Taking action is easier and more fun when you do it with friends.  Start an Action Pod!

What is an Action Pod?

An Action Pod is a group of friends that help each other get active on issues that matter.  Pod members meet regularly (every 4-8 weeks) to help each other learn about the issues, identify ways to get involved, and stay engaged and motivated.

How do I start one?

It’s easy – just invite some friends together for an evening, share a meal, and talk about some of the issues that you each care about.  By following our Starter Guide, you’ll come away from your first Action Pod gathering with a set of clear next steps and with the support of your friends to take action.

Why start an Action Pod?

1) FIRST, it’s *way* more fun than taking action alone.  Everything is better with friends.  Get together over dinner or drinks.  Maybe work together on a shared project, campaign, or volunteer day.  You will have fun, deepen relationships with friends, and get to support each other in doing good work in the world.

2) SECOND, it sticks!  The regular Action Pod gatherings will help you stay motivated. It can be hard to find the time to do good work in the world, and that’s totally OK.  What’s important is staying connected to the issues and values you care about, even when life is busy. That means learning, over time, how to fit making a difference into your life.

To help with this, each Action Pod gathering includes time for planning out your next action — this could be learning, volunteering, campaigning, or working together on a project.  Each Pod gathering also includes time for reflecting on your efforts to date — celebrating what’s working, exploring what challenges you’re facing, and deciding what you’d like to try next.  Through the Action Pod, you’ll learn about which types of actions give you the most satisfaction and which will fit best into your busy schedule, so you can sustain your motivation over time.

3) THIRD, we make a bigger impact when we work together.  As each person takes steps to become more active, you can share what you learn with each other, helping each other stay informed about how to make a difference on important issues.  And you can work together on shared goals, amplifying your voices through collaboration.

I like this idea.  What do I do now?

Check out our Starter Guide below and then reach out to some friends!

Also, join our Action Pod email list, and we’ll let you know about new resources as they are published. Resources under development include:

  • Guide: How to choose what organizations to volunteer with
  • Guide: How do I decide who to invite to my Action Pod?
  • Action Pod Activity: How to brainstorm projects to work on together
  • Action Pod Activity: How to identify and overcome barriers to getting more involved
  • Action Pod Activity: Launching a pod project!
  • And much more!

Pod Resources

Check out a few of our Pod resources below!

Action Pod Starter Guide

Starting an Action Pod is easy; follow these three steps:

STEP 1: Find which friends are attracted to the Pod’s mission

First, reach out to a few friends who were upset by the election results. Let them know you’re hosting an event to discuss how to respond to the election, and invite them to attend. Here is a sample email you can use:

Hi friends –

Like many of us, I am pretty upset by the election results. I’d like to get more involved to make sure that we don’t go backwards on important issues like equality, social justice, and sustainability. We can do more if we support each other, so I’m hosting a gathering of friends to start thinking about how we each want to respond to the election. Would you like to join?

The aim of the gathering is to support each other in taking action. We won’t decide what to do in one evening of course, but we can help each other learn more about the issues and figure out what we each want to start getting involved in.

If you’re interested, please let me know when you’re available by filling out this Doodle; please respond by ____:

If you want to know more about the group, I’m following the “Action Pods” model, outlined at http://www.WhatDoIDoAboutTrump.com/action-pods/. It’s a loose model, focused mostly on us helping each other get involved and stay involved with issues we care about. When we get together, we can decide if we want to meet again and how much of the Action Pods model we want to use.

I’m really excited about getting more involved, and I hope you are too! Let’s do it!

Then, follow up! Everyone’s busy, so people might not respond the first time. Follow up once to remind your friends to respond if they’re interested. You’ll want at least 3-4 people that say they can come, as probably not everyone will be able to show up on the day you agree on. If you don’t get enough people to respond, expand your set of invitees to a few more people, and keep doing that until you have at least 3-4 people that want to join. Then, set a date and sent out an invitation. Including the meeting agenda in the invitation will help people know what to expect. It’s OK if you don’t have a location for the gathering yet; just sent out invitation and let your friends know that the location is pending.

