The way we use language and structure thoughts influences the way we think: we have the power to re-frame current debates to be more systemic and meaningful.
In order to exert influence it is important that we focus on effective leverage points within the system.
The Great Transition requires diverse but complementary strategies and roles – they focus on supporting the seeds of the new system, movement building, fighting the power of the old system and helping shift entrenched narratives.
We will present a few different strategies for thinking systemically about our campaigning; these include strategies around language and framing, and strategies around influence (leverage points and roles).
Framing: Thinking about language and cultural values
As we know, the way we use language and imagery has the power to influence how people think and on the decisions people take. Effective marketing campaigns do this all the time when they incite desire to buy certain products, like a good coca cola ad in the middle of a hot summer.
When we looked at the campaign case study, we talked about the cultural values which underlie some of our campaigning. When looking at the Smart CSOs model, we also talked about how culture is an important aspect of systemic change. We will return to these issues by focusing on framing.
Explain the concept of framing and using key concepts from Guide (Key Concepts pp42-49).
You may want to summarise research on values and how communication around certain types of values can bring about other positive values and frames (see slides).
Show the example of the ‘Earth as home’ concept from the the Pope’s Laudato Si to illustrate the power of effective framing and values associated with it (see slide).
If you have time, you can return to the Detox campaign to review the types of values and frames which were used, and could have been used.
What kind of specific language in the Detox campaign was reinforcing unhelpful cultural values?
Discuss this briefly with the group.
- We have the power to choose the language we use and messages we create.
We can see that there are other facets to the campaign developed by Greenpeace.
Show this “alternative” Greenpeace video from 2013 and suggest that small adjustments to wording and imagery like this can make a big difference in the depth and scale of the transition we are looking to create, compared to the video shown previously.
Greenpeace video link
Although we are not focusing specifically on systems theory here, a lot of the concepts we are using come from systems theory.
One important element of systems theory which is relevant to our models of change is Leverage points.
The notion of leverage points helps us examine the different dynamics and processes at work in a system and identify how we can intervene to have the most impact. Of course at the same time we have to understand that systems are complex and we cannot predict the outcomes of our interventions directly. However by acting through leverage points we can determine the zones of greatest influence.
Explain leverage points as discussed in the guide (key concepts, p. 46–49)
Systemic Activism Roles
10 – 15 mins
Building on the idea of leverage points, and reflecting back on the Smart CSOs model, we have discussed the importance of understanding the systems in which we work, of the different layers at which processes take shape (regimes, culture and seeds), and of the importance of identifying leverage points which can shift the status quo.
As part of our campaign strategies, we can see the network of activists, players and shapers as playing different roles in this system.
Explain these different roles using the slides and illustrate how they can influence change at different levels of the Smart CSOs model.
You may want to take an example of a current movement and discuss the different roles which organisations are playing – see slides on case studies (The Rules)
5 - 15 mins
Allow some time for questions.
Summarise key points from the session. You may want to include a visual summary of the key points from the discussion.
Explain that there is further thinking around organisational and personal change strategies – understanding that a lot of these ideas take concrete and cooperative efforts to put into place.
There is also the possibility to hold further and more in-depth discussions and workshops to explore these ideas collectively – you may want to discuss how the group can follow-up individually from this session (e.g. through personal readings and discussions) or as a group.
