Conflict Resolution for Activist Facebook Groups

Busy and digital as we are, a lot of our activist interactions happen on Facebook.

While convenient, it’s easier for conflict to arise when we interact through a screen, rather than face to face.

This video describes simple methods for assuming and acting with good intentions that can reduce conflict on Facebook and make our groups more cohesive and effective as a result.

VISIT:  < cross-posted from here


What topic should I cover next? Tell me in the comments.

Dem Primaries Show #BlueWave and Rebellion

The primary train moves on, yesterday to Idaho, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and Oregon.

Two stories to emerge on the Democratic side are that yes, there was evidence of huge enthusiasm (the eponymous #BlueWave), but Dem primary voters are also not too keen on the sensible, could-win-the-general, more right-leaning candidates their party is supporting.

On the left and right, primary voters are polarized, a longterm trend that seems particularly stark this cycle.

What topic should I cover next?


Cross-posted from

How to Move from Vision to Action

My coaching work begins with a client consultation that moves from vision to practical next steps, often in as little as an hour.  How does that work exactly?

Here are the steps:

1: Clarify Your Vision

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 8.14.41 PMIf you are a social change visionary, you have a picture of a more just, equitable, sustainable, and compassionate future that you want to create.  Your vision is your personal motivation to go out and change the world.  It is also a north star that guides you in the later steps of the process.

Your vision is the picture of the future that stokes an enduring fire in your heart.

If you are unsure of your vision, try these steps to clarify it.

2: Map a Path from Your Vision to Now

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 8.14.46 PMThe next step is to design a path that links your vision to now.  This roadmap is a series of causally-linked outcomes called a theory of change.

Your roadmap will not be set it stone.  It will change as your implement it.  Its purpose is to show you that your vision is possible.

To create the roadmap we’ll start with your vision and work backwards, moving through a series of causally outcomes until we get to the present.  That first outcome – the one right after now – becomes the first goal you’ll take action to achieve.

If this sounds confusing, don’t worry.  Believe it or not, you probably already know all the elements of your theory of change.  You just need to think about how they are connected.  Think of theory of change as a story about how your vision might happen.

To start, try to tell that story in five steps.  What will happen right before your vision is realized?  And before that? And before that?  Keep on asking that question until you get to now.

3: Act, Reflect, Repeat

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 8.14.51 PMNow you have a goal to work towards, so you can make a plan of action to achieve it.  But it won’t be a complex or longterm plan.

In the ten years that I’ve been working with change-makers, I’ve learned that making longterm plans is often a waste of time.  There is a lot we still don’t know.

For this reason, I take a page from Lean Startup strategy and focus on identifying short-term actions that maximize learning.

First identity actions you’ll take within the next week.  Then, at the end of the week, reflect on the results of those actions.  Did you get the result you wanted and expected?  If yes, how can you build on it?  If no, how can you use the feedback information you gained to act more effectively next time?

And then you act again.

This is the process for changing the world.  It starts with a big inspiring vision and ends with ongoing action to make that vision a reality.

Do you have a question about the above? Then come ask me in my free office hours:

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Note: cross-posted, with minimal edits, from

How to Clarify Your Vision for Change

Imagine this:

Going through family papers one day you find that there is a small piece of land once owned by a distant relative that is now yours.  After the initial shock, you become curious.  You decide to visit the property.

It is close to where you live, so you decide to drive. You exit the city center, pass the outer residential areas, pass the industrial areas that are even further out. Soon there is more glass, more trees, more sky.

You check your GPS, turn down a quiet street and find yourself at the edge of a beautiful lake that you didn’t even know existed. You double-check that you are in the right place, then park and decide to look around.

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There is some construction equipment scattered about, but you don’t let that distract you.  You stand on your land, beside an empty paint bucket, and close your eyes.  You breathe in the fresh air, hear the birds calling, feeling the warm sun on your skin.

You imagine your dream house, the house you will build on this site.  The image comes to you quickly.  You imagine yourself standing in front of it.  You open the gate and walk up the path.  Soon you are at your own front door.

You turn the key and step inside.   It’s beautiful and calming, exactly where you have always wanted to call home.  You slowly wander from room to room, touching the fabrics, sitting in the furniture, looking out the windows and into the closets.

You walk out onto the porch overlooking the lake and stand there in happiness and awe.  Your friends are all there.  They are throwing you a housewarming party.

You open your eyes.  You are are still standing on your vacant plot of land.  The buckets are still lying around.  But you are so excited, so excited to make your house a reality.

You think about how much money you’ll need to save to get started, where you could find an architect to draw up plans.  You imagine overseeing contractors, watching them turn wood and glass and stone into your house.  You imagine inviting friends to spend weekends with you.

You have a lot a work to do, but you are not afraid.  You feel grateful, so grateful, that you have the opportunity to build this beautiful house.  You are so eager to get to work.

Why don’t we think this way about social change?

