Assessing the Landscape

It is useful for campaigners to assess their political landscape as they go about setting their goals, and re-evaluating their plan.

The Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) framework is useful for helping you assess your political landscape.  This framework was originally developed for the business sector, but it is useful for advocacy groups as well.

So what do these terms mean?

The “S” and “W” of SWOT stand for your organization’s “strengths” and “weaknesses”.   For instance, your organization’s strength might be your membership base of 3000 people; your weakness might be your volatile funding stream.   “O” and “T” refer to external opportunities and threats that affect the issue overall, as well as your organization’s  ability to campaign.   Often, opportunities can be threats and vice versa.  For instance, the popularity and eventual election of conservative Rob Ford as Toronto Mayor posed a threat to progressives, environmentalists and unions.  The disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico gave climate groups an opportunity to draw attention to the pitfalls of investing and expanding in the oil industry.    Legislation and court decisions can also affect campaigns.

Once you’ve identified your SWOT, it can be useful to discuss and decide the two most important examples in each category.   It’s also useful to brainstorm a list of actions you could take to maximize your strengths and opportunities, and minimize your weaknesses and threats.    It’s useful to prioritize this list of possible actions as well because the reality is that you won’t have time to do all of them.

Here’s a document which lists some of the factors that influence the success and failure of campaigns.  This list draws on comprehensive empirical studies by William Gamson and John Kelly.  Gamson completed a long-term empirical study of 53 social movement organizations in order to identify factors that influence a group’s ability to achieve their publicly stated campaign goals. Brilliant.  Kelly uses union organizing drives to test the linkages between winning a campaign and a host of relevant factors including the use of certain types of tactics, employer resistance, and demographics.

You can download a PDF version of this SWOT analysis.





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