Strategy creation

ReStrategizing – The First 3 Parts!

Since the Fall of 2013, I’ve been working with a group of great folks from the Leading Change Network on creating a workshop on Strategy and ReStrategizing. While we took about 5-6 months off from our work, a few of us are back into and are nearing the home stretch of our collective labors!

This project started as a way to build on Marshall Ganz’s curriculum on strategy, specifically adding content on how to “re-strategize” during a campaign. “Re-strategizing” is the idea that strategy should be flexible, and should adapt to changing contexts.

We quickly realized though, that based on Althea Middleton-Detzner’s (International Center on Nonviolent Conflict) and Joe Worthy’s (Children’s Defense Fund) worth on strategic nonviolent conflict, that there was some additional material that could be built into the initial curriculum on strategy (e.g. ideas around power analysis, pillars of support, ecosystem analysis, etc.).

We took a new look at our work and decided to build our workshop from the ground up, and make an adapted workshop on strategy to better incorporate the ideas we learned from the worlds of strategic nonviolence, business, military, and other social change organizations.

With these new concepts in tow, we designed a new workshop comprised of 3 essential components of the strategizing program. A. The Initial Strategy, B. The ReStrategizing Process, and C. Capacity Needed to Strategizing (e.g. organizational structures or individual mindsets).

Over the next few posts I want to share a little of what we found out!

First 3 sections of Strategy: Constituency, Vision, and Problem Analysis


1. Constituency

Your constituency are the ones you organize to achieve your goals.

Generally your constituency will start out with a core base of supporters, and your organization’s job is to grow your constituency by moving more people “to your side.”

Later on in the workshop (in the “Playing Field”/”Axis of Allies” section) we discuss the essential idea that you while someone may start as a “bystander” or even “opponent,” you must continually look for opportunities to move people closer to your constituency/side.

When deciding your strategy, you must also take care to ground it in your current constituency’s values and fit with their range of organizing (though if necessary/helpful, you can push what “fits”), because they are the primary ones carrying out the strategy!

The Midwest Academy says the job of the organizer is to figure out what your constituency’s relationship to power and their ability to affect your target or decision maker’s interest.

Below are a few questions you can ask about your constituency:

  • Who are your people? Who are you organizing? (e.g. low- and moderate-income workers in a rural town in Pennsylvania)
  • What are their values? (e.g. community collaboration, healthy and educated children, and economic self-sufficiency)

 2. Visioning

Rinku Sen writes that your strategy should be clear about “what you believe, what you oppose, and the future you aim to create.”

You have to make sure any strategy you create helps pushes against what you oppose, while also propelling your vision. Below are those questions you should ask to help guide your strategy to its clear future.

  • What do you believe?
  • What do you oppose?
  • What world do you want to live in?
  • What it will look like when you know you have “won?”

In a previous post on Organizing Change, I looked at how to do this analysis in more detail.

Here’s a breakdown for a group opposed to the Prison Industrial Complex (i.e. the interconnection between corporations, politics, and the prison system):

  • What we believe – We believe in replacing the punitive-based prison system, with one based on restorative justice. We also believe in the abolition of the PIC and the creation of alternative means of community security.
  • What we oppose – We oppose a racist/homophobic and punitive-based prison system that has increased incarceration and institutional racism in the U.S. to the level that with 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prison population.
  • What world we want to live in – We want to live in a world where people are fairly respected and not immediately thought suspicious because of their race, sexual orientation, or immigration status. We also want to live a world where people have a chance to contribute back to their community if they make a mistake, and not just punished in an inhumane manner.
  • What we want changed – We want to institute restorative justice into our prison/political systems. We also want to eliminate people politically/economically benefiting from the PIC’s rise, heightened surveillance, and the media’s influence on criminal justice policy.

Once you’ve done this visioning, and generally identified what you opposed, you need to specifically understand the problems facing your issues.

 3. Problem Analysis

One way to specifically address the problems that prevent you from reaching your visions, is to do a problem analysis.

A “problem analysis,” seeks to clearly identify the negative systems that impact people’s’ lives (e.g. underfunded schools or high rates of pollution near a school).

The problem analysis “grounds” the context of your organizing, by making sure groups understand the problems they are trying to address. Do this at both a large (i.e. institutional/structural) and small-scale.

