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?

Alexandra Soderlund, Solar Citizens

The fellowship has managed to achieve that elusive duo of being both a broadening and deepening experience - complete with delicious food. Learning as much from the incredible and diverse participants as the amazing facilitators, the ten days of the first workshop have flown by. I feel like I’ve come a long way as an organiser (and dare I say a person?!) already, I’m excited and a little bit scared to see where I end up. 
2015-03-17T20:59:30+11:00
The fellowship has managed to achieve that elusive duo of being both a broadening and deepening experience - complete with delicious food. Learning as much from the incredible and diverse participants as the amazing facilitators, the ten days of the first workshop have flown by. I feel like I’ve come a long way as an organiser (and dare I say a person?!) already, I’m excited and a little bit scared to see where I end up. 

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+11:00
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.
Jane Stabb

Jane Stabb, Community Organiser, Environment Victoria

The Community Organising Fellowship workshop was extraordinarily impactful for me. I had a chance to investigate the theory behind effective organising and campaigning tools that I can use in my practice every day but very rarely interrogate or reflect on.  I found new frameworks and structures that will improve my practice so much. I had the space and place to interrogate my campaign with the assistance of masters!  And I was given the opportunity to build relationships with leaders in my field, to be supported in my thinking by them and to support them by sharing our practice and experiences... 100% pure gold.
2014-05-23T16:45:53+10:00
Jane Stabb
The Community Organising Fellowship workshop was extraordinarily impactful for me. I had a chance to investigate the theory behind effective organising and campaigning tools that I can use in my practice every day but very rarely interrogate or reflect on.  I found new frameworks and structures that will improve my practice so much. I had the space and place to interrogate my campaign with the assistance of masters!  And I was given the opportunity to build relationships with leaders in my field, to be supported in my thinking by them and to support them by sharing our practice and experiences... 100% pure gold.
Denise Cauchi

Denise Cauchi, CEO, Doctors for the Environment 2020

The Change Agency helped us build the campaigning muscle of our members and develop concrete strategies. James worked closely with us to prepare the weekend workshop, making sure it was fine tuned to meet the needs of our organisation. He was great to work with and the workshop received very positive feedback.
2020-02-25T11:27:45+11:00
Denise Cauchi
The Change Agency helped us build the campaigning muscle of our members and develop concrete strategies. James worked closely with us to prepare the weekend workshop, making sure it was fine tuned to meet the needs of our organisation. He was great to work with and the workshop received very positive feedback.

Claire O’Rourke, National Director, Solar Citizens

The fellowship has helped me further develop the skills and strategic thinking necessary to ensure that we deliver sound policy by working in partnership with our supporters and volunteers in communities across Australia.

Organising helps to build relationships and skills both within and between communities and the fellowship follows the same approach. The fellowship is essential for organisations that are working to build power within communities or considering making the leap into this work. 
2015-03-17T21:03:10+11:00
The fellowship has helped me further develop the skills and strategic thinking necessary to ensure that we deliver sound policy by working in partnership with our supporters and volunteers in communities across Australia. Organising helps to build relationships and skills both within and between communities and the fellowship follows the same approach. The fellowship is essential for organisations that are working to build power within communities or considering making the leap into this work. 
Six Degrees

Sam Robb, Six Degrees

When I’m amongst passionate and talented people, I always feel like our movement can be powerful. But after the last 10 days, I not only feel we can be powerful, I know we can. I know how we can be and that is a unique and invaluable gift. The quality and consideration of the facilitation and subject matter was astonishing, and there was a group wide acknowledgement of both an immense privilege of being a part of the cohort and a resounding responsibility to use and share what we felt and learnt.
2014-05-23T17:11:47+10:00
Six Degrees
When I’m amongst passionate and talented people, I always feel like our movement can be powerful. But after the last 10 days, I not only feel we can be powerful, I know we can. I know how we can be and that is a unique and invaluable gift. The quality and consideration of the facilitation and subject matter was astonishing, and there was a group wide acknowledgement of both an immense privilege of being a part of the cohort and a resounding responsibility to use and share what we felt and learnt.

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+11:00
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.

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. 

Simone van Hattem

The Community Organising Fellowship has given me effective organising skills and tools, and background information of the Australian environment and climate movements I need to develop strategy for campaigns, and provide training for other organisers and campaigners across Western Australia. The support I've been given through the ongoing mentorship and buddy program helps me stay connected with the wider movement, and stay on track to organise the people we need to defeat organised money. This program is a transformative experience, changing my work and the movement, and I'm so thankful to be part of it.
2015-03-17T21:04:17+11:00
The Community Organising Fellowship has given me effective organising skills and tools, and background information of the Australian environment and climate movements I need to develop strategy for campaigns, and provide training for other organisers and campaigners across Western Australia. The support I've been given through the ongoing mentorship and buddy program helps me stay connected with the wider movement, and stay on track to organise the people we need to defeat organised money. This program is a transformative experience, changing my work and the movement, and I'm so thankful to be part of it.
Stu Bowen

Stu Bowen, Environmental Manager (Australia & New Zealand) Patagonia International Inc.

James has helped me better appreciate my unique set of values and understand what inspires me to action, which is a great tool to recognise other stakeholder’s values and what motivates them to action. This growth allows me to communicate far more effectively with all my stakeholders, so we can all achieve greater positive environmental and social change.

 
2015-04-29T18:23:01+10:00
Stu Bowen
James has helped me better appreciate my unique set of values and understand what inspires me to action, which is a great tool to recognise other stakeholder’s values and what motivates them to action. This growth allows me to communicate far more effectively with all my stakeholders, so we can all achieve greater positive environmental and social change.