Cutting the issue [process guide]

Objectives

  • Help reduce the scope of campaigns in order to focus efforts on where change can really be achieved.
  • Consider the possible consequences of working on one part of a problem rather than others.

Some activist organisations find the idea of ‘cutting the issue’ a helpful way to translate a daunting and complex problem into one or more ‘bite-sized’ issues where they can realistically consider making a difference. ‘Cutting’ or reducing the scope of a problem in several ways through creative brainstorming processes can help your group consider the relative merits of different approaches you might take. For instance, you can cut an issue to maximise its immediacy in the community, guard your campaign against claims of extremism or appeal to different allies and constituents.

Time: 60 minutes or more

How it’s done

  1. Think of a significant social or environmental problem you’d like to address.
  2. Consider how to cut this bigger problem into smaller issues that have traction with (or appeal to) different targets, community groups and other audiences. What are some ways that people interpret, respond to or campaign around the problem. This is illustrated in the following diagrams. In the first, we’ve cut the problem of climate change. In the second, we attempt various ways to cut the problem of human rights violations.
  3. You might need to experiment with the different issues you suggest to create a logic that works for you and your group. Here’s where post-it notes come in handy. Can you cluster things?
  4. (Optional) Perhaps you could then try a ‘forcefield analysis’ exercise (another exercise on our website) to assess the relative strengths of some of these issues. Will some approaches to cutting the issue mobilise your constituency more effectively, counteract some of the forces that oppose the changes you’re working on, create alliances with powerful stakeholders who might not otherwise align with your campaign.

This climate change example is far from complete, but illustrates how the vexing problem of climate change might be cut into different issues. Each issue implies a different approach, including corporate campaigning, community organising and solutions-based work.

When we started this exercise with a group campaigning around climate change, their first response was, ‘Oh, no! Now we need to work three times as hard to tackle all the different issues!” This is absolutely not the point of the exercise! On the contrary, the suggestion here is that to make a difference and work within your sphere of influence (and what’s actually possible), you need to select a particular way of cutting the issue that takes you in a direction that will best use your resources and strengths, gain traction with the media and community, and create an impact that will flow on to bigger changes

This uranium mine example was developed with environmental campaigners in Alice Springs. Once we’d mapped out these many ways their problem might be ‘cut’, we asked small groups to consider which issue was most immediate, specific and realisable (winnable) in their community. Working independently, each three small groups reached the same conclusion. Community members are universally concerned about dust. The township experiences intense dust storms. The prospect of being clothed with dust that came from a uranium mine, and children breathing it was considered the best way to mobilise the community and generate support for the campaign.

Source: James Whelan & Sam La Rocca

This process guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. You are free to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt this work under these conditions: Attribution to the Change Agency; only using this work for non-commercial purposes; share alike (if you alter, transform, or build upon this work, distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one).

What are people saying about us?

Ben Margetts, Australian Youth Climate Coalition 2007

I wanted to express how grateful I was for the experience to work with Sam and James. It was very special for me to interact with a part of social movements that I feel a lot of affinity with. I also think tCA shows a great example of 'best practice' in regard to organisational interactions. We at the AYCC have benefited immensely from working with you not just in your capacity as trainers, and the learning that was facilitated, but also with tCA as an organisation.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:33:22+11:00
I wanted to express how grateful I was for the experience to work with Sam and James. It was very special for me to interact with a part of social movements that I feel a lot of affinity with. I also think tCA shows a great example of 'best practice' in regard to organisational interactions. We at the AYCC have benefited immensely from working with you not just in your capacity as trainers, and the learning that was facilitated, but also with tCA as an organisation.

Josh Creaser, Frontline Projects Coordinator, 350.org

Most campaigners would probably shudder at the thought of spending ten whole days away from the frantic world of actions and meetings, to invest time in their own reflection and learning. The Community Organising Fellowship forces you to do just that – and what a gift and opportunity that time becomes.

