Strategy

A map that charts the territory between our current position and the achievement of our intended change objectives can help us achieve our purpose and avoid the sense of being overwhelmed that often accompanies social and environmental activism.

Our maps can be simple or complex. Some campaigning organisations develop complex explanations of how they believe their strategies will contribute to intended changes. Others have simple templates to plan and communicate their chosen tactics and keep people heading in the same direction. Some groups rely heavily on written strategies and others find that regular dialogue works to develop a shared strategy. In our ‘Strategising for Change’ workshops, participants share and experiment with different approaches.

Something we’ve noticed about strategy is that folks are often confused or in conflict about key strategising terms: ‘strategy’, ‘tactics’, ‘goals’ and ‘objectives’, for instance, have lots of different meanings. What follows is a simple run down of the way we use some of these words – if it helps! We do not advocate “one right way” to articulate your strategy. But we do feel that community organisers and activists benefit immensely when they develop a shared understanding and language. Our list below suggests a sequence for developing strategy, but in reality there’s no “one right way” and the best campaign strategies are developed iteratively and revisited frequently.

This page guides you through ten strategising steps. Our Campaign Strategy Guide provides  a more detailed  set of 27 process guides and 20 resources to help you and your groups thoroughly assess the political landscape and plan how best to accomplish your objectives. It’s available in hard copy and as a download.


1. Strategy

A strategy for a social change campaign can be as simple or complex as you and your group determine. It should communicate your theory of change, the political context you are working in, the problems and solutions, your goals and objectives, power analysis, tactics and timeline.

The Midwest Academy propose a simple campaign planning grid with columns for each of the following elements of strategy: vision; goals; objectives; organisational considerations; constituents, allies and opponents; tactics; and timeline.

The Democracy Centre recommends nine steps to plan advocacy campaigns based around a sequence of simple questions. By answering each question, campaigners develop each element of their strategy:

  • What do we want? (goals and objectives)
  • Who can give it to us? (audiences)
  • What do they need to hear? (messages)
  • Who do they need to hear it from? (messengers)
  • How do we get them to hear it? (delivery)
  • What have we got? (resources; strengths)
  • What do we need to develop? (challenges; gaps)
  • How do we begin? (first steps)
  • How will we know it’s working, or not working? (evaluation)

By experimenting with these processes and reflecting on how they’ve contributed to your campaign impact, you’ll get a sense of what works best for your group.

2. Campaign scope and goals

‘Cut the issue’ to narrow down bigger picture problems into more manageable parts. What are all the different ways the problem is experienced? How is it framed by different groups? What part of the problem or bigger issue do you intend to work on? It might be helpful to frame it as a solution or partial solution. Name the problem, identify issues and purposefully choose which one/s you plan to tackle.

The campaign focus might include a ‘problem statement’ that defines the social or environmental justice that your group is most concerned with. What part of the problem are you trying to solve? How does resolving this issue address the underlying problem and root causes?

The ‘cutting the issue’ exercise can help you define your goals. (Note: We tend to use ‘goals’ as the bigger picture steps toward your vision and ‘objectives’ to denote the more specific steps you are hoping to achieve along the way.) How do you want things to be? If this issue or problem is resolved, how will the situation have changed? How will justice be achieved? Objectives should be discrete and directly linked to the scope. It is generally best to focus on one campaign objective or limit to two or three. If your objectives are sufficiently different, it may be worthwhile developing separate campaign plans.

Download below or click here for our online version.

Cutting the issue

It’s next to impossible to make a difference on a huge problem. How you ‘cut’ the problem into issues will influence your prospects of success, and the consequent impact. What parts of the problem (and the solution) are amenable to your influence? Tags: favourite, strategy, workshop resources,

3. Vision

What does the situation you are working towards look like? What does the social or environmental change that you are working on feel like when you are there? Paint yourself a picture. This helps when you’re communicating with others about the world you hope to create through your campaign or community action.

Two useful processes you might use are the Institute for Sustainable Communities’ questions for developing your objectives and the ‘What is your political vision’ exercise (linked below).

Vision gallery

Stretches people’s imaginations in envision and articulate the kind of society they would like to create, going beyond vague values to specific features. Tags: strategy, workshop resources,

What is your political vision?

