Find Others to Work With

Heidi Burgess
Guy M. Burgess

November, 2018

Alone we can do a little bit, but with others we can accomplish much more.  Collaboration works!

Other things you can do to help.

Spence Havlick was, for many years, a member of the Boulder, Colorado City Council. He got lots of letters and calls from constituents who wanted the city to do something for them:  repave their road, put in speed bumps, renovate a park, improve the sewers, etc.  His response was always the same:  "find some other people in another part of the city who have a concern that is similar to yours.  Work together to figure out a way that we can make the whole city better--not just one little corner of it."  When people did that, he said, they would have a compelling proposal that the council would take seriously.  Without that, it was just a matter of helping one neighborhood at the expense of another--and the city council wouldn't consider it.

This is an good strategy for any change you want to see.  Most likely, others want it too.  You will be able to advocate for whatever it is much more successfully if you can show (1) that many people agree that a change is needed, (2) that the change will benefit many people and  (3) that many people are willing to take some initiative to bring about that change.

If you can frame your description of the problem--and your proposed solution-- in a way that is as inclusive as possible, your chances of success grow.  That means that you should try to focus on your underlying needs and interests, rather than focusing on your position on a particular issue. 

Although Havlick didn't mention this in his talk, it is also useful to talk to people who oppose what you want to do.  Find out why they oppose it, and then do what you can to meet their concerns.  That will give you an even stronger proposal to present to the City Council (or wherever else you are proposing your idea).

For instance, instead of trying to get a stop light put up on a particular corner (a position), look at your underlying needs (for instance, the safety of school children crossing a street) and work with others who have similar concerns in other areas of the city. Talk to people who don't want a traffic light there too, and  brainstorm other ideas for keeping kids safe.  Perhaps more traffic lights aren't the best answer.  Perhaps crossing guards, lower speed limits, pedestrian warning lights, and school safety education campaigns would help more.  Be open to new ideas and to working with others who might--on the surface--disagree with your position (wanting a traffic light), but agree with your need--child safety. Work with them to do the research needed to find out what solutions might work best.  Then come up with the broadest possible group to advocate for your desired change--and still be open to new ideas of how to meet your needs in a more effective or less expensive way.

Collaboration on a bigger scale can lead to bigger change.  Two days after the 2016 election in the U.S., America was at war with itself--many astounded and furious about the "stolen election," many others ecstatic that their side actually won.  "Sitting in her kitchen in West Michigan, [Katie] Fahey [a 27-year old MBA student] logged into her Facebook account and scrolled through post after post in which friends and family members — even those who usually sought civility — tore into one another. The frustrations peppering her computer screen all reflected, to some degree, a distrust of the political system. “So if that’s really it,” she recalls thinking, “why don’t we start there?” [See One Woman's Facebook Post, below. ]

With one Facebook post, she started a political movement to outlaw gerrymandering in Michigan--the process by which electoral districts are drawn by politicians in ways that maximize votes for one side or the other. That was the beginning of the group Voters Not Politicians, which not only got redistricting reform on the ballot, but got it passed in Michigan in 2018--despite Michigan's very divided electorate.  Despite the fact that Michigan's Democratic urban voters disagreed with almost everything the rural Republican voters wanted--they did all agree on one thing--they all wanted fair elections that fairly represented the interests of the people, not the elite politicians.  It was this collaborative argument that won the day--and contrary to most predictions, Proposal 2 passed on Nov. 6.2018. 

As it turns out, this wasn't an isolated case.  In "Let the People Vote," David Leonhardt highlights several ballot initiatives designed to improve the functioning of democracy that fared very well in the Nov., 2018 elections. Each is an example of identifying a problem, galvanizing MANY people to develop a solution to the problem, and getting that solution adopted--either through ballot initiatives, city council actions, corporate actions, or otherwise. 

The commonality here is none of these initiatives would have succeeded if one person had tried to work alone.  They found lots of allies and worked together to attain their goals.  

For more information about these ideas see:

Spence Havlick "Confronting MIMBYs by Polling Community Interests 

Riley Beggin "One woman's Facebook post leads to Michigan vote against gerrymandering"

Erick Trickey "A Grassroots Call to Ban Gerrymandering"

David Leonhardt  "Let the People Vote"

BI Essay on Capacity Building

BI Essay on Consensus Building

BI Essay on Integrative Power

Have you tried this? 

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