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!


10 Groundbreakers Who’ve Shaped My Views of Social Change

A few weeks ago Heath Mitchell asked to co-write 42 Errors Changemakers and Humanitarians Make (which ended up being one of the most popular posts here), and now he got me thinking again by asking about the people/organizations that have influenced my ideas of activism and organizing.

Anytime someone asks me to write a post on a certain topic I try my best to do so, even if it takes a few months! I’m especially stoked when I get to write about those folks who’ve fundamentally impacted my life through their own words/actions.

The names that follow are a few of the main individuals and groups who I consistently ‎learn from and wish to share more about.


Elizabeth Martinez


Author of De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century and 500 years of Chicano History, Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez has been called one of the 20th century’s most important activists and progressive historians.

When I read De Colores Means All of Us I thought it had some of the most insightful strategies for social change that we still have not adopted some 15 years later.

So if you’re looking for a clear picture of 20th century progressive activism and unrealized pathways for change, then check out Betita’s work.


Marshall Ganz/Sierra Club


One of my first direct experiences with organizing training was with with the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), an organization that grew out of the Sierra Club. Much of the SSC’s trainers were based on Marshall Ganz’s frameworks and research for the Sierra Club.

Marshall Ganz was a volunteer with the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project, served with the United Farm Workers, created the dominant curriculum for training Obama’s campaign organizers, and now is working to develop the Leading Change Network (LCN).

Check out Marshall’s online module on organizing and the LCN to learn more about values-based changemaking, leadership, and campaigns.


Yuri Kochiyama



Photo: dignidadrebelde via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: dignidadrebelde via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Yuri Kochiyama is one of the most intersectional activists to grace the changemaking world and doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of slowing down. She’s organized around the rights of political prisoners, Puerto Rican Independence, and reparations for Japanese Americans forcibly held in internment camps during WWII.

Not only did Yuri Kochiyama show me how to integrate a range of activist efforts, but she also demonstrated that one can begin to organize at any age and while taking care of family.

There’s a great film called Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice which details her accomplishments and what she has done for cross-issue movement building.


Naomi Klein


Naomi Klein’s journalist and activist endeavors serve as a beating heart of the opposition to neoliberalism in all of its forms.

Her book The Shock Doctrine fundamentally altered my understanding of just how pervasive neoliberalism had become in all parts of our society (e.g. education, government, and international relations).

I’m currently working on a post inspired by much of Naomi Klein’s work that focuses on neoliberalism frames, ideas, and policies along with ways activists can combat this entrenched ideology.


Ella Baker


I’ve mentioned Ella Baker a few times before, in particular about her contributions to leadership development in any type of organizing.

Ella Baker throughout the civil rights movement (e.g. through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) continually pushed for increasing opportunities for multiple leaders and criticizing those that were held up as the only focal points for action.

Now the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights is making sure to honor her legacy and contributions, and remind us to look to Ella for ideas on how to build up strong cohesive leadership systems.


Bill McKibben and


Photo: 350 .org via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo: 350 .org via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Bill McKibben and the rest of the team constantly mobilize some of the largest and most impactful demonstrations for taking action against climate change and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

When the issue of climate change keeps getting pushed back to the edges of the news, and its partners keep finding ways to refocus attention.


Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)


Though conservative attacks/lies forced ACORN to cease most of its operations to register voters, increase homeownership, and counter powerful banks, ACORN’s still has made a huge impact on social change organizing.

Right now the absence of ACORN’s local-regional-national organizing structure leaves a void that is hard to fill. How many other organizations could bring together so many hundreds of thousands of people to bring forward constructive anti-poverty solutions? Or really any issue?

I recently read John Atlas’s book about ACORN called Seeds of Change and if you’re looking to find out more about how ACORN operated, that book is a great place to start.


Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta


The founders of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta showed how to develop new leaders by going door-to-door and being persistent.

Dolores Huerta exemplified this attitude that every person had important contribution to make when she said “Walk the street with us into history. Get off the sidewalk.”




INCITE! is a “is a national activist organization of radical feminists of color advancing a movement to end violence against women of color and our communities through direct action, critical dialogue, and grassroots organizing.”

One of their most well-known and influential publication is the The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.

This book taught me a ton about the differences between social services and social change, how activists can get diverted into professionalized careers, and the role foundation/government grants have in shaping social change.


Rinku Sen


Rinku Sen is probably the organizer that has had the biggest impact on my personal outlook on social change.

After reading her book Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy I immediately felt a clearer sense of my own purpose.

I’ve written many posts already about Rinku Sen’s work (e.g. about how she “prepares extraordinary movements”) so I won’t go into much more detail other than to say that you should either read some of her articles on Colorlines or just talk to me!

Thanks again Heath for asking about people who’ve influenced my ideas!

This is just a short list of those that have impacted my views of activism and organizing, but who else would you include? Leave a comment below!