Disability Justice as a Complex Adaptive System (DJCAS)-5

Part 5: The Possibility Space of Disability Justice and Advocacy in the DJCAS

I have focused on individual and small group advocacy, but the entirety of The System of supports , in all it’s political, financial, social, and personal dimensions is the possibility space for our disability justice work. Our advocacy can change what is already realized in the possibility space, as well as introducing novelty into that possibility space.

The details of this macro-CAS should not be the drivers of that advocacy work. Instead, we need to recognize our journey to Disability Justice as an exploration of possibilities that are not preset. This is a very different process from a sequence of operational advocacy plans that start and stop with success or failure. I’ll try to illustrate this critical difference below.

Most advocacy work uses operational planning as a framework for change. Logic Models are a specimen example of how this type of planning rolls out. The model uses chains of causal links to show how we get from here to there. The models often contain intermediate endpoints to clarify the flow from here to there. The final outcomes are the result of the links being implemented in order, and must be measurable to qualify as real outcomes.

There is nothing wrong with such models, but their competent use assumes that the advocacy plan arises from a true strategy, of which the logic model is a component. Unfortunately, Strategic Planning in modern organizational work (including advocacy work) has come to mean a great big logic model and a disconnected isolated analysis of forces acting on the organization (often called a SWOT analysis). While I will post later about how real strategy is distinct from operational planning, I need to first distinguish the space in which disability justice strategy operates from the closed systems of operational plans which should be, as it were, local manifestations of our strategy.

In future posts, I’ll use different perspectives as a way of pointing toward the concept of a disability justice possibility space, as opposed to causal link models:

First, though, I’d like to talk about the differences between a space of causal link plans, and a space of possibilities.

I would describe a logic model or any other operational plan based on mapping causal links into the future, as a closed system, regardless of the intentions of the creators. Causal chains linked to outcomes don’t really admit of other possibilities (and generally discourage them as distractions or loss of focus), except, of course, for failure to reach outcomes. This is also the ordinary way we view the fulfilling of intentions (the realization of the intention being the final outcome). The idea of a “bucket list” is a pure example of the limitations of this kind of thinking.

One way of seeing the problem with this simple take on the fulfilling of intention is to look at the successes and failures of the philosophy of action in recent years. In Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System, Alicia Juarrero argues that traditional framework for action theory is just such a logic model of causal links, and that it has never been up to the task of representing human intention or the way that actual human beings realize their actual intentions.

Dr. Juarrero sees conceiving of an intention as creating a possibility space for its realization. This kind of possibility space is a complex adaptive system (CAS), where the dynamic of realizing it creates alternate possibilities at each step of the process, and thus choices for the person in continuing to realize any intention. As an intention arising in a networked community of intentions, the CAS of the possibility space can potentiate a huge space of alternate next steps. In much the same way that the realization of a personal intention can produce events that cloud or interfere with the realization, so a large possibility space (say one arising out of the many intentions of the disability community and its allies) can generate, for example, counter-intentions by providing energy within the CAS that can be seized upon by opponents of our community.

There is no optimal causal path to the realization of an intention, whether personal or community. Instead there are the unique, path dependent, sets of choices in pursuit of the intention. Or in the case of disability justice, the pursuit of our dream.

Here is a simple story about how the same intention can result in very different paths to realization. Imagine two six-month old infants, maybe fraternal twins with the same parents and the same rough environment, but different genetics. Each infant has their own playroom. The parents decide to get each an identical ball that makes sounds, flashes lights, and moves. They place the ball the same distance from each infant, trigger the lights, motion, and sounds, and watch how each infant goes to get the ball.

One child is impulsive and has boundless energy, and charges off as fast as possible to get the ball, stopping to reorient to the ball and correct the path of realizing the intention. The other is careful and precise, checking almost constantly to make sure of the path. Both finally reach the ball, grasp it, and play with it.

In the causal links view of intention, each deviation by either infant from the most efficient approach to the ball is an error, a mistake, a waste of resources. Behaviorism, for example, would use its ontologically based “logic model” assumptions to try to program the infants to not make these “errors”. In fact, something like this reasoning is the basis of most of our attitudes toward the realization of intention, whether we buy the ontology of behaviorism or not.

The question I would like to raise is, “What else is happening to the child’s development as it takes it’s child-specific approach to realizing its intention?”. It is those differences that constitute the possibility space for each child and, writ large, the differences in the possibility spaces of each of us as we work our way through the realization of all of our intentions, including the ones we cherish for the realization of disability justice.

