Another short insight into successful citizen activism by veteran change-maker John Graham
OK, there’s a public problem that really concerns you. Maybe it’s the climate crisis or police violence. Or something else.
Concerns like these are so huge, you can feel stymied, unable to make a move beyond just venting on social media.
No need for that. There’s a path forward, and it’s to create a do-able project that will actually help solve the problem that’s keeping you up at night. Do-able as in, it can be pulled off in the time you have, with resources you’ve got or can get.
But first, remember the difference between problems and projects.
Naming the problem points you in the right direction and generates energy behind your cause, both in you and in the people whose support you need.
Creating a specific project takes you the next step, focusing that energy on practical initiatives that can make a real difference. Voicing a problem creates passion. Creating a project builds the vision, goals, strategies, timelines, and budgets needed to make headway against the problem.
A do-able project to address the climate crisis might be, “Getting my city to install an all-electric bus fleet.” For police violence it might be, “Electing a new mayor who’s committed to police oversight reforms.”
Too many people swing into action prematurely, with only the problem burning in their hearts, and without defined projects. Their efforts are too unfocused, too untethered to specific paths to solutions, to produce a good result. If all you’ve got is a passion for combating the climate crisis but you’re not clear on what specifically you want or can do about it, you’re likely to get frustrated and burned out or quit—and be dismissed by others as unfocused and ineffective.
On the other hand, launching a project not clearly linked to a broader problem you really care about doesn’t supply enough of the compelling, cohesive vision you need to build support, and to keep going yourself. Your arguments for an all-electric bus fleet in your city will engage more people if you can show how that would address the global climate crisis.
Consider these steps for launching a successful project—
• Do your research. Who’s already involved? What’s the history and who are the stakeholders? What does the “other side” have to say? What hidden issues might be lurking below the waterline?
• Discuss ideas for projects with friends and potential allies. What could you (or a group you start) do that would make a difference? Involving others at this early stage is more than a means of generating ideas—you may well attract people who’ll stick around to work with you.
• Think about the scope of any project you might create. Projects, and commitments to projects, have a way of expanding once the action starts. How much time, energy, and resources are you personally willing to put in? Does this need to be a national or even a global project? How might the work expand, and how far would you be willing to go with it if it does? Is it local or a Greta Thunberg thing?
You’ll want to steer away from projects that are clearly out of reach—but don’t settle for something that’s too cautious either. And don’t veto projects that require money, volunteers, or other resources you don’t now have. You can get all those things as part of the work.
• Take stock of your own talents, skills, experience, likes, and dislikes. Whatever project you decide on should make good use of who you are. Trying to put a square peg in a round hole is not a great way to start. If you can’t draw, then launching an arts project for inner-city kids might not be the best choice for you. On the other hand, if you’re a marine biologist, then leading beach walks for those kids might be perfect.
• Weigh the conflicts you are almost certain to generate. If you take on a project that’s not going to be universally popular, you will be criticized. How big is your comfort zone on conflict, and are you ready to expand it if you have to?
• Don’t expect to have all the details in the beginning. You’ll refine your project as you go forward with it. What you want at this stage is a strong outline of what may be ahead—enough to get you going and supply momentum for the work.
Next: #5—The Importance of Vision
John Graham is author of Stick Your Neck Out—a Street-smart Guide to Creating Change in Your Community and Beyond