Building Skills for Change: Workshop

Last weekend, ATU Canada organizer, Madelin, attended "Building Skills for Change" training hosted by the Institute for Change Leaders.

Olivia Chow

The training was facilitated by Olivia Chow, who introduced herself as both a "recovering politician" and the "main agitator" for the weekend. Her team of facilitators represented organizers from a variety of progressive spaces, including political staff, community activists, and artists with roots in the labour movement.

The first icebreaker set the tone of the weekend; participants were asked to line up based on their years of experience as an organizer. This timeline we created showcased the breadth of experience in the room-- from folks who have been organizing for as little as two months, to folks who have been organizing for over 35 years! Clearly, for all who attended, building new skills for creating change is always a worthwhile endeavour.

 Building Skills for Change participants

The curriculum of the two-day course was adapted from Marshall Ganz Leadership course from Harvard Kennedy's School Executive Program. Ganz is an accomplished organizer and was the key organizing strategist behind Barack Obama's presidential campaigns of 2008 and 2012.

Leadership is taking responsibility or enabling others to identify the change they want and empowering them to achieve that change in the face of uncertainty... Organizing is leadership that enables your people to join forces and turn their combined resources into the power they need to make the change they want-- Marshall Ganz

Key themes of the training were focused around five leadership practices: telling the stories, building relationships, structuring relationships, strategizing to achieve clear goals, and taking effective actions. Madelin's top two take-aways were:

Personal storytelling is a tool to build public narrative

"Telling stories communications our shared values and motivates others to take action. Telling stories connects us to one another and is key to building strong relationships." -- Institute for Change Leaders

This was by far the most powerful practice of the weekend, which entailed writing and practicing a 5 minute story following a simple formula: the Story of Self, the Story of Us, and the Story of Now. Participants coached each other through telling personal and provoking stories, and in some cases cried with each other through heartbreaking and heavy narratives. The emotion generated in the act of storytelling has a motivational power that facts and stats simply do not carry.

Strategies vs. tactics 

"Simply put, strategy is turning what you have (resources and interests) into what you need (power) to get what you want (goal)." -- Institute for Change Leaders

Strategy vs Tactics image

At some point in our organizing journey, we've all gotten excited about an action before we've created a  strategy to win change. It's exciting to plan for a rally, or a press conference, or an action. But unless these tactics align with a strong theory of change and fit within a campaign timeline, they are likely not working in concert toward a goal. The teaching of this theme focused on how to build a strategy and then develop tactics that put that strategy into action.

For ATU Canada members excited about the ideas and concepts discussed here, contact Madelin at [email protected] to explore options for bringing this training to your local!