Re-imagining our strategies (p. 42-49 of the guide)
Most civil society campaigns try to convince their audiences through facts and shy away from moral arguments. But we know through research that humans do not think about politics through facts - the subconscious mind influences our behaviour and decisions (p. 15-18)
Words are not as neutral as we often believe. There is a hidden world underneath the words we use which frame our thinking. Frames operate behind the scenes, affecting how we view things. They are like little stories triggered by the words we hear and the experiences we have. For example the phrase tax relief makes us think of taxes as a burden, as something we need relief from instead of something that contributes to society for our collective benefit.(p. 44-45)
Frames can be engaged deliberately and they are all the time: it’s called framing. The advertising industry is particularly good at framing, or if you like, at manipulating us through its strategic choice of frames. For example, car ads show us empty roads to associate cars with freedom instead of associating them with negative side effects like traffic jams and pollution. (p44-45)
Whenever civil society/activists use words and activate frames in the minds of people, they also transmit unconscious conclusions about the subject of matter. Frames influence the values and the thinking of society around politics too. (p. 44-45)
Unintentionally, campaigns often activate (and reinforce) in their audiences the values and frames of self-interest and consumerism that are causing the problems in the first place. (p15-18)
Actvists who want to determine successfully the political discourse should first clarify their ideological perspective and communicate their moral matters clearly and openly. For example, they should avoid using economic growth as an argument to invest into renewable energy or to receive refugees. This is dishonest and reinforces the frames of self-interest and economic growth. (p. 44-45)
Alternative framing: Encyclical Laudato Si
"Earth as Home" –> triggers a frame in which all the people of the world are a family, living in a common home. As a family we should care for each other. A home is something we all depend on, physically and emotionally. (p45)
"The alliance between the economy and technology ends up side-lining anything unrelated to its immediate interests" -> sharply points toward the underlying system logic of market fundamentalism lying behind inequality and the climate crisis. (p. 45)
"To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system" –> points towards the need for systemic change to tackle systemic crises. (p. 45) https://laudatosi.com/
Leverage points (pp46-49)
According to Donella Meadows’ definition, leverage points are places within a complex system (e.g. our global economy) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.
As systemic activists, our aim should be to find the most powerful leverage points possible or what we call root causes. (p46)
As a first step, spend time mapping your system or problem of interest. A systems map is a visual representation of a complex system that helps you identify its components, their connections and the rules governing them. (p47)
Causal loop diagrams help us identify positive and negative feedback loops so we know which direction to push for change. (p47)
As chains of causes and effects are revealed through analysis, systemic activists can better identify why the system behaves the way it does and which variables they can strategically influence. (p47)
Some examples that can be considered high or very high leverage points due to their potential to shift the system considerably towards the Great Transition are: reducing working hours, basic income, cooperatives, local currencies and new national indicators of progress (measuring wellbeing for example). (p48)
Once we have identified a promising leverage point, we need to explore potential windows of opportunity and our strategic capacity to move in this direction. (p48)
Re-imagining our strategies - Roles of systemic activism (pp54-65 guide)
The Great Transition will require diverse but complementary strategies and roles – they focus on supporting the seeds of the new system, movement building, fighting the power of the old system and helping shift entrenched narratives. (p56)
The Acupuncturist – Uses windows of opportunity in the political/economic system to target key leverage points that can help shift the system. The Acupuncturist has a key role in identifying fights that are worth fighting from a system change perspective. Importantly, the focus here is not about winning campaigns as it would be under the criteria of most mainstreams efforts. It might well be that there is a window of opportunity to shift policy and that this can support systemic change but most importantly, the Acupuncturist identifies fights that can change the logic of the debate, shift mind-sets and create new narratives. (p58)
The Questioner – Supports deliberation on fundamental questions and helps create new discourse and a cultural shift. One of the great missing debates in contemporary politics is about the role and reach of markets. We are simply not addressing the big moral questions of our times: What is the good life? What are the moral limits of markets? When do markets serve the common good and when are more cooperative approaches better suited? In fact, it requires a renewed deliberative democracy that can create the basis of new social settlements for a truly just and sustainable society. The Questioner takes on the important role of facilitating dialogues around these questions. (p60)
The Gardener – Helps the new system emerge by naming, connecting, nurturing and illuminating the pioneers of the new system. A transition to a radically different economic system is nothing that can be planned by an individual or result from top-down, pre-conceived strategic plans. The economy is a highly complex system that can only radically change through emergence. To support the emergence of the new economic system, the Gardener has an important role in naming, connecting, strengthening and illuminating the pioneers of the new system, thus increasing the potential that the seeds of the new economy become systems of influence. (p62)
The Broker – Creates meaningful connections and learning cycles around the question of system change between movements and networks at multiple geographical levels, including globally. The Broker is needed to create meaningful connections between networks and clusters that often don't speak the same language and have difficulty to connect meaningfully between each other. The broker translates information so that it is understood by others and most importantly, creates learning cycles that help converge the thinking and strategies of these different groups in activism and civil society.The Broker creates more encompassing communities of practice by connecting activists from different clusters who want to learn how to change the system. By doing all this, the Broker has a system change-creating effect.