Creative Coalitions: A Handbook for Change
Component 5: Creative Tactics
Picture This: A government is about to sign a secret oil deal that will lay waste to land sacred to indigenous communities and precious for its biodiversity. The contract will be signed in two days’ time. But then, out of the blue, something arrives on the President’s desk: a private letter from a coalition of environmental charities asking them to stop. Does the President feel concerned, is their position weak, their resolve trembling?
A number of things are wrong here. The scale of the effort does not match the scale of the threat. The theory of change seems pretty feeble. It’s like putting David up against Goliath but not giving him a sling. These are strategic faults that the convenor should have worked with the coalition to address earlier on (as seen in Component 2).
But also at the tactical level, it smacks of business-as-usual. When international norms are under threat, when societies are grappling with division and anger, when many in power are increasingly distant from those affected by their decisions, we cannot afford to stick with business-as-usual. We need to get creative.
The toolbox available to campaigners, organisers, and activists is more jam-packed than ever before.
The Saydnaya Project gave people the chance to take a virtual tour through the Government of Syria’s torture prisons, accessing testimonies and audio-visual content mapped out in a true-to-life visualisation of Saydnaya detention centre. This was co-realised by Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture.
Celebrities are often used in campaigning, but Greenpeace didn’t want Paul McCartney’s mass appeal. They partnered with him because they knew that Russian President, Vladimir Putin, was a big fan of the ex-Beatle: his appeal for the release of 30 activists and journalists protesting at exploitation of the Arctic for oil would be more effective than anything else Greenpeace alone could do. And it worked. The 30 were allowed to return home.
In military slang, Predator drone operators often refer to kills as ‘bug splats’, since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed. To challenge this insensitivity as well as raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait facing up in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks regularly occur. Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face, created and put in place by a collective of artists.
Many Strong Voices (MSV) brings together small island nations with Arctic communities. They face a common threat: climate change. Through this initiative they are now part of a common movement, with a unique voice in climate talks.
The strategic convenor can connect members of your coalition with new ideas and new approaches, expanding the menu of tactical options to make the coalition as effective as possible. As described earlier, being behind the scenes can open doors to powerful collaborations. Use that licence to bring together artists, advertising companies, activists, whoever can help you and partners generate innovative, powerful ideas. Bringing new people into creative brainstorms adds huge value to the coalition.
The ideal you’re looking for is democracy of ideas, dictatorship of delivery: you have a vital project management role to efficiently bring the best ideas to life, ensuring responsibilities are clear, people are held to account, and delivery is kept on track.
This isn’t a project management guide: there are plenty of other resources out there to help with that. But, what you should keep in mind is that members of your network have put their trust in you to help develop a robust collective strategy – and to see it through to delivery.
As the behind the scenes convenor, you should continue to listen and lead throughout the strategy cycle:
- Choosing what issue to focus on: you can find tips for this in the Clever Coalitions and Strategic Convenor sections.
- Design: as the strategic convenor, you can decide when you have the critical mass of support for a particular approach, get the strategy agreed, and then set out an action plan. This should set out what will be done, who is responsible for each step, who will be consulted and informed, and what are the deadlines.
- Delivery: implementation of the action plan, ensuring the whole team has a clear, common understanding of:
- Who needs to do what by when, and alignment on why;
- Where they can get what they need to deliver – whether information or support;
- How to flag and solve problems, and a culture where this is encouraged;
- What project management systems/tools are being used and how.
- Evaluation: you can help partners learn so that collective impact and efficiency are greater for every subsequent effort. You can lead on collective evaluations of impact against the original objectives, reflect on lessons, and ensure these are built into the next strategy. There’s more on this in the next section.