Last week we posted a piece about the importance of theory as it relates to the mission and strategy of your nonprofit organization. This week we’re going to take a closer look at how do theory step-by-step. Charlotte Bunch, an organizer and human rights activist, created a model for theory that includes four parts and ends with strategy.
- Description: “Describing what exists” may sound like an easy task, but we can describe an environment or situation in many different ways and each way leads us to create unique theories for how to make change. Bunch uses the example of oppression and how in the past the oppression many minorities faced was not acknowledged but as human rights movements began to use language to frame these problems in a new way more people were able to understand this upsetting reality. It is hard to create change when we have yet to describe the problem.
- Analysis: Once we have described the reality then we must “[analyze] why that reality exists”. This means “determining its origins and the reasons for its perpetuation”. Bunch again uses the example of oppression to explain how analysis works. By asking questions like, which groups benefit from oppression? we can begin to understand why groups would want to maintain the current system. Bunch reminds us that there is not usually one root cause for a problem and analysis helps us pinpoint the different factors that contribute to a problem so we have a complex understanding of why something exists the way it does.
- Vision: “Determining what should exist” is the next step in theory. What shapes our values and ideas of reality and what do we want that reality to look like in the future? Then we can begin to create specific goals for our vision. Bunch advises that we focus on examining our principles so we are consistent in making decisions about what we want.
- Strategy: “Hypothesizing how to change what is to what should be” allows us to enact change in our communities. Bunch suggests “that we draw out the consequences of our theory and suggest general directions for change”. By gathering information, brainstorming ideas, and imagining how those ideas would work in action while we think about what we learned from the Description, Analysis, and Vision steps we are finally able to make change in the world around us in a meaningful way. Strategy is both the planning process and the implementation process. As we do more in the community, we find out what is productive and useful and that influences our strategy moving forward.