was one of the best training experiences I have ever attended. I feel very privileged to be a participant and am looking forward to the next three. Experiencing such a high level of training and working with so many young, intelligent and professional organisers left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by my lack of experience but very optimistic about the future challenges we face, instead of the rather bleak and jaundiced view I came with. Thank you for your compassion and thoughtfulness and the incredible resources that were on our seats on the first day. It was and will be an incredible learning experience.
2017-03-28T12:18:24+11:00
John Edye
James and Fee... Thank you for your inspiring leadership, commitment and engagement. You are epic facilitators, and the first workshop was one of the best training experiences I have ever attended. I feel very privileged to be a participant and am looking forward to the next three. Experiencing such a high level of training and working with so many young, intelligent and professional organisers left me feeling a bit overwhelmed by my lack of experience but very optimistic about the future challenges we face, instead of the rather bleak and jaundiced view I came with. Thank you for your compassion and thoughtfulness and the incredible resources that were on our seats on the first day. It was and will be an incredible learning experience.