But we don’t think this way about social change.  Instead of seeing our ability to make change as a gift and opportunity we are fearful, consumed with self-doubt and cynicism.  We convince ourselves change is impossible or that we are incapable of achieving it.  Instead of realizing we will need people to help us realize our vision, we focus on our own lack of skill.

No one stops trying to build their dream house because they are not an architect.  They understand that if they want to build a house they will need to hire an architect.  Simple as that.  In order to make any large social change we will have to hire or inspire many experts and helpers.  Simple as that.  It is possible.

When we think about our dream house we think from our hearts, not our heads.  We imagine materials that makes us feel warm and safe, structures and styles that we think are beautiful.  We get practical later.   A vision may change when it is implemented.  You may decide that you really don’t need that third bathroom or that you can use laminate instead of real wood in the kitchen.

But that doesn’t change your vision.  You start with a picture of the future that moves and inspires you.  Then you measure every tactical choice against that vision.  It is the vision that guides you, keeps you on track.  If you have a desire to change the world, start by clarifying your vision.

So how do you do that?

Listen to your heart.

What kinds of experiences give you energy?  What pictures of the future fills you with excitement?  What scenarios motivates your to get out of bed every morning?  What activities in your day-to-day life give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment, of peace and connection?  What articles do you read and then want to share with everyone you know?

Your vision is the picture of your future that stokes a fire in your heart.

So make that vision as clear as possible.  Focus in on it.  Spend mental time with it.  Daydream.

Expose yourself to materials related to what you think your vision may be.  Go to events.  Read articles.  Watch TED talk videos.  Talk to friends.

Experiment with elements of your vision right now.  Volunteer at an organization that does that type of work.  Participate in a march, protest, or practical activity.

Then be attentive to how you feel.  Does actually doing this thing make you feel contented? excited? alive? purposeful?  These are all signs that you are getting close to clarifying your vision for social change.

Are you feeling discouraged? drained? frustrated? disconnected? useless?  These are signs that you haven’t quite found your vision yet.  Don’t give up.  Keep reflecting.  Keep experimenting. You will find it.

And, if you have any questions, ask me, either by email, on the Facebook page, or at Friday office hours.

This is just the beginning.


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image: Flickr/Travis & Flickr/Bust it Away Photography

Communication Strategy for Activists

Is Your Communication Helping Your Cause?

Activists communicate to persuade their audiences to act. Learn if your communication is getting you closer to your social change goal with this easy 7-step checklist.

Know the Basics of Activist Communication Strategy

Here are the basics of strategic communication for activists:

    1. Goal: Know what you want to achieve.
    2. Audience: Know who you need to persuade.
    3. Message: Know the content that will persuade your audience to act.
    4. Media: Know how you will transmit your message.
    5. Resources: Know what you can actually do.
    6. Plan: Know when it will happen and who is responsible.
    7. Evaluation: Know if you closer to your goal.

Review the Full Checklist

And here’s the full checklist.  It will help you evaluate the strength of your current communication work.  It also gives tips about how to get back on track if you are not “on-strategy.”

Ask a Question

To ask questions about communication or another aspect of activism strategy, check out my free video-chat office hours every Friday.  Or you can contact me any time here.

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image: Flickr/Justin Norman

Why Do We Prosecute Crime When We Can Prevent It?

“Do we want to ruin someone’s life for stealing a cell phone? 

…Or do we want to take our time that we would spend on prosecuting them… making sure that they’re a better, safer member of our community?”*

Why District Attorneys Should Prevent Crime

Turns out the lessons we learned on Law & Order weren’t quite right.  District attorneys aren’t actually keeping us safe when they seek maximum sentences.

Here’s a different model for how DA’s can prevent crimes, instead of just punishing those who commit them:

  • District attorneys shouldn’t prosecute every case that comes to them.
  • Instead, they can use that same time connecting individuals with preventive social services.
  • This alternative response to crime saves the futures of offenders.
  • It also protects communities by helping those individuals live productive and crime-free lives.
  • The $80 billion dollar prison system in our country is expensive and dysfunctional.  People leave the system only to re-offend.
  • Prevention isn’t only humane, it’s also and cost-effective.

The Problem

Assistant DA Adam Foss explains that over 90% of criminal cases are resolved before trial in plea deals.  These deals require some acknowledgement of guilt.  For this reason, individuals gain a criminal record, even for minor infractions like cell phone theft.

And their lives get harder from there. Having a criminal record can:

  • Prevent a person from getting an education…because it’s harder to get student loans if you have a record
  • Prevent a person from getting a job…because it’s less likely you’ll be hired if you have a record or are on probation
  • Prevent a person from finding housing…because your rental application may be denied for the same reasons
  • Prevent a person from being a full citizen… because many states have felony disenfranchisement laws

This doesn’t just ruin the life of the individual.  It also makes them more dangerous to their community.  With tradition means of support and self-sufficiency cut off, they are more likely to commit more serious crimes for financial reasons.

The current system of criminal prosecution doesn’t work for the individuals prosecuted or the communities in which they live.

