Category Archives: Strategies

Strategic counsel regarding how you can identify, build or motivate groups of stakeholders to adopt and act on your goals and agenda.

Face to face still #1 in neighborhood communication

Coalitionists looking to get the word out about their endeavors abandon or minimize face-to-face community communication at their peril, according to a Pew Internet poll.

Although electronic communication continues to grow in importance, personal contact (face-to-face and phone) is three times more frequently used than Internet tools, at least in terms of neighborhood issues..

Good design makes you smarter

The bottom line of a recent post of mine is that bad design – of anything: process, materials, content – prevents us from winning the confidence and support of potential allies.

It probably also prevents us from fully tapping the creativity of stakeholders when we ask them to help us brainstorm solutions for knotty problems, according to Don Norman in the following video (see esp. the portion at around five minutes).

Norman’s a world-renowned usability expert who believes intellect and emotion are – and should be – brought together by good design in ways that increase creativity, productivity and satisfaction.

Nudging people to find the middle path

Since finding compromises is often the hallmark of a good coalitionist, I thought this from The Frontal Cortex might be of interest…

“I found this minor anecdote, from Peter Baker’s authoritative NY Times article on Obama’s decision-making process for Afghanistan, to be quite fascinating:

On Oct. 9, Mr. Obama and his team reviewed General McChrystal’s troop proposals for the first time. Some in the White House were surprised by the numbers, assuming there would be a middle ground between 10,000 and 40,000.

‘Why wasn’t there a 25 number?’ one senior administration official asked in an interview. He then answered his own question: ‘It would have been too tempting.’

General McChrystal, it turns out, is a shrewd student of decision-making. He realized that the introduction of a compromise option – say, a troop buildup of 25,000 soldiers – would have been irrationally attractive. This is known as the compromise effect, and it was first documented by Amos Tversky and Itamar Simonson.

Here’s an example of the compromise bias in action: A group of sixty undergraduates received descriptions and pictures of microwave ovens taken from an actual catalog. They were asked to choose between an Emerson oven priced at $110 and a Panasonic priced at $180, which had a few more features. Both items were on sale, a third off the regular price. In this scenario, 57 percent of subjects chose the Emerson and 43 percent chose the Panasonic.

Now let’s consider a second scenario, faced by another group of undergraduates. They were presented with the same two microwave options, but given a third choice as well: a $200 Panasonic oven at a 10 percent discount. Of course, this Panasonic oven is a clearly inferior choice, since it comes with a much smaller discount; it’s mere presence in the catalog shouldn’t influence our decision. Nevertheless, the introduction of this new alternative dramatically increased the attractiveness of the other Panasonic oven, so that 60 percent of subjects new chose it.

Retail stores have long manipulated this bias, as they constantly present consumers with deliberately mediocre and expensive options, just so other options seem more reasonable. (The easiest way to make a $50 T-shirt seem like a good deal is to surround it with $100 T-shirts.) When it comes to decision-making, context is everything.

The point is that most of us are natural compromisers, eager to find a middle-way. (There’s some suggestive evidence that the tendency to pursue the compromise option is mediated by culture, with East Asians more likely than Westerners to show the compromise effect.) Furthermore, our compromising tendencies can be skewed by the audience: when American subjects were told that they might have to defend their choice in front of a whole classroom, they shifted towards the safety of the middle option. Obama, of course, needed to justify his decision to an entire planet.

Read the comments on this post…

(Via The Frontal Cortex.)

Why don’t we reward committed stakeholders?

I’ve been having a Facebook conversation with a colleague of mine, Erin Browning, regarding a recent post on this blog.

As our conversation has unfolded, it’s dawned on me that we seldom – if ever – directly reward stakeholders for being committed participants

Think about the typical public involvement for a typical infrastructure study, for example.

If you attend every public meeting, visit the project website regularly to stay updated, take all the surveys, go to outside information sources to learn more, what do you get?  Bupkis.

So now I’m wondering what would happen if we rewarded people for outstanding participation in a project or campaign?   Perhaps it could be something as simple – and powerful in terms of building an informed, engaged group of stakeholders – as detailing in advance a participation path along which you could promote yourself from the public to something more substantive like a topic advisory committee.

I realize I’m begging some really critical questions like how you’d measure the quantity and quality of involvement, but…..

Online polling plays special role for coalitions

Ken DeSieghardt is one of the best strategists I know when it comes to understanding how to pull together people into coalitions and motivate them to action. 

For example, his firm, Patron Insight, is very successful in identifying, communicating with and moving to the polls those taxpayers who are most likely to support bond issues backed by school districts and municipal government.

Ken and his partner, Rick Nobles,  see a special role in online polling and surveying when it comes to existing or coalescing coalitions. They share it here:

“Online research deserves a spot in the researcher’s tool bag. But, like any tool, you have to know how, when and where to use it if the information you collect is going to be of value.

Specifically, online research provides the most helpful, credible information when it is disseminated as a secondary tool to a captive audience whose members care about the subject matter.

Note the key words in that last statement.

Disseminated: Don’t just stick a survey on your Web site and wait for the responses to roll in. Send the link to people who you want to hear from.

Secondary tool to a captive audience: Online research should never be considered primary data, because those who participate choose to do so – meaning they are already connected to a cause or an issue. It’s ideal for gathering data and seeking input from a coalition of advocates who are already in place (either formally or informally), but should never be confused for primary research of the masses to determine the general mood of the citizenry.

Care about the subject matter: Online surveys work when someone who receives it thinks, “If I respond to this, something that matters to me might change in a way that I like (or might stay the same, if that’s what I’d prefer).”

It’s also important to put a time limit on when you will accept responses, to nudge your target audience about halfway through with a message that says, “If you’ve responded, thanks; if not please do,” and to use the feature on the programs that allows you to limit responses to one per computer.

If you follow this recipe (and, of course, have a well-constructed survey instrument), you’ll get back information that clues you in to the thoughts and ideas of those in your key target audience who took the time to respond.

Like all research, it should be seen as one piece of data in the decision-making process. But, at least you can be confident that what you received was credible.”

Visualizations help stakeholders understand complex issues

Seeing is believing.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

All true when it comes to helping stakeholders and potential coalition members, allies and partners understand the importance of a complex issue.

Here’s a good example.  As the Missouri Dept. of Transportation wrestles with how to rejuvenate Interstate 70, it found that its efforts to keep traffic moving smoothly on America’s Main Street complicated its communication about the dire state of the highway. 

Specifically, resurfacing in recent years had smoothed the ride enough to hide the structural issues underlying the highway – and perhaps mute public interest in fixing the long-term problems with the Interstate. 

So MoDOT developed a clever simulation that enables stakeholders to see how pavement begins decaying almost as soon as it is poured and, more importantly, how there are limits to how many times you can replace existing pavement.

They made an interesting – and thoroughly understandable – visual that helps their audiences get a better grip on an important technical issue:

All hail the rat and his frozen overlord

Those of you who know me well, know that at least once a year I prove my love for my wife by going to Walt Disney World so that she can enjoy the happiest place on earth and I can help pay for the cryogenic upkeep of Mr. D. himself.

As much as I’m loathe to admit it, however, the Rat Mouse House has important lessons to offer about the care and feeding of secondary allies and supporters when you’re building and maintaining your coalitions and networks.

I’ll be sharing those in an upcoming series of posts.  But now I must elude the fun police.  Pray for me.