Strategically Approaching Social Change

Many social issues have attracted time, money and energy. The big issues today seem to Darfur, the war in Iraq, the tensions between the United States and Iran, and global climate change. Regardless of the issues in question there is an obvious need to make efficient and effective use of time, money, and other resources. Social activism, social change, and nonprofit management can benefit from following a plan to take effective action. This article spells out eight simple activism principles, principles that could be applied to general nonprofit management issues. 

Exploring Your Challenge
 
Asking good questions is always a sensible place to start when addressing any social change challenge or social betterment opportunity. Questions clarify objectives and evaluation criteria.
Questions help to pinpoint the cause(s) of a problem and the characteristics of a good solution to the problem. Questions help people in social betterment work to better understand the social
environment.
 
Stealing Ideas

People steal ideas constantly. Activists, nonprofit managers, and social entrepreneurs could make a plan to find and steal ideas. Decide on the best locations  for stealing ideas. Hit the bookstores,
malls, and libraries. Take another peek at books and magazines you haven’t read in some time. Watch different TV shows and read different magazines. Start out with knowledge of the areas in
which you need to steal ideas. Consider management, advertising, financial management, fundraising, recruiting, retention, technology, volunteer management, strategic planning, social marketing, and anything else you can think of that’s relevant to your organization.
 
Problem Analysis

Make a list of problems that your group or organization is facing. This list should include the main problem(s) for which your group or organization was created. The list should include any sub-problems of the main problems. Talk to your coworkers and fellow activists about what needs to be on the list and on the wording that’s been used. You will need this information for problem analysis and for group problem-solving sessions that may come later.
 
Brainstorming

Define a problem area where you want new ideas. Define an area where you want to exploit an opportunity and need a new idea. Pick a technique or two and apply it. The nature of challenges facing your organization will dictate, to some degree, the best choice of brainstorming tools. Refining an idea isdifferent from defining a new creative focus and looking for an idea.

Design Thinking

Consider the areas, techniques and values that relate to your organization’s goals. What programs, policies, projects, or internal processes need to be designed or redesigned? Social innovations in general need to be designed deliberately rather than in a haphazard manner – This should exist so let’s create it. Design values need to be considered first, and formally. Consider fit with the local culture. Consider the
fit with widespread social values like social values such as equity and democratic involvement.
 
Decision Analysis

What sorts of decisions will need to be made as the organization’s plans progress, as the program continues, as the policy is implemented? What sorts of decisions regarding fundraising, budgeting, staffing, and volunteer recruitment need to be made? Decision analysis usually hinges on gathering data or opinions. What data and (informed!) opinions will need to be collected so sound decisions are made? Where will that information come from? In many cases, you will find that simple concentration on the pros and cons of each choice will suggest the right decision. Answering a question with a simple yes or no is sometimes easy and requires only the data and experience you already have at hand. In other cases some formal decision analysis tool will be needed. Likewise, prioritizing several options can be a seat-of-the-pants exercise or something that’s proceeding with more formally, by rankings or comparisons among paired alternatives.
Start by determining where complex decisions are going to be called for. Study one or two decision-analysis tools so you can use them with speed and confidence when you need to use the “for real.” This is also a good opportunity to look at comprehensive problem-solving software like ThoughtOffice®.

Evaluating Ideas

The time to decide what counts as a good idea comes before you need to implement the idea. Now is the time to decide what counts as a good idea. The criteria will be based on time, money, talent, staff, volunteers, and the social environment. Goals and objectives are important considerations because they determine the sorts of deas that can move the organization forward. The culture, politics, laws, demographics, and economic conditions that exist when the ideas are implemented need to be accounted for in creating evaluation criteria. An intuitive and informal process is not necessarily bad – you presumably know your subject quite well. An informal process is still inferior because it informal evaluations allow too much room for subjective considerations and for important considerations to be missed.
Consider the time and money to be invested in implementing this idea. A snap judgment that the idea is a good one could waste huge amounts of time and money. A seemingly good idea can seriously damage an organization’s reputation. Reputation is a sort of resource that needs to be considered in the idea generating stage, the idea evaluation stage, and the idea implementation stage of problem solving

Selling Ideas

Depending on the organization’s purpose this may or may not seem important. It is important. At the very least you need to convince coworkers that the idea is a good one. You may also need buy-in from volunteers, the board of trustees, or supervisors. Activists have to sell ideas to voters, politicians, school administrators, people who don’t recycle, people who support the other side of an issue and et cetera. In almost all cases your plans will succeed to the extent that you can sell others on what needs to be done and why.
An important early step in social betterment efforts is to consider theaudience(s) for your message. This seems straightforward and the point in this section is not to belabor the obvious. The point is to encourage a formal and systematic approach to the selling of ideas. Write things down. Brainstorm possible marketing tactics and strategies. Make sure you have thought comprehensively about what groups need to be sold on an idea and what benefits they will want or what arguments they will accept. There may be a need to learn some social marketing techniques that are beyond the scope of this book. Some people can learn on their own by studying a textbook, while others will need to take a class. Funds permitting, it would be wise to hire consultants. The higher the stakes to the organization the more it makes sense to get professional help.
 

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~ by chetdavis on November 7, 2007.

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