Identify--and Scale Up--Your Areas of Influence

Heidi Burgess
Guy M. Burgess

September, 2018

A June 2020 blog post reflects on how the ideas in this video relate to the multiple crises facing us in the summer of 2020.


You can download this video from Vimeo for offline viewing.




In order to have a significant impact on a complex conflict, people must understand what is really going on (as we explained in the See the Complexity Video) and then understand what the "ripe areas for intervention are" and what kinds of interventions are most likely to make a significant change. Conflict maps can help you figure that out, and then you can devise actions, based on this understanding, along with an analysis of "tipping points" and collaborative opportunities, which, taken together with other actions, can lead to what we are calling "massively parallel peacebuilding."


Full Transcript:

Slide 1. Hi! This is Heidi Burgess. Today I'd like to talk about ways of identifying your areas of influence in a conflict. 

Slide 2. When you're concerned or upset about something, don't just scream and complain, although that sometimes feels good.

Massively Parallel Peacebuilding Name / Logo
See other posts in this series.

Slide 3. Do something constructive!

Slide 4.  But that leads to a question that I’m often asked—WHAT can I DO? That's not easy to answer, but there are ways to answer it, if you follow certain steps.

Slide 5.  The first thing that you need to do is stop and think and assess what needs to be done that you can do. How will you do it? With whom and where? Let's unpack some of those questions.

Slide 6.  This question has several aspects. First of all, you have to figure out what's going on -- what the real problems are. I talked a little bit about how to do that in the video “See the Complexity” and Conflict Mapping. One of the things that conflict mapping allows you to do is identify the energy centers in the conflict system, or what I call “ripe areas for intervention.” You can also figure out what to do to influence those ripe areas, and I'll talk about how to do that in a minute.

Frontiers MOOS Seminar
Home | Syllabus / Other Posts
This Seminar is part of the...

Find out more...

Slide 7. If you remember the “See the Complexity video,” I talked about how, in intractable conflicts, we often in oversimplify our notion of what's going on, making it just a story of “good guys and bad guys.” But it's always more than that! It's more than that in the conflict in Afghanistan. It's more than that in the broader war on terror.

Slide 8. And it's more than that in our domestic conflicts, for instance the ones between Republicans and Democrats, Trump supporters and Hillary supporters, conservatives and liberals. We tend to oversimplify this conflict to into “good guys” and “bad guys,” but, again, it's much more than that!

Slide 9. This is a conflict map that I showed in the Conflict Mapping video that was done by Gen. McChrystal and the Department of Defense that shows just some of the complexity going on in Afghanistan.

Slide 10. I did a complex, but not nearly as pretty, conflict map about one aspect of the conservative-liberal, Democrat-Republican conflict, and looking at the concept of conflict overlays. Here you can see some of the interactions between overlay factors, for instance, between communication problems, procedural problems, factual problems framing, oppositional goals, tactics, and issues.

Slide 11. All you can really tell from this is that there's lots of arrows flying all over the place.  But the pattern of those arrows that indicates a Peter Coleman calls “energy centers” and what Guy and I call “ripe areas for intervention.” Both of these are indicated by the places that have the most arrows going outward.

Slide 12.  Let me show you a simpler diagram that allows you to see what I mean about the arrows more easily. Here the red box in the center has arrows coming out from it going to every of the other boxes. But the red box only has one arrow going in, meaning there aren't a whole lot of different things that are influencing it.   But it is influencing a lot of different things! That makes the red box a “ripe area for intervention.” If you can change what's going on there, you can change what's going on in the green box and in the blue box and in the yellow box and in the pink box!

On the other hand, there are several different factors that are influencing the yellow box, so if you could influence that arrow that's coming up from the pink box, but you don't do anything about the arrows coming in from blue and red boxes, you may not have very much effect on the yellow box. The yellow box is not shown in this diagram to have any influence on anything! So, you can change that, but you're not going to change the rest of the system by doing so.  Now, a good conflict map probably will have hardly any—or  probably no, elements that aren't connected to anything else, because everything tends to get intertwined. That's why conflict mapping can easily turn into what we call “spaghetti diagrams.” However, if you look for the places that have the most arrows going out, and the fewest arrows going in, that's a really simple way of seeing potentially “ripe areas for intervention.”

Slide 13. There are other ways to find ripe areas for intervention.  One is to look for or “tipping points” in the system. This term was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book of the same title. The tipping point is the point at which something “takes off.”  If you are not near the tipping point, it takes a lot of work and a lot of people pushing to try to change the status quo.  It is as if you're trying to push big rock up a steep hill—its hard! But once you get to the top of the hill, and push the rock over the tipping point, then it's running down the other side and you are either chasing it or getting run over by it, as this his picture shows. So, the goal is to get over the tipping point, so whatever you're trying to accomplish starts happening much, much faster.

