Analytical Activism

Analytical Activism is the use of analysis instead of intuition and trial and error to solve difficult activist problems. Getting a little more formal, Analytical Activism is the use of the Analytical Method to achieve activist objectives.

The best practices of Analytical Activism are:

1. A true analysis of the problem is performed.

2. The Scientific Method is used to prove all key assumptions.

3. A formal process that fits the problem is used.

4. Learning from past mistakes and successes is maximized.

These four best practices work together to give Analytical Activism the strong foundation it needs to solve difficult social problems. For further information on the four best practices see best practice.

Why this is important

Analytical Activism uses true analysis to find how to change the system, so that the system's new equilibrium solves the problem as rapidly and efficiently as possible. This is immeasurably better than Classic Activism, which tries to solve difficult problems without analysis. This results in superficial solutions that do not change the system and hence have only small or temporary effects, or require a large of amount of effort to keep the solution in place.

Classic Activism is what environmentalists are currently practicing. Analytical Activism is what they need to switch too if they want to solve difficult problems reliably.

Application examples

Consider the "bad politician" problem. Classic activists approach the problem by seeing it as exactly that: the bad politician problem. The solution follows automatically. If bad politicians are the problem, then good politicians are the solution. How can we get them elected?

Consider the pollution problem. To a classic activist, if the problem is too much pollution, then the solution must be less pollution. What could be more obvious?

However, electing "better" politicians or passing new laws to control pollution has not worked. These efforts only treat the symptoms and fail to strike at the root. The real questions are: WHY does the system attract too many incompetent and corrupt politicians? WHY is there such a strong tendency to pollute so much, even though we know that's harmful? Digging deeper, WHY does the system resist change so strongly? What are the fundamental reasons the sustainability problem is so difficult to solve?

Questions like these can only be answered by an analytical approach, one that starts with a correct diagnosis of the root causes of the problem. Only then can we stop treating the symptoms and begin to treat the true underlying causes.


This concept lies at the very heart of's approach. We believe that Analytical Activism is a much more productive way to solve the sustainability problem than Classic Activism, which is the method used by nearly all environmental organizations today.

Classic Activism is direct action to achieve social system change. It is change by popular demand rather than by analysis and system engineering. Classic Activism intuitively pushes directly on system leverage points, such as through support of preferred politicians, lobbying, publicity, the media, demonstrations, and scientific research to find better proper practices like alternative energy. The reason this tends to fail on difficult problems like climate change is that classic activists are intuitively attracted to low leverage points. This will not work, because change resistance causes the system to push back just as hard.

Analytical Activism, however, uses indirect action to achieve social system change. Because it first analyzes the system to find why it is behaving improperly and why change resistance is occurring, it can find the underlying causes of the system's behavior. This leads to pushing on completely different leverage points, ones whose leverage is much higher than the points classic activists are pushing on. High leverage points are usually indirect leverage points, because they are several steps away from the desired behavior of the system.

An example of the use of indirect action and high leverage points to achieve social change is Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) funds, such as Calvert. As of 2005, there was approximately 2.29 trillion dollars invested in SRI funds. How this form of activism works indirectly is shown in the diagram below:

The arrows of influence show how indirect and direct activism can both be used to change corporate behavior. For indirect activism, publicity about the funds causes investors to invest more there. This increases the amount in socially responsible investment funds, and decreases the amount in other funds (not shown). This in turn increases the corporate stock value of those stocks in the fund, and decreases those not in the fund (not shown). This has the ultimate effect of causing corporate behavior to improve. For direct activism, publicity about the corporations, such as demonstrations and campaigns, affects corporate behavior directly, because corporations are concerned about what the public may think.

The indirect approach can have much more impact on system behavior, because it can push on a much higher leverage point. High leverage points (such as a company's stock value) tend to be harder to push on directly, and so must be pushed on indirectly. Because how to do that is usually buried deep in the system, high leverage points tend to be anything but obvious. For difficult social system problems, finding the system's highest leverage points requires copious amounts of time and luck, or the use of an appropriate analytical technique, such as systems thinking and system dynamics.

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What Are We Using Now?

The process nearly all public interest activists use now is Classic Activism. It works fine on easy problems, those with low change resistance. But it fails mysteriously on problems with high change resistance. Why? Because the process of Classic Activism has no concept of treating systemic change resistance as a separate problem to solve first. Nor does it have the concept of finding and resolving root causes.

One of our fondest dreams is that as you explore the material at, you find yourself gradually converting from Classic to Analytical Activism.

Welcome to a whole new way of thwinking!

So What Process Does Analytical Activism Use?

It uses the Analytical Method.