The Solution

Adam suggests that district attorneys use their time in a different way.  In the TED talk below, Adam suggests prosecutors “spend our time that we would usually take prepping our cases…coming up with real solutions to the problems as they present.

He gives some examples of how this is already being done in Boston where he works:

  • A high school senior who stole and sold 30 laptops to pay for college isn’t charge with 30 felonies, as originally planned.  Instead, a plan is instituted so he can make financial restitution.  He does community service.  He writes an essay on the potential effect of his actions on himself and his community.  He goes to college and becomes a bank manager.  (Adam met him recently at a networking event.)
  • A woman arrested for stealing groceries to feed her kids is assisted in getting a job.
  • Instead of putting an abused teenager in adult jail for punching another teenager, the district attorney’s office found them mental health treatment and community supervision.
  • A runaway girl who was arrested for prostituting, which she needed to survive on the streets, was paired with needed a safe place to live.

The economics of criminal justice are also on the side of prevention.  

Our $80 billion dollar prison system is bloated an broken.  Once released, individuals are likely to re-offend because of the roadblocks of a criminal record listed earlier.  Housing an individual in prison can also cost up to $100,000 a year.  Using that money to provide education, job training, mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, housing, and other services would divert individuals from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.  They would be able to live full lives.  They would give to their communities instead of preying on them.

Your Role

District attorneys are elected officials.  The next time there is an election in your city, Adam suggests you ask them these three questions:

  1. What are you doing to make me and my neighbors safer?
  2. What data are you collecting [to evaluate the efficacy of your work], and how are you training your prosecutors to make sure that it’s working?
  3. If it’s not working for everybody, what are you doing to fix it?

“If they can’t answer the questions,” Adam says, “they shouldn’t be doing the job.”  “If our communities are broken,” he continues, “don’t let the lawyers that you elect fix them with outdated, inefficient, expensive methods.”

image: ATTN


Seattle Speaking Event: Design for Democracy

On March 29th I’ll be presenting a session in Seattle at the Design for Democracy House of Learning, hosted by the American Institute of Graphic Artists.

I’ll be presenting a session on strategy:

  • Designing Strategies that Work
  • Many efforts to increase democracy and equity are driven by good intentions, yet lack the strategy to succeed. This session will present the 4 elements of the strategy cycle: Goal, Plan, Check, Adapt. The format of the session will begin with a brief description of the strategy cycle (with a visualization, of course), followed by an open discussion in which participants ask and answer each other’s questions about the role that designers have in shaping the strategy of the projects they work on.

Here are the details of the event and a link to tickets.

  • Date: Tuesday, March 29th
  • Time: 6:00pm
  • Location: The General Assembly Studio, located in the Seattle Tower, 1218 3rd Avenue Third Floor, Seattle, WA 98101 (map)
  • Cost: $10-$35 (buy tickets)

I hope to see you there!


How Not to Be an Asshole in 4 Easy Steps

At base, a socially just world is one in which no one is an asshole to anyone else.

Not being an asshole is also the basis for creating safe space and is the foundation of all activism, social justice, and advocacy work.  It’s also the foundation of being a decent human being.

Still, the fundamental tenets of not-being-an-asshole are unclear to many people. Here they are:

1. Don’t be an asshole.

2. Being an asshole means:

  1. Treating any individual’s physical and emotional wellbeing as less important than your own.
  2. Saying or doing things that disrespect that person by demeaning or insulting them.
  3. Not apologizing when you are called out for demeaning or insulting behavior.
  4. Not changing your problematic behavior when you are made aware of it.

3. Not being an asshole means:

  1. Treating every individual’s physical and emotional wellbeing with the same care as you would your own.
  2. Saying and doing things that affirm their value and show them you care about them.
  3. Apologizing when you are called out for not acting in a caring and kind way.
  4. Changing your behavior so you are kind and caring to all people.

4. This includes not being an asshole to people…

  1. Of other races and ethnicities;
  2. Of other nationalities or immigration statuses;
  3. Of other genders (including cis, trans, bigender, agender…);
  4. Who love differently than you (including queer, gay, lesbian, have lots of sex, are asexual…);
  5. Who have a different religion than you;
  6. Who are poorer than you;
  7. Who has less or different education from you;
  8. Who have a less prestigious or different job than you;
  9. Who are younger or older than you (no ageism…);
  10. Whose bodies are different from yours (no ableism, fat-shaming, transphobia…);
  11. Whose brains work differently than yours (no mental illness shaming, accommodate intellectual disabilities and neurodiversity);
  12. Any other kind of person. Seriously. It’s not that hard.

Thanks for your time and attention!

7 Ways Digital Can Help Activists

This update of The 6 Activist Functions of Technology is made for a US audience (American examples, no activists security section).

The slides are from my workshop at the Student Global AIDS Campaign winter conference:





Ally to All… Except Assholes

Show that you’re an ally (to everyone except assholes) with’s first piece of official merch.  And – because ally is a verb, not a noun – you’ll have to be an effective and mindful ally when you wear it!  Prices range from $22.99 to $47.99.

Buy Here!


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