What Resources are Used by Human Rights Defenders to Create Effective Strategies?

Conversation Details

Conversation type: 

Strategic thinking is a discipline used in all types of work. In order to build a house, you need a plan. In order to win votes to get elected for a political position, you need a plan. Human rights work is no exception - in order to make change, you need a plan (and hopefully, it’s a good one!).

At New Tactics in Human Rights, we strive to be the go-to-place for human rights defenders to learn about strategy and tactics. So far, we have:

  1. Built a collection of over 200 innovative human rights tactics from all over the world.  This collection shows how tactics have been used to advance a strategic goal to make an impact.
  2. Built an online community where more than 1000 human rights defenders have shared their tactical experience, knowledge and ideas to advance their human rights efforts.  

Now is the time for us to build a collection of strategic-thinking resources and tools for human rights defenders to help in the selection and application of successful tactics. We have been working closely with human rights defenders in the Middle East and North Africa region to share a methodology to apply strategy and tactics to human rights work, and we are eager to share with you the tools we’ve been using (coming soon).

We also know that many others have been developing and using tools and resources, some that have been shared online. New Tactics in Human Rights would like to collect and share these resources on our website. We want your help in identifying what you have found to be really useful in your work.

Chess boardWe have identified these key elements that are involved in creating a strategy:

  • Identify the problem
  • Create a vision
  • Map the terrain
  • Find your allies
  • Choose your target
  • Identify goals
  • Exploring tactics
  • Select your tactics
  • Implement your tactics
  • Train your team
  • Assess the impact
  • Self-care and security

(And if you're interested to see what we've found so far, take a look at these resources that relate to the key elements above.)

In your own human rights work, and considering the key elements listed above:

  • What resources and tools are out there that are being used by human rights defenders to develop strategy and apply tactics?
  • What have you used (or borrowed from another discipline) that has worked well?
  • What hasn’t worked so well?
  • What resources are missing that need to be developed?

New Tactics greatly appreciates these opportunities to share ideas and experiences with such a generous, creative and collaborative network of human rights defenders and organizations! Thank you so much for your input. Share your thoughts and ideas by adding a comment below.

Thank you!

Kristin Antin - New Tactics Online Community Builder


[Image by jpverkamp]


Thanks for kicking off this conversation Kristin! The list of resources that New Tactics has already collated is excellent. 

One tool I like for selecting tactics is the Tactic Star from Beyond the Choir. It asks a number of questions to check if a tactic is appropriate - these questions are also great for clarifying strategy. Many times action groups start discussing tactics without a clear strategy. It's important to get the strategy sorted first and then pick the tactics (a tool like the Change Agency's tactics criteria is excellent). But if I was working with a group who were under a lot of time pressure and needed to act, the Tactics Star would be very useful to ensure the selected tactic met the needs of campaign in terms of pressuring targets, communicating messages, setting the right tone etc. 

Check it out here

Holly Hammond, Plan to Win 

I love the Tactic Star! Thanks for sharing this, Holly. I completely agree that it's important (crucial) to know your strategy before you consider tactics, but sometimes groups already know their strategy and they just need a few tools to help them explore, select and implement tactics. The Tactic Star is a great tool for selecting the right tactic. Here are a few others that we found:

Exploring tactics

Select your tactics

Implement your tactics

What other tools are out there related to these strategy elements? Any tools out there to evaluate the impact of specific tactics?

I'd also like to find out what metaphors people and trainers use to explain the relationship between strategy and tactics. We have used the metaphor of a mountain - that it requires a number of tactics to implement your strategy, and each strategy helps you reach your goal (each base camp is a goal). Ultimately, with the right strategies, you'll be able to reach the top of the mountain (your vision). What metaphors have you used?

Thanks for sharing your ideas!

I routinely use the metaphor of a staircase for campaign strategy.

It's especially good for differentiating between objectives (the changes you want to create in the world, the places you want to land ie the steps - noun) versus tactics (the things you will do to create change, actions you'll take ie the action of taking a step - verb). 

You can draw a diagram to include many of the elements of strategy, including vision, goals (larger landings on your staircase), timeline etc. Here's the diagram - I tend to draw this up on butcher's paper or whiteboard as we talk through the different elements. 

I like all the journey metaphors. Different journeys work for different groups, especially depending on the geography they are in! So it could be a mountain, like you've shared, or a boat trip for island communities, or a road trip or maybe a subway map or... lots of options. The staircase is a journey itself which seems to translate for many groups.

Thanks, Holly! We also use journey metaphors - climbing a mountain is one we've used. We've also used a diagram very similar to your staircase but we don't call it a stair case (which is something I think we should start doing because then people can relate to it).

I think the journey metaphor is very applicable because the idea is that if you want to get from point A to point B, you need a plan - which includes a strategy, tactics, goals, etc. It's about achieving your goal in a strategic way and solving a problem.

Thanks, Holly! I hope others will share their metaphors, diagrams, animations, videos etc that they have used to explain the relationship between strategy and tactics.

- Kristin Antin, Online Community Builder


A strength of geographical metaphors is that there are different possible journeys to take to get to the top of a mountain. This ties in to developing a critical path, where there may be a number of possible paths from the current situation to the desired outcome. 

For example, for a community attempting to stop the building of a coal-fired power station:

  • One path may be about getting the government to deny a license for the station to be built. 
  • Another path may be about getting the banks or other investors to remove the finance for the power station. 
  • Another path may be about raising the costs of construction through nonviolent direct action at the site, until it is not viable for the station to be built. 

.... etc. Plotting these paths out can help a group decide which path is likely to be most effective, and which target is the best to pressure (eg a government minister; one particular finance institution; shareholders on the company etc). Allies in the campaign may focus on other paths, creating a 'death by a thousand cuts' situation. 

I have also been working with groups to plot out the paths that opponents need to take to successfully meet their goals. This can help identify the 'weak links' or 'pressure points' the campaign can exploit. 

For more info see the Change Agency's Critical Path Analysis tool. Andrew Willis Garces has a creative variation which helps clarify a range of strategic elements - Strategic Planning Road Trip.

Holly Hammond, Plan to Win

Some other tools I recommend come from the Center for Story-based Strategy toolbox, including:

The Battle of the Story - a tool for undertaking 'narrative power analysis' ie analysing the story of your opponent and developing your campaign's competing story. See the book 'Re:Imagining Change' for more details and the worksheet here

Points of Intervention - ie 'a physical or conceptual place within a system where pressure can be put to disrupt its smooth functioning and push for change.' For example the point of production, consumption, destruction, decision or assumption. Canvassing all the options allows a group to identify the point with most impact, to focus tactics. See Points of Intervention on Beautiful Trouble and the worksheet here.


Holly Hammond, Plan to Win