I’ll close with some ideas from Kurt Vonnegut that he offered to a high school student:

“Practice Becoming.

Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on.”

To me, this is the most important purpose of Disability Justice and our pursuit of it. The realization of possibility, not just intentions, but the fuller possibility that lies in the choices of each and every one of us for our lives. While intention might be a tool to facilitate this purpose, it is a tool, not an end in itself. Becoming is the end in itself.

Disability Justice as a Complex Adaptive System (DJCAS)-4

Part 4: The Clash of Design and Actual Engagement in Advocacy

Although we use the System As Designed (SAD) (irony intended) as a context for our advocacy, anyone who advocates quickly understands that the relationship between SAD and System As Engaged (SAE) is, shall we say, dysfunctional. It is always important to remember that the conflict between SAD and SAE is built into the way we plan and implement all designed systems, not just those that obviously impinge on the lives and possibilities of the disability community.

The experience of reality is different for a person working from outside the SAE than it is for a person working on the inside of the SAE , not unlike the difference between your experience of your self and the experience of another person of your self. Inside the SAE for example, student rights to an FAPE are a set of constraints that are part of a large universe of constraints, including scarce funding and the competition between special education funding and all other financial aspects of the school district, political competition and conflict over everything of value in the district, the impact of personal relationships on decisions, labor agreements, local electoral politics, national views of education as a political football-and so on.

From outside the SAE, The SAD guides the presumption of value for that same universe of meaning I described above. And these two perspectives on that universe of value are very, very different. The biggest upshot of this unavoidable reality is that any conflict over an issue of advocacy has many threads that branch out from the apparent issue into the respective perspectives of the advocate and the district insider. These perspectives are not aligned to one another. They can be made mutually coherent for resolving the advocacy issue by negotiation, but the terms of the negotiation are still very different for the two parties. For the SAE, put somewhat simply, negotiation is about the distribution of resources that the SAE sees as “theirs”, both as “owned” and as demanding allocation for the common good of the SAE, and are a part of a universe of negotiations about those resources extending well beyond the specific advocacy issue or policy. For the advocate, the negotiation is about assuring the allocation of resources sufficient to produce a FAPE and the effective continuation of the  values in the disability educational rights framework.

Engagement between advocate and insider can produce better mutual understanding and make negotiation easier, but it can’t erase the pain points of the differences in perspective. This is generally true wherever SAD and SAE engage, regardless of the system (rehabilitation, healthcare, employment, community living, etc.). It is also true of for-profit corporations. The differences in perspective can be tweaked but not fundementally changed.

As I mentioned earlier, the meta-drivers of the dynamic decisions in any CAS are:

  • The unavoidable uncertainty of the future, and the necessity for hedging against the unpredictable
  • The universal scarcity of resources (not just money, but every kind of resource)

It is the different views of the value of the various resources and the level of risk that is assigned to uncertainties that maintains the conflict between advocate and insider. These constraints operate well beyond the kind of advocacy for disability justice I have discussed so far. I’ll carry along and expand this notion as I discuss more sophisticated and system-like forms of advocacy and social justice change.

Disability Justice as a Complex Adaptive System (DJCAS)-2

My  First Glimmerings of System Understanding

Because the clinic organized its support around childhood and brain development, I gradually came to see systems through those lenses.  Both the Brain and Childhood Development were viewed as too complex to understand by the medical community at the time, but there was a cottage industry in models of development in both. Mostly the models were for understanding some part of those parallel processes. Then the model would generalized to be a basis for understanding all of the development.

I grew up in Midland, Michigan, the home of Dow Chemical, and I understood the limitations of general theories based on abstract concepts. But, the concepts in these models were still useful as analogies.  I just didn’t sort them into true and not true, but tried to juggle them all without dropping any. My hope was that I would eventually see further into these parallel processes if I chose this tactic.

This led me to try to understand the overall and developmental arcs of both the brain and human development. Neuropsychology became a bridge for me in trying to merge them.

Neuropsychology (the study of brain activity and development through assessment of a battery of standard skill and task performances) had been developing since the early part of the 20th century because of case studies of individuals with specific brain injuries in the 19th century onward. In the west, neuropsychology remained a research tool based in universities and teaching hospitals until fairly recently. But in the Soviet Union, neuropsychology was an active, clinical investigative tool starting in the 1920s. Two early bright lights in this were Alexander Luria and Lev Vygotsky. Both saw development of brain and cognitive skills as happening through active effort by the person, using the social and practical affordances in the environment. I didn’t see it at the time, but this was a basic way of saying that brain and personal development were a dynamic complex adaptive system, a process of change and adaptation that continued throughout life. Also, though I didn’t realize it then, I would follow a path of understanding complex adaptive systems and disability justice to the present day.

