Critical Negotiations in social change movements

Recently I had the good fortune of sharing a tea with Andrea Reimer of the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. Our conversation focused on critical negotiations in social change movements – and more specifically, environmental movements.

Andrea pointed me to The Movement Action Plan, an article by social activist Bill Moyer.  The article outlines both the 8 stages (graphed below) a social movement often goes through – as well as the opportunities and pitfalls that exist along this path.

I’ve identified and mapped out (see slideshare presentation below) the 3 points where I believe there are critical and predictable negotiations. This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive, nor an absolute list. But based on a number of recent conversations I suspect this simple list of negotiations are both likely as well some of the most difficult for any movement to engage in. That said, I could be wrong and would love for critical perspective or countering data. This would be helpful as this is helping me frame my thinking for the negotiation workshop I’ll be giving on behalf of the Hollyhock Leadership Institute to members of the Environmental NGO community in late April.

 

  • The first key negotiation is in stage 2 through 4 where the movement’s component groups and individuals need to negotiate with one another about how to best advance their cause. This is, in short, a large alliance management problem where the benefits of collaboration could be increased public awareness and activism.
  • The second is in stage 5. Here the movement has to transition from being purely activist drive to long term focused. Here the movement is confronted again with an internal negotiation – the “take-off junkies” need to be persuaded to either adopt a long-term strategy or take on a new challenge. Alternatively, the movement could attempt to marginalize them.
  • The third is in stage 6 and 7. Here the movement may find it is negotiation – implicitly or explicitly – with the powerholders. Here the option is to reach agreement to establish a new status quo or, should negotiations collapse, to return to either activism or pressure building. This is where I believe many (but not all) Environmental NGO’s in British Columbia currently find themsleves. They are negotiation with the Provincial government over standards, policies and plans where they can either reach agreement or retreat to protest politics. In a sense their ultimate BATNA (and nightmare scenario for the government) is to threaten to engage in another round of the 1993 Clayoquot Sound protests. The question is, can the NGO community negotiate effectively, both with among themselves over their strategy, and with the government over the standards, policies and plans?

 

8 thoughts on “Critical Negotiations in social change movements

  1. rikia

    Fantastic post Dave. You make a fascinating contribution to the evolution of social movements when you refer to these negotiations as both “critical and predictable.” It’s one of those things I suspected on some level but never saw clearly until now. It is heart breaking to see a group of dedicated, well-meaning individuals never gain critical traction. Hopefully this will help to explain why/how.

    Love Andrea Reimer.

    Reply
  2. rikia

    Fantastic post Dave. You make a fascinating contribution to the evolution of social movements when you refer to these negotiations as both “critical and predictable.” It’s one of those things I suspected on some level but never saw clearly until now. It is heart breaking to see a group of dedicated, well-meaning individuals never gain critical traction. Hopefully this will help to explain why/how.Love Andrea Reimer.

    Reply
  3. Jodie

    a few thoughts…

    In the first key negotiation (stages 2-4) it is essential that each group understand their individual ‘yes’ before they are ready to partake in a collaborative movement level discussion. Without that clarity, conversations often breakdown as people are processing real time and ideals and positions become blurred. The goal here is not necessarily to agree but rather to understand the assets of the movement and how best to collectively deploy them.

    Although I really like Bill Moyers MAP it depicts a linear process which isn’t always the case. Once a movement has built power and established working relationships with decision makers this dance can become a lot more dynamic. There is a tendency for those with the relationships to get comfortable and those who want more to agitate. There is also a danger that a movement will lose touch with it’s constituents and lose the leverage that afforded them power and influence. Continuing to understand how you relate to the whole becomes essential to maintaining a healthy movement.

    Another interesting topic is negotiations between movements. For example… in the US there is a big focus on Green Jobs and using the changes in energy policy to lift impacted communities out of poverty. The negotiation is around carbon taxes… who the money collected will go to… and how will it be distributed. Given the broad implications of these policies… green is no longer the sole domain of enviros. Who will they negotiate that?

    Thanks for the post.

    Jodie

    Reply
  4. Jodie

    a few thoughts…In the first key negotiation (stages 2-4) it is essential that each group understand their individual ‘yes’ before they are ready to partake in a collaborative movement level discussion. Without that clarity, conversations often breakdown as people are processing real time and ideals and positions become blurred. The goal here is not necessarily to agree but rather to understand the assets of the movement and how best to collectively deploy them.Although I really like Bill Moyers MAP it depicts a linear process which isn’t always the case. Once a movement has built power and established working relationships with decision makers this dance can become a lot more dynamic. There is a tendency for those with the relationships to get comfortable and those who want more to agitate. There is also a danger that a movement will lose touch with it’s constituents and lose the leverage that afforded them power and influence. Continuing to understand how you relate to the whole becomes essential to maintaining a healthy movement.Another interesting topic is negotiations between movements. For example… in the US there is a big focus on Green Jobs and using the changes in energy policy to lift impacted communities out of poverty. The negotiation is around carbon taxes… who the money collected will go to… and how will it be distributed. Given the broad implications of these policies… green is no longer the sole domain of enviros. Who will they negotiate that?Thanks for the post.Jodie

    Reply
  5. lily

    Dave, thanks for this, which added something really useful to my understanding of Bill Moyers MAP – though like Jodie I think the linear assumptions in Bill’s model need to be reviewed. This is especially true in my own area of interest – violence against women and the link with gender equality. With a co-worker I recently developed a poster presentation to explore how we might best develop an approach to community based prevention which really addresses ‘the cause of the causes’ of gender based violence – I found your slide while researching that presentation and used it, with a full acknowledgement to your site here, to illustrate where we are in the development of this work in Scotland. I hope it’s OK to go on referencing this article of yours over the coming months as we will be developing the work further.
    Thanks again for a very thought stimulating piece!
    Best wishes
    Lily (diagram junkie)

    Reply
  6. lily

    Dave, thanks for this, which added something really useful to my understanding of Bill Moyers MAP – though like Jodie I think the linear assumptions in Bill’s model need to be reviewed. This is especially true in my own area of interest – violence against women and the link with gender equality. With a co-worker I recently developed a poster presentation to explore how we might best develop an approach to community based prevention which really addresses ‘the cause of the causes’ of gender based violence – I found your slide while researching that presentation and used it, with a full acknowledgement to your site here, to illustrate where we are in the development of this work in Scotland. I hope it’s OK to go on referencing this article of yours over the coming months as we will be developing the work further.Thanks again for a very thought stimulating piece!Best wishesLily (diagram junkie)

    Reply

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