By answering some of the following questions (some of which should take time and research to uncover), you’ll have a great start on your problem analysis!

The responses listed below are potential ones for a community concerned about gun violence.

What problems does our constituency face? Which is the worst? – The main grievances, day-to-day issues, problems they face include:

  • People are dying
  • Police have an “enforcement” view of the community, rather than seeking collaboration/service
  • Discrimination

What are the “roots” of the problem (you will also refer to these again in the Power Analysis, which will come later):

  • Economic injustice (e.g. discrimination in financial system, hiring practices, etc.)
  • Punitive-based discipline (e.g. prison industrial complex, school to prison pipeline, and the death penalty)
  • Other forms of structural racism (e.g. “colorblind” policies)

Why does the problem exist?

  • Community impacted by gun violence located in a poor neighborhood – thus receives less political attention
  • Inability/Unwillingness to talk about intersectional issues of race, poverty, etc.
  • People who say we are “post-racial” and thus, should advocate “colorblind” policies

What are the institutions/players that contribute to the problem?

  • Regressive politicians that don’t take responsibility for serving the community
  • Corporate prisons
  • Financial institutions – that profit off the poor and vulnerable
  • Community leaders saying ALL responsibility should be on the community

Who benefits from the problem? – Often the same as those that contribute to the problem)

  • Corporate prison systems benefit from violence because that increases the number of people who enter and stay in prison
  • Financial institutions benefit from predatory lending practices.

Why hasn’t the problem been solved yet? Why is there a gap (between the problem and the vision)?

  • A regressive focus that “the community needs to change”
  • Companies (e.g. prisons) that benefit from violence


Ecosystem Analysis, Pillars of Support, and Map of Actors


Next week I’ll be continuing this look at comprehensive strategy creation by looking at 3 more key aspects to creating a strategy.

Those three include: 1. Ecosystem Analysis/Situational Analysis, 2. Pillars of Support & Power Analysis, 3. Map of Actors.

Strategy creation

3 Ways to Replace Inflexible Beliefs With Positive Ideology

How often have you thought “ideology is so inflexible!”

I know I used to say ideology hindered folks from seeing the whole truth. While this is definitely true in some cases, after reading Rinku Sen’s Stir It Up I asked myself more critically if ideology had to have the same rigid dogma that plagues much of the U.S.’s current political systems?

I now have a new appreciation for the role a clear set of values has in resisting those who do have an inflexible ideology.


3 ways to connect issues into a broader analysis


I remember it was only a few years ago that all I focused on was a specific issue (e.g. rainforest destruction) and I avoided looking at the larger forces that instigated the problem (e.g. racism, sexism, and capitalism).

I wasn’t clear even to myself about what I wished to see created/ended, and how to make changes. I would intently argue for a certain policy or plan, but if it came to talking about institutional “isms” that went across numerous issues, I didn’t have the analysis to respond since I didn’t understand the deep connections between issues.

Ideology, if carefully considered and maintained, can be a dynamic instrument that provides a strategic vision connecting issues together and shows what we believe, oppose, and what we want changed.

For an example of this ideology framework in practice consider the organizing against U.S. Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).

These and other obstructions are not isolated to the PIC, but rather span across a whole host of other issues (e.g. poverty, exploitation of sovereign Native land, and climate change).

It may seem easier to break things down into discrete issues, but we need to define cross-issue, long-term strategies that counter the main power holders and narrative of our times.  I will still disagree with some tactics, and ideas, but I will not let small differences in approach separate me from those who I ought to be organizing with.

This framework may not stop the creation of all inflexible beliefs, but it will make sure that folks know what they stand for and what specifically they aim to achieve.


Be vocal about your beliefs


In reality, I have always had an ideology, I just had a hard time expressing it.

There may be reasons why I remained silent (e.g. my entrenchment in white culture that encourages me to avoid confrontation/“disorder”), but I now see that we must be vocal about our IDEOLOGY of what we believe, oppose, and what we want changed in order to bring our multi-issue, long-term strategies to fruition.

Before I would always say “I support X cause.” Now I aim to be much more intentional and open about my views, even though I still may struggle to stand up to privilege (my own and others), power, and oppression.

My transition to clearly and courageously stating my ideology took place over a long period; however, now every time I state what I believe, what I oppose, and what I want changed, my confidence grows.

What do you believe, oppose, and what to see changed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!