A friend of mine, a student of urban planning, pointed me toward the next rhizome of my search by loaning me a book, Notes on the Synthesis of Form. This was my first real introduction to system thinking, and it led to my exposure to the thought network that was called General Systems Theory.  Also, Alexander’s focus on design seemed to mesh well with my growing interest in how development of brain and person could be facilitated through engagement. Finally, the book also primed me for the dead end that was standard systems theory if my focus was real life individual development.

There was a large body of ideas about how systems worked, including Systems Dynamics, a way of modeling complex systems that used a stock (bathtub) and flow (water tap) mathematics to be able to predict changes in a whole system. I thought that such modeling would work well for machine-like systems, but not the complex open system that was human development. But I didn’t have something better to replace this framework, so I began to play with models as a way of seeing more clearly the implications of system interactions. There has been a steady growth of apps that can model these dynamics over the decades and I still play with free ones to get a sense of how a system is put together.

But coming to grips with the realities of complex adaptive systems and their evil twins, wicked problems, has required that I deepen my appreciation of the impact of future uncertainty and scarce resources on the flow of these systems, including The System (my term for the large socio-technical CAS in which we all act), and how this flow affects our change strategies.

Parallel to this process of conceptual deepening, i was also entering a new phase of my career in Disability Justice-a full time job as an advocate at Disability Rights Michigan (at that time, Michigan P&A). My experiences as an advocate (the complexity of individual and small group advocacy and the depth of the learning available from an organization that dealt with every level and every dimension of disability justice support in Michigan) would give me a much deeper understanding of the difference between the system as imagined or designed and the system as I engaged it in my work. The deepening of my engagement was a fairly steady result of my effort to understand my lived experience and that of all the other people with disabilities I got to know over the decades.

Disability Justice as a Complex Adaptive System (DJCAS)-1

Part 1: My Initial Steps on the Path to an Understanding of the DJCAS

“Our minds are finite, and yet even in these circumstances of finitude we are surrounded by the possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of life is to grasp as much as we can out of that infinitude…the limitless variations of choice, the possibility of novel and untried combinations, the happy turns of experiment, the endless horizons opening out.…

And nothing is easier to lose than this element of novelty. It is the living principle in thought, which keeps all alive.”
(Whitehead, 1934-1947/1954, p. 160)

I returned to the US in December 1970 from 21 months in Vietnam without any meaningful purpose. Over my first year back, I gradually developed moderate PTSD, and experienced the “blossoming” of a moral wound that currently , while less emotional, still impacts my life experience, now in my 75th year.

I tried singing in a bar band that was good musically but bad as a business (more performance art than enterprise). When it crashed and burned after 6 months, the keyboard player found a medical clinic where we could volunteer, and my journey toward a deeper understanding of disability justice began. I am still expanding and deepening that understanding of DJCAS.

The clinic was run by a retired family practice doctor, and employed a PT and an OT. The focus was helping parents of children with brain injuries (whether genetic, chromosomal, TBI, neurodegenerative, etc.) support those children in their homes and communities. They were all parents who had not followed the universal advice, “put them in an institution and forget them”, that was the only support available in the early 1970s. This experience was the first of many that told me how The System overdetermines the segregation of real support to a system that it can control and use for its own purposes (political, financial, etc.).

And I mean institutionalization was the ONLY support alternative. There were none of the currently available supports. Parents watched their social relationships disappear over time as friends abandoned them to their struggles. Doctors largely held them in contempt (and said so) for having the nerve not to institutionalize, and often refused to provide healthcare at all.

A common first goal for the families was to build a minimal alternate support system so that the parents could, say, go on a date without having to fear the medical harm of their child. That meant a well-trained babysitter. No typical babysitter would take the job because of fear and disability stigma about managing tasks like suction or seizures. Home nurses were incredibly expensive and no health insurance covered their use as a babysitter. Our first jobs were to be trained to do basic care tasks and crisis intervention for families to put their personal relationships back on a more normal track. The support tasks involved were not difficult to do. When I realized this, it was my first introduction to the almost universal cultural devaluing of people with disabilities and their families, with The System of non-existing supports being a vehicle for achieving this.

