The power of advocacy arises from engaging the anomalies in the SOF’s evolution. These anomalies are affordances for effective change. Anomalies means weak signals from the SOF that are not in alignment with its stated purpose or mission. Anomalies are not just hypocrisy about mission values. They are programs, funding sources, political connections-anything in the SOF ecosystem that doesn’t support its mission. There are always a large number of anomalies in any complex adaptive system, including our advocacy organizations. If we wish to make use of them, we have to be able to perceive them.
The nature of weak signals makes them easy to ignore if they make us uncomfortable, or if recognizing them requires us to make unpleasant or difficult changes. Also, we are taught almost from birth, to believe that strong signals, and only strong signals, are worth our time or effort. (Note that common signals are viewed as strong whether they are or not.) Strong signals are viewed the way they are because there is an assumption that the power of a signal to, say, punish or force change, is related to its strength.
There is just enough truth to this assumption that we believe we can safely ignore weak signals. We can’t-at least if we want to have an impact on our common future.
The other problem with focusing on the processes associated with strong signals in an SOF is that they are the ones best defended. If we try to use strong signals and those internal processes that support the reproduction and expansion of the SOF that those signals represent, the system will have no trouble mobilizing resources to oppose our change efforts.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t confront the underlying processes of an oppressive or discriminatory SOF. I’m saying that changing those core processes will require a long term effort and a lot of resources.
We can also think of going after weak processes by identifying them in weak signals as a way to force the SOF to use resources to counter our change work that the SOF would prefer to use in support of its core strong processes. The tendency for the SOF will be to try to minimize the use of these core resources which will, in turn, slow an effective response to our advocacy. In fact, there are advocacy techniques which disguise the real potential impact of our advocacy to exploit this SOF tendency.
In the context of our engagement with an SOF over the long term is the potential for corruption of the SOF purpose and, frankly, for the corruption of our advocacy purpose. We need to understand how this corruption works in order to not lose the thread of our advocacy purpose.
Next: Corruption of System Purpose