Why Strategic Practice?

About Strategic Practice

At the Grassroots Policy Project, we have been developing and testing tools about power, worldview and strategy through our hands-on work with faith, labor and community-based organizing networks. These have come together as a framework for cultivating strategic practice for long-term transformation of social and economic relationships in our society.

Strategic practice is based on the common sense idea that we have to relate tactics to strategy and strategic goals. The difficulty with this common sense idea is that it isn’t easy to know how to align immediate work with long-term goals, and there are many barriers to doing so. What kinds of choices must organizations make in order to be effective in the short-term and at the same time take on this challenge? And what kinds of tools and practices help groups to "mind the gap" between short-term and long-term?

Here’s an illustration of what we mean by activities and processes that can come together as strategic practice, based on case study written for GPP by Phillip Cryan about ISAIAH’s strategic practice:

  1. A bold, long-term vision for social transformation is at the heart of the organization’s work.
  2. The organization has a systematic and disciplined organizing methodology.
  3. Leadership development is central to all organizing practice.
  4. The work is about both social and personal transformation.
  5. Strategies are rooted in a deliberate power analysis that understands both organization and ideas as forms of power.
  6. Investments are made in alliance-building, to achieve results that no single organization can accomplish on its own.
  7. To achieve major changes, groups and their leaders must sometimes take risks.

To illustrate what we mean by strategic practice, here are some examples from our ongoing work: 

The Saint Paul Federation of Teachers in Minnesota. For a good overview of our impact, please check out this report: Power of Community: Organizing for the Schools St. Paul Children Deserve,. Written by Eric S. Fought and co-produced by the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers local 28 (SPFT) and GPP, this report tells the story of SPFT's transformation from a business union to a social movement leader. This transformation has involved a process of shifting the union's internal culture, building lasting partnerships with parents and community leaders, shifting the conversation about teachers and public education, through ongoing work on narrative, and winning a landmark contract that emphasizes education quality and equity. GPP’s Minnesota Director, Dave Mann played a key leadership role in guiding the union through its transformation. 

National People's Action's Strategic Inquiry

GPP has been partnering with National People's Action on their strategic inquiry process, which includes a focus on developing a long-term agenda. The long-term agenda helps provide a compass for orienting their immediate and mid-range work around a strategy to shift power in our society. It becomes a vehicle for tying various campaigns together – campaigns are no longer ends to themselves but together they are a strategy for advancing a long-term agenda and any one campaign can advance multiple pathways. The long-term agenda helps us shape decisions about the campaigns we run in the short term and also develop medium-term (eg 5 year) campaigns that move us in the direction we have charted.

We have just completed a case history of this strategic inquiry process with NPA. Their long term agenda is garnering lots of attention. Here are are few of the recent articles:

• David Moberg, in an article for In These Times, describes NPA's efforts as "a counterpoint to the short-term thinking that too often shapes the progressive agenda, and a template for how progressives can make greater gains." Moberg also gives a shout-out to GPP's Executive Director, Richard Healey, for his work with NPA over the past six years. 

• Yes! Magazine honor's NPA's work in David Korten's articleWe Know Who Stole the Economy --- National People's Action Moves to Take It Back. Korten commends NPA for moving beyond tinkering with the economy, bringing together big ideas and long-term strategy to transform both the economy and governance. Korten recommends the case history that GPP prepared jointly with NPA. 

Other GPP News:

• GPP's Policy Director, Sandra Hinson, co-wrote a chapter with George Goehl that appears in From Foreclosure to Fair Lending, available at New Village Press

• The Center on Race, Religion and Economic Democracy (C-RRED) has a new website, currently under construction. C-RRED taps into the power of our individual and collective longing for meaningful connection with others and real participation in our world. C-RRED works with leaders, organizations and networks to develop narratives of liberation and undermine ideologies of exploitation and dehumanization. C-RRED works with organizers and groups to engage on the terrain of ideas and align practices and relationships around shared values.  GPP has been a close partner with C-RRED since it's inception in 2012. Together, we have explored the ways in which issues of mass incarceration and criminalization necessitate deep structural and cultural shifts in our society.  

• On the Commons. GPP's Minnesota Director, Dave Mann is featured in the Commons Magazine. In an interview with Jessica Conrad, Dave talks about the power of the Commons as a framework for rethinking our relationships to each other and to the world around us, with the potential to transform our political economy.


Here's a partial listing of writings on strategic practice [click here for a complete listing]: