Sunday, 25 March 2012

Tips on Community Organising

Following on from a previous post on community organising, thought it might be nice to list a few key points of community activism, garnered from a variety of sources:


Be SPECIFIC about the action or change you want.
What specific change do you want to make? If you don’t know what you really want, how can the other party know what they are supposed to be agreeing to?

Demonstrations know what they are against - but sometime not what they really want.

Make it SIMPLE
This applies to pretty much everything in life, and community organising is no exception. It is better to aim for a simple, clearly understandably change than to try and achive complicated changes all in one go.

If your plan for sorting out local parking issues looks like this, you are making it too complex.

Aim to achieve a target that is actually WINNABLE
Take what you can get, live to fight another day.

World Peace is a nice idea, but perhaps not the best target
if you are a grasshoots organisation in Hitchin

Aim for a COMMON GOOD solution
The strength of organisations like CitizensUK lies in their broad make-up and the number of people they represent. Campaigns need to be on issues that matter to many groups, not just one.

Solutions that work for the whole commuity are the best ones.

PERSONALISE the argument - organisations make bad targets.
Find out who has the power in the company / state body to make the change you seek? Then email / phone / meet with that person. Find out what is important to them and where common ground might lie. Use power mapping to see where the power lies in the organisation you wish to engage with.

If your group has an issue with justice, you need to see this man.

Personal TESTIMONY is very important
The testimony of people who are at the receiving end of unfair practices (e.g Abdul Durrant) is a powerful way to demonstrate the real world effect that those policies are having.

Make sure you don't get confused between testimony and testimonial

Consider the SELF-INTEREST of the other party.
What is in it for them? Sustainable solutions only come about when both parties feel they have achieved something. Don't be unprepared like the charity collector in the clip below.


Don’t spend too long talking, instead of DOING.
When having internal meetings, it is easy to spend all your time complaining about what is wrong or talking about what ought to be done without being specific. Make sure meetings end with clear actions to move things forward.

Big meetings are less likely to have useful actions

Sometimes it is better to TAKE WHAT YOU CAN GET, rather than what you would like to get.
One of the London Citizens groups had jumped through a number of hoops to get a meeting with one of the borough mayors. Then, the day before the meeting, the mayor’s office called to say that the time allocated for the meeting had been reduced from one hour to just thirty minutes, and the number of people that Citizens were allowed to bring was halved. The Citizens group attended the meeting and, instead of presenting a shortened and pressurized argument, used the time to build a relationship with the Mayor and arrange a meeting a few months down the line so that the dialogue could continue later

A bird in the hand. . . .

Be aware of people who can MAKE CONNECTIONS
Some time ago, a very interesting article was published by the New Yorker magazine entitled
“Six degrees of Lois Weisberg” which described how people who move in many circles and have loose connections with many different groups, can be powerful agents of change. With the advent of social media, this has become an area that has received a lot of research coverage (see here)

Lois and Kevin : well connected people


Be IMAGINATIVE In your campaigns
One example of this concerns a campaign that one of the London Citizens groups undertook against a government agency that was not giving a good service to some of the people using it. After being repeatedly rebuffed by the centre management, Citizens decided to get their information in a different way. Winningly, they obtained testimonies from many people by the simple expedient of stationing a burger van in the Car Park and talking to the people who used it.

Now any ordinary burger van would have been removed promptly by security.

But this was no ordinary burger van.

It was staffed by Nuns.

The security team simply could not take the chance of being seen to manhandle nuns off the premises. Let’s just pause for a moment to think about the conversations that were happening in the security department during this time.. . .

And the end result? Hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent in improving the service the centre offered.

A burger van can be a force for social change. . . when staffed by nuns

Links
CitizensUK
Change Agency(Australia) - lots of good stuff here
History of Community Organising in the UK
A list of Community organising resources
The Citizens Handbook

Image Sources
Earth, March, Complexity, Ken Clarke, Map, Wembley, Table, Kevin Bacon, Van

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