PBS200Y: Towards a Theory of Change

FIXME post updated version of presentation?

Introduction: A Forest Fire

We know the problem.1) Canada widely accepts abortion. While most people support some restrictions, very few oppose all abortions – especially in the first trimester, when most abortions happen. 100,000 pre-born children are killed every year – for every four children born, one is killed by abortion. And think of all the people who've been affected by abortion – post-abortive women, post-abortive men, their friends, their children. Our culture is deeply wounded by the killing.

Abortion advocates frame the issue using choice and women's rights. Pro-life clubs are shut down on campus, pro-life protesters are subject to bubble zones, pro-life displays get slashed with a pocket knife, pro-life doctors who won't kill are forced to refer to others who will, the government funds abortion across most of the country – there are more people working full-time to kill babies than to save babies.

We're facing a forest fire. How should we respond?

A Goal

When facing a forest fire, what's the goal? To put out the fire, and keep everyone you can safe in the meantime. Not to build a memorial while the fire is still raging. Not to raise awareness about the need to fight forest fires. Not to raise awareness about the harmful effects of smoke inhalation. Not to hold a fire-fighting volleyball tournament. Or to make the presence of the firefighters known, so people know there are some of us that fight fires.

The goal should be to put the fire out. And to save anyone who's in danger in the meantime.

We need to be goal-oriented.

Theory of Action vs Theory of Change

Theory of Action

Video that explains theory of change and uses the analogy of building a wardrobe without a manual: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJDN0cpxJv4

Our pro-life efforts too often have a theory of action. We look around us and think, what actions can we do to accomplish our goals? What can we do that could abolish abortion? Let’s recriminalize abortion, just change the law back. Write your MP, write a blog post, go on social media, march, hold a sign, hand out some pamphlets, hold a conference, host a speaker, put some posters or ads up. These are all actions we can do as we look around us. Some of these actions might reach people and change their minds, or even save lives. None of these scattered actions will fundamentally change anything.


:?: Question: What's wrong with this approach? Doesn't it make sense to do what you can? What do you think?

A theory of action works forwards, to pick from immediate actions available to see if you can move forward to the goal, but without tracing a clear path to the goal:

FIXME why is a theory of action insufficient?

  • no clear path to goal
  • no solid way of evaluating where our actions fit into the vision
By having a clear plan, pro-life organizations are vision-driven instead of crisis-driven. By having a clear plan, prolifers can frame the debate and map out a winning strategy to make abortion unthinkable. By having a clear plan, pro-life organizations are able to properly evaluate how certain activities fit into that bigger picture2)

FIXME transition

Well, that’s because we’re outnumbered, you might say. Or that’s because it won’t happen overnight, it’ll take a long time, but we just have to keep at it!

No amount of spitting into the ocean will cause a sea-change.

FIXME cargo cult copying

Theory of Change

We don't need a better theory of action; a theory of action isn't good enough. We need a theory of change.

A theory of action works forwards to pick actions that might accomplish your goal (e.g. I'm hungry, maybe I should get some food. The fridge is pretty empty. Well, I could order a pizza. That'll work.).

A theory of change works backwards from the goal, identifying the preconditions to get there – what thing needs to happen before the goal can be realized? What needs to happen before that thing can happen? And backwards, in concrete steps, until you get to specific actions you can take on a path back to the goal.

FIXME theory of action says “what can I do?” whereas theory of change says “what do I need to do?” Some rough skeletal (simplifying, skipping many steps) examples:

  • Goal: An abortion-free Canada
    • CCBR: make abortion unthinkable, so people won't choose it
      • make people more horrified by abortion than by its alternatives
        • make the injustice of abortion visible
          • show people photos of abortion victims
            • action: use “Choice” chain to bring photos to the streets and campuses
            • action: deliver postcards to student houses
            • action: use abortion victim photography in presentations
          • convince people through dialogue that abortion is an injustice
            • discover the most effective dialogue strategies and arguments
              • make a case that abortion is a human rights violation
                • action: run seminars and workshops to equip volunteers with pro-life apologetics
                • action: have practice dialogue
                • action: debrief after conversations to help each other improve and share new ideas
    • make abortion illegal, so people can't choose it
      • pro-life legislation needs to be passed
        • pro-life legisation needs to be proposed
          • We Need A Law: we need to lobby for pro-life public policy that's supported by the public
            • propose ideas to legislators
              • identify what pro-life laws would have public support
                • action: polling
                • action: SimpleMail to let politicians know
              • find legislators who might be willing
                • action: talking to legislators
          • Right Now: pro-life politicians need to be elected FIXME https://www.itstartsrightnow.ca/more_pro_life_mpps_than_liberals_yes_please
            • nominate pro-life politicians
              • join local riding association boards
              • identify pro-lifers in each riding
                • action: door-knocking
    • make abortion unnecessary, so people won't need it
      • provide material support to those facing difficult pregnancies
        • FIXME CPC
      • alleviate the economic pressures that lead people to choose abortion
        • fund more social programs?
          • convince parties to put these social programs in their platforms
            • convince candidates/MPs to advocate for these policies
            • pass policies at party conventions
              • get more pro-lifers registered and active with parties

If you're fighting a forest fire, you need a plan. You need a vision of how you'd going to bring it under control and put it you. Trying to end abortion with a scattered pro-life theory of action is like trying to put out a forest fire with a watergun. We need a real plan with a path to success, a plan that might actually work.

