When starting a group or action, it is important to become acquainted with your activist surroundings. Are there other groups either doing the same project or doing something similar? Is it more appropriate to begin a new group or action and ally with another group, or is it more appropriate to join a group already doing the work you wish to do. It can be very frustrating as an activist to be working on a project, only for another group to appear, and without ever approaching you or your group, begin doing a similar, if not exact same project. This can result in burnout, intergroup hostilities in place of ally-ship, and duplication and watering down of work rather than solidification and coalition building.
What follows is a sample community impact survey/needs assessment survey, with sample questions that may help you in starting.
First, locate groups or people doing similar work to what you wish to do and meet with them to discuss your shared goals. Sometimes asking 4 to 6 thoughtful questions is enough; other situations will call for more or less.
1. Would your proposed project/group supplement the work of existing organizations and groups, or just replicate existing work?
As stated earlier, this question is to ensure you don’t ignore existing groups’ work, or talk over them. However, this question can help build a two-prong attack on the issue, and develop how two or more groups can strategically combat an issue.
2. Can your positionality offer the other organizations something?Can you do something they can’t or aren’t able to?
Many times, student groups can pilot or try new things an organization can’t, or are constrained/unconstrained by formal university sanctions in different ways.
3. Who else is working on this? Who else should be involved?
This question can help you locate more allies and resources, and helps you avoid talking over already existing groups and projects.
Existing groups have been working on the issues for longer than a new group and can help offer you guidance in methods and tactics that have been successful or unsuccessful. These conversations can often help lead to brainstorming for new ideas as well.
5. What strategies are appropriate? What strategies are the other group using, and what strategies should be implemented?
Enables a discussion on ethical activism for the community, and again helps formulate a strategic plan.
6. What are our end goals? Are our end goals separate or the same?
Helps facilitates terms of ally-ship: whether it is a long-term alliance, or an in the moment strategic alliance. Also can help your group or project fully develop its end goals.
In doing a community impact survey before beginning a group or project, it is important not just to ask the questions but to be willing to hear what other people have to say. Just because a problem isn’t solved does not mean that t no one is doing work on the issue. Other groups may be working long-term; do not dismiss them or their work because they have not immediately solved a problem.
Other resources to use in putting together a community impact survey are the University of Kansas’ Community Tool Box’s very in-depth toolkits on Creating and Maintaining Partnerships[i], Assessing Community Needs and Resources[ii], and Analyzing Problems and Goals[iii]. Doing a single community impact survey with one group or organization can often lead to further resources as well. For instance, in putting together this section, I spoke with Lee Scriggins, head of Strategies and Communication for CU Boulder’s Community Health, who directed me to further resources, and helped me refine my questions.
After you’ve completed a community impact survey, and have begun your activism, keep this worksheet in mind. What levels of activism are you currently engaged in? Can you deepen your forms of activism? What is appropriate at the moment? What else can you be doing, and what other approaches to combating the issue can you undertake?
Coming Up with your Vision
Important in finding your vision is building from prior movements. As discussed in the historiography, the cycle of movements and organizations is important to be aware of. Acknowledge what movements have got you, (not only their failures but their success and gains), and what has worked or not worked in the past. This is also a time to bring in the Community Impact Survey, and figure out how your group can fit in within the larger community, and what you can bring to the arena.
Afterwards decide on how you want to make your vision – what actions do you wish to undertake in doing your activism.
What are we moving away from, what are we moving towards?
[i] University of Kansas Community Tool Box, http://ctb.ku.edu/en/creating-and-maintaining-partnerships
[ii] University of Kansas Tool Kit, http://ctb.ku.edu/en/assessing-community-needs-and-resources
[iii][iii] University of Kansas Tool Kit, http://ctb.ku.edu/en/analyzing-problems-and-goals