Community Organizing: 4 phases, 17 steps

Excerpts from Wind Project Community Organizing by Timlynn Babitsky (2008)

Phase One — Choose an issue, map an agenda

In choosing an issue on which to focus resources, the most common mistakes are:

  • Taking on too many issues at one time
  • Choosing too complex an issue
  • Choosing the wrong issue for the resources available
  • Ignoring other groups working on the same issue
  • Ignoring the larger picture
  • Failing to prioritize
  • Failing to agree on which issue to pursue
  • Confusing passion for the need to plan

Step 1: Identify greatest interest and potential for success

Step 2: Select one key inspiring issue

Step 3: Research issue for the big picture

  • Research questions to inspire good homework include:
  • What is the history of this issue and the underlying issues that led to it?
  • How much of the conflict around this issue can be attributed to misinformation?
  • What are the underlying goals and interests of those who support or oppose this issue?
  • What policies support or constrain this issue?
  • Whose interests are being met if nothing changes [or if it does]?
  • Is there conflict around this issue? Is it latent, developing, or fully escalated?
  • Is the conflict ripe for resolution or is it in the best interest of those involved to continue with [or protect] the status quo?

Step 4: Map issue space to identify agenda

To Map an Issue:

  • Define the issue precisely.
  • List all the elements directly involved in this issue
  • List other elements that are related to this issue, but not directly
  • List other issues that are peripherally related
  • Identify positive and negative elements and peripheral issues

Phase Two — Identify network resources, determine support

Step 5: Map the issue network

Every issue has at least one opinion leader. Every agenda affects at least one stakeholder. Every organization — hierarchical or flat — has at least one information/access gatekeeper.

The opinion leader holds information and expresses it, gaining some measure of power and respect. The stakeholder stands to gain or lose something in an agenda. The gatekeeper allows access, or not, to special information, people, or places. … Gatekeepers are often quite powerful although their public role may make them seem only marginal.

Map the issue network of opinion leaders, stakeholders, and gatekeepers.

  • Identify the key people surrounding the issue
  • Draw connections that exist between members of this issue network
  • Identify supporters and resisters in this network
  • Highlight key people to consider approaching to move the agenda forward

Step 6: Map social networks

[O]ne’s network of direct connections and connections of two degrees of separation [“friend of a friend”] are critical to successful advocacy.

Map social networks of personal connections:

  • Draw maps of the direct connections in the social networks of the activists working on this agenda
  • Identify those direct connections who may be potential allies
  • Identify any second-degree connections who may support this agenda

Step 7: Approach each person as an ally

Approaching each person as if he/she were an ally is the most important skill an activist can develop.

Assess recent approaches to members of the Issue Social Network:

  • Use the map developed in step 5
  • Identify those expected to resist (R), support (S), or oppose (O) your agenda
  • Identify the approach used in most recent interactions as positive (+), negative (−), or neutral (/)

Step 8: Select potential allies for agenda

To select the potential allies for an agenda, consider the following questions:

  • What resource does he/she control? How dependent is the agenda on that resource?
  • Des a relationship with that person already exist or must a new one be built?
  • How much time, effort or other resources will likely be required to ain cooperation?
  • Are there alternative others?
  • If this person is likely a barrier, is there a direct connection that can help to influence him/her?
  • Can he/she be reached at two degrees of separation?

Keep in mind that others in the issue network, who may not be potential allies, are important to your advocacy agenda:

  • Who should be kept informed of progress?
  • Who should be avoided entirely?

Step 9: Discover currencies of each ally

In Influence Without Authority [Allan Cohen and David Bradford, 2005], currencies are grouped into five categories:

  • Inspiration-related currencies include having a chance to do important things and having the opportunity to do what is “right” by a higher standard
  • Task-related currencies include providing resources, assistance, support, and information related to the ally’s own agendas
  • Position-related currencies include recognition, visibility, reputation, importance, and access to contacts
  • Relationship-related currencies include understanding, closeness, friendship, emotional support, personal backing, acceptance, and inclusion
  • Personal-related currencies include appreciation, indebtedness, ownership of and influence over important tasks, self-esteem, self-identity, and comfort

A win-win exchange depends on offering something of value that will engage a potential ally’s interest and support. The key to a successful exchange will depend on figuring out which currency the potential ally prefers or needs.

To understand the currencies of a potential ally, try these strategies and questions:

  • Be a good listener during conversations; take notes
  • Pay attention as others discuss your potential ally; take notes
  • On what agendas is he/she working? What can you do to help advance their work?
  • What are their interests? What do you have in common?
  • What do they value? About what do they care passionately?
  • Who is important to them? Do you have any relationships in common?

Step 10: Identify advantages and assets

[A]dvantages and assets are currencies that the advocacy group has to offer potential allies in exchange for cooperation and support.

  • Brainstorm to develop a list of the organization assets
  • Have each advocate in the group develop a list of their personal advantages and assets
  • Determine which assets can be helpful in any way to advance the group agenda

Phase Three — Propose an agenda

Step 11: Present a win-win agenda

The most common strategy is to show an ally how cooperating with a request or supporting an agenda will help him/her to achieve their own desired goals or agendas. …

If goals are too dissimilar, the next most common strategy is to offer an ally something valuable to him/her in return for whatever is needed for the agenda. The five categories of currencies identified in step 9 will be helpful.

Other potential strategies include:

  • Offering to compensate ally for potential costs incurred
  • Identifying costs to the advocate if the ally does not support the agenda
  • Calling in past debts

Step 12: Frame the message to generate interest

No matter how complex an agenda may be, it is important to be able to describe it clearly and succinctly. The “30-second elevator pitch” is something you should practice and perfect. It is the basic introduction of who you are and what you are looking for. It will form the basis of your introductory message when networking and when first approaching a potential ally to begin a win-win exchange.

Phase Four — Expand the network

Step 13: Use all media channels to promote the agenda

Use every possible source available to tell the wind energy story. Use every wind story you come across to contact the media to get it covered. Take photos and write up a briefing and pass it along to your news media contacts. Local stories … are regional or state-level stories if you make that connection.

Step 14: Helping others expands your resources

Each ally you develop has a social network of relationships. As you strengthen a relationship with one individual, you are building potential connections to a whole set of new potential allies. Helping others is so often the best way to help yourself.

Step 15: Hard work builds credibility and incremental success

Do not wait for The Big Win before opening that bottle of sparkling water [sic]. Celebrate little successes, and keep allies informed. …Spread the word to the opinion leaders, stakeholders, and gatekeepers identified in step 5.

Step 16: Develop plan A, and alternative plans

Step 17: Learn from others

For advocates who are trying to promote the adoption of wind power, there are many challenges: government regulations; transmission access policies; zoning, siting, and licensing restrictions; environmental, avian, noise, and aesthetic opposition; competitor politics; high costs; resistant funding sources; near-neighbor conflict; and radiofrequency interference. This is just the short list. …

Keep in touch with others who are working on similar agendas. Share information, ideas, and resources. Do not be afraid to ask for advice.


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