In most social-change situations there is a struggle between those who want the change and those who don’t.
If we think about Australia’s Marriage Equality Campaign as an example, on the one hand, there are people who are active supporters of the change—Think the vibrant young passionate LGBTIQ+ identifying folks at the rallies handing out posters and asking you to sign petitions – these are not just people who believe in the change but people who are taking actions to make it a reality.
On the other hand, there are people who are active opposers, people who actively take actions to prevent the change – think of Tony Abbot.
In social change work, we often are focussed on those two groups — yet most people – majority of Australian’s, were somewhere between. They were neither active supporters, or active opposers. This spectrum of allies illustrates this point.
The goal of the spectrum of allies is to identify different people—or specific groups of people—in each category, then design actions and tactics to move them one wedge to the left. This can include who you target with which kinds of stories you need for your social change campaign.
In each wedge you can place different individuals, (be specific) groups or institutions. Moving from left to right, identify your active allies: people who agree with you and are working along side you; your passive allies are folks who agree with you but aren’t going to do anything about it; neutrals, the fence sitters & the unengaged; passive opposition: people who disagree with you but aren’t trying to stop you; and finally your active opposition.
So, for example, my partners mother was a passive ally. She though my partner and I should be able to get married but was not actively involved in the campaign. So we “targeted her (and other members of the family) to become active – and they did – they wrote letters to their local MP’s – spoke to their friends about the vote and how important it was to tick a box and send it back.
The neutral people – like my mother-in-law’s partner – he was a fence sitter. He would have dinner with us, chat with us, but this whole marriage equality thing – who cares if queers can get married or not! He’s not married.
So we targeted him – told him stories of why it was important on a personal level, on a community level – and we won him over and he voted in the survey.
Some people only work with active allies, building insular self referential, marginalised subcultures that are disconnected to everyone else. Others think everyone is in the last wedge as active opposition behaving as if the whole world is against them, or that they need to overpower them to become active allies. But these approaches are likely to fail.
Movements win not by overpowering their active opposition, but shifting the power out from underneath them. So think about who your target audience is and what you need to do to shift them across? Think about how to get your passive allies to become active – your neutrals to be passive allies. Work on ways to get your passive opposition to neutral, and your active opposition to passive opposition.
And remember – this can be used on individuals as we did, but also communities, organisations and institutions.
*I am not sure who developed this tool and it is one I consider an important one for the toolkit. My knowledge of this tool comes from the Centre of Story Based Strategy and it is in Beautiful Trouble.