Developing an initiative or a strategy
Any action requires planning.
Planning should be carried out together with the members of your group/ organisation, to ensure that you focus on what your group wants, what they are able to do, and the best ways of achieving this.
This section offers a simple way of structuring a plan and organising work with a group in order to help them achieve their aims effectively.
Step 1: Know yourselves
You can use the reflection questions to reflect critically on the work of your group or organisation on gender and gender-based violence. However, before beginning, you may also want to review the knowledge and skills that exist in your group, as well as on participants’ interests.
A SWOT analysis is an effective way of doing this. Such an analysis also looks at the circumstances outside the group which might influence what you may be able to do.
The acronym SWOT stands for:
- Strengths: things the group is good at doing
- Weaknesses: things the group is less good at doing
- Opportunities: possibilities existing outside the group that might be utilised to benefit the action
- Threats: things outside the group that might get in the way of the aims of the action.
Step 2: Make choices
How does a group choose which issue to work on? In most cases, people in the group will have issues that they think are important and want to work on. The main difficulty may be in arriving at a common agreement about which issue to choose, and about the best way to approach it.
You will need to keep all members of the group behind the final decision, so do not rush a discussion about issues: give them plenty of time to air preferences and talk through the advantages of choosing one rather than another. Remind them that there may be opportunities to address other concerns later on. Remind them also that the most important thing is that the group stays together to work through an action - so if one person is strongly against a particular choice, it may not be worth pursuing. Try to reach consensus in the group, rather than going for a majority decision.
Knowing the problem
A problem tree provides a useful tool for analysing the issue you will be working on. This is a method of breaking down an issue, looking at causes and consequences, and placing it in the context of other problems in society. A problem tree can be useful both in providing a better understanding of an issue for the group, and in helping to approach a solution in a more strategic way.
This is the procedure a group would use to draw up a problem tree for their own issue:
- Start by writing down the problem that you wish to tackle in the middle of a large sheet of paper.
- Underneath it, write down all the things that contribute to the problem, and link these up to form the roots of the original problem. Take each root at a time and think about its causes, writing down the things that contribute to this ‘root’. Keep tackling each root until you can take the exercise no further. Be aware that the tree may have deeper roots than you think!
- You may also want to extend the “branches” of the tree in the same manner: these will be the consequences of your original problem. You may find that what you began with as your main concern is actually the root or branch of a different tree.
When you have finished, take a look at your tree:
- Should you tackle the task you originally set yourself or one of its contributing factors first?
- Has the tree helped you to think of ways to go about tackling this problem?
Step 3: Identify the solution(s)
It is important to know what you would like to happen as a result of your action! What would count as a success? Get the group to think about what they are trying to achieve, and how they will measure whether or not they have been successful. They may find it useful to go back to the problem tree and use this to identify concrete solutions. In general, attacking the roots will lead to solutions further up the tree.
Be mindful that changes in policy are often difficult to bring about, but not impossible. The group needs to be realistic about what it can hope for: remind them that even a “small” result can be an invaluable contribution to resolving a larger problem. Effective campaigns are nearly always built up from exactly such “small” actions, and anything achieved by your group can either be built on later on, or picked up by other activists concerned about the problem.
It may be helpful for the group to brainstorm some general reasons for taking action. This may help them to pick out those which are most relevant to their own issue, and to identify a number of specific objectives that they feel it is realistic to achieve.
Step 4: Planning your action
Your group has now decided on an issue and has an idea of what they might be trying to do. It is time to decide on the methods they will use to achieve their aim.
Which problem do you want to address?
This step is simple: it will be the result of the problem tree exercise that the group carried out. If you did not carry out the problem tree activity, try to get the group to formulate the problem they want to address as accurately as possible.
What is your target audience?
Unless you are hoping to resolve the problem immediately, the target audience for your action may not be the person or people who can make the final change that you are looking for. Your action is quite likely to be no more than a step towards making the change; for example, you may be trying to alert the public to an issue, in order to put pressure on the government. Or you may be trying to set up a local group so that the group can work on the issue you are concerned about. Your target audience may consist of more than one group of people.
Which changes do you hope to see?
This question again relates to your action, but not necessarily to the final change you might be aiming for. You may be able to generate interest in the problem, which will encourage others to take action in different ways, and that, in turn, may be enough to bring about a change in company policy or in government regulations applying to those companies. In this box you need to think about what the action is meant to achieve, and how you will know whether or not you have succeeded.