STEP 2: Create a welcoming space

Choose where you’ll host the gathering. Hosting in someone’s home is convenient, as it’s usually quiet and private, so people can feel more open to express difficult feelings they may have about the election. If your home isn’t a good place to host, ask a close friend if they’d be willing to host. Getting together in a quiet restaurant or bar is an option as well.

If you’re hosting in someone’s home, encourage people to bring snacks or drinks to share. As the host, be sure you bring some snacks, in case everyone else forgets. You can also choose to order take-out together or to make the evening a potluck – whatever seems easy for your friends to do. Having food makes everything more enjoyable. : )

Check out a a sample agenda for the Action Pod gathering on the next tab; the agenda is on the left, with guidance for the facilitator on the right.

STEP 3: Follow the energy of what emerges

Every Action Pod is different; what’s important is to listen to the members of the group, try different things, and learn over time how you best work together. For guidance on sustaining your Action Pod and on organizing your second gathering (and beyond!), visit the Action Pod Resources section of this site.

This is a sample 2.5 hour meeting agenda you might use for a Pod gathering.

MEETING STAGETIMEDESCRIPTIONFACILITATOR GUIDELINES
Arrival and Social Time6:30 - 6:55Please arrive anytime during this window [by 6:55 at the latest]– join us closer to 6:30 for social time.If you’re having dinner as part of your gathering, this is a great time for it.  Otherwise, dinner will take up time during the main portion of the evening.
Official Start6:55 - 7:00Please be prompt!There is a lot to do during the gathering, so if you start on time, you’ll end on time.  Be proactive about starting the meeting at or near 7pm.
Opening7:00 - 7:10We'll introduce the group and our goals.Welcome people to the group, and share what inspired you to start it.  Talk a bit about the goals of the group, and answer any questions your friends have.  Don’t worry if someone asks about something your group hasn’t figured out yet (for example, what you will work on together or how you accept new members); just say that you all can figure it out together if/when it becomes important.  Be sure to talk about confidentiality; we recommend asking people to keep private any personal feelings or information shared in the group.
Check Ins7:10 - 7:55How are you feeling about the election? What issues are concering you the most, given the new administration?Check-ins are important; they help people get connected with how they’re feeling and connect with each other.  As the Action Pod keeps meeting, check-ins are when people can reflect on the actions they’re taking, what’s working well, and what’s not working well about them.

For the first check in, ask your friends to talk about two questions:
1) How are you feeling about the election?
2) What issues are you most concerned about, given the new administration?

We recommend doing this “popcorn” style, where people can speak as they are inspired to, as this has a good energy and flow.  But you can also do it by starting with one person and going around the room.  It’s nice to do something to acknowledge each person after they talk; as examples, the facilitator can say “thank you” or everyone can snap their fingers.  Also, ask people not to speak while one person is doing their check-in.

Timing is important here, as it’s really easy for people to talk and talk about things they’re upset about or passionate about.  If you end the check-ins at 5 ‘till the hour, you’ll have an hour for the action planning part of the gathering, which is really helpful.  

We recommend adapting the timing on the fly, by seeing how much time is left once you’re done with the opening.  So if you start the meeting late, at 7:05, and there are lots of questions about the group, then the opening might end as late as 7:20. So you have 55-20, or 35 minutes available for check-ins.  If you have 5 people present, then you each get 7 minutes for a check-in (though I’d recommend setting the timer for 6 minutes, so each person has time to wrap things up and transition to the next person).

We recommend setting a timer for each person’s check-in. It can feel weird to set a timer, so if it doesn’t seem right, don’t do it. But it can also be really helpful, as it can feel difficult to interrupt someone that has gone on too long. Setting a timer also gives people the freedom to say as much as they want without needing to keep track of how long they’re speaking.
Pair Ups7:55 - 8:00Take a chance to debrief in small groups.Pair up randomly with someone else in the group.  You can do this by lining up according to your birth month, or height, or day of the month you were born, and then working with the person next to you.  Or put everyone’s name in a hat and draw names. If there are an odd number of people, work in pairs and triads.
Stretch Break8:00 - 8:05Movement makes your brain work better!Take a 5 minute break.  The faciltator should remind people when the 5 minutes are over and encourage people to back come together.
Action Planning8:05 - 8:35Work with your partner to generate ideas and follow up.The faciltator will introduce action planning.  Working 1:1 with your partner, ask each person to set an action plan for the next few weeks.  To set the action plan, each person asks themselves the following questions:

