Advocacy and activism need rethinking
For decades those advocating for social progress have framed the change they seek in terms of demands – “end poverty”, “stop burning fossil fuels”, “zero-waste” etc.
These demands sound both obvious and compelling at first glance. We all agree with their virtue. So why are they so difficult to bring about?
The reason is that a demand fails to provide a plan of what to do. They are negative in tone (stop, no more etc.), intangible and provide little no guidance on how they could be achieved.
Let's explore this in detail... What does an end to poverty actually mean for the global economic system? How do things need to change in order to meet this demand? By simply making the demand we may rasie the profile of the issue, we might raise some money through charity or philanthropy and we may even lift some people up out of poverty successfully. But these are all temporary fixes and the system that created the situation remains intact.
Without sight of an eventual destination – and a strategy for how to get there – the buzz that activist demands generate tends to fade as quickly as it rises.
Where are we going and how do we get there?
Traditional activism and advocacy lack this clear vision of the future. And crucially they also lack the necessary plan on how to get there.
Vision is the currency the great leaders of the past and the marketing kings of the present day trade in. Car companies do not demand we buy their cars, they present us a vision of a future where we, the consumer, have 'status' and 'independence'. And they do this by showing it to us visually (advertising, placement etc.) with clear cues on the actions required to bring it about (e.g. own the product).
Commercial demand is generated by painting a vision of life that is more appealing than the status quo: one that we can see in our mind’s eye and desire. This is inherently human and has driven all of the signficant advancement of human history. We had been envisioning a world where flying was possible many years before it was made real through invention - and this prior vision was essential to the dream becoming reality.
How? Because vision not only provides a destination to aim for, it also drives the creative process needed to make it happen. If we want to build the world’s tallest building we must first conceive it. We can then sketch out, explore, critique and revise. These iterative steps lead to plans and focussed action. The vision becomes reality.
Design the future
The change agenda is lacking this imaginative design step.
Even the way we refer to ourselves reflects this difficulty. Everyone working across all levels of advocacy and activism consistently use terms like 'impact', 'change', 'purpose' and 'progress'. What impact? What change? Progress towards what? These empty words fill the gap where the intention should be, while leaving these crucial questions unanswered.
While global movements such as Make Poverty History and Extinction Rebellion have performed amazing feats in recent decades getting the need for global change into the news agenda, they fall short of providing a visionary destination of what that change should be. The result is while we agree with the sentiment, we cannot imagine what such an alternative future looks like outside of the terms of reference of the current socio-economic system. This limits the potential for innovative design and constructive action to take place.
We must move beyond simply demanding change. The time has come to take the next step and envision what that change will look like – in detail, so that we can begin to design and create it.
We need to return to the drawing board and revise our current, largely capitalist, global system that has remained unchanged for too long.
To revise the system in a way that provides a vision of what a fair, regenerative and prosperous future looks like.
We need to design a new vision, a regenerative vision – a revision.