Exercise to help your group define the characteristics of political life in the ideal future as expressed in roles, relationships, and values in decision making. Tags: political analysis, strategy, workshop resources,

4. Situational analysis

What is the context? What political, economic, cultural or other factors are creating or maintaining this problem? What are the root causes? What factors are likely to help or hinder you in achieving your objectives? Who benefits from the problem being maintained? Who would benefit from it being changed? Are certain groups experiencing these injustices more than others? What are civil society groups doing about the situation?

Download below or click here for our online version.

Forcefield analysis / Macro strategy exercise

This activity examines various forces affecting a movement including external groups, internal division, psychological powers and blocks. It’s a terrific way for your group or network to share perspectives and information that will help define what’s possible and how to maximise your influence and impact. Macro Strategy is a kinesthetic way to introduce this activity. Tags: political analysis, strategy, workshop resources,

Mechanisms of change

An exercise which explores the different ways social movements can bring about change and how these different mechanisms can help when selecting tactics. Tags: theory of change, workshop resources,

Mechanisms of change quotations

Resource containing numerous famous quotations that relate to four mechanisms of change: persuasion, accommodation, coercion and disintegration. Tags: theory of change, workshop resources,

Problem tree analysis

This exercise is used to analyse the root causes of a problem and to identify the primary consequences. The tree provides a visual structure for the analysis. Developed by Lisa VeneKlasen and Valerie Miller.  Tags: political analysis, strategy, workshop resources,

5. Critical path analysis

What sequence of changes or outcomes will take you from where things are now to achieving your social change objectives? What changes need to take place along the way? What assumptions underpin your critical path? What steps can you realistically bring about? Critical path analysis is one of the most powerful and challenging strategy processes. Contact us for examples and/or feedback as you hone this skill.

Download below or click here for our online version.

Critical path analysis

A critical path charts a sequence of outcomes or changes that are necessary between where we are (here and now) and the resolution of the problem we’re campaigning to solve. This tool helps campaigners to articulate their assumptions about how the intended change will be brought about, step by step. It’s a powerful tool that […] Tags: favourite, political analysis, strategy, workshop resources,

‘Naming political assumptions’ exercise

An exercise to help group members identify the political assumptions that shape their opinions and analysis. Tags: political analysis, strategy, workshop resources,

6. Organisational considerations

What organisational considerations do you need to bear in mind? What are your philosophies and policies? What are our strengths? Constraints? Consider key organisational priorities such as gender and cultural diversity, and fundraising objectives. What level of priority does this campaign have? What resources are likely to be available for this campaign? Two useful processes are SWOT analysis and team types.

Team types

An opportunity to reflect on behaviour and work together to understand each other more deeply. Tags: facilitation, workshop resources,

SWOT analysis

An activity to examine internal and external factors that hinder or facilitate a group’s advocacy strategy. This is a useful activity to help you refine goals, objectives, and activities. Tags: strategy, workshop resources,

7. Allies, constituents & targets

When you map out the stakeholders in your campaign, allies are the stakeholders you can work with, build alliances with, and share resources with. Constituents are “the community”: the people you want to side with your position and help apply pressure to your target. Your target is often a decision maker: someone who can give you the change you want. In representative democracies these are often politicians, ministers, or members of parliament. Sometimes we have limited capacity to influence our primary targets, so it can useful to identify secondary targets: stakeholders who have more direct influence with the primary target. If your primary target is the CEO of a corporation, then your secondary targets might include shareholders.

A power map can be a useful reference and shared analysis during a campaign. This is a simple tool to identify where key stakeholders (allies, targets, opponents and constituents) stand in relation to your campaign objective, and their relative levels of influence.

