Engaging Our Network: Connecting story-based strategists for the win

What are you working on with CSS?

Lawrence Barriner II

Lawrence Barriner II

I’m researching and writing up some elements of a network engagement plan. The plan will eventually cover several branches of the network but the most significant focus I have right now is the alumni of the Advanced Training (AT). Speaking as an alum myself, I know that we are a critical constituency and many of us are wanting more!

To get info from the AT alum, under the guidance of the inimitable Felicia Perez, I crafted a ~10 minute digital survey. After a beta test a small sampling of AT alum (aka the CSS staff members), I put the survey out to ~200 AT alum.

Why are you doing this work?

“A living system is a learning system.” - Margaret Wheatley

Inspired by Margaret Wheatley (by way of Curtis Ogden and adrienne maree brown), I believe that all successful life must learn in order to survive. My work concerning the CSS network is really to engage that bigger question: How is the network of CSS learning? I also wonder how might it learn (harder) better, faster (stronger). And all of that is within the broader context of CSS’ mission: to build power through imagination and create shared narratives that support the movement of movements to ensure a Just Transition.

Another reason I’m doing this work is because, in my mind, the CSS network is a particularly important one in this moment. Right now, we (individuals, countries, our species) are in a moment where old narratives are very close to the surface. New ones are here and breaking through the cracks, but the old paradigm is doubling down and digging in hard. Given the power that (meta-)narrative has, it feels especially important to support the learning of narrative strategists. If we can change the stories people believe about reality, we change reality.

What have you seen so far?

Here are ten highlights from the survey. (If this stuff bores you, skip this section and get right to the recommendations!)

  1. The survey, sent out via Facebook and email, had a 13% response rate. 34 people responded out of the AT alum CSS has contact info for.

  2. 75% (25/34) of respondents came from 2015-2017 ATs

  3. Everyone who responded rated the quality of AT as a 7, 8 or 9 out of 9!

  4. People’s favorite parts of the AT were: the campaign labs, the people (trainers and trainees alike), making new personal and professional connections, the story-based strategy (SBS) tools, and having fun (dancing, laughing, music, playing).

  5. The top tools people remember are Battle of the Story, the Drama Triangle, Cornerstones, Fairytales, and Points of Intervention.

  6. The tools people have integrated into their work the most are Battle of the Story and Cornerstones. These two tools are the most clearly connected to strategic thinking.

  7. Of the new tools and experiments put out by CSS, Resistance Bingo, #the4thbox, and the SBS (Story-Based Strategy) 101 worksheet are the most seen, used, and shared.

  8. There is significant usage and demand for building shared strategy across people using the tools in different organizations.

  9. There are surprisingly few folks who said they use SBS in their direct action work. What does this say… about who's in trainings? about how people are doing organizing work? about how else people are implementing SBS? about what else is needed in terms of trainings and tools if so few respondents are using SBS in direct action?

  10. A significant number of folks love the tools but don't feel they have the time or capacity to integrate SBS into their work.

  11. (Ok, here’s a bonus one!) Less than 50% of the survey respondents said that Facebook works for them though an additional 30% said it sort of works for them.


If you could do it again, what would you do differently?

And as soon as the results started to come in, Felicia and I noticed a few glaring holes in the questions. The biggest two relate to important elements of the AT alum part of the CSS network: where are people living and which organizations are they working at now? Ugh. What a missed opportunity.

On a different note, as with all surveys, there is bias all over the place so it would be great to have a more extensive plan to correct for bias in the data. For example, there is selection bias in the overall rating of the training: the people who were likely to fill out the survey are also likely to have positive feelings about CSS and, therefore, the AT. It’s important to get information from people who don’t have positive feelings about their AT experience.

There is also a bias in the data because of most respondents coming from recent years. For example, one of the most popular campaign elements in the past few years has been the campaign labs. But trainings before 2015 didn’t have campaign labs so the data is therefore skewed by differences in the training. It’s also skewed by the fact that alum from trainings farther back probably remember less detail about their AT. It would be nice in the future to do targeted outreach to AT alum from earlier years and see what information they might contribute about the pre-2015 trainings.

What’s coming up next for this work?

My curiosity right now is driven by a simple question: Does connecting story-based strategists change the pace at which the world moves towards justice? There are many storytellers, whether they recognize it or not, who are currently in a battle to control the popular imagination. How do we ensure that the broadest story of inclusion and justice is the most salient message?

That curiosity sets up a work arc to me that looks like: (a) supporting the network to see itself (as individuals working in different contexts and as a whole network), (b) supporting deeper/more connection between AT alums, and (c) supporting action and learning in the network. I like to start small so if you’re an AT alum and have ideas that fit in one of those lanes, get in touch! lawrence@storybasedstrategy.org

Thanks for reading,

Lawrence Barriner II

PS - Congratulations to Ash Lauth on winning the survey prize of a $150 gift card + CSS goodies. Ash, if you’re out there, feel free to send back a photo of the goodies you got and/or what you did the money (if you want)!