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.


The Cross-Issue Project Planning Template Designed for You!

This week I’m going to be co-facilitating a workshop at the Environmental Health Disparities & Environmental Justice Meeting.

I’m super excited to delve into effective community outreach practices for environmental justice initiatives!

While working on the workshop, with the incredible health experts Ana Pomales (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) and Barb Allerton (Pennsylvania Department of Health), I created a template on “Cross-Issue Project Planning.”

In other words, how can we implement projects that further the cause of multiple issues (e.g. health, youth development, and food access)?

I had the opportunity to work on a perfect example of a cross-issue project, which we called the “Soil Kitchen.”

Philadelphia’s River Wards area has significantly high levels of lead, lots of youth, and food access issues. We wanted to start a project that hit on all of these issues, so we finalized ideas for putting on the “Soil Kitchen” .

The Soil Kitchen was an innovative effort to test soil samples for lead contamination, while also educating children/families and finding alternatives for them to grow food using raised beds away from the lead contamination.

The 1st of hopefully many events happened in May 2013, and now organizations are considering how to expand this initiative across the country!

So how can you create your own “Cross-Issue Project Plan?” Let’s look!


The Cross-Issue Project Plan


Key Issues


Challenge – what are the specific issues in your community?

As I’ve wrote about previously, we need to connect issues to a broader analysis. For this event, if we just focused on lead contamination, I doubt we would have been able to accomplish as much as did when we connected it to youth development and food access.

When developing your project/campaign/event, try to expand how you can propel forward change on multiple issues.

Here’s the “challenge” we aimed to address with the Soil Kitchen.

“The River Wards have significantly high levels of lead that can be dangerous to the community’s health. The River Wards area has a high concentration of kids and families who are more susceptible to the negative health impacts of lead. In addition, there are significant food access issues, but an interest in urban gardening.”


How are you specifically going to address the issue? Consider how you can address the root cause of the issue (and not just the symptoms).

Below is what we decided to do for the Soil Kitchen.

“The Soil Kitchen event will provide community members the opportunity to have their soils analyzed for lead contamination. The program will focus on making sure families understood the increased risks of lead among their children and how to promote healthy practices. In addition, the Soil Kitchen will host workshops specifically for youth and families wishing to grow food safe from lead contamination.”

Differentiate the Scope of SMART Goals

Just as a reminder, SMART goals are important to make sure you intentionally plan out what “success” means. SMART stands for:

  • S=Specific

  • M=Measurable

  • A=Audience-focused

  • R=Realistic

  • T=Time-bound

Also, make sure to break up your goals by time (e.g. long, medium, and short).

Below are a few goals we had for the Soil Kitchen (most of which we exceeded!!!):

  • Example long-term goal=The Soil Kitchen event will help initiate EPA involvement in addressing lead contamination in the River Wards communities by September 2013

  • Example mid-term goal=Through the Soil Kitchen we will analyze 50 soil samples by the end of the event in May 2013

  • Example short-term goal=Finalize details for 4 resident-led workshops by March 2013




Depending on the scope of your organizing, you may need a more elaborate strategy than others.

This post won’t be getting into the specifics of how to create a detailed strategy, but for this just think about strategy this way “What’s the main process by which you will accomplish your goals?”

How are you going to make sure your actions form an intricately connect whole, instead of just many actions that sorta support each other.

For our Soil Kitchen example, we really wanted people to have long-term alternatives to reducing exposure to lead. So we outlined this first step of our strategy (remember there can be multiple levels to your strategy!) to hit on all these issues.

The Soil Kitchen organizers’ main strategy was to reduce the negative implications of lead soil by improving the community’s ability to have raised bed urban agriculture and holding youth-oriented workshops where parents learned about how to reduce their child’s exposure to lead.


Partners to Potentially Involve

Who are some community, nonprofit, business, or government partners who can help support this project?

Now are partners came together pretty quick because of previous collaboration, but most times you will have to think a little bit harder about who to involve.

If we did start from scratch without any partners, here’s what this part of the plan would have looked like.

Example partner

  • Name=New Kensington CDC

  • Reason/Goal for involving partner=To ensure appropriate community outreach and identify potential residents to lead workshops


Backwards Timeline of Tasks/Actions

Backwards timelines are just the same as long-term planning, except you make sure to start with what you want to achieve at the end and work back from there.

Backwards planning ensures that you set attainable goals, actions, and time periods for accomplishing your aims and do not have a lot of work to do at the end of your project/campaign to catch up.

Here are some key elements to consider when creating your backwards timeline:

  • What are the key areas to plan out (e.g. logistics, outreach, working with partners, etc.)?

  • What are some benchmark dates?

  • Who’s responsible for completing each task?

Example appreviated backwards timeline

  • Thank Soil Kitchen partners by May 15th, 2013 – Drew/Ana

  • Evaluate Soil Kitchen event for successes/challenges by May 11th, 2013 – Whole planning team

  • Soil Kitchen event on May 4th, 2013!!! – We created a separate full agenda since there were so many pieces for the day-of

So that’s it! You’ve got the steps you need to start planning your own cohesive cross-issue project!

This Wednesday I’ll be co-facilitating the workshop with Ana and Barb and there’s one section where we’ll be having folks create their own plans right then and there. So I can’t wait to see what people come up with!

If you want to follow how the Environmental Health Disparities & Environmental Justice gathering is going for me or how the workshop went, follow Organizing Change on Twitter to keep updated!