In this chapter, we discuss how to choose and build a strategy for your movement based on your purpose and long-term goals.
If you’re looking for information about how to mobilize and start a movement take a look at the Organizing chapter
“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 purpose of a strategy is to help you determine the best approach to achieving your goals based on the situation you’re in, your values as well as your strengths and weaknesses. There are many different methods of strategy building but they generally agree on six basic components of a strategy:
Your idea of a Utopia. It might sound silly to imagine an ideal world that doesn’t exist, but the image of that world is the best way for you to make sure you share people in your organization or movement share values and vision of what you’re trying to achieve. Sharing visions between activist movements is a good way of building relationships and developing networks of camaraderie.
Our goals are the checkpoints along the way toward our vision, getting us closer and closer to the world we want to live in.
As we said in the first passage, the choice of strategy depends on the purpose and long-term goals. Unlike vision, goals should indeed be achievable, and when thinking about them, we should keep them realistic. This means we should be able to answer the questions about our own experience and skill level, capacities, as well as the nature of our political and social environment. Tactics and strategies that worked in the past don’t necessarily have to work for us. The same goes for tactics that work in different political environments today. This article can help you learn about some of the tools you can use to answer these questions.
The best way of understanding objectives without confusing them with goals is to identify them as specific tasks that explain exactly how the goals are achieved. Objectives are the most specific elements of strategies and are mostly used to decide on action plans.
These are, in the context of strategy, always people. Whether the politicians whose decisions we’re trying to influence, or managers of companies who leave us no choice but to organize a strike. Bear this in mind when thinking about targets. You want to know the culture, goals and purpose of institutions you’re aiming to put pressure on. Targets can be broadly categorized as primary and secondary, primary being the decision-makers you want to influence and secondary being all potential allies and people who would benefit from the changes you’re trying to install as well as people with influence over the issue who are not decision-makers (institutions).
Tactics are something we have an entire chapter about. They are, in a nutshell, concrete series of actions that we plan and execute in order to meet our strategic goals. Depending on your strategies some tactics might be more relevant than others. Different tactics attract people with different values and have varying degrees of success. Make sure not to confuse tactics and values. Solidarity or youth participation aren't tactics, those are values that tactics such as cooperatives or student parliaments might help strengthen.
The least fun but still essential part of the entire planning is the measurement of success. We want to have reliable ways of evaluating our own success and that can help us see our weak spots so we can improve them. Metrics play a very important role in this type of measurement.
There is a wide variety of strategies and choosing a strategy is not an easy task. The vision and goals of your movement will dictate the strategies (and tactics) you want to choose. Example: If your goal is to increase the number of urban gardens, going on strikes or protest marches isn’t a very useful tactic. The resources spent for mobilizing and securing a protest would be better spent on actual gardening. And if you’re worried about the safety of your gardens, organizing a neighborhood watch might prove a more useful tactic than starting an advocating campaign for increased surveillance.
There are many ways to differentiate between types of strategies. We decided to use two factors: focus on the system (institutions) or communities (people) and whether strategies are more on the radical (disruptive) or lenient (reformative) side of things. You can find a visual representation of this typology below.
The reason we didn’t like any of the existing ways to distinguish between strategies is that they heavily focus on political activism and institutional strategies. People building community workshops and giving free classes in sign language are rarely seen or identify themselves as activists.
Most conventional activists, especially those visible in the mainstream, are using what we called Institutional strategies - putting pressure on governments to tweak the current system in order to improve the wellbeing of the people they represent. Some of the strategies from this category are Calling to vote, lawsuits, lobbying, advocacy campaigns, running for office, talking to politicians… What’s common for all of these is that their primary target are people in institutions of power (companies, national, regional or local governments, public institutions etc), and the demands are changes within the framework of the current system.
Even though their goal is to draw attention to and cause changes within the system, the main difference between these and institutional strategies is the level of problem they cause for those in power - they are much more disruptive. Sometimes they can cut supply of important goods and services or prevent institutions from acting the way they usually do. Media usually portray these movements as radical.
On the left side of the diagram are strategies that focus primarily on the people and communities, not the institutions. The more lenient type is what we named Cultural strategies. These focus on training, education, awareness campaigns, information dissemination etc. Their primary goal is to strengthen individuals and communities, change behaviour, values or attitudes of people.
The aim of these strategies is to replace existing systems with new ones, or at least to create pockets of autonomous self-governing safe-spaces for individuals and communities. The most radical examples of the use of these strategies are seen within the autonomous provinces and municipalities such as Rojava (Autonomous Administration of Northern Syria) or one of the Rebel Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities, but various types of intentional communities and communes such as Freetown Christiania in Denmark or farming communities fighting Monsanto in India use strategies that also fall under this category.
You don’t necessarily have to stay within just one of the categories, but make sure that the strategies and tactics you chose don’t clash with each other. If you’re trying to build relationships with the people in your social environment, being seen as “radical” is not a good move. On the other hand, if you really want to make big and fast changes by building alternatives, you are wasting time if you focus primarily on policy making and lobbying, and expecting the government to introduce these alternatives.
We have written several articles to help you write a strategy for your movement. We have added step-by-step guides for organising workshop sessions to start writing a strategy together with fellow rebels.
Write your own strategy by putting together the following elements:
Also make sure to check out our related chapters:
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:
This is a background section: At Activist Handbook, we focus on writing a practical guides for activists. Sometimes, theory gets in the way of that.
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