Slide 14. Let me share a couple examples of this in the real world. One of them is elections. Close elections can be situations where just a few votes can put one candidate or the other over the tipping point. This was a special election that happened in August of this year that came within 2000 votes of going the other way. Some elections actually revolve around one vote! The article listed at the bottom of this slide,  talks about10 elections that were decided by one vote or less.

Slide 15. One of these elections was very recent.  It decided the majority party in the Virginia House of Delegates.  The election was decided by one vote, which was challenged in court. After much legal maneuvering, it was decided that the vote count was actually tied, and the outcome was decided by a random draw from a hat! Surely, that’s a case where every vote counted!   

Slide 16. Same sex marriage is another example of a tipping point. That wasn't decided by voting alone, although votes did play a role. But it was also decided through a series of court cases. But the interesting thing that I find about same-sex marriage, is the tipping point is very evident.

Slide 17. This is the timeline that I found in USA Today that starts in 1972, and there is one event that's listed in ‘72. There's one event here that's listed in ‘73 and then it jumps to ‘93!  Nothing happening between ‘73 and ’93! 

Slide 18.  Then the timeline gets much longer and there get to be an escalating number of things that are happening in the 90s even more in the 2000s.

Slide 19. Then when you get after 2010, the listings get to be much more frequent. Some of them are elections favoring gay marriage; some of them being elections that opposed to gay marriage.  There were court cases in favor and court cases against. Back and forth, back and forth!

Slide 20 . Then there are eight different listings just for 2015, culminating in the June 26 United States Supreme Court decision that legalized  same-sex marriage across the country.

Slide 21. The tipping point for this came after long efforts of many people struggling to push that ball up one side of the hill, through successive voting and court cases, and more voting and more court cases, until finally the ball started rolling fast down the other side, culminating in the Supreme Court decision.

Slide 22.  Now there are other influence options besides court cases and voting. There's talking to friends and relatives. There's public hearings. There's letters to the editor. All of these things played a role. People all over the country were doing the sorts of things over and over and over again…

Slide 23. …and making connections and networks. When you're trying to build support for a cause, it's helpful to ask yourself who you know that you can influence, and who they know.  What organizations are you in that you can influence?  What organizations are these people in that they could influence?

Slide 24. If you all start working in the same direction, you can do what we call “scaling up” your influence. 

Slide 25. So, it gets to be collaboratively much, much bigger!

Slide 26. This is the basic idea between behind our Massively Parallel Peacebuilding idea. We imagine lots of people working together to scale up their influence on one issue, in one way,

Slide 27.  …and using the action list, which lists over 150 different actions that different people in different positions, with different skill sets, can take to try to move further along a particular social movement goal, such as gay marriage.

Slide 28.  No one can do that kind of thing by themselves. but everyone can choose one or two things that you can do or you can want to learn to do…

Slide 29. and get to work!

Slide 30. And if you get to work in that way working with lots of collaborators, you can scale up your influence.

Slide 31. If other people are working on related problems in different ways,

Slide 32.  you can have really significant impact!

Slide 33. And that's what we mean by the notion of massively parallel peacebuilding.

Slide 34. What you need to get started, is to figure out where you can get an additional toehold, which you do by figuring out what's going on, and

Slide 35. what you can do to start the ball rolling—how you can work with others to start pushing it up the hill to get over the tipping point.

Slide 36.  And that’s how you create significant impact!  Thanks


Photo Credits: 

Slides 2-4: Angry Person: Pixabay, cco

Slide 7:  U.S. Military – public domain; Taliban fighter: by newsonline. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Slide 8: Hillary Clinton: public domain.  Donald Trump: Public domain.

Slide 9: Diagram from: Posted by Geetesh Bajaj (cc by 2.0)

Slide 13 and 35: By Luc Galoppin. Cc by 2.0. Malcom Gladwell. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Backbay Books. 200.

Slide 14: Picture obtained from: One vote election article:

Slide 15: Picture obtained from:

Slides 16-20:  USA Today Same Sex Marriage Timeline

Slide 21:  Voting Box:  Public Domain.  Supreme court.  Public domain.

Slide 22: Relatives picture: Letter to editor: by nchenga. CC BY-NC 2.0. Public hearing: By Seattle City Council from Seattle (2013-14 Budget public hearing, October 2012) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons