Strategy creation

Strategizing – Ecosystems, Allies, and More!

Last week I mentioned I’ve been working on creating a workshop on Strategy and ReStrategizing. I focused on Constituency, Vision, and Problem Analysis.

This week I’m going to share the next 4 sections we covered in our strategy training document. This has some pretty in-depth questions for campaigns to consider, hopefully it will be of use for your next campaign!

4. Ecosystem Analysis/Situational Analysis


You cannot create your strategy in a vacuum! We’ve already looked at your constituency and the problems they face, but you also need to consider a host of other factors that could influence how you implement your strategy.

This section focuses on information gathering. What information should you look for in order to inform your strategy?

One way is to develop your “Ecosystem/Situational Analysis.” This contains all the information about the situation in which the campaign will be conducted including but not limited to: transportation, political climate, communications, opponent’s capabilities, weather, legal system, etc.

You could spend your entire life analyzing your particular “ecosystem,” so you need to choose what to focus on and the characteristics of the ecosystem that don’t have to be quite as comprehensive.

When compiling the information on your ecosystem analysis, make sure to note whether the information is fact or assumption (i.e. a belief in lieu of hard facts). So that way you can update your analysis once you have the facts.

Below are a few potential parts of the “ecosystem” to choose from when conducting your own focus analysis areas.

Key “Ecosystem” Areas to Analyze

Here are some “ecosystem” characteristics to identify for your campaign (from the informative book Strategies for Social Change):

  • Level of social aggregation (local, national, or international)
  • Type of institution (civic society, economy, education system, family, media, politics, religion)
  • Duration (short term, medium term, long term)
  • Cultural characteristics (attitudes, beliefs, discourses, emotions, frames, ideologies, identities, norms, objects, repertoires of contention, rituals, symbols and symbolic repertoires, traditions, tropes, values)
  • Structural characteristics (alliance and conflict systems, capacities, degrees of centralization, decision-making processes, divisions of labor, dynamics, organizational fields, degrees of formality, communication and mobilization infrastructures, heterogeneity or homogeneity, leadership roles, network, opportunities, and threats, power relations, resources)


Here’s how this Ecosystem Analysis would look for the Montgomery Bus Boycotts:

  • Level of social aggregation – Local (the City of Montgomery)
  • Type of institution – Focused on bus company (economy) and intersections of families, churches, and broader networks (family, religion, and civic society)
  • Duration – Started as short term (a few weeks or a month) and then expanded to mid term based on ReStrategizing (so lasted just over a year)
  • Cultural characteristics – Sought to dismantle the idea of “Separate but equal” (frame/ideology)
  • Structural characteristics – Aimed to activate the intersections of families, churches, and Black-own taxis (mobilization infrastructures, networks, and allies)

Political/Government Analysis

All campaigns definitely need to understand the general political/government climate and how it impacts the short- and long-term campaign.

  • Current political situation – Analyze the general direction of the political climate (e.g. moving to be more/less democratic or seeking to maintain the status quo)
  • Level of repression – Consider whether the government will use all means at its disposal to limit dissent (e.g. through force, legal systems, and the media) or whether it will only use a few
  • Opposition in government – Look to understand whether the government is united or divided in its opposition to your campaign
  • Level of corruption – Consider whether there is a high-level of political favoritism or money laundering in the current government
  • Opponent’s position – Aim to be an “expert” of your opponent’s position so you will be prepared for anything they say/do.
  • Other factors – Think of anything else that your campaign should be aware of that influences the political/government situation

For additional descriptions of this content, see Core Curriculum: A Guide to Effective Nonviolent Struggle (pages 185-198)

Characteristics of the Area of Operations

Your “Area of Operations” is the physical (e.g. ecological and infrastructural) and specific political situation impacting your work. Look at the following to see if analyzing these areas may support your work.

A. Geography – The geography could impact your organizing and timing.

  • Topography (i.e mapping out the surface)
  • Hydrography (i.e. mapping out the bodies of water)

B. Climate/Weather – While information is fairly easy to obtain, make sure you consistent gather information on the weather if it could impact your actions.

  • Cold/Hot
  • Rainy/Dry

C. Transportation – All sides in the struggle need to travel, so consider taking time to understand the different options.

  • Type
  • Availability
  • Speed
  • Locations
  • Vulnerability

D. Telecommunications – What communication methods will you, the opposition, and your allies use?

  • Type
  • Availability
  • Acquirability
  • Vulnerability

For additional descriptions of this content, see Core Curriculum: A Guide to Effective Nonviolent Struggle (pages 185-198)


5. Pillars of Support & Power Analysis

While your strategy may be aligned to your values in creating the world you want to see, there is almost assuredly some institutions/people that wish to see the continuation of the status quo. These institutions/people may not necessarily be opposed to your values/vision, but they resist any attempts to change how things are currently.

If it turns out that we have the resources we need, but just need to use them more collaboratively, then it’s a “power with” dynamic. If it turns out that the resources we need have to come from somewhere else, then it’s a “power over” dynamic. This idea of “power over/power with” has been expanding over the years, and I learned the most about it from the incredible folks over at the Northwest Institute for Community Enrichment.

Make sure, when creating your strategy you take time to discuss whether this work is more “power over” or “power with.”