In the early 1970s, there was the beginnings of a movement to deinstitutionalize people with (what today) are labeled as having intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) or cognitive disabilities. The clinic began to receive contacts from families whose children had been returned home from institutions without explanation. Some investigation showed that these returns were in the institution’s interest, not the family’s. One group included children that the institution thought might die, forcing a report with cause of death from an official investigation. Since there was growing scrutiny of these institutions, they thought it prudent to send them home to die. Another group were individuals whose behavior (and the medieval responses by the institutions to that behavior) were prone to evidence of abuse like bruises or broken bones which would be obvious to inspectors.

So, my growing understanding of the appalling place of people with severe disabilities and their families in The System’s social order of the US began. It took me decades to arrive at my current understanding, and I participated in practices that I would view now as abhorrent (the use of shock or confining approaches to force behavior change), but I was beginning to see the truth and the truth expanded over time as it does when you pay attention to the reality of indivudal human experience.

The second dimension of disability justice that I began to understand was how real support is a more ecological than the medical procedural approach that was the practice of medicine at the time. The support logic of the family support clinic ran like this:

Parents of children with severe brain injuries can’t see what their children are trying to do because the children don’t look like the developing children they have been exposed to in their social communities (i.e., they were institutionalized and never  a part of the ongoing local social community)

While support for the families was certainly focused on the child’s developmental acquisition of skill and capacity, the parents also had to learn how to see what their child was trying to do and facilitate it in real time.

This kind of perception can’t be educationally taught. It is only absorbed by real-time engagement in the task, supporting the child in the moment to succeed in skill and understanding expansion, and simultaneously building a deeper understanding of the child’s efforts.

Thus, the parents were learning to see their child as an active agent, trying to develop like all children do.

This dimension is a very deep idea that applied well beyond the clinic’s borders, the clinic’s mission, and the times in which I worked there. But, I only slowly became aware of the astounding potential impact of this “clinical” insight.

Second Order Advocacy (SOA)

We use First Order Advocacy (FOA) to destabilize and disrupt a weak process of the SOF related to disability education legal requirements with which the SOF must comply in order to legitimately use funding (and many other resources like staff, equipment, marketing, etc.). The SOF needs to effectively support these strong processes to reproduce itself successfully. Successful reproduction of the strong processes is necessary to assure the benefits of being part of the SOF, whatever they might be.

The legal requirements of special education are not the only type of weak processes the SOF must accommodate. The resources that the SOF might use to counter a legal disruption are not the same kind of resources the SOF would need to counter a disruption not based in special education law or Section 504.

Remember that the SOF countering a disruption doesn’t somehow restore the resources lost in doing so. There is no simple way to put the resources back into their “best” use in support of strong processes of reproduction. If the conflict (or conflicts) continues for a long time, there will be a more or less permanent redistribution of the available resources that were used.

For example, in the early years of special education advocacy, SOF tried first to negotiate with advocates using bureaucratic methods such as obfuscation, then hired attorneys for specific disruptions, then had a permanent legal presence through retainers, and now mostly hire counsel that have specific special education law expertise, as well as maintaining the retained resources. Each of these steps makes the resources involved unavailable for other purposes. They become the price of doing business and allowing some level of accommodation with the unavoidable presence and actions of advocates.

Once committed to the accommodation of a particular stakeholder, the resources are no longer “fungible”. The SOF will have much greater difficulty shifting significant parts of the resources to any other purpose, even if there is a real need by the strong processes of the SOF to do so.

Second Order Advocacy (SOA) takes these realities into account. Effective advocacy becomes premised on the idea that all stakeholder relationships that are part of a weak process accommodation with the SOF are potential sites of disruption.

Next Post: The Basic Practice of SOA

A Strategic Approach to Advocacy Success

We tend to value our success changing The System in tactical terms:

  • Creating this specific improvement in support; this specific elimination of discrimination, bullying, limits; this change in public policy or practice.
  • Enabling a move into a better or more expansive “adjacent possibility”, unavailable before this specific advocacy success.
  • Bringing with it increased funding, skill enhancement, recognition, and an expansion of our current reach.

But, underneath our judgment of immediate value lies a deeper and far more extensive meaning, that we would call a strategy if we understood what a strategy is.

We don’t understand. We think a strategy is a clever engagement with the System of Focus (SOF) to force them to accommodate us. It isn’t.

