IMG_0737The fingers? Yes.  Obviously, but…

What about the spaces in between?  The hand is a system comprised of fingers and the spaces in between.  The fingers don't exist without the spaces in between.  Without the spaces in between the fingers wouldn't fulfill their potential.

Community organizers, social entrepreneurs and solution based advocates, specialize in the spaces in between.

The 'fingers' of social change are easy to spot – the law, the committee hearings, the Minister, the briefing document, the press release, the website, the coalition, the Task Force recommendations.  Tangible, predictable, what we've always paid attention to.

The spaces in  between aren't as obvious. The connection between your issue and other issues the government is addressing. The relationship among staff in a bureaucracy; between the Minister and his staff; between the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues.  The personal connection between a decision maker and your issue.  The relationship you have with your supporters. The connection between your issue and the concerns of potential allies.  The 'bent' of the media you are counting on to cover your campaign.  What else is happening in the world – a terror scare, sub-prime mortgage defaults, the ageing of baby boomers, political resignation.  In other words, the larger pattern, how things connect, the context.

Every political decision making system is… a system.  As such the interconnections and relationships are as critical to its performance as the spaces in between are for your hand.  The reports, policies, Deputy Ministers, organizational allies don't exist without the interconnections among them.

Systems thinking suggests the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of their relationship with each other.

Next time you are developing strategies and tactics make sure you connect the dots. If you want the specifics of your issue to be addressed:

  • understand how each part of a political decision making system influences the other
  • understand the parts in relation to the whole
  • understand how your 'whole' relates to other 'wholes'
  • pay equal attention to the informal relationships and interconnections.

Otherwise your solution, like the hand above, may not live up to its potential and may just turn into a stone artifact!

NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series on Solution Based advocacy.  You can click on the category to the right of your screen to access previous posts.

One Comment

  1. Erin Holland

    Hi Al
    I just came across this poem and thought of your post. You point out that the spaces in between can the relationships, the connections, and the context of your advocacy efforts. For the writer of this poem, I think the spaces are a little different – but your analogy/interpretation also applies quite well to an image of fire, fuelled by logs, but also by the “spaces in between.”
    Fire
    What makes a fire burn
    is space between the logs,
    a breathing space.
    Too much of a good thing,
    too many logs
    packed in too tight
    can douse the flames
    almost as surely
    as a pail of water would.
    So building fires
    requires attention
    to the spaces in between,
    as much as to the wood.
    When we are able to build
    open spaces
    in the same way
    we have learned
    to pile on the logs,
    then we can come to see how
    it is fuel, and the absence of the fuel
    together, that make fire possible.
    We only need to lay a log
    lightly from time to time.
    A fire
    grows
    simply because the space is there,
    with openings
    in which the flame
    that knows just how it wants to burn
    can find its way.
    –Judy Brown

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