Conducting your Power Analysis

It may be helpful here, to refer back to Problem Analysis which I talked about in my last blog post.

We call these institutions/people that uphold the status quo (i.e. the problem/system of injustice) the Pillars of Support.

As you identify the problem/current system’s Pillars of Support, you begin the process of Power Analysis (i.e. who/what has the power and why do people give them that power?).

Here are some questions to help identify your Pillars of Support & conduct your Power Analysis (This time we’ll look at the case of the United Farm Workers to give examples):

Who benefits from the systems as it is? – The farm owners and corporations benefited from the cheap labor and ability to ignore labor laws. Also, consumers who enjoyed the benefits of cheaper food.

Why do people obey? Why do people NOT resist the status quo? – The workers obey because they just want to earn money to support their families. Consumers want cheap food.

What are the institutions and groups of people that are supporting this problem/system of injustice (i.e. the pillars of support for the existing system)?  – The farm owners, corporations, and President Richard Nixon.

Who are the “sub pillars of support?” Who are the people/organizations that prop up the main pillars of support (MAKE SURE to do this for each pillar!)? – Specific farms in California opposed to fair labor laws, field managers, and the Defense Department (because President Nixon ordered the Defense Department to purchase more table grapes for the military).


6. Seven Strategic Questions

Marshall Ganz offers 5 critical questions, as a way for groups to hone in on their strategy. Here I’ve added 2 more (i.e. courses of action and evaluation).

  • Who are the PEOPLE involved? (Map of Actors)
  • What CHANGE do they seek? (Goal)
  • Where can they get the RESOURCES to succeed? (Capacity)
  • What COURSES OF ACTION will they/the opposition take? (Theory of Change)
  • Which TACTICS can they use?
  • What is their TIMELINE?
  • How will they EVALUATE their strategy?

The last parts of the strategizing process goes in depth into each of these questions. In this post I’m just covering the Map of Actors, and future posts will look at these other sections.


7. Map of Actors

Not everyone is going to be a Pillar of Support for the status quo! There’s a range of people who influence your strategy: some who oppose you, some who support you, and some who are neutral.

Who make-up your constituency, your leadership, your opposition, your competitors and your collaborators? Who are some of the other actors involved (e.g. the media)? These are some of the most common groups of people impacting most organizing efforts, but make sure to think of any others that may influence your work!

The Playing Field

The Playing Field is a graphical depiction from Marshall Ganz of those impacting your work for change.

On one are those with the “Greatest Interest in Change” and on the other are those with the “Greatest Interest in the Status Quo.” In-between those two are where the “action” takes place.

Those who don’t participate in any of this are on the “sidelines” (and in general, those on the sidelines indirectly prop up the status quo), but you should still try to get them on your side for change!

Laying out the Playing FieldQuestions to Ask

Here is some questions to help you use the Playing Field – for an example of a biomass plant being built near a school:

Who are the actors on the playing field? – Identify as many as you can for each

  • Constituency (e.g. students/families located near the proposed biomass plant)
  • Leadership (e.g. a mix of student, community, and nonprofit leaders)
  • Support (e.g. teachers union, environmental groups, and civic associations)
  • Opposition (e.g. city council and biomass plant company) – you should have already identified the opposition from earlier work in this training
  • Competition (e.g. a nonprofit trying to get the same school/community involved in working on another issue)

Where should you place “the people/organizations that will shape your strategy in a positive, negative, or unknown way” on the playing field? – Take those actors from the above section and place them in each of these categories

What do you know about these “actors?”

  • What are their resources/strengths? (e.g. financial, people, etc.)
  • What are the actual/potential weaknesses?
  • What are their interests? (e.g. supporting successful schools, protecting a local watershed, etc.)
  • What’s their level of support (e.g. willing to dedicate hours/weeks of their time, or just forward an email?)
  • What’s their level of influence? (e.g. are they a leader on their block with lots of local influence or are they 1st-year student with lots of time/energy, but little current influence?)
  • What/Who are their “Pillars of Support?” (if you haven’t already identified them)?
  • What’s their susceptibility to shifting their place on the “Playing Field”? (e.g. could a competitor, or even the opposition, become a supporter or a leader? Or if you are not careful, could a supporter become the opposition?) Think of how you can shift people’s loyalties/allegiances, specifically, your opponent’s toward the movement.
  • Who has the greatest stake in change? (e.g. parents, residents in the community) Who has the greatest stake in the status quo? (e.g. Politicians, school board leaders, local powerplant company)
  • Who are already the least loyal/obedient to the status quo or most easily shifted? (e.g. teachers, students, etc.)

Who are the primary targets and secondary targets?

  • Who are the primary targets in each of our prime categories (i.e. constituency, leadership, support, opposition, and competition)? Then decide “whose resources we need the most to make the change we want?”
  • Who are secondary targets that influence each of the primary targets? You need these secondary targets if you decide you cannot influence the primary targets with your current resources.

Whew! Even for me that’s a lot of content. Thanks for reading through all this and good luck on your campaign. Next time I’ll be looking at Capacity, Theory of Change, and a bit more!

By Drew Serres

Drew Serres began working on Organizing Change to combine his dedication to showing impactful organizing practices with his passion for learning. Find out more about him at the About Page and see his updates on Twitter and Google+