The Core of Effective Advocacy Strategy

A Clipart Apple Core with red skin and what appear to be seed-eyesAn Apple Core

I’ve covered a lot of topics over the last few weeks. This post is intended to begin a new phase in this blog. If a strategy is a framework to deal with future uncertainty and scarcity of resources, then it matters what the focus of the strategy is, what aspect of the target  organizes the thinking about how to change that target. I’ll begin with an abstract statement of the core, and try to make it more concrete over later posts.

The core of an effective social justice strategy in dealing with a change target is to impact the processes that the target uses to keep itself going, changing these self-reproductive processes to make them more equitable, supportive, and productive of greater freedom and personal autonomy for devalued communities.

Whew! A mouthful…..


  • Most of the time, we try to impact the surface of an organization by advocating about a specific structural issue (policy, political position, practice). But the core of what any target does is keep itself as it is now.

    There is nothing passive about this maintenance of the status quo. Targets must actively use resources, capabilities, energy, etc. to actually do this. Though we tend to think of the status quo as not requiring maintenance effort (it is simply there), this is not true.

    While maintaining the status quo becomes more automatic over time, it still requires a significant proportion of all the time and resources the target has available. This is because all targets (for that matter, all of us) are beset by a variety of disturbances to their self-reproduction from both inside and outside. But, all this effort is often not obvious (in fact, it is deliberately made not obvious), and we don’t focus on it. We focus on public positions and individual decision makers. This is a strategic error, one of mistaking the surface for the core.

  • Put more bluntly, if you change the core of a target’s self-reproduction to promote better outcomes for your community, the organization is more likely to continue to do that.

  • You can’t engage these core processes by taking public advocacy positions, which is a typical technique. The battle over positions is a surface battle. Regardless of how that battle turns out, neither the advocacy group nor the target is changed at their core.

  • Remember that the main tactic used in individual advocacy effort is to threaten a systemic change in the target if they don’t go along with the individual advocacy goal. This approach is effective precisely because the target doesn’t want to change anything at the core.

  • Reproductive processes include governance, communication strategy, customer relation policies, bureaucratic workflow, target/outside world interface, and so on. Most of these are designed to reduce engagement with the outside world, to foster internal control over acquisition and use of resources, and to manage the political relationships both inside and outside of the target by minimizing the possibility of change. At the base of all this effort to manage the ongoing reproduction of the target is anxiety about loss of control. 

Often, the staff in the target organization are also divided between functionally surface roles and functionally core roles. The surface roles are performances; the core roles are the ones that make it possible for the organization to continue to be what it is. This reality has an impact on how we disturb the target to produce change.

Next Post: Roles as Targets of Change Strategy

Author: disabilitynorm

hubby2jill, advocate50+yrs, change strategist, trainer, geezer, Tom and Pepper the wundermutts

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