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.

This page guides you through ten strategising steps. Our Campaign Strategy Guide provides  a more detailed  set of 24 process guides and 16 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, 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 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.

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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 (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 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 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. 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.



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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? 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.




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 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 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?

Chloe_A

Chloe Aldenhoven, Victorian Lock the Gate Coordinator

A packed program of skills, stories and discussions to figure out how to build the place of community development in our campaigns. So important to draw on the experience and wisdom of past campaigns and seasoned campaigners.  But not only that, an amazing opportunity to learn with and from the cohort of campaigners from across the country who between them have decades of organising experience.  Skills, conversations and connections that are going to be essential to us building a movement to achieve climate justice in Australia.
2015-03-17T19:27:44+00:00
Chloe_A
A packed program of skills, stories and discussions to figure out how to build the place of community development in our campaigns. So important to draw on the experience and wisdom of past campaigns and seasoned campaigners.  But not only that, an amazing opportunity to learn with and from the cohort of campaigners from across...
cherry

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+00:00
cherry
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...
chrishenderson

Chris Henderson, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

I want to seriously thank you for the huge contribution I believe you're contributing to the peace/activist community, not only in Brisbane but also nationally and undoubtedly beyond. Profound. For starters, the resources on your website, they are so good and I'll continue to use them with our WILPF branch, and to spread info about them more widely. For WILPF Qld, the MAP workshop and resources have seriously contributed to the transformation of our branch, helping to focus and get into action in relation to the nuclear cycle, in conjunction with many other organisations that have joined the Qld Nuclear Free Alliance. And maybe will have effect way beyond that.
2014-03-30T07:44:52+00:00
chrishenderson
I want to seriously thank you for the huge contribution I believe you’re contributing to the peace/activist community, not only in Brisbane but also nationally and undoubtedly beyond. Profound. For starters, the resources on your website, they are so good and I’ll continue to use them with our WILPF branch, and to spread info about...
anna-keenan

Anna Keenan, Students of Sustainability Collective 2006

Thank you for your involvement in SoS this year and for your continued commitment over the years to effecting sustainable environmental and social change. Your co-facilitated presentations on activist learning, campaign strategy and activist sustainability were all very well received, generating discussion, excitement, considered thought and motivation from the participants, including myself. Not only was the content inspirational, but to see the way that the two of you work together and so effectively co-facilitate was a lesson in itself. At your “Moving beyond Tactic-Led Campaigns”, you so successfully engaged all in the room and drew from their experiences that it was the most effective workshop I attended through the whole conference. Your involvement in SoS 2005 has had a significant impact on the future of Australian environmentalism by sharing the tools of individual, collective, and community organising, and inspiring us to advocate for and take action towards positive social change.
2014-03-30T07:52:56+00:00
anna-keenan
Thank you for your involvement in SoS this year and for your continued commitment over the years to effecting sustainable environmental and social change. Your co-facilitated presentations on activist learning, campaign strategy and activist sustainability were all very well received, generating discussion, excitement, considered thought and motivation from the participants, including myself. Not only was...
quitcoal

Peter Callender, Quit Coal



Like many campaigning groups, we are constantly grappling with capacity issues, a lack of funding/resources, burnout and how to best manage volunteers. While it's early days, the fellowship is already having significant flow on effects to the rest of the Quit Coal collective and the lessons we are learning are both effective and reinvigorating!


2014-04-16T22:34:36+00:00
quitcoal
Like many campaigning groups, we are constantly grappling with capacity issues, a lack of funding/resources, burnout and how to best manage volunteers. While it’s early days, the fellowship is already having significant flow on effects to the rest of the Quit Coal collective and the lessons we are learning are both effective and reinvigorating!
Cate-Faehrmann

Cate Faehrmann, Director, Nature Conservation Council NSW, 2005

We did a two-day workshop with The Change Agency early this year which provided our organisation with some much-needed tools for strategic campaigning and planning. There was nothing but positive feedback from our staff and board members about what they gained from the two days spent with James and Sam. The power mapping exercise was particularly insightful for staff and board members alike and as a result our campaigns are more pro-active - we are seeing results!
2014-03-30T07:51:49+00:00
Cate-Faehrmann
We did a two-day workshop with The Change Agency early this year which provided our organisation with some much-needed tools for strategic campaigning and planning. There was nothing but positive feedback from our staff and board members about what they gained from the two days spent with James and Sam. The power mapping exercise was...
Nick Aberle

Nick Aberle, Environment Victoria

Learning the theory and engaging with such practical implementation in such depth will definitely make me a more effective and successful campaigner and organiser. I’m looking forward to practicing my new skills in being more rigorous, thinking more strategically, and communicating more effectively. The strength of the bonds formed within the group has already strengthened the climate movement in Australia.
2014-05-10T21:42:00+00:00
Nick Aberle
Learning the theory and engaging with such practical implementation in such depth will definitely make me a more effective and successful campaigner and organiser. I’m looking forward to practicing my new skills in being more rigorous, thinking more strategically, and communicating more effectively. The strength of the bonds formed within the group has already strengthened...
Chris Rose

Chris Rose, Author of ‘How to Win Campaigns’

They (tCA) really are movement makers... the Aussie inheritors of Alinsky.
2014-03-30T08:05:33+00:00
Chris Rose
They (tCA) really are movement makers… the Aussie inheritors of Alinsky.
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+00:00
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...
leigh

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+00:00
leigh
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...