Naming the Issue or Problem

As a first step in your campaign,  you need to identify, clearly describe and analyze the problem you want to address and the change you want to see. A poorly defined problem – or a problem whose nuances you don’t completely understand – is much more difficult to solve than a problem you have clearly defined and analyzed. The way a problem is worded and understood has significant implications when it comes to defining the problem in terms of a preferred solution. In other words, defining the problem as an “issue” deserving public attention.

For guidance on defining and analyzing the problem you want to address, see this link.

Finding the Root Causes

As described on the page at the above link, it is critical to identify why the problem exists, or the “root causes” of the problem. Identifying genuine solutions means being able to pinpoint the real causes of the problem. Taking action without identifying what factors contribute to the problem can result in misdirected efforts, and that wastes time and resources. However, by thoroughly studying and experiencing the cause of the problem, you will understand it better and be motivated to deal with it.

For assistance on identifying the root causes of a problem, refer to this page.

While studying root causes, it can be useful to identify the people who have influence over the issue. See this page on the Community Tool Box for help with identifying influential individuals and how to involve them in your initiative.

Documenting the Problem/Gathering Evidence

Once you have named the issue you want to address, the next step is to gather evidence to show others that the problem exists. You can make a stronger case for your position when you have supporting evidence, rather than just your word. Conducting research and gathering evidence can take many forms, including surveying your community, requesting data from local government, collecting testimony from people affected, and documenting an issue with photos or video. The links below can help you understand how to document the problem you want to address.

Framing the Issue

In addition to naming the issue, it is critical to determine how it should framed  for your campaign. Framing is a way of structuring or presenting an issue within a context that will help you gain the most support from a particular audience. Your audience is key to framing. The way a problem is framed should reflect the attitudes and interests  of your audience.

Regardless as to who your audience is, when framing an issue you should be specific about:

  • Why should the audience care about the issue?
  • How does the issue affect them?
  • What will be different if the issue is solved?
  • How can the audience contribute to the solution?

Issue can be framed in different ways. For example, when framed in financial terms, you might highlight the prudent use of public resources. When done in social terms, you might highlight a reduction in crime. In human terms, you might highlight an increase in high school graduation.  Different audiences respond differently to these ways of describing why the issue should matter to them.

For guidance on how to frame your issue to different audiences, see this link.

Developing a Campaign Strategy

After naming and framing the issue or problem, it is time to develop a strategy to resolve it. A strategy describes how the desired change can best be achieved. It is less specific than an campaign plan (which tells the who-what-when); instead, it tries to broadly answer the question, “How do we get there from here?” The strategy guides the development of  a campaign plan, which lays out the specific steps you will take to reach your objective.

A good strategy will take into account existing barriers and resources (people, money, power, materials, etc.). Developing strategies is really a way to focus your efforts and figure out the best approach to advance your issue.

Critical to developing a strategy is understanding the power dynamics surrounding your issue.

Bearing in mind who has power in your given context, you need to identify your key targets, or those decision makers who have authority over the issue you wish to address. These are the people whom you will need to influence in order to resolve the issue. Write down a list of the targets for your initiative.

After identifying these individuals, it is time to develop your strategy of how you are going to influence change. The following list of questions can be a guide for deciding on the most beneficial strategies for your group:

  • What resources and assets exist that can be used to help solve your problem or achieve your intended change? How can they be used best?
  • What obstacles or resistance exist that could make it difficult to achieve your goals? How can you minimize or get around them?
  • What are potential agents of change willing to do to serve the mission?
  • How will your potential strategies decrease the risk for experiencing the problem? How will the strategies increase protective factors against the problem?
  • What potential strategies will affect the whole population and problem? For example, connecting youth with caring adults might be good for virtually all youth, regardless of income or past experience with the problem. Also, just one strategy, affecting just one part of the community such as schools or youth organizations, often isn’t enough to improve the situation. Make sure that your strategies affect the problem or issue as a whole.
  • What potential strategies reach those at particular risk for the problem? For example, early screenings might help focus on those at higher risk for heart disease or cancer; past academic failure or history of drug use, for identifying with whom support and other intervention efforts might be focused.

It is also helpful at this stage to identify your allies (people with the same interests as you, or who may be able to help you in reaching your goals) and your opponents (people with interests that interfere with or oppose your ability to reach our goals), and to identify their relative levels of power and influence in the context where you are working. Refer to the following pages on the Community Tool Box on identifying and gauging allies and opponents. Accounting for allies and opponents can be a critical component of your strategy.

For more information about developing a campaign strategy, refer to this page on the Community Tool Box.

Developing a Campaign Plan

Once you have developed a strategy, it is important to develop a campaign plan for your initiative. The plan sets out the specific steps you will take and tactics you will use in order to achieve your goals, as encapsulated in your strategy. Your strategy should be the guiding light for your campaign plan.

The Community Tool Box describes the steps in designing a campaign plan for local action here. For more detailed guidance on this page, see specifically the sections on Planning Strategies and Tactics.

Financing Your Campaign

As part of planning your initiative, it is important to consider any costs you may incur. If your effort is relatively short term and your tactics are mostly individual meetings and conversations with individuals with influence over the issue you are trying to address, you may have little to no costs that can be covered by you and those directly involved in your effort. However, depending on the scale of your campaign and the types of activities outlined in your campaign plan, you may need to raise funds, apply for grants or develop a budget for your campaign. You may also refer to this page on identifying non-monetary assets and resources in your community.

As you develop your campaign plan, write down any financial costs you would incur at each step. Once you have determined if you will need money, and how much, you can move forward with budgeting and fundraising as necessary.