Advancing a Cause by Preparing in Advance

Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - 16:15

How do you ground yourself as you prepare for important encounters, negotiations, and opportunities to advance your cause? Anthony Amsterdam, a Stanford University law professor, requires all of his students to steep themselves in the pragmatic questions below. A MacArthur Foundation "genius" Fellow, Amsterdam mentored Robert Garcia, executive director of The City Project. Garcia internalized a framework Amsterdam introduced to all of his Stanford Law School students. Garcia uses the framework as a guide in his work today as an advocate for access to parks and open space, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. Here it is:

    1. Who are you? What is your role in the situation?
    2. What are your long-term goals and objectives? If you have more than one, do they conflict? Can they be resolved? What are your priorities among them?
    3. What are your specific objectives? List them. Are there conflicts among them? Can they be resolved? If not, what should give, and why?
    4. What are the means available to you to achieve your objectives? List them. Have you got them all? Are there any conflicts between the means at your disposal and the long-term goals or the specific objectives? What are they? Can the conflicts be accommodated? If not, what should give, and why?
    5. What obstacles do you anticipate in achieving your goals through your means? Do you have contingency plans? What are they?
    6. Where are you now in that process?
      1. Who is doing what now?
      2. What are the next events coming up, and how soon?
    7. What do you need to achieve or prepare immediately, in light of 1-6?
    8. What people must you deal with to do the things identified by 1 through 6 and what do you want, expect, and demand from each?
    9. What will they want, expect, or demand from you? What are their game plans? Put yourself in their perspective, and try to think through 1 through 8 from their standpoint. Do you have any common goals? What are they? Do you have any conflicting goals? What are they? What is the optimal way of accommodating everybody's goals? Are there some points that cannot be accommodated to everybody's satisfaction? What are they? What are you willing to give up? What do you anticipate they will be willing to give up? What is the best you can hope to do if you do not negotiate a settlement? What is the worst you can anticipate?
    10. What do you need to do to prepare to deal with others, in light of 1 through 9?

Amsterdam and Garcia advise that these points need consideration in concrete situations, not in the abstract. They advise that if you're in an adversarial system, as lawyers tend to find themselves, it is useful to be able to think like your adversary. But, really, this framework helps in any situation where understanding in advance the positions of others will make a difference to both short-term and long-term outcomes. Beyond the immediate circumstances, for example, it's important to ask what strategies and tactics arise when applying this framework for building an alliance, for conducting multidisciplinary research and analysis, for mounting a media campaign, advancing policy and legal advocacy outside the courts, or engaging in litigation?

Garcia has built the successes of The City Project on a lifetime of careful creative thinking. At every step of the way, he took the time to prepare.