THE THEORY OF SMALL WINS, APPLIED TO PEACE EDUCATION
Floyd Rudmin has suggested some follow up actions with respect to the CMEC
Report on Peace Education ( http://www.peace.ca/education_for_peace.htm ).
I have combined his comments from 2 emails, and a response by Joanna Santa
Barbara, below using the 'Theory of Small Wins'.
Message from Floyd Rudmin:
"In private emails, Penny (Sanger), Bob (Stewart), and I have been having
brainstorming about strategies for responding to the CMEC report on
peace education. Some of the ideas I have suggested arise from the
Theory of Small Wins. I can highly recommend this for people with
activist orientations who feel stymied or paralyzed by the sheer
immensity of the task compared to the resources they have available.
The ideas of small-wins were first proposed in a Stanford University
Peters, T. J. (1977). "Patterns of winning and losing: Effects on
approach and avoidance by friends and enemies."
The ideas were further developed at Cornell University's School of
Administration by Karl Weick and published in "American Psychologist":
Weick, K. E. (1984). "Small Wins: Redefining the Scale of Social
Problems." American Psychologist, vol. 39 (issue 1), pp. 40-49.
American Psychologist is one of the top psychology journals and every
academic library will have it.
The theory is rather complicated, and too big for me to describe
here, but main features are to build a record of low-cost,
opportunistic successes, which keep the activists motivated and do
not alarm any opposition.
"Big Win" strategies are very, very dangerous, because they consume
too many resources, mobilize an opposition, and when they fail, they
completely demoralize the activists.
For example, I was for years a very active member of Operation
Dismantle. That organization went for a big-win when it took the
federal government to court over the cruise missle testing. The
consequence of losing that case was that Operation Dismantle died,
because of debt and demoralization.
I think that CPI has been hurt similarly by going for a big win on
organizing MA programs in Canada.
When we come to the issue of peace education in the Canadian public
school systems, I would argue for the small-wins strategies. We need
success, even if small. I would recommend that peace educators
strategically figure out which ministry of education in Canada they
would have most likelihood of success in, and then focus on that one.
Other small wins strategies would be to keep track of public school
textbooks and their authors. Schools do not like to change textbooks
because it is expensive and because teachers have to re-prepare the
teaching materials and tests when they get a new book. So, one
strategy would be to identify books that could be reshaped, even a
little, towards peace topics, or a peace chapter, and then carefully
and personally lobby the author. I would particularly focus on books
that are now in their 2nd edition or 1st edition but into multiple
printings, because that means that they were good enough to have
survived and will probably be revised.
An example like this was the US gay liberation movement. They want
all America to except them, which is a rather immense and impossible
task. But a small-wins strategy was to go to the Library of Congress
and persuade the librarians who manage the Library of Congress
thesaurus to change "homosexuality" from a sub-heading
in "psychopathology" to a sub-heading in "lifestyles". Not a big
thing, and relatively easy to achieve. As a consequence though, all
libraries and book stores move their books about homosexuality from a
negative context to a positive one. And the powerful fundamentalist
Christian lobby who opposes gay rights never got aroused or mobilized
to oppose this.
Small wins thinking is fun, because you are always looking for the
opportunistic, low-cost, clever way to proceed. And if you get to 10,
then 18, then 42 successes with this approach, little by little, this
record of small-wins builds up to a big impact. And when you lose a
small-wins project, it was small, and had not taken a lot of
resources, so you do not get demoralized.
It is a very, very powerful and correct way, I think, to proceed in
activism when there are few people trying to make big changes.
In this brain storming, I was also thinking again about the role of
research. Getting peace into the public school curriculum is
essentially a political problem, which makes it a rhetorical
problem. People in positions of power have to be persuaded. Some of
the best rhetoric is research. For example, studies that would show
that having a conflict resolution component in a school's curriculum
results in less vandalistic damage to the school and fewer teacher
sick days. That is the kind of evidence that would persuade a
ministry of education or a school board. Do not mention UN plans,
because that can mobilize an opposition. Do not mention peace,
because that identifies you too strongly as idealist and therefore
unrealistic. Make arguements and present evidence that the people
you want to persuade will find persuasive.
Those are some quick ideas.
Subject: Larry's example of small wins approach.
After writing yesterday, I thought of another example. In the CPI
discussions (either at the Kingston conference or via internet, I
don't remember which), Larry suggested that the easiest way to make a
new program in peace studies was the little-by-little approach, which
is what he sort of did at MSVU. But his comment sort of went unheard,
That is a good example of a small-wins approach. So, instead of
planning a big full degree program starting from nothing but
idealism, which is what my university is now doing, Larry recommended:
1) One prof offers one peace studies course in his own department.
For profs to offer a new course on a topic they personally like is a
very ordinary, routine thing in a university that does not threaten
anyone and arouses no opposition. Approval is usually automatic.
2) Make the course interdisciplinary by inviting a like-minded prof
from another department. Get approval in by two departments. Again,
easy and routine.
3) Similarly, make a 2nd and a 3rd peace studies course.
4) Petition that peace studies can be a minor. This might start to
generate some opposition, because if students minor in peace studies
they cannot minor in something else. Some department might see
themselves "losing" in this.
5) Petition that peace studies can be an interdisciplinary major.
Again, there might be some opposition. But the profs offering the
course sit in departments (political science, psychology, English
literature, education, etc.) and a new minor or a new major is not
only a chance to lose students, but also a chance to gain students.
By bringing in a program this way, the threat to others from the new
program is minimal and gradual. People have a chance to get used to
it. Many points of opposition (and opposition arguments are
frequently good arguments) are answered by the success of the early
small steps. For example, "Are students interested in this?" "Does
our library have a collection that can support peace studies?" "Will
the scholarship be of high level?" "Will this detract from, or add
to, other programs?" "Do we have staff who can teach this?" etc.
That is all small-wins, which in bits and pieces add up to a big-win.
Response to: Larry's example of small wins approach
This describes pretty exactly how the McMaster Centre for Peace Studies has
come about over ten years. One further factor was fostered - links to
community groups. It has been a successful route so far.
Joanna Santa Barbara
Floyd Rudmin can be contacted at email@example.com