A Strategy is a scaffold for engaging our environment with effective decisions over time, when:

  • The future is unpredictable. If the future was predictable, we wouldn’t need a strategy. We could just make an operational plan like a logic model and success would roll out like a boulder falling off a cliff to the ground.
  • We don’t have enough resources. If we had infinite resources, we could just keep plugging away, through trial-and-error, until we succeeded.

The traditional view in the military is that strategy is embraced through ends, ways, and means, the “dimensions” of strategy implementation.

So, what should the underlying strategy in our disability community advocacy that allows us to decide on our ends, ways, and means, and be effective advocates?

I propose that we should embrace a two-pronged strategy:

  • We should continue to work to make The System on which we all depend, better at supporting our needs, and providing more ways we can control the supports that the system provides.
  • We should also begin building an alternative system based on our local, collaborative ability to supplement what The System locally provides, to make a base for supports that we control democratically and through the synergy of our various skills, abilities, and experiences. In other words, we band together to make up for the shortfalls of The System, and to provide support no governmental or private system would consider worth pursuing.

This strategy recognizes our current dependence on The System, and the complexity of reducing our dependence on it. It also says that we, as mutually supported and respected friends, families, and allies, can and should create what we want right now. This is true, even though the process of creating that alternative will be long and complex. Only through our mutual determination to take each step together will it be possible for us to realize what we should have had available to us all along.

(P8): Using The System

A buffet of many food choices in a restaurant.
A Buffet of Many Choices

If we must continue to use The System while we try to build supports that we can effectively control and scale, we will need to understand how The System operates, and what we might do to make the best use of it.

The first reality that we must accept is, “The purpose of a System is what it does”.

It isn’t:

  • The stated Mission of the System
  • The Strategic Plan of the System
  • The stated Policies of the System.

Does this characterization seem harsh to you?

For example, I have watched the changes in the Social Security system around SSI disability supports since the early days of the system. Starting in 1981, there has been an incremental alteration of the original purpose of the program (to provide basic income and health care access), to one that reduces real-time eligibility and bureaucratizes due process to the point that it has become a system for denying eligibility to the greatest extent possible without triggering too much bad publicity and political backlash.

My experience is not unique. Everyone who became an advocate in the early days has recognized the same overall deterioration in the purpose of SSI.

Because the purpose of a System is what it does, not what it says.

And our use of The System to support our community must reflect that reality.

The System is always corrupt (maybe disrupting is a better word). Not because the people in it are necessarily committing financial crime. The System is corrupt because, over time, its original purpose degrades, and the uses to which The System is put gradually become as diverse as the local needs of all its stakeholders, including us as members of the disability community. Such complexification of the original mission is a normal response of aging in any CAS, including each of us. If no one tries to alter this trend, you get a trajectory that tracks the following phases:

  1. Narrowing and self-centering of mission (Bureaucratic Narcissism)
  2. Mission and Self-Interest become Indistinguishable (Functional Psychopathy)
  3. Use of System assets for personal gratification (Frank Exploitation)
  4. Networked misappropriation (Gang Exploitation)
  5. RICO activities ( Corrupt Insurgency)

AND, at the same time:

The system is always different from what it was just before now. Novelty, broadly understood, is constantly changing The System. Novelty includes all our efforts to make The System work more effectively for us. All CAS create micro-diversity as part of their evolution. The people in the system are only dimly aware of this, which means the behavior of the system is often surprising. It is the micro diversity which give The System its resilience, but this micro diversity triggers in any bureaucracy a futile effort to eliminate that diversity. It is the inability of the system to eliminate this diversity or its production that provides us with a landscape in which we can become better at using The System.

We have two main methods for getting better at Using The System. One is scanning and learning (Fishing for Tools), and the other is Crowd-Sourcing our search for solutions.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

(P8): Making FutureStrategy Real-Two

A diagram with two triangles pointing from the left and right sides at a circle. The circle is red and contains text, Expand Our Freedom, the left and right triangles are yellow-orange, and contain text, respectively, Change the System on the left, and Bild our Systems on the right. There is a photo behind each triangle. Behind the left an image of a cross community protest related to disability rights. Behind the right a poster of mutual aid around the pandemic.
Our Complementary Strategies

Even though our strategy of iteratively improving the legal framework of disability rights has certainly expanded our life choices, over time it has become less and less effective in making new improvements. The System has gotten better at undermining our advocacy and using its System Logic to marginalize our gains.

