A Shared Vocabulary

In order to have functioning conversations around strategy we must use the same words.

Below are some words and their defintions you may come across:

Short Definitions

Alphabetically ordred

  • backfiring - recoiling of an action back on its originator, causing an effect opposite to that intended - e.g. When given extensive publicity, extreme police brutality (Sharpeville, Birmingham Campaign) can create widespread sympathy for the victims’ cause.
  • complex (adaptive) system - In a complex system the interaction among parts of the system, and the interaction between the system and its environment, are such that the system as a whole cannot be fully understood simply by analysing its components. Brains, natural languages and social systems are complex systems. Complex systems are characterised by non-linear relationships: small changes can cause them to flip from one configuration to another.
  • consensus theories of power - According to these theories, power resides principally in sovereigns or elite regimes, which are maintained principally by the consent of the subjugated people. Effective non-violent resistance should therefore aim to bring about the withdrawal of this consent by means of a clear refusal to cooperate.
  • emergent strategy - the pattern of actions and campaigns that we actually undertake, rather than the one we say, think, or intend to undertake. To be effective, this pattern must emerge from repeated ‘tests’ or cycles of action and reflection that aim to identify potentials for change already present in our complex social systems.
  • intermediate strategic goal - how a particular action or campaign will cause specified people to act in a specified way. Intermediate goals are stepping stones to the achievement of overarching goals.
  • linear relationships / non-linear relationships - The relationship between the number of ballot papers in a ballot box and the weight of the ballot box is a linear relationship - the more papers, the more grams on the scale when you weigh the box. The relationship between the proportion of votes cast for e.g. Biden and the majority held by Democrats in Congress is non-linear. In non-linear relationships, a small change can make a big difference and a big change can make a small difference.
  • North Star - overall purpose and ambition: - what the world would be like if we succeed.
  • overarching strategic goal - The UK Strategy Assembly reviews and defines XRUK’s overarching strategic goals in a regular series of cycles. These overarching goals will provide a common direction to our decentralised rebellion.
  • regenerative action cycle - looking after ourselves and each other following an action phase: ensuring regeneration happens as part of the next cycle. (Principle & Value 4)
  • (ideological) spectrum lines - If you asked all XRUK rebels to say how strongly they agree that disrupting the public (as opposed to disrupting power-holders) is essential for achieving our strategic goals, they would spread along a line ranging from strong agreement to strong disagreement. This is normal. Similar ‘tension lines’ exist between principled and tactical non-violence, consensual and structural theories of power, etc.
  • strategic goal - what we want to achieve as a movement during a cycle of campaigning (overarching / intermediate strategic goals) usually expressed as causing a specified group of people to act in a specified way. E.g. influencers speak out in support of XR; a majority of MPs support the CEE bill.
  • strategy - our (long-term) goals and how we aim to achieve them in our context. A long-term and ‘big picture’ framework for designing campaigns and actions.
  • strategy cycle (or iteration) - a cycle of reflection on the effects of previous actions, changes in the movement and changes in the strategic landscape, using movement-wide learning to review and reset strategic goals, planning and action. (Principle & Value 5)
  • structural theories of power - According to these theories, sovereign power has largely been replaced by forms of power reproduction that reside in socio-economic relations and cultural practices (e.g. ‘common sense’ as embodied in language). Effective resistance requires an awareness of how these structures are mutually reinforcing manifestations of domination, exploitation and oppression, such as patriarchy, racism and extractive capitalism.
  • tactical objective - what we want to achieve on the ground in a specific action as a means to achieving strategic goals, usually expressed by the tactics used to achieve it. E.g. using social media to assemble large crowds outside constituency offices of local MPs
  • tactics - specific actions to help us achieve our strategic goals; methods used, e.g. dialogue, hunger strike, poster campaign, road blockade, withholding taxes.
  • vision - fuller expression of our North Star, that unifies our movement and inspires others by its moral appeal.

Deeper Thoughts

Strategy

Here is one definition of strategy:

  1. “Strategy is the path I take to reach my goal.”

Here is another:

  1. “Strategy is a mental tapestry of changing intentions for harmonizing and focusing our efforts as a basis for realizing some aim or purpose in an unfolding and often unforeseen world of many bewildering events and many contending interests.”

And here is another:

  1. “Strategy is the art of manipulating an environment to gain a desirable outcome.”

While Definition 1 may appeal in its simplicity, it makes some big assumptions.

It assumes that:

  • we can lay down a path now, which will lead us into a future we can predict
  • all the intervening events which may obstruct that pathway have been foreseen and accounted for
  • changes in ourselves along the way will not render this route impossible or another route preferable
  • everybody journeying with us to reach the same destination will be able and happy to follow the same path

In the complex contexts of movement growth and political action, these are very big assumptions.

Definition 2 improves on this.

