By Jeroen Robbe
A tool to use in trainings on effective organising. This spectogram sets up the conversation on how to meet people where they are and move them into action.
This is a simple exercise used to frame trainings on effective organizing. This spectrogram schema was originally created by Steve Hughes and then further adapted for use in trainings created by Steve Hughes and Tashy Endres. It can be adapted to any issue area.
The exercise is mapped onto a quadrant map designed to set up a conversation on how organizers should not blame people for not joining our movements, but rather do the work to meet people where they are at and move them into action. The exercise can be run online with interactive slides or in person having participants move their bodies on the spectogram laid out on the floor.
How Does This Tool Support Leaderful Movements?
Lao Tzu is sometimes cited in organizer trainings as saying,
The wicked leader is he who the people despise. The good leader is he who the people revere. The great leader is he who the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’
The idea that an organizer “leads from behind” is considered by some to be the ideal, and by others to be problematic. But the idea that the goal of organizing is to empower local communities to develop their own sense of agency is shared by all organizers. Yet all too often our movements can adopt a stance of either “saving” people, or blaming them for their lack of action (or action against us). This tool shines a mirror on the organizer. It sets up conversations in which she can think about what kind of leadership she is embodying, and to what end.
This spectogram exercise was developed as an opening exercise for trainings of organizers with the goal of setting up the conversation, “why organize?” But it also reflects back on organizers the ways in which they lead and build the leadership of others.
Online, the exercise can be done as an interactive slide, followed by discussion. In person, the facilitator can divide the room into four quadrants and then instruct participants to sort themselves in the direction of the answer(s) to the question that best reflects their feelings about why people don’t get involved in our movements. Once people have placed themselves on the spectogam, the facilitator can then draw out answers from different parts of the room.
There is a friendly trick embedded in the exercise. After the group has discussed their answers to the question for a while, the facilitator should pivot by saying something like, “what if all these answers are wrong?” From there, the facilitator should draw out a conversation about how we all too often tell ourselves stories about why “they” won’t get involved.
Rather than blame or excuse other people for their inaction, the organizer must work to meet people where they are and embody a form of leadership summed up in the words of Cesar Chavez, a founder and leader of the United Farm Workers in the United States:
You can’t give up, you have to keep trying and, when you fail, you must never blame the people. If you can’t get them to listen to you, if you can’t get them to come out for your cause, then it’s you who (is) doing something wrong.
Example from Climate Movement