The Knox Update
From the Firearms Coalition
Effective Activist Politics
Lesson Six: Strategic Planning
By Jeff Knox
Every grass roots lobbying organization needs to schedule two strategic planning sessions every year. The output of one is a legislative plan, and the other is a political action plan.
The legislative session should be held after elections and before the legislature convenes. In most states, that will fall in December or January. The political action planning session should be held as soon after the legislature adjourns as possible.
Both planning sessions should include the organization’s leadership, key activists, representatives from other organizations, and trusted advisors. Active politicians and others with priorities other than gun rights should not be included in the core planning stage, but should be carefully included in appropriate areas of the action plan. Plans generated from both meetings need to be interwoven and complimentary because the bottom line of activist politics is the ability to impact elections. Politicians can dismiss letters, emails, faxes, and phone calls, but they cannot ignore votes. As my father was fond of saying, the one and only thing a politician needs to be successful is the ability to be elected. Without that a politician is not a politician at all. The best way to get a politician’s attention – and perhaps shift his position on a given issue – is to demonstrate the ability to impact his electability.
I’ll talk about strategic planning for elections in another article. Here is a 10-step process for developing a legislative strategic plan:
- Determine the Ultimate Objective of your organization. It is painfully obvious that many organizations – including major national organizations – have never actually done this. They tend to drift in a general direction rather than steaming toward a clear objective.
- Develop a comprehensive inventory of current law and a prioritized list of changes you’d like to see. This is another frequently neglected but critical step, and once completed must be kept very confidential.
- Analyze the political Big Picture. Who’s in power? Where is the pendulum? Which way is it moving? What external forces are in play? This can be easier to see from a distance so be sure to bring in some outside perspective here.
- Evaluate each politician in your arena. Positions, philosophy, motivations, vulnerabilities, potential challengers, etc. Once this has been done once it is easier to keep up, but it still requires a lot of work. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities of friends and foes alike is invaluable in both legislative and election planning.
- Run scenarios. Challenge yourself and your brain-trust with “What ifs.” Use the conclusions from steps 1-4 to test possibilities and options.
- Develop a general, “draft” strategy for the next two years.
- Bring in fresh eyes and different perspectives. This is the time to bring in members of your Board of Directors, trusted political advisors, and strategists from other organizations.
- Firm up a comprehensive strategy that utilizes all of the knowledge and tools at your disposal. Even if you and another group can’t agree on a mutual strategy, you can take their plans into account and play off of their actions to make your organization more effective.
- Map out the tools, tactics, and timetable that you will employ to execute your strategy. Revisit the plan frequently through the year and never deviate from the plan without first revisiting the strategic process and reconciling the change to the overall strategy.
- Rinse and repeat. Every year the process should be started over again. Every step should be revisited with an open mind and fresh eyes. Each strategic plan should cover at least two years, but the process should be started fresh every year with the previous year’s plan as nothing more than one of the ideas on the table.
The key to the process’ effectiveness is using a process. Whether your group adopts this 10-step plan or some other system for building a strategic plan, the important thing is to have a process and use it. Anything that helps to focus thought and attention on this critical, often neglected component of effective political activism is a good thing. While success can be achieved without such a planning process, it is far more likely to be achieved sooner if serious thought is given to these issues in advance.
If your organization needs help with planning or analysis, or would just like another perspective on some issue, give The Firearms Coalition a call. We’re here to help you succeed.
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