We need a way to move forward that doesn’t require us to allow our gains to be degraded by the logic of the System.

At the same time we will continue to need the System as a source of funding and expertise, because of the complexity of our needs. Few of us can simply drop our relationship with the System entirely.

But we do not need to view the System as The (only) Solution. Instead, we must learn to view the System as a tool, and begin to make our own systems to augment, replace, and finesse what we need from the System. We must build what we need together and use it to orchestrate a more effective strategy for achieving our freedom. The systems that we build will be:

  • Local
  • Intersectional
  • Collaborative
  • Community-focused
  • Self-funding

They will be based on social justice models, rather than civil rights entitlements. That doesn’t mean that we don’t use civil rights laws to advocate. Again, we view civil rights laws as tools, not solutions.

Our systems will build from the bottom up, not from the top down.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Part 8: Making FutureStrategy Real-One

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge wildly rocking just before collapse in black and white photo
Rock and Roll is Here to Stay…

Summary of the Current Situation:

Until recently, the strategy of the disability community has been one of incremental improvements in civil rights law, and local initiatives to improve some aspect of daily and community life.  This strategy has resulted in substantial policy and legal changes over the course of our lives. But I believe that we are now getting less improvement for our efforts from this strategy than we were, and that the changing conditions of global culture and economy are moving this approach to organizing our community’s future to a declining path.

Some of the changes that make our current community strategy less fruitful:

  • The global reaction to civil rights initiatives of all kinds has been to slow their impact and undermine the resource commitment needed to make the advances effective.
  • The global connection of diverse communities of people with disabilities has made the white nonprofit model of disability civil rights advocacy a real barrier to progress.
  • Advocacy organizations have two missions. One is the purpose for which they were created, and the second is to keep the doors open. There has been a gradual shift to focusing on keeping the doors open by advocacy organization management and boards, though there are many small organizational initiatives to refocus on original purpose. In the same way that politicians have increasingly focused on getting money as their job and modifying their ideologies to match the most effective ways of getting that money from their constituencies, so too has there been a gradual shift in the organizational base of the pursuit of personal autonomy and freedom of choice in our community.
  • Our current approach envisions the creation of disability freedom as
    • Creating models of effective and meaningful policy and law
    • Getting these models embedded into policy, practice, and law
    • Using the System to implement and enforce these policies and laws.
  • But the System is far less open to effective implementation and enforcement than it has been since the early years of our civil rights movement (true for all devalued community rights initiatives). The System’s logic for implementation and enforcement is to minimize the impact of  successful rights initiatives both in terms of their values and the resources committed to them. This means that our successes have less and less actual impact by themselves. In effect, the imposition of System logic gradually guts our successes.

Our community needs a different strategy to confront these realities.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

(P7): A Broader View of Strategy and Change

Young child playing Jenga, a board stacking game where the object is to pull wooden parts from the stack without causing a collapse of the tower.
Be Careful!
  • We know more than we can tell
    Michael Polanyi
  • If you want to change things, then you need to let a thousand flowers bloom —Dave Snowden
  • Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy. –Sun Tzu
  • Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking
    Antonio Machado

Back to Basics

In my model of Disability Rights Systems Change, Strategy is a framework for making decisions when the decision processes are clouded by future uncertainty and scarce resources. Ultimately, your strategy is an enacted framework of change design. The change design concerns four arenas of action:

  • Ends
  • Ways
  • Means
  • Integrity


In the language of advocacy, ends are valued outcomes, not simply possible outcomes or most likely outcomes. Advocacy fails if a valued outcome isn’t achieved, even if some other outcome is achieved.


You can think of ways as design paths to change which  you try and learn from. The paths can be conceptual, rather than geographic as they might be in a military action.


What tools, resources, and other assets can you use to support your change efforts? In advocacy, there is also a dimension of morality in the use of means, which doesn’t exist in other arenas such as war, politics, and finance. Each effective use of means to change asks a moral question that must be addressed in our advocacy. For example, it wouldn’t be moral to fabricate a lie about the person representing a target in order to disrupt the ability of the target to negotiate effectively.


Because advocacy can develop into long term negotiations with many ups and downs over the course of an advocacy initiative, we need to constantly assess whether our effort is retaining the values and broader advocacy purposes that were part of the initial change effort, or whether we are drifting away from that secure value-driven base.

The next part of this series will explore how FutureStrategy can be made real.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License