 The Fellowship is a unique combination of ingredients. Time for pause and reflection. Discussion with leading thinkers. Connections to a wide array of campaigns. Guidance from experienced and caring facilitators. Bonds formed with 25 inspiring campaigners from across the country.

 These ingredients are brought together with carefully crafted methods. Thought-provoking stories. Challenging questions. Developing crucial skills. Applying new methods and tools. Preparing new plans for real world projects. 

 The result? Ten days that couldn’t have been better spent for someone that is looking to challenge their assumptions, deepen their understanding of why we organise in communities and feel ready to go forward with greater focus and vigour in their work.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T20:56:37+11:00
Most campaigners would probably shudder at the thought of spending ten whole days away from the frantic world of actions and meetings, to invest time in their own reflection and learning. The Community Organising Fellowship forces you to do just that – and what a gift and opportunity that time becomes.  The Fellowship is a unique combination of ingredients. Time for pause and reflection. Discussion with leading thinkers. Connections to a wide array of campaigns. Guidance from experienced and caring facilitators. Bonds formed with 25 inspiring campaigners from across the country.  These ingredients are brought together with carefully crafted methods. Thought-provoking stories. Challenging questions. Developing crucial skills. Applying new methods and tools. Preparing new plans for real world projects.   The result? Ten days that couldn’t have been better spent for someone that is looking to challenge their assumptions, deepen their understanding of why we organise in communities and feel ready to go forward with greater focus and vigour in their work.
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.
The Change Agency
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.

Govind Maksay, MarketForces organiser

Workshop sessions are extremely well structured, with small group work, personal reflection time and larger group discussions included throughout. This approach allows all participants to contribute and caters for different learning styles and personalities.

In addition to the formal learning, the personal relationships I have formed with other participants and the facilitators will be extremely important to help me become a more effective and confident campaigner. Without hesitation I would recommend the Fellowship to other campaigners.
The Change Agency
2015-03-17T19:34:58+11:00
Workshop sessions are extremely well structured, with small group work, personal reflection time and larger group discussions included throughout. This approach allows all participants to contribute and caters for different learning styles and personalities. In addition to the formal learning, the personal relationships I have formed with other participants and the facilitators will be extremely important to help me become a more effective and confident campaigner. Without hesitation I would recommend the Fellowship to other campaigners.

Glenn Walker, National Campaigner, The Wilderness Society

The Wilderness Society has embarked on a major organisational change project to embrace community organising as our core way of doing business. I’m leading on this project. The Community Organising Fellowship has helped me to define the key principles and approaches of community organising and has provided me with the space and support to plan for this critical change process within my organisation.
The Change Agency
2014-03-27T02:09:18+11:00
The Wilderness Society has embarked on a major organisational change project to embrace community organising as our core way of doing business. I’m leading on this project. The Community Organising Fellowship has helped me to define the key principles and approaches of community organising and has provided me with the space and support to plan for this critical change process within my organisation.
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.
The Change Agency
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.

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. 
The Change Agency
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. 
Sophie Peer

Sophie Peer, ChilOut campaign director

The Change Agency is like a best friend in the drawer. As the only paid employee in a very small not for profit, it is fabulous to know there are trusted, well tested resources a click away. Whether it's workshop planning, strategic re-think, tactics - tCA is the chamomile tea to my campaigner-stress.
The Change Agency
2014-05-16T14:31:59+10:00
Sophie Peer
The Change Agency is like a best friend in the drawer. As the only paid employee in a very small not for profit, it is fabulous to know there are trusted, well tested resources a click away. Whether it's workshop planning, strategic re-think, tactics - tCA is the chamomile tea to my campaigner-stress.
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.
The Change Agency
2014-05-10T21:42:00+10:00
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 the climate movement in Australia.

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.
The Change Agency
2014-03-30T07:44:52+11:00
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.
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The Change Agency