Don’t go right to tactics

It is an axiom in organizing.

You need a strategy before you can craft tactics.

And, yet, we all have an impulse to go straight to tactics. They’re fun. When we’re talking tactics, we can argue about fun things like what time the protest should start and how many buses we’ll need. Instead of agonizing over really hard questions, like what it will really take to get policymakers to prioritize child nutrition, or what kinds of policy changes will best combat obesity.

But this post isn’t about why campaigns fall apart if we skip straight to tactics. There are really great books about organizing–and YouTube videos and TedTalks and smart organizers willing to answer questions–that provide ample evidence (and great stories) to that effect.

It’s a reminder that there’s another reason why we can’t afford to go right to the tactics.

We need to bring our stakeholders along with us.

I see it often, when social work advocates are trying to get their Boards of Directors or CEOs or colleagues to get behind an advocacy initiative. We want to talk about the actions that we have planned, the tactics that we’ll implement. Sometimes it’s because we know that advocacy won’t seem so scary once people know what we really have in mind–we’re not necessarily going to be standing on a street corner in a chicken suit–or because we want to make something that sounds sort of ephemeral–‘advocacy’–really concrete.

But that’s an error, on our part. It creates the very real possibility that quibbles about tactics become reasons not to do advocacy at all, because we haven’t first come to agreement on the goals. It expects that people will leap ahead with us, when they deserve to understand the vision–and have an opportunity to shape it–rather than just being asked to show up.

If we want people to share our excitement, to buy into our plan, then we need to articulate the goals, instead of immediately thinking about how we’re going to make XYZ happen.

We need to paint a picture for how the world will look different if we pull this off.

It invites people to think about the value of this advocacy for your organization, as well as the real possibility for abiding social change. It allows you to craft, together, metrics for success that measure things that really matter.

It answers the question, “Why should they care?”

And, then, they’ll want to help you figure out the slogan for those t-shirts you need to print up.

I promise.

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