- What issue(s) do I feel passionate about?
- Does one of these issues stand out as the one I want to work on first?
- Do I feel like I have the information I need to get active on this issue?
- If not, what information would I need?
- What do I want to do next?  If I want to gather more information, what information and where could I likely get it?  If I want to take action, what type of action, and working with what types of organizations.
- Set a goal for what you’d like to do.  Be sure not to set too big of a goal - what’s important is starting to get involved; this is just the first step.
- If there’s enough time, spend some time talking about obstacles you’ll face, and how you might overcome them.

The faciltator should set a timer and go around and remind each partner when half the time is up, so each person gets time to work on their action plan.

If it feels good for your Action Pod to try, it can be nice for partners to stay in touch over the course of the month, to be resources for each other.  Each set of partners should decide what feels right for them; we recommend trying to connect with your partner at least once between meetings, to help each other stay accountable.  If you decide to connect again, decide the date and time while you are gathered together.

It often feels like there isn’t enough time for action planning, and that’s OK.  What’s important is each person getting a start and thinking about at least one next step they’d like to pursue.
Report Back8:35 - 8:45Rejoin the group to share.By now, everyone has been sitting for a while, so if it feels right for your group, encourage your friends to stand up.  Each person shares a movement or stretch for everyone else to do.  Then, while everyone stretches, that person reports back on the action plan they laid out. Go around until everyone has shared their action plan; ask people to keep it brief (no more than 1 minute). And if it doesn’t feel right to do stretches, then stay seated.
Next Steps8:45 - 9:00Make a concrete plan for the future.Discuss if you’d like to meet again, and in how long (we recommend 4-8 weeks). Don’t worry about whether you all want to form an ongoing group or not; just figure out if you want to meet again.  Agreeing to an ongoing group may be too large a commitment for many people.

Identify a few dates that will work for everyone.  If you can, it’s really helpful to finalize the date of your next gathering.  If there are more people whose schedules you’d like to plan around, choose 2-3 dates as a group, while everyone is in the room, and then follow up with others afterwards to pick the best date.

Choose a facilitator for the next gathering. An Action Pod works best when different people take leadership, as the sense of ownership is shared.  But people may not be ready to think about facilitating yet.  We recommend asking if anyone is interested in facilitating and offering to facilitate if needed.

Ask for people’s feedback (both positive and negative) on today’s Action Pod meeting.  Good questions are “What would you keep for next time?” and “What would you change?”.  Take notes on what people say, or ask someone else to take notes. Incorporate the feedback for your next gathering.
Close9:00 - endWrap things up!Thank everyone for joining.  If you feel it, express positivity about the group and the efforts that everyone will be working on. Get excited about the impact you will be making!

Creating an Advocacy Strategy

When getting more active on issues you care about, it can sometimes be challenging to decide which goal(s) to work towards.  This resource, on creating an advocacy strategy, will help you pick an achievable goal and identify actions you can to take to achieve it.  This resource is useful for individuals to decide how to allocate their time and energy, and it’s also useful if your Action Pod wants to work together on an issue or campaign you all care about.

Why create an advocacy strategy?

 Creating an advocacy strategy is a way to plan how to reach a goal. Having a clear advocacy strategy helps ensure that all your activities are working toward the same goal. An advocacy strategy also allows everyone on a team to work from the same plan. Another benefit of having a strategy is that you can review whether you’ve actually achieved what you set out to do. If you need to, you can change course.

 Creating your strategy: Set a goal

The first step in building your advocacy strategy is to set one overall goal. This should be ambitious, something that might take years to accomplish. It shouldn’t be nearly impossible, though. “The US curbs carbon emissions by 10%,” for example, would be an ambitious but not impossible goal. “Achieve world peace” would be too ambitious for this exercise.

