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  • Writer's pictureKaren Young

With Point B in place, Point A is where strategy starts

Updated: Feb 19



 

Point A: Another way to say it is, Where are we right now? What is the reality of our present moment?

 

This was a major topic near the end of Deepak Bhargava and Stephanie Luce’s first podcast supporting their book, Practical Radicals: Seven Strategies To Change The World. We'll consider what the "Point A" discussion does for your strategy, and why it doesn't always happen.

 

Conjunctural Analysis

 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “conjuncture” means a combination of things happening at the same time.  Here it is, used in sentences:

 

“A particular conjuncture of events unleashed the extraordinary destructive power of Nazism.”

 

“The magazine is a conjuncture of music, fashion, art, and design.”

 

For our purposes, this type of analysis might include looking at what political, economic, ideological, cultural, and military forces, including recent events, are affecting the present moment, including what we are trying to accomplish politically.  It might answer such questions as:

 

-       What is our condition?

-       (PAST) How did we get here?

-       (PRESENT) What forces are creating the conditions in which we are working?

 

Maria Poblet of Grassroots Power Project, a guest on the podcast, talked about her experience organizing in Latin America.  When she came here, she was surprised at how little time US organizations spent on this topic. 


In Latin America, she said, they would start every planning or evaluation meeting with going around the table and asking everyone how they understood the present moment.  These comments would be updates on the previous understanding of the moment.

 

They would answer questions like:


·       How are these [forces or structures] manifesting right now? 

·       What does [a recent event] tell us about our analysis?

·       What about this moment confirms the political critique we had?

·       What about this moment challenges it?


Asking and answering these questions on a regular basis allows you to have a more fluid and flexible plan, and to take advantage of crises or other opportunities.  (And not to miss opportunities or be blindsided by threats…)


Why Doesn’t This Discussion Happen More?


Having a real, honest, productive, and frequent conversation about “Point A” would have to be preceded by creating a culture where people know they can, are even expected to, speak freely.  Also, people with a strategic approach must be respected.


Leaders should work toward realistic assessments – neither overly gloom-and-doom nor overly optimistic.  Bringing up potential problems or a need to change course should not be viewed automatically as disloyal.


In order to get these discussions happening more broadly, training and support for boards, management and leadership would be a key driver.


The “Point A” discussion would also benefit from including diverse stakeholders, and I don’t mean just on race and gender.


The Meeting After The Meeting



I’m reminded of a discussion we had among commenters on a Wall Street Journal article recently.  The topic of the article was “How to avoid the meeting after the meeting,” when managers present some new thing at a staff meeting, receiving little to no feedback, followed by a “meeting” among the staff without management, where robust discussion of the thing takes place.  The article points out that bad decisions would be the likely outcome of the real discussion being withheld from management.


Most commenters agreed that they never said anything at this type of meeting, because they thought it was too dangerous, and management were unlikely to change anything anyway. They talked about negative consequences they themselves, or people they knew, had suffered after speaking up.  (I assure you this happens in nonprofits as much - if not more - than it does in for-profit settings.)


Now, I once worked for a very successful company that truly encouraged feedback.  I brought up a big problem with a new product we were having once, at a large staff meeting, and top management came and thanked me for speaking up. I think most people have never worked for such an entity, or don’t think they have.  I’ve also been marginalized for expression of differing opinions.


Even if you were to have this “conjuncture” discussion only with senior people, internal politics would no doubt come into play, especially if you wanted to bring up something you know could be controversial.


A “Point A” discussion among senior people could also be informed by surveys or informal gathering of opinions from lower-level people or teams, who might also have something to contribute.


An Example of Successful Conjunctural Analysis


On the podcast, Poblet told a story about groups working to stop gun violence coming together.


In 2012, in Florida, a group called Dream Defenders (DD) came about after the killing of Trayvon Martin, and they fought to end the Stand Your Ground law.  Today, DD is organizing Black and Brown youth to build power to advance a new vision they have, of safety and security – away from prisons, deportation, and war – and towards healthcare, housing, jobs and movement for all.


Later, in 2018, survivors of the Parkland school shooting, also in Florida, created the organization March For Our Lives to fight for stronger gun laws to protect kids.  The group had an immediate impact and brought major attention to the issue.


As Poblet described it, Dream Defenders, in analyzing the situation at that point, recognized that March For Our Lives was making progress advocating for goals similar to theirs (I’m paraphrasing).  So Dream Defenders recognized that perhaps they could all be more successful if they came together, and they began working with March For Our Lives. 


Florida politics being what they are, not much has happened on gun issues there in the state Legislature, but there has been movement in public opinion and laws elsewhere, and there was a new bill offered by Democrats on the recent 6th anniversary of Parkland.


Regardless, organizations will succeed more with robust "Point A' discussions.

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