The strategy tools available here, a set of ideas already tested but constantly evolving, are to help you think about the A-Z of "problem-solving with others," from picking issues and winning attention for them to planning and implementing to get results, from bargaining to learning and back again.
Here, using the buttons to the left (or in the list below), you will find tools to help you think about how to carry out a variety of strategic tasks, such as:
... And other tasks that cut across those, such as:
- Organizing and Agenda-Setting: bringing people together to effect change, picking issues effectively and getting them "on the screen" for the attention of others, turning "concern" into organized action and identifying those with a stake in the issues (stakeholders), building will and capacity for change;
- Planning Together: given a set of identified problems or concerns, working with others to understand conditions and causes, generate possible solutions or options, and make decisions among the options;
- Implementing Together: given a mandate and some promising options, producing the needed results, more and more often through joint arrangements among stakeholders--sometimes called "partnerships" or "alliances."
Problem-solving is rarely a linear process of completing these tasks. That is, they are often not phases that follow neatly one after the other, much as we would like things to work that way. Learning and negotiating tend to be going on constantly, for example.
- Learning Together: getting players that are working together to learn more about the problems (especially when they don't see things the same way), about each other's interests, about what types of solutions or responses to problems are promising and why, about what the barriers to action (including the players' own resistance) may be; and
- Negotiating: advancing your interests (or those of your constituents) in a world in which more and more issues that matter are jointly decided with other players, rather than imposed "top-down" from above. Promoting needed cooperation and trust. Managing conflict to get key decisions made--and made legitimately and wisely. Dealing with unequal power, gaining more leverage.
Each of these processes is a vast area with a great deal of commentary and tools already available, some of them very helpful and some not, some easily adapted from one place or situation to another and others that don't "travel" so well.
This section of the website offers: original tools that discuss the big problem-solving processes in an accessible way to help you develop strategies that work, plus links to much more helpful advice and tools available (some for free and some for a fee) elsewhere. We want to help you learn through the tools available here and organize your own agenda for further learning.
OK, but why strategy? Dictionary definitions of "strategy" often begin with reference to military plans and campaigns, and newsstands and bookstores everywhere are overflowing with advice (and hype) on business strategy. So what does strategy have to do with solving social problems?
First, a little bit of history. The concept of strategy--a set of ideas for how to accomplish something important when outcomes are uncertain and resources are limited--was indeed first developed in a systematic way to help leaders win battles. Sun Tzu's The Art of War (China, 500 B.C.) is an early classic on strategy, and the ancient Romans and others with the habit of writing things down left behind a great deal of "strategic" thinking about how to make the most of scarce resources when the military and political stakes are high.
Closer to our time, Machiavelli's The Prince (Italy, 1505 A.D.) advised rulers and would-be rulers on how to advance interests in a competitive, confusing, and constantly changing world. But we now use the word "Machiavellian" to refer to ideas or actions that are distinctly cunning and often adversarial. In the process of formulating ideas for particular rulers in an age that favored the politics of deception, Machiavelli managed to give the very idea of strategy a bad name.
In the modern era, strategy came to be associated with "adaptation" in biological evolution and also with ideas for making businesses more competitive and successful. In fact, both areas--evolution and business--tied strategy to the notion of competition and "survival of the fittest."
For example, Michael Porter's modern classic Competitive Strategy (U.S., 1980) advises business leaders on how to understand and respond to competitive environments that may change dramatically over time. And while more and more resources for developing public sector and nonprofit strategy are becoming available, the business world continues to create the greatest demand for, and promote the most careful use of, strategy ideas. The profit motive fuels an enormous amount of thought and writing on what strategy is, how it needs to change, and how to "do it" in particular organizations or markets.
But the public interest demands thoughtful strategies, too.
Many "plans" for what to do are not strategies for how to effectively get it done. Many plans, and especially those crafted in the public or "community" interest, list needs--or, in some cases, "assets" as well as needs-and then identify what should be done to address the needs and build on the assets.
For example, a well-known acronym for neighborhood planning-"PARK"-advises those who participate in planning to identify …
P (things we have and value and so want to protect)
A (things we value but don't have and so want to acquire)
R (things we have but don't like and so want to remove)
K (things we don't have and don't like and so want to keep out)
Fair enough. But having made such plans for what should be protected, acquired, or removed, many problem-solvers never bother to develop or test strategies--ideas about how to get it all done. And public-interest strategies clearly need to address cooperation, not just the competitive thinking that drives business.
In a world in which most public-interest (social) problems demand the attention, commitment, and productive resources of multiple players, often working in more than one sector (public, private, non-governmental), we cannot afford to be without strategies for getting things done together. That's what the tools in this section are all about.