HSD in Action: Take Thoughtful, Committed Action!

This week, let’s talk about what can help people take the next step beyond where they get stuck trying to change the world. How can HSD help you start a movement, respond to an affront, or leverage difference to bring about change.

My last blog post borrowed a quote from the great Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Sometimes, thoughtful, committed citizens work against terrible forces that threaten, suppress, and oppress to the point of physical, sometimes fatal, threat. Ukrainian forces fight the overwhelming numbers and resources of the Russian Army. Protestors around the globe stand up for human rights and democratic principles. Individuals work for change in their own neighborhoods and communities. Even in less dangerous situations, people engage in important work that will change their own lives and communities for the better.

All over the world, groups of thoughtful, committed citizens work to change the world. Sometimes they get stuck. What’s worked in the past no longer works. They feel overwhelmed on all sides and don’t know what to do next. They’re tired and need renewed energy to carry on.

This week, let’s talk about what can help those thoughtful, committed groups move forward beyond where they are stuck. Any group that comes together to change any part of their world can use HSD. It offers a three-part, high-level strategy. People can use that strategy to consider and bring about changes they want. Consider these steps:

  1. Be clear about patterns of interaction and decision making you want to create as you move toward the change you seek.  
  2. Establish a shared, agreed-upon set of expectations to inform actions that respond to local situations.
  3. Work through ongoing cycles of inquiry. Use simple tools and models to see, understand, and influence the patterns you want.

Today and in the next two posts, I want to explore these strategies with you, share HSD-informed approaches, and provide questions you can use to get unstuck. These simple steps are not always easy. They do reflect how HSD can inform the work of a movement, the response to an affront, or decision making about what’s next when you are stuck.

Be clear about the patterns you want.

People come together to change their world in general agreement about their common enemy. They know what they don’t want. They may agree about the general outcomes they want to achieve. Often, however, they are not in agreement about the actions that will move them forward. Is it a grassroots-action or an effort to work directly on high-level policies? Is it to be a disruptive process that interrupts the status quo? Or is it a conversation that moves along with the day-to-day flow of life? Is it an open group that invites everyone? Or an organization that targets a select group of members? How is it to be funded? How different with the part be, based on local challenges and choices? Often these choices confront leaders who try to bring about systemic change. Often it can be these choices that get groups stuck.

In HSD we view these as critical pairs of considerations that can support a group’s successful movement toward their goals. On the other hand, ignoring them can create confusion and headaches.

You start by identifying the kinds of actions that define the broad spectrum of actions that’ can be useful in the group. Here is an example list:

  • The work can be disruptive in the community.
  • We want to engage individuals and groups in the community.
  • We want to invite everybody who cares about our work.
  • Each group should be able to respond to needs in their own local situation.
  • Each group has to fund their own actions.

Next, put those descriptors into a table and consider what goes at the opposite end of each row.

Note that this is not intended as an exhaustive list of choices leaders face. But it is a place to start. Without clarity about these kinds of central questions, people can get stuck. They may trigger infighting about next steps. Actions in one group surprises other groups. Smaller groups may begin to resent the resources available to larger groups. These are examples of kinds of issues that can slow or halt the intended work of the group. When you make your list, keep these points in mind:

  • Each end of each pair has its own call to action, engagement, and impact.
  • The two ends are almost polar opposites. Both are useful under the right circumstances.
  • Work at either extreme end limits the possibility of action at the other extreme end, in any given time and place.
  • What you do with one pair will have an impact on your actions in other pairs.

The real challenge is to agree on “How much of which one, when.” Take the first pair, for instance and consider:

  • What criteria help people know whether their actions should be disruptive or integrative?
  • If we are to disrupt, how disruptive should we be? If we are integrating, what actions are we taking?
  • How do we decide whether to be all-out disruptive (like a huge protest march), or just a bit disruptive (like standing on street corners waving signs)?
  • How do we communicate with each other and with other groups about what we are doing and when we will begin?

For example: In the Black Lives Matter movement, started in the United States, there is a national network of smaller groups that are linked by their beliefs and actions. Sometimes those groups integrate into their neighborhoods. They meet with people, sharing their message. They engage in community building. They talk with their local governments. Other times, those groups are more disruptive. They gather in protest to stand together against an injustice or they attend government meetings together to show their strength.

In any of the pairs, one of the approaches, by itself, can contribute to the group’s overall impact. But actions that emerge from either end can multiply the impact of the organization’s resources if taken at the right times and in strategic places,

On the other hand, if you don’t talk about these options, your work can get messy. People in one part of the network can be surprised and out of step with actions in another location. Groups can end up working at cross purposes. That messiness can generate negative patterns of infighting and competition inside the movement. It can also taint the public image and trust for the organization. Either way, the movement suffers and can get stuck.

Activists in the field know the value of being clear about these differences. And they know how to move between them. They even know how far to move. But if you are working with a group that appears to be stuck, consider these questions:

  • Are we in agreement about the ways we work toward our goals?
  • Do people agree about the methods?
  • Do we know what circumstances call for more or less extreme responses?
  • What do we do to share information and support each other in the different parts of our network?

Conversations to explore these questions don’t have to take a great deal of time, but this kind of clarity can contribute to the work of your thoughtful, committed group of citizens.

Next week, we’ll talk about the value of a shared set of agreements that holds the large group together while allowing for local differences. 

In the meantime, be in touch and let us know what you find.


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