It takes into account that we will change over time and that events will occur that cause us to reassess and adjust our approach continuously (not just once a year!).
It also allows for different people, with slightly different ideas, all working towards the same goal by harmonising their efforts.

It has the drawback, though, of being a little too passive. It seems to give the feel of being in a cinema, watching events unfold on a screen, and not actually influencing the action ourselves.
Additionally it is not the easiest phrasing for people to understand and engage with.

Definition 3 corrects this.

Our actions change the environment. For example, when we succeed in shifting the Overton window (Demand 1), we have changed the political environment in a way that makes our next demands easier to achieve.


Tactics

There are many ways of contrasting strategy and tactics. Here are some examples randomly fished from the internet:

Strategy Tactics
planning doing
large scale smaller scale
Why? How?
difficult to copy easy to copy
long timeframe short timeframe
Strategy Plan Tactics
The plan and framework to help you achieve long-term goals. It includes the approach and answers the question Why? Details of what you are going to do within the strategic plan and framework. How you are going to execute the plan that supports the strategy. This includes specific actions to help you achieve the desired goals.

These categorical definitions are useful as rough guides, but at the same time, in trying to draw definite boundaries between these terms, they can obscure as much as they illuminate. Notice, for example, how the word ‘plan’ occurs in each of the three definitions given above. There is, in fact, no getting away from the fact that “strategy”, “tactics”, and “plans” are words we use in heavily overlapping ways, and this is because these things overlap in practice.


Tactical Objectives / Stategic Goals

In general, a tactical objective is to successfully create an event with political potential:

  • a message, a meeting, a demonstration, an act of non-violent resistance, disruption in a public space, a symbolic happening or a combination of these.

Tactical objectives are always dedicated to achieving strategic goals:

  • in general, getting people to behave differently to how they are currently behaving.

A strategic goal first identifies WHO we want to influence, and second, WHAT we want them to do. In other words, a strategic goal has the following pattern:

to cause a specified audience to act in a specified way.

For example, if the overarching strategic goal is to get a 3.5% of UK citizens to become active in their support of climate action, an intermediate strategic goal might be to cause influencers and members of the public (with whom many will identify) to speak out in support of our truth. One tactical objective that might serve both these strategic goals could be holding outreach demonstrations across the country.

Notice that the line of reasoning above started with the strategic goals. This is because tactics should always be a servant of strategy, so planning should always follow the sequence:

overarching strategic goal → intermediate strategic goal → tactical objective

OVERARCHING STRATEGIC GOAL INTERMEDIATE STRATEGIC GOAL TACTICAL OBJECTIVE
cause a specified audience to act in a specified way cause a specified audience to act in a specified way tactical and messaging operation that will do this
One million people in the UK come into active support of XR. Members of the public and influencers present at XR demonstrations speak in support of XR’s aims. Organise and hold large peaceful outreach demonstrations in city centres.

Here are some more examples:

OVERARCHING STRATEGIC GOAL INTERMEDIATE STRATEGIC GOAL TACTICAL OBJECTIVE
The overwhelming majority of influencers comply with Demand 1: ‘Tell the Truth’ Consumers of mainstream media start questioning their coverage of the CEE. Blockade print works of a media tycoon with fossil fuel interests.
OVERARCHING STRATEGIC GOAL INTERMEDIATE STRATEGIC GOAL TACTICAL OBJECTIVE
The government acknowledges the emergency and brings its zero-carbon targets forward by ten years. Members of parliament and media influencers acknowledge the relevance and urgency evoked by symbolic messaging. Stage symbolic actions, such as houses floating down the Thames, to accompany news of flooding nationwide.
OVERARCHING STRATEGIC GOAL INTERMEDIATE STRATEGIC GOAL TACTICAL OBJECTIVE
The government sets up a citizens’ assembly empowered to decide how emergency legislation is to be enacted. Citizens’ groups, councils and other bodies become advocates for the democratic potential of citizens’ assemblies. Organise workshops, online trainings and sessions in which local communities debate issues using citizens’ assemblies.

As can be seen from these examples, good strategic planning means deciding the strategic goal(s) first, and then designing actions, messaging and other interventions that will enhance the possibility that the goal is achieved.

A joined-up approach to strategy should follow this planning sequence:

In line with the overarching strategic goals, which will have been carefully and specifically defined in the current iteration of XRUK’s Overarching Strategy:

  1. Decide who you want to influence and
    • what you want them to do (political and strategic assessment).
  2. Decide on the kind of intervention(s) that will achieve this (at this stage of the overarching strategy), and
    • Design action(s) and messaging that cause the specified audience to act in the specified way (i.e. actions that are strategically effective).
  3. Observe our movement - our strengths, capacities, and where groups are on the regenerative cycle.
  4. Observe the strategic landscape (weather, climate, other events of significance, the strategies of other players).
  5. Put the interventions into operation at the most suitable time.