FIXME ETK plan summary FIXME post-CLC pro-life politics summary

FIXME http://www.macleans.ca/society/why-social-activists-should-think-like-venture-capitalists/

  • importance of balance between a clear, structured vision/mission and the flexibility needed to handle ongoing change
  • or 300-level strategy seminar? (“this is not a charitable cause”)

An Analysis of Pro-life Responses

Three approaches:

  1. Pastoral (Service): providing aid to women and families in crisis;
  2. Political: changing the law;
  3. Prophetic (Education): educating the public.

All three approaches are necessary, but the success of the first two depends on the success of the third. If public opinion doesn't change, people won't take advantage of crisis pregnancy services and the law won't change.3)

Imagine there is a [forest fire raging through a town]. The most obvious need is for firefighters to put out the fire and rescue those in harm's way. But when their job ends, many other jobs are just beginning: paramedics need to provide on scene care; physicians need to diagnose and treat the wounded; nurses need to implement the required care; law enforcement officers need to investigate the origins of the fire and respond to any foul play; parents and educators need to teach children the dangers of playing with fire. All approaches are necessary and no one would criticize firefighters, for example, for not being physicians.

:?: Question: Is any one of these approaches more central than the others? When there's a building on fire, on which approach do all others depend?

The success of one approach very much depends on the success of another: if firefighters do not rescue people, the medical care at a hospital’s burn unit will go unused – no matter how impressive it is.

There is a need for various roles, but they cannot succeed in isolation, and some approaches depend on the success of others.

The Pastoral Approach

  • Critical, life-saving work here, but there's an important question: how many clients seriously consider abortion?
  • In 2002, Focus on the Family’s newsletter HeartLink reported that “less than 10 percent of the clients darkening the doors of pregnancy care centers [across the United States] were abortion-minded.”4)
  • “Most abortion-minded women do not choose the help of PCCs because the PCCs will help women through the pregnancies but abortion clinics will help them out of the pregnancies. PCCs are willing to provide whatever a woman needs (e.g., housing, baby supplies, moral support). The abortion clinic offers her what she wants. […] The pro-life movement is offering an alternative that in many women's minds does not even compete with what the abortion clinic offers by way of short-term solutions. ” 5)
  • “Offering help, while necessary, is not sufficient in ending abortion. […] pastoral approach needs the prophetic approach to change peoples' minds on abortion”6)
  • Gregg Cunningham: ““The simple fact of the matter is that women who are not more horrified by abortion than they are terrified of the burdens of the pregnancy will kill their babies almost every time.”

The Political Approach

  • Canadian pro-lifers have lost court cases, elections, and legislative initiatives dealing with abortion on all governmental levels over the past half century, without any significant major victories
  • Public opinion needs to change before public policy can be changed
  • More effective political action is needed
    • incrementalism
      • illegal > regulated > decriminalized
      • decriminalized > regulated > illegal7)
    • broad political coalitions, less idea bundling
    • new political efforts, e.g. Right Now and WNAL

The Prophetic Approach

Within the specific task of [fighting a forest fire], there are different ways to put out a fire. Some methods ([waterbombers]) are more effective than others ([waterguns]). In the same way, while it is important to respond to abortion from a number of ways (pastoral, political, prophetic), within each approach, there are more effective and less effective activities. Prophetic activists, just like firefighters, must choose ethical methods that will save the most lives.

The goal is not to just “do something, do anything.” The goal is to end abortion, and time, effort and money spent on less effective activities takes away from more effective activities.