The purpose of stating a goal is to focus on the change you want to see. You don’t have to be able to achieve this goal by yourself. (Later on in your advocacy strategy, you’ll draft more realistic and achievable objectives… more on that below.)

Map the power-holders

Before you decide how to go about achieving your goal, it’s important to do an exercise called power mapping. Power mapping means thinking about who has power over the things you want to change. How much power do they have? What’s their current position on your issue? How can you influence them?

Here’s an example. Let’s say you want more women to be able to access birth control.

  • Who has power?
    – Members of Congress, who pass bills to fund (or defund) providers like Planned Parenthood
  • What’s their position?
    – Democrats: supportive
    – Republicans: opposed
  • Who can influence them?
    – Their own constituents
    – Congressional party leadership
    – Opinion-makers like the press

This is just one power-holder among many for this issue, and the analysis is fairly general. The more specific and detailed your power mapping, though, the better. A strong advocacy strategy should include detailed information on every significant person or entity that has the power to help or hurt the strategic goal. So for the above example: which Congresspeople really call the shots on Planned Parenthood funding? Which ones are vulnerable to pressure from voters–perhaps those facing reelection?

Describe a theory of change

 Now you know what you want to achieve and who can help you– or stand in your way. So how do you get to your goal? It’s time to write down your theory of change. A theory of change simply explains how you see a problem and believe change can happen. If your goal is to get more kids eating healthy foods, what really needs to change to make that happen? Perhaps it’s all about families: parents need to understand better how food choices affect their kids’ health, and they need to be able to afford nutritious foods. Or maybe it’s about the food companies, who shouldn’t be allowed to make junk food and sell it to kids.

Set objectives

Next, set objectives. Objectives are steps on the road to achieving your goal. Try your best to make these objectives specific, measurable, and achievable. The objectives should take into account the work you did in the “power mapping” and “theory of change” sections. They should specify what power-holders will do, and they should fit into the way you think you can reach your goal.

Say, for example, your goal was to stop black men from being killed by police officers in the city of Springfield. Your power mapping identified city police departments as being power-holders for this goal. In theory of change, you said that police wouldn’t end up using deadly force so often if they didn’t stop and frisk so many black men in the first place.

A specific, measurable, and achievable objective, then, would be: “The Springfield Police Department reduces the number of stop-and-frisks it conducts on African American men by 25%.”

For a single individual, that objective might not be achievable, and that’s ok. A more achievable objective could be, “The Springfield Police Commissioner agrees to review the Department’s policy on stop-and-frisk.”

Plan your actions: targets and tactics

Now comes the fun part. Who are your targets for advocacy and what tactics will you use to persuade them? This is where you get to start planning concrete actions to take. Consider the objective above. To get the police to reduce stops, you might target the police commissioner, the mayor, local religious leaders, and the city newspaper. Your tactics might include:

  • meeting with the police commissioner and providing her with evidence
  • showing that stop and frisks don’t actually reduce crime much but do put more officers and civilians in danger
  • sending a petition to the mayor calling for reform of police policy
  • calling religious leaders and asking them to help campaign for police reform
  • writing op-eds in the newspaper and inviting journalists to a march

Set a schedule

 Finally, create a calendar for your advocacy in the near future. If you’ll be planning a protest, when will that be? Assign a lead or contact person to each part of your campaign, and note what kinds of resources you’ll need.

Looking back to measure progress

Once you’ve completed your advocacy strategy, get advocating! But don’t forget to review the strategy regularly to check whether you’ve achieved your objectives. If not, consider why. Do you need to understand your power-holders better? Do you need to focus on more achievable objectives? Make any necessary tweaks, and advocate on!

Further reading

For more information on crafting an advocacy strategy, visit:

Creating Campaigns that Change The World

Advocacy: A Guide for Small and Diaspora NGOs

 

Many of us are inspired post-election to actively build tolerant, inclusive, democratic communities that can resist the rise of hateful, fear-mongering, anti-democratic ideas. Dinners with friends and colleagues where we enjoy each other’s company but also address opportunities for action are a fantastic way to stay connected to this commitment even when “business as usual” comes a knocking. Yet there’s a reason we avoid talking politics with friends and family; things can get messy, we can disagree (even amongst those committed to the resistance), and the stakes feel higher when discussing these issues with those we respect.