Power mapping

An exercise to map who’s who to prioritise points of influence or change, and generate ideas for strategy: a great exercise to focus your campaign efforts. Tags: favourite, political analysis, strategy, workshop resources,

Power mapping template

Who can make the decision you need to influence (your primary target)? Who influences them (your secondary targets)? Who use exercises influence for/against this decision? A power map is a simple yet powerful tool to map decision makers and focus your energy where it makes the greatest impact. Here’s a basic MS Word template to […] Tags: strategy,

Spectrum of allies

An exercise to examine how different stakeholders view our campaign objectives and to consider tactics accordingly. Tags:

Spectrum of allies handout

This resource is to be used in the Spectrum of allies exercise. Tags: strategy, workshop resources,

8. Objectives

What specific or tangible outcomes do you aim to achieve to further the campaign goals? Ideally, objectives should be strategic, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-specific (SMART). Objectives are based on your situational analysis (looking at the range of potential issues), critical path (how can each issue be resolved) and organisational considerations (which issues do we have the capacity to tackle and which fit our organisation the best?). A clearly defined objective makes for a motivated constituency and successful campaign.

Some processes that are useful here include revisiting your critical path, drafting then SMARTening your objectives, and forcefield analysis for each objective.

SMART objective writing

An exercise to turn your group’s desired changes into objectives that are Specific and Strategic, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound. Tags: strategy, workshop resources,

9. Tactics

Tactics are the social action activities that you use to achieve your goals and objectives but the strategy is the sequencing of these in a logical and strategic way. List and detail the tactics required to achieve each campaign objective. Decide which tactics will deliver the greatest impact for the energy and resources you invest. Apply agreed tactics criteria to assess and justify tactics.

Tactics analysis

An activity to assist groups select effective tactics by thinking more strategically. Tags: strategy, workshop resources,

Tactics analysis handout

This resource is used in the Tactics Analysis activity. Tags: strategy, workshop resources,

Tactics relay

An activity to assist participants to think critically and creatively about potential tactics and to reinforce social change frameworks. Tags: strategy, workshop resources,

Tactical timeline

This activity guides groups to develop their strategy by sequencing tactics. Tags: workshop resources,

Ten commandments of activism

Some wise words from Saul Alinsky. Tags: strategy, workshop resources,

Rules of power tactics

This resource outlines Saul Alinksy’s guidelines for selecting tactics (source: Rules for Radicals). Tags: strategy, workshop resources,

Some campaigning organisations adopt a set of criteria to assess potential tactics. The Midwest Academy has developed a checklist for tactics to assess potential tactics.

  • Can you really do it? Do you have the needed people, time and resources?
  • Is it focused on either the primary or secondary target?
  • Does it put real power behind a specific demand?
  • Does it meet your organisational goals as well as your issue goals?
  • Is it outside the experience of the target?
  • Is it within the experience of your own members and are they comfortable with it?
  • Do you have enough leaders experienced enough to do it?
  • Will people enjoy participating in it?
  • Will it play positively in the media?

10. Evaluation

What will success look like and how will you know when it’s happening? Be sure not to emphasise the outputs that are easiest to count. Focus instead on the outcomes that really matter to your objectives. The Change Agency has an ongoing action research project to learn about advocacy and campaign evaluation. Click here for details, resources and links.

Success indicators need to be directly linked to your objectives and might include:

  • Outputs: What quantitative results will be brought about by your activities. What will be the results?
  • Outcomes: What changes will be brought about?
  • Impact: What will be longer-term results or changes?
  • Indicators: How will you know you have achieved your objectives? What are the changes that you will be able to observe?
  • Means of verification: How can you prove these changes have occurred?
  • Details of how and when the campaign plan will be revised.
  • Identify who will be responsible for gathering the data for monitoring success indicators, how they will do it and how regularly reports will be completed.

Piecing it all together

There is no “one right way” to capture and communicate all the elements of strategy.  Some organisations have a preference for simple one-page tables. Others use longly narrative formats or complex documents that extend to 20 pages or more.  Some templates we’ve seen used effectively are:

tCA strategy chart

The anatomy of a campaign strategy: a chart illustrating elements of strategy and processes your group can use to develop them. Tags: strategy, workshop resources,

tCA campaign strategy template

the Change Agency’s template incorporating elements of strategy and suggested processes to develop each element with members of your group Tags: strategy,

Basic strategy grid

An adapted version of the Midwest Academy’s community organising grid, this simple table provides one way of putting together key pieces of a strategy in a relative order. Tags: strategy, workshop resources,

Strategic planning template

This format has been used by medium-sized environment groups in their annual planning cycle. A simple table requiring vision, objectives, resources and performance indicators. The table is also useful for evaluation purposes. Tags: