The Strategic Principles of Consensus Organizing
Can you teach people how to be strategic? It’s a question that trainers and teachers often ask as they approach a new training program or a classroom full of eager faces. Thinking strategically and pragmatically is the hallmark of a good consensus organizer. Consensus organizing is based on several key strategic principles that are the fundamental beliefs and values that guide the implementation of the model and its activities. These principles also express the philosophy and the attitude behind the consensus organizing approach. As consensus organizers begin to enter a community, these principles are at the forefront of their minds as their organizing strategy takes shape. This chapter explains these principles and why they are important to consensus organizing.
Table 3.1 summarizes the five core strategic principles of consensus organizing (Consensus Organizing Institute, n.d.).
Table 3.1 Strategic Principles of Consensus Organizing
Strategic Principle Key Strategies Example
Solutions to local problems should come from affected communities.
Strategies and objectives are set by the community.
Incorporate community’s existing social networks.
Analyze and identify individual self-interests and mutual community interests and build relationships based on those interests.
Residents bring recent crime problems to the attention of the local police and ask for assistance in developing a crime watch program. The local police work with residents to develop a neighborhood watch. Relationships are built between residents and the police.
Pragmatic leadership is present in communities, though not always recognized.
Identify trusted, respected, behind-the-scenes leaders.
Position leaders to take responsibility for effort.
Build leaders’ skills and confidence to succeed.
An older woman to whom young mothers turn for parenting help.
A teacher who stays after school hours to help his students with their studies.
Self-interest can be harnessed as a motivation for improving the welfare of communities.
Analyze and identify the interests of members of external power structure (e.g., government, philanthropy, corporate, social service).
Position them to make genuine contributions aligned with their and the community’s interests.
A local foundation director who has $1 million to improve housing in local distressed neighborhoods, but who does not have relationships with community-based organizations located in those neighborhoods.
If a project achieves its short-term goals without positioning the participants to make even greater gains in the future, then an opportunity has been missed.
Position community leaders to take the lead on projects.
Use short-term projects to build community’s skills and relationships with power structure to lay the foundation for more comprehensive efforts.
A neighborhood cleanup that builds relationships among residents and between residents and the city can lead to new opportunities, such as improved code enforcement and the rehab of dilapidated housing in cleanup area.
Building relationships and strategically positioning leaders to make a program work requires time, care, and finesse.
Understand and gain trust of leaders of the community and power structure.
Break down stereotypes and misperceptions that community and power structure have of one another.
Invest the time up front to position leaders of the community and power structure to develop genuine strategic partnerships.
Going to churches, agencies, and community organization meetings, and meeting residents one-on-one in their homes. Attending local housing symposiums, city council meetings, and chamber of commerce meetings, as well as meeting one-on-one with members of the external power structure.
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