In the history of conflict, there is a concept that involves preparing the arena of the conflict so that it is more compatible with your plan. It is called “battlefield prep“. The idea is that your change plan will be implemented in the real world as it is, and that you need to understand that real world, and alter it to fit your plan as much as possible.
So our change plans have two sides:
- One is the plan itself
- The other is more general, and works to make the ecosystem in which our change plan will operate more accepting and supportive of our plan.
There are often specific changes that we can make in the ecosystem that surrounds our efforts to accomplish this, and there are more general changes we can support to make the ecosystem friendlier to our change objectives. For example:
- Collaboration with partners who share the values that support your change initiative
- Putting some energy into existing change initiatives that are complementary to your plan
- Investing some time in small but highly visible direct criticism of policies that block your change initiative
In addition to this plan-connected preparation, we must also put in time and resources to mold the context of our change efforts so that it is more supportive over the long run. Some of the possible outcomes we might pursue include:
- Our values are the best guide for long term change in the larger societal context. Altering the devaluing and stereotyped assumptions of the larger society and its sub-communities will make specific change initiatives more realistic. The most effective way to foster better defaults is action that embodies the values and the public performance of those actions. Active memes, not just statements.
- As an extension of this idea, the public performance of team and community based actions that embrace those same values help make people more comfortable with action that support specific change initiatives.
- It is a reality in trying to change systems that initiatives from a single source are viewed as outsider memes and given less credence than the same messages coming from multiple social levels and multiple geographic sources. The latter seem more like a wave of consensus than the former and have a correspondingly broader and deeper reach, Yet our assumptions about organizations make it difficult for us to share responsibility for change memes, and especially so the greater the geographic or social distance between our message and that of others. It is hard to see people we don’t know as allies in change efforts. We have to overcome this bias if we expect our initiatives to have more power. And we have to get to know allies that are geographically and socially distant from ourselves.
The idea that we can affect the overall reach of our initiatives by altering the context of our change efforts is a hard sell to most activists because of our automatic assumptions about the scarcity of time and resources. This is part of the same tactical action and operational planning view of change that we have all inherited from historical narratives that focus on the details of how change occurred and not the larger context, organizationally driven risk aversion, and the limitations of single community thinking. These same constraints on our change imaginations are now deeply reinforced by funding sources.
We need to embed our “tactical actions and operational plans” with bits and pieces that reach beyond our immediate goals and tamper with the trends and dispositions of the larger world which, in the end, will determine the actual effectiveness of our expenditure of time and energy.
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