Below is a suggested checklist you can move through when hosting a dinner to help create conditions that will allow your friends to support each other and stay focused on the shared questions and challenges at hand (and not get mired in the subtle critiques or attempts to control each other’s action). The most important thing is to create space to connect and support each other, which is why there aren’t firm time suggestions and strict facilitation guidelines, just a checklist of things you can “tick-off” during the evening to help create the conditions for shared understanding and supportive action. Consider sharing this checklist with a few different dinner participants so you can work through the evening together. 

OPENING

  • Take care of folks. Make sure participants are fed, have drinks, are taken care of physically. Many of life’s greatest disputes arise from hunger.
  • Groundrules. Politics can be tense, and trying to make change can feel vulnerable –  there’s a reason we don’t normally talk about these things amongst friends! Shared agreements around how we treat each other and potential conflicts help create an effective conversation resilient to conflict. Suggested groundrules to start with:
    • Diversity is our strength, which means conflict is natural, but be sure to attack ideas, not people
    • No judgement space; instead of shaming different suggestions, get curious about their motivations and ask why someone feels how they do.
    • Make space for all to participate; this means limiting interruptions, stepping back if you notice you’re talking a lot, or being bold and speaking up if quiet.
    • Others? Let participants suggest their own…
  • Introductions & Motivation. If the group doesn’t know each other already, it’s hepful to pause and make sure everyone knows who is in the room and their motivation for participating (including your motivation to host / goals for the gathering).
  • Checkins. We recommend starting with checkins designed to hear from everyone individually before full group back and forth discussion begins; whether it’s a horrible day at work, frustration with family, or excitement over the weekend activities, going around the circle one at a time helps leave baggage from the day behind and get present with each other. You can merge this with introductions where appropriate, just ensure everyone gets a chance to share in the circle before back and forth discussion starts.

UNDERSTANDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTION

  • What’s the problem we’re seeing? In an age of disinformation and media oversaturation, one of the greatest advantages of coming together is the opportunity to triangulate from different perspectives about the challenges at hand, building shared understanding of the problems needing our attention. Shared understanding does not mean we all perfectly agree, but work to understand different perspectives. 
  • Possible prompting question for the discussion:
    • What are you seeing that’s concerning you (immediate symptoms)
    • How do you feel about what you’re seeing?
    • What do you see as the underlying problems driving the symptoms discussed?
  • Maintaining hope. No matter how bad it feels it isn’t all bad. Take the time to share where you’re finding inspiration and strength as well; these are often the best places to take action; remember to feed the soul, not just fight all the time.
  • Potential prompt: 
    • What is inspiring you right now?
  • Identifying Actions. Share around the table actions people have taken (progress report) and are considering taking. If you’re not sure what to do, that’s okay! Try answering “what are my goals?”  as taking time to get clear on goals can be a starting point to action. And don’t forget actions that include taking care of yourself and your loved ones. If a larger group, might be worth taking the time to break into pairs to create concrete action plans. We recommend ending the discussion asking for and offering support to achieve these actions.

CLOSING

Checkouts. Before leaving make sure everyone does a checkout to share how they’re feeling; it is useful to hear everyone’s voice as folks participate differently in the full group. This is also good chance to reiterate any specific support needed following through with actions.

Useful Collaboration Tools

We recommend:

  • Google docs for lists of ideas, collaborative documents, etc…
  • Doodle for scheduling gatherings
  • Slack for online conversations and brainstorming
  • Loomio for structured decision making and project management
  • Gamestorming for dynamic ways to facilitate group brainstorming and discussion
  • A good old-fashioned timer, to keep the meeting on track

Other Resources

Join our Action Pod email list, and we’ll let you know about new resources as they are published. Resources under development include:

    • Guide: How to choose what organizations to volunteer with
    • Guide: How do I decide who to invite to my Action Pod?
    • Action Pod Activity: How to brainstorm projects to work on together
    • Action Pod Activity: How to identify and overcome barriers to getting more involved
    • Action Pod Activity: Launching a pod project!
    • And much more!