By Matt Noyes. Adapted from "El Tiro al Blanco" in Tecnicas Participativas Para La Educacion Popular, Tomo I.
In the midst of our daily struggles, it is easy to lose track of our long term goals and the principles that motivate us. Our understandings of those goals and principles -- of our strategy itself -- can become stale and rote. Small disagreements can take on the appearance of fundamental differences. This activity is intended to help activists and organizers recover the connections between their goals and their daily work, by talking about how events on a regional, national and global scale relate to the mission and work of the group and vice versa. The goal is to explore the larger issues and develop a collective understanding of the group's mission and various interpretations that group members have of that mission. It should also enable participants to assess how relevant their strategy is to their current work. This activity is probably not enough to get you to a conclusion, but it can help open the discussion (to take the discussion further, you would need to use other activities).
This activity asks people to step back from their work, look at the larger social and political context, and get in touch with their larger goals. One key element of popular education is helping people develop the capacity to create and recreate a collective analysis and strategy, rather than rely on past formulations or the wisdom of leaders. It is crucial that we be able to regenerate our strategy at any moment, based on the current conditions. If we can't, then maybe the strategy has become outdated.
You will know it worked if people talk frankly but without recriminations, if people explore positions rather than hardening divisions, if people end up feeling interested in deepening the discussion of this subject and have specific proposals for future discussions.
In this activity participants use a bulls-eye diagram and big paper arrows to conduct a discussion about the mission of their group and its priorities as they relate to the larger world.
Participants in a semi circle, focus is on a wall where the bulls-eye is posted.
Cut out big arrow-shaped pieces of paper or card stock (better). Should be light color to be written on. Draw up a big target or bulls-eye on a big piece of paper: three concentric circles, maybe in different colors. Big paper for a brainstorm list, markers, tape, stickers.
Number of people:
Up to twelve people (or so). If the group is larger, you will want to divide into groups of ten or so for the brainstorming, sticker voting, and arrow placing. You will need additional notetakers, timekeepers, etc. and an additional target for each group of ten.
Two to three hours.
- If you already know the topics that have come up, -- not just based on your sense but on asking participants beforehand -- then go straight to the arrows activity.
- If not, ask people to brainstorm events at the national or global level that make up the world situation, things that the participants are concerned about, or care about, things they want to do something about.
- Once you have a good list (at least a dozen items), have people choose the top six or seven (by simple show of hands, or by sticker vote). Then have people write each of those items (in a word or two) on the big, arrow-shaped pieces of paper.
- Individuals or small groups then have to decide where to put the arrow on a big target on the wall. Place the arrow's point at the center, if the issue is part of the group's core mission. At the second ring if it is important, but not indispensable. At the third ring, if it is related to the group's mission, but not part of it. Outside the target if it is not at all related.
- It's important not to have too many arrows, because each one should be discussed in some depth. Maybe seven or so. You can also discuss the most important ones (quickly poll people) and if you run out of time for the others, that's okay. OR, you can start with one that is on the inner circle -- totally matches the group's mission -- and one that is outside the circle and compare those: what makes one part of the project and the other not? What are the criteria?
- Facilitator should listen carefully for criteria people use to define what is part of the group's mission (e.g., who has the concern, what can be done about it at level of the group, the degree of unity on the issue, etc.) and what is not. You may also want to use ideas like: long, medium and short term; or relate the things you want to your ability as a group to make them happen.
- At the end do an evaluation to see how people feel (important), what they want to talk more about, how this discussion will affect their work. (I would urge people to talk about how they feel, not about what someone else did or said that made them feel that way.) A go-round would be good here.
This activity asks people to prioritize among things that they want. (As labor educator Bill Fletcher says, the key to prioritizing is taking things we want -- but not as much as other things -- off the list.)
The person facilitating may also want to participate in the discussion. In that case, make sure that others will keep track of time, take notes, etc. Be careful not to abuse the facilitator role by using it to assume special participation privileges.
If hotspots emerge -- points where there is major disagreement -- remind people of the goals of this activity: to explore the issues and clarify the different ideas, then put them aside for future discussion if necessary. Keep a prominent list of such hotspots -- so that it's clear you are not simply putting them off. This takes some pressure off and allows people to talk without feeling that they have to "win" at this moment.
You may want to use the Mosh Pit activity to discuss the hotspots.
I suggested this activity for the Workplace Project/Centro Pro Derechos Laborales to use at an organizational retreat held in July, 2002. It was part of a larger agenda which I developed in collaboration with the staff for a retreat to be run by the participants, without an outside facilitator, so the collaboration had to be very close. They needed to be confident about the purpose and process of the activities.
This activity asks people to step back from their work, look at the larger context, and get in touch with their larger goals. One key element of popular education is helping people develop the capacity to create and recreate a collective analysis and strategy, rather than rely on past formulations or the wisdom of leaders. It is crucial that we be able to regenerate our strategy at any moment, based on the current conditions. If we can't, then maybe the strategy has become outdated.