Look beyond the obvious to find good objectives
In trying to deal with a problem like growing juvenile crime your group might decide on the obvious objective of getting more police. If you looked beyond symptoms, at causes, you might decide to try to open local schools during evenings. Research can help you look beyond the obvious.
How do your objectives score?
Generate ideas for objectives that will lead to your goal, and then decide which to pursue. Test alternative objectives by asking:
~ Will it improve people's lives or confer a public good?
~ Is it easy to understand?
~ Is it specific? Will you know when you've reached your objective?
~ Will it have a immediate impact?
~ Will it contribute to reaching long-term goals?
~ Will other citizens want to help?
~ Will it establish healthy connections between people?
~ Is it attainable?
~ Is it attainable with available resources?
For projects that face opposition, add the following questions:
~ Is there a clear decision maker who can deliver the goods?
~ Is it attractive enough to raise money?
~ Is it deeply felt?
~ Will it help to build organizing skills?
~ Will it give citizens a sense of their own power?
~ Is there a basic principle involved?
One objective at a time
To be effective, your group should pursue only one objective at a time. New groups should begin with small projects that have a high probability of success over the short term. One good way to identify a group's priorities is to ask people to write their own view of what the priorities are. Each person writes his or her priorities on large post-it notes, one priority per note, and then sticks them to a board or large sheet of paper where everyone can see them. A facilitator helps the group arrange the notes into clusters with similar characteristics. The top priority soon becomes apparent.
Map the landscape of support and opposition
One of the most important recurring decisions for any group is what their strategy will be in the face of opposition. Given the situation at hand, what is going to be most effective: cooperation, negotiation, or confrontation? Smart groups do not have a single style; they constantly respond to shifting circumstances by deciding what is most appropriate at the moment. Generally they make every attempt to succeed through cooperation and negotiation, reserving confrontation for clear and continuing intransigence.
As you think about strategy, you will need to answer the following questions:
~ Where can you find the resources you need? Who will support your initiative? What concerns will they have? How can you take advantage of their support?
~ Who will oppose your initiative? What concerns will they have? What form will their opposition take?
To be effective, your group should pursue no more than one or two objectives at any given time. New groups should begin with small projects having a high probability of success over the short term.
Plan the action
Generate ideas that will lead to your objective, then decide which to carry forward. Once your group agrees on an action, create an action plan. It should include a time-frame; an ordered list of tasks to complete; persons responsible for each task; a list of resources required including materials; facilities and funds. Keep action plans flexible so you can respond to the unexpected. One good way to identify a group's priorities is to ask people to write their views with thick markers on large post-it notes. Each person sticks their notes to a board or large sheet of paper where everyone can see them. A facilitator then helps the group arrange the notes into clusters with similar characteristics.
Once you've completed the necessary groundwork, you need to act. Surprisingly, many groups never get around to acting. John Gardiner says, "Many talk about action but are essentially organized for study, discussion or education. Still others keep members busy with organizational housekeeping, committee chores, internal politics and passing of resolutions."
While many interest groups get together just for discussion, community groups tend to work best when acting accompanies talking. Otherwise, they tend to shrink to a few die-hards for whom meeting attendance has become a way of life.
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The Citizen's Handbook / Charles Dobson / citizenshandbook.org
The Troublemaker's Teaparty is an updated and expanded print version of The Citizen's Handbook. It contains all of The Handbook plus additional material on preventing grassroots rot, strategic action, direct action and media advocacy. You can get a copy of The Teaparty from bookstores, Amazon or New Society Publishers.