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Nonprofit Management

Crafting Successful Influence Strategies: The Big Four

The second in a two-part series on how organizations can successfully influence change by eliminating blind spots that block progress.

Influence Strategies

A two-part series on developing effective stragety to avoid “blind spots” and create effective social change.

Developing a strong influence strategy requires thinking through four critical elements:

  1. A clear sense of the decision(s) that need to get made;
  2. An understanding of who makes these decision(s);
  3. An informed hypothesis about how the decision(s) will get made; and
  4. An understanding of how the organization can influence the decision-making process and a game plan for making that happen.

First, organizations need a clear sense of the decision(s) they want individuals, lawmakers, or other entities to make. Perhaps this is a behavior change, such as a person deciding to wear a seat belt or a bike helmet. Or a policy change that outlaws texting and driving. Or even a business decision, such as a company opting to offer transit benefits to employees. Or a series of decisions, such as becoming a more sustainable company.

Here are some questions that can help identify these decisions:

  • What decisions could realistically happen during a specific time period that will make a significant difference?
  • Have all the options been considered—policy change, citizen/consumer action, corporate action?
  • Are there capacity, resources, and expertise enough to influence all of the decisions identified, or is there a need to prioritize some over others?
  • Is there a strategic reason for ensuring the decisions happen in a specific order?

Next, organizations must identify who will make those decisions. Sometimes this is an obvious answer. In other situations, multiple potential decision makers are possibilities, and the group will need to make a strategic choice about which decision maker(s) to target. The most important thing to note is that people, not institutions, make decisions.

  • For each decision needed, who are the possible decision makers? Organizations should be able to name names—if they’re not sure who in an institution is best to focus on, that’s a good sign they need more research.
  • Of the possible decision makers, which one(s) are the most promising in terms of making decisions that benefit the organization’s change campaign?

Third, organizations need an informed hypothesis about how the decision(s) will get made. This is an art—not a science—but an organization needs a best guess hypothesis that will guide how the organization approaches everything from establishing a timeline to defining partners to developing compelling talking points. This will all be determined based on who is ultimately making the decision. It is critical for organization to have a clear understanding of the decision maker’s values, allegiances, preconceptions, and misconceptions. Without knowing what the decision maker may bring to the table, the organization’s change campaign may fall short. This is an area where nearly every group should spend more time. Here are some starter questions:

  • What is the impetus for making the decision?
  • If there is no impetus, can impetus be created?
  • What additional information will inform the decision?
  • Who will be consulted on the proposed decision?
  • What are the top considerations for making the decision?
  • What incentives does the decision maker have for making the decision the way the organization wants?
  • What are the disincentives or barriers?

Finally, organizations need to honestly assess their strengths, networks, reputation, and reach to decide if and how they can influence the decision-making process. Some questions to get insights on this:

  • Can it provide information based on what it suspects the decision maker will want to review prior to making a decision? For example, does it have a relevant research report or polling data? Will the information be deemed credible?
  • Is the organization or a staffer at the organization likely to be consulted, or does the group have connections to the people who will be consulted as the decision is getting made?
  • Does the organization represent constituencies the decision maker will listen to when making the decision? If not, can it partner with someone who does, or can it modify what the main considerations are?

For more questions and examples, check out the entire “Want Influence?” guide.

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