Thursday, September 01, 2016

Part Three: So You Want to be a Space Advocate?

 Varying the Characters and Narrative to Move the Story Forward

                   By Chuck Black
An earlier version of this article was presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014. 
Its thesis is that successful advocacy requires:
  • Strong media skills able to define the problem, craft a compelling narrative and define appropriate solutions.
  • A mechanism to move the narrative forwards by solving the defined problem using those previously identified solutions. 
  • A funding network willing to pay for the costs associated with the campaign. 
The question of whether or not those three conditions apply in our current aerospace and space environment is open for debate.

The only real difference between a storyteller and an advocate (or any other type of sales-person) is that an advocate uses a “call to action” to support the goals of the advocacy and encourage people to move from awareness towards crafting a solution.

But the requirements to facilitate advocacy goals and the tone and texture of the stories needed to move an advocacy campaign forward tend to change in subtle ways over time.

The front cover of "Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements." Cover c/o New Society Publishers.

One of the best chronicles of these subtle changes is “Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements.” [i]

The book, written by activist Bill Moyer and co-authored by JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley and Steven Soifer, summarizes theories of social change by using case studies from the anti-nuclear, civil rights, gay and lesbian, breast cancer and other historical global activist movements.

The key to the book is its postulation of an overarching methodology which both describes how social activism works and acts as a score-sheet to define the success of any specific campaign.

Called the Movement Action Plan (MAP), the MAP defines four roles which activists need to play effectively in order to move their activities forward [ii] and eight stages on the road to success which activists need pass in order to progress their social movement [iii].

According to MAP, the four roles an activist needs to cultivate include:
  • The citizen, who articulates a vision of the favored outcome, understands and combats official attempts to discredit the campaign and encourages its legitimacy in the eyes of the general public.
  • The rebel, who puts issues on society's agenda to highlight the gap between what is and what could be.
  • The social change agent, who nurtures the emerging public consensus growing out of any successful activism campaign, builds communication channels between stakeholders and promotes a long-term perspective of the issues. 
  • The reformer, who uses institutional means of getting real change, leads in building a dialogue with the existing stakeholders and acts as the interface between the advocacy movement and the public.
It’s worth noting that the first two of the roles focus mainly on ideas, while the second two focus on the actions required to turn the ideas into lasting changes.

The MAP also defines eight distinct stages to be passed through in the typical activist campaign. They are:
  • Normal times: Where the problem may or may not exist but action is certainly not on anyone’s agenda and the public is essentially unaware of the issue.
  • An initial attempt to prove the failure of official institutions to deal with the recently noticed problem: At this stage, grassroots opposition attempts to prove that the official institutions/ channels support the status quo, discourage useful change and that this lack of useful change is bad or unproductive, in some way shape or form. 
  • A perception of the worsening of conditions often caused by new evidence of the severity of the problem: At this stage, there is normally rising grassroots discontent with both the situation and the traditional community leaders. Upsetting events normally gain public attention at this stage, often in a way which summarizes, defines and/or encapsulates the problem to the public.
  • The take-off of the issue: This begins at the point where the advocacy issue has grown into the public consciousness and become perceived of as something which must be dealt with. At this point, opposition often crystalizes into a “movement,” with unique terminology understood by both members and by the general public.
  • A perception of failure: This is usually caused by the lack of tangible, overt progress even as a broader consensus begins to emerge.
  • Majority public opinion: This occurs when the movement transforms from protest in crisis to long-term struggle with traditional stakeholders to win public majority approval to change and/or oppose current policies. At this point, the growing movement’s position is increasingly adopted by mainstream society.
  • Achieving alternatives to ameliorate or cure the original problem: At this point, the debate shifts from opposing present policies to the discussion of useful alternatives to adopt. This usually happens amidst a growing public passion for change and the perception among traditional stakeholders that it is less costly to create new policies than continue with the old ones.
  • Continuing the struggle: Now that the paradigm has been successfully created, the activists normally act to entrench, protect and extend any successes that were achieved.
The book also includes sections on democracy, power, power-holder strategy and the typical strategies used by movements advocating for social change. It even compares the MAP strategy to “nine popular models of social movements that are taught at universities.”

This suggests that there are a great many ways to define and categorize the success of activists and movements. [iv] Space activists and advocates would certainly be well served by learning more about them and utilizing their concepts in space focused advocacy campaigns.

Now that we've formulated a theoretical base to understand activism, it's time to move on to some practical examples relevant to space activists. This will be the subject of our next post.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

[i] "Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements" by Bill Moyer, with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley and Steven Soifer. New Society Publishers, 2001. 
[ii]  Ibid.
[iii] Ibid. 
[iv] Ibid. 
Last Week: Defining Advocacy in Part Two of of "So You Want to be a Space Advocate."

Next Week: Why the Activism of the 1970's US Pro-Space Movement Didn't Work, as Part Four of "So You Want to be a Space Advocate" continues!

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