How is change expected to come about?
This question is not yet about the mechanism that the group decides to use, it is about how the action is supposed to work, and will often relate to the psychology of changing people’s minds or making people realise that they need to do something differently. It is a very important question that is often forgotten, and ignoring it could affect the impact of your action.
What means will you use to influence your audience?
In this stage you should decide on the exact course of action to be taken by the group. The choices will have been narrowed down by moving through the previous steps. The group should now be able to draw up a list of possible actions which could help to bring about the transition identified in the previous box. Encourage them to think creatively, and look back at some of the suggestions in this chapter. Try again to reach consensus over the final choice.
Step 5: Getting organised
There is one final stage before taking the ideas of the group out onto the public. It is highly recommended that the group draws up an action plan to decide on organisational matters. Although this may not be essential for a simple action, it is a useful habit for any group, and will ensure that tasks are divided out equally, according to skills and preferences. It should also ensure that nothing is forgotten!
They will need to decide:
- Which tasks need to be carried out?
- Who is going to undertake the different task(s)?
- When are they going to be done?
Step 6: Monitoring and evaluation
It is vital to take some time after the action is finished to debrief the group and assess what went well, and what could have gone better. If we are talking about a more complex project, you might want to ensure a monitoring mechanism and regular group meetings to assess how things are going, what could be changed and done better. This can be done at the end of each action in the project.
The following questions may be useful as a framework for conducting an evaluation discussion with your group:
- What are your feelings after the day of action? (This can be done as a brief run round the group.)
- What did you feel went well?
- Was anything more difficult than you had imagined it to be?
- Was there anything unexpected?
- Do you think there are any lessons we could learn for next time?
- Did we achieve what we set out to do?
- Did we achieve anything else that perhaps we had not foreseen?
- Do you feel satisfied with yourselves, and would you like to try something like this again?
- What shall we do next?
The problem tree
You may use the example of this problem tree50 to explore the realities of gender-based violence in your community or organisation and strategise your campaigns, action or education activities. You may also use the problem tree to as an educational tool to work with young people to create a deeper understanding of gender-based violence.
- Explain that in order to understand and respond to gender-based violence, we need to see it as a problem with numerous connections to socialisation and power relations in society. It can thus be useful to look at the underlying causes of gender-based violence.
- Show participants the Gender-based violence tree and tell them that they will be working in groups to identify some of the things which lead to gender-based violence (the 'roots' of the tree), and some of its the effects (the 'branches').
- Explain the logic of the tree image. Every box which leads up the tree to another box is answering the question 'why?'. This is true for the branches as well as the roots. You could take an example of gender-based violence to illustrate this in more detail, such as 'domestic violence is a private matter of the family' leads to / is renforced by 'reports of domestic violence are not followed-up by the police'. It is also possible to discuss how some of these causes and effects nourish or justify each other.
- The roots: when participants work down the tree, starting from gender-based violence itself, they are exploring answers to the question 'why does this happen?'. They should fill the 'roots' with as many reasons as possible. Give them an illustration of how one 'cause' will have its own causes. For example, ask them why sexist jokes abound. Prompt with questions about where 'we learn' negative things we believe about LGBT+ people or feminists.
- The branches: here participants need to explore the possible consequences of items lower down the branch. Ask them what could happen to an individual or to a group which is victim of gender-based violence. Ask them what might happen as a result of that.
- Divide participants into groups and give them a piece of flipchart paper to draw their tree on. Tell them to write the following text, or an example of your own, in the ‘trunk’ of the tree and then to complete as many branches and roots as they are able to. You can provide this example has been posted on the Internet: We need to concentrate on curing gays, not tolerating them! Or this one from a news headline: One woman in ten is victim of violence in her own home51.
- Give the groups some 20 minutes to complete their trees. Ask the groups to present their results and show their trees to the others.
- Debrief the activity, focusing on the relations between trees and branches , how difficult it was and where it is possible or necessary to introduce change. You may also want to address vicious circles in the tree: for example, mistrust in the police forces results in fewer reports of violence, which reinforces the feeling of impunity and superiority… where to stop the circle?
50 This activity is adapted from the activity Roots and branches in Bookmarks, the manual to combat online hate speech through human rights education, Council of Europe, 2016.