  1. Target Audience: Who is our target audience and are we reaching them with our method?
    • low turnout events, like event lectures or conferences
    • preaching to the choir
    • Is the goal to reach fence sitters?
    • Or to facilitate networking amongst and motivate pro-lifers?
    • Could conferences or meetings or lectures that still do serve a purpose of equipping and energizing pro-lifers be a springboard to more visible action to reach fence sitters and the general public?
  2. Providing Clear Reasons and Compelling Evidence: Are we providing clear reasons for our claims so that the unconvinced will be converted?
    • Demonstrations and protests
      • Large gatherings often don't show evidence for why a group is gathered or why they oppose abortion: e.g. Life Chain, March for Life, walks, hikes, processions. colourful balloons, signs with slogans, stickers, etc.
      • Even Life Chain, which clearly states why pro-lifers oppose abortion (“Abortion kills children”), does not give reasons for how pro-lifers have come to that conclusion
      • There's a key difference between the anti-abortion movement and other social reform movements that held/hold large marches or gatherings: the victims of abortion do not participate and are not visible in these protests
        • “By their presence and attitude of peace and respect, they conveyed to the public that they were human like everyone else. Often they were victimized during their marches and images of this further injustice, communicated via the media, turned the public against the injustice.”
        • We need to go out of our way to convey who they're standing for and what they're standing against
      • We should:
        • train participants to defend the pro-life view
        • equip participants with compelling resources (e.g., evidence-based, visual signs) and then take the message to the public
          • photos of born babies: not the victims, not being denied their humanity, the average person isn't disputing their cuteness – showed a cute newborn doesn't change anyone's mind on the humanity of an embryo
    • Media
      • An ad: The ad shows a split screen where two seeds are planted. On one side the seed is dug up, and thus destroyed; on the other side the seed grows into a flower, with pictures of babies and children and the simple words, “Choose life” at the end.
        • Pro-life leader said: this “shows the truth about abortion”
        • Removing a seed from soil doesn’t even come close to conveying abortion’s destructiveness. […] If we were trying to convey to an indifferent public that butchering Tutsis in Rwanda was wrong, would we show pictures of smiling Tutsis on one side of a screen while on the other a seed was removed from soil? Or what if we lived during the time of the Holocaust? If we wanted to show the truth about the Holocaust would we show people a seed removed from soil or a Jew killed by Nazis?
  3. Idea Bundling: If we are blending a number of moral issues in our campaign, is that helping or hindering our ability to win converts?
    • e.g. Life Chain's 2006 press release, despite the purpose of the event being to end abortion, says: “Today our culture is sinking beneath abortion’s bond with aggressive homosexual demands, with unabated pornography and sexual addiction, with illegitimacy now producing one-third of U.S. births, with STDs at epidemic level, and with cohabitation and divorce's assault on traditional marriage and family.”
      • You had one problem… now you have like eight
    • e.g. Campaign Life Coalition “Other Issues” drop down
    • e.g. PLAGAL and the US March for Life8)
  4. Frequency: Does the frequency of our work reinforce the gravity of our message or contradict it?
    • A lot of pro-life activities are annual. If we were in Nazi Germany, would an annual hour of protest against the Holocaust be an effective way of offering opposition? Or would our actions support or undermine our claims to observers, would they really believe that we believe what we say we believe based on our actions?
  5. Proactive Responses: Are our activities proactive or reactive?
    • If abortion advocates hold a rally or conference, pro-lifers will protest it. If abortion advocates advance pro-abortion legislation, prolifers write letters of opposition. If the Governor General awards abortionist Henry Morgentaler with the Order of Canada, pro-lifers will mobilize, objecting to the award through letter-writing, phone calls, petitions, and protests.
      • e.g. frequent AFLO or EPC emails
    • Who's setting the agenda? Pro-lifers need a clear plan, not just a series of reactions to current events or move from abortion advocates. Chasing online polls isn't going to change the culture.
    • We need to be vision-driven, not crisis-driven, to set the terms of the debate, to be able to properly evaluate whether individual activities fit into the bigger picture or not
    • Plus, we need to be focused on those who are persuadable – often times reactive moves are targeted about abortion advocates, who are far less likely to be persuaded anyways, versus pro-actively targeted the mushy middle or mobilizing latent pro-lifers
    • FIXME Students for Choice Dec 2015 or Sept 2016 RSU examples of reactive versus proactive action
    • FIXME Briarpatch article9)
  6. Cost-Effectiveness: Is our work cost-effective?
    • e.g. RTL newsletters, often contain reprinted news items, multi-page printouts that get mailed out
      • What is the purpose of newsletters?
      • If it is to encourage our donors about the effectiveness of the work they are supporting, do our newsletters accomplish that?
      • If it is to educate our donors to better defend the pro-life cause, do our newsletters accomplish that?
      • If it is to inform our donors about what’s happening in the world regarding abortion, do our newsletters accomplish that?
      • Are our newsletters unique? In other words, are people unable to receive elsewhere the information we are offering? If another group is communicating what we communicate, why is there overlap? Does there need to be?
      • Do we have the right purpose for our newsletters? In other words, we may be achieving our goal, but should that be our goal? Does that goal make us more effective or less effective in ending abortion?
    • e.g. UTSFL bake sale versus parenting resources outreach table
    • e.g. costly memorials, especially while tragedy is still ongoing
    • e.g. conferences that almost shut down organizations
    • spending huge amounts of money is still important, e.g. delivering 1 million postcards


Compare and critique strengths and weaknesses:

  • Pro-Life ads
  • Pro-Life Postcards
      • Ultrasound but no AVP; mostly irrelevant born children
      • Weak argument
      • Addressed to Prime Minister… (to change the law all at once?)
    • CCBR
      • AVP, before/after cognitive dissonance
      • human rights
      • delivered to homes across the country (to change public opinion)
  • Outreach Activities
    • Life Chain / “Choice” Chain / Show the Truth / QA Project
    • 40 Days for Life
    • Postcarding

FIXMEIf (insert activity) saves even 1 life, isn't it worth it?

  • We're all in agreement that the saving of a child's life is a great good, since every child is immeasurably valuable. But does that answer the Q of whether the activity itself is one we should continue to do?
  • Blaise (re: HUSH but applies to other activities): “We're up against the forest fire of abortion. Sure, a [seminar on the negative health effects of smoke