A DIY Guide to Institutional Change for Racial Equity
Step 4 - Make a Plan and Stay Organized
Organizing is exhausting precisely because it requires planning long before you have sufficient information. It is impossible to be prepared for every eventuality and there will be moments you didn't prepare for, developments that sneak up on you. This can be emotionally devastating. While this section calls for you to make plans, try not to feel bad when and if they fall through.
4 - A. Make a timeline.
To keep yourself organized, sketch out a timeline with major decision points.
Do this as early as possible. Institutional change takes time. But justice delayed is justice denied. Institutions are experts at foot-dragging. You have to be able to tell the difference between delay designed to wear enthusiasm down and the time needed for ideas to percolate through the institution. It isn't always easy. The more you work on institutional change, the more you understand how an institution works, the more reasonable delay will seem. You'll start to become invested in the formalities and might even believe institutional leadership when they say a reasonable change is impossible because of a procedural rule, as if rules and procedures are not human made. For example, when confronted with evidence that their entrance assessment is disproportionately eliminating Black applicants, a fellowship program claimed that the proper procedures for modifying the assessment would take several years. This may appear reasonable but remember that procedure is supposed to protect people from arbitrary harm. Yet if harm is already occurring, mindlessly following procedure becomes a delay tactic.
Use dates or triggering events as points on the timeline. I use the term 'timeline' loosely. It might be on the scale of weeks and months. Or you might want to organize your timeline in terms of triggering events (i.e. If the demand letter is ignored, then we will issue a public statement. If there is no measurable progress on these three demands by the end of the year, then we will escalate up to the Board of Directors to ask for oversight.).
Each institution is different but here are some general guidelines for what to put on this timeline, keeping in mind not everyone will be comfortable with all of these steps or feel safe engaging in them:
4 - B. Define and clarify roles.
People will come to the project of institutional change with different comfort levels with conflict, from different positions within the institutional structure. As long as everyone is committed to the end goal of achieving racial equity, a range of views and preferences is beneficial. But keep tabs on who is filling what role. These don’t have to be written down, nor do they have to be static, but it is easier to strategize with some sense of what people are comfortable doing, what tactical role they're filling. To get you started, here are some possible roles, keeping in mind they need to be adapted to fit the institution:
4 - C. Set up structure but not hierarchy.
This is related to the point about defining roles but is a bit more involved. Structure allows clear division of responsibility and helps with strategic planning. But structure does not require hierarchy. For instance, someone needs to facilitate meetings, but the role can rotate. Structure actually offers flexibility and freedom because it helps to ensure everyone is clear on their responsibilities and makes efficient coordination possible. Note that being in a coalition without hierarchy doesn't mean that there are no leaders. Being part of a leaderless movement requires everyone to be a leader.
4 - D. Take advantage of galvanizing moments.
Structural change tends to happen all at once rather than incrementally, when the relevant population is galvanized into action. It is difficult to predict when these moments occur. But staying organized has two benefits. First, it creates conditions that are more conducive to these galvanizing moments. Second, staying organized helps lay the groundwork so that these moments can be harnessed to move structural changes ahead.
4 - E. Run effective meetings.
Meetings are often seen as the peak of bureaucratic torture but face to face interaction is also how we form the human connections that allow us to begin and sustain movements for change. When they go right, they can galvanize people into action, channel passion into concrete action, generate consensus and buy in. Meetings result in deadlines, which can lead to momentum. Running effective meetings does not mean there won’t be times when they go off the rails. Sometimes the nature of collective action is chaos. That being said, here are some basic principles to channel that chaos:
4 - F. Example of a meeting agenda.
I. Administrative matters (5 mins)
i. Goal: communicate form and function of the meeting, which is to outline a plan for pushing reform
iii. Explain how the meeting will run
a. Progressive stack might be implemented if necessary
b. This meeting is goal oriented so we will try to stick to estimated timing
II. Refine asks (10 mins)
i. Goal: Explore outer bonds of our demands and refine them into concrete proposals
ii. Use demand letter as a starting point
iii. Articulate the main demands
iv. Any additional demands?
v. Establish buy in on finalized list (to be shared with/ratified by other allies)
III. Strategy discussion (30 mins)
i. Goal: resolve strategy questions and settle on a rough schedule (again, to be ratified by those not at the meeting) for escalation if demands are ignored
ii. Discrete strategy questions
a. How to bring those not at this meeting into this discussion
b. Whether and how to use the management team as inside allies
c. Is a demand letter with sign ons our first step?
iii. What should the escalation ladder include and what order might they be in?
IV. Delegate out tasks and housekeeping (5 mins)
i. Goal: Arrive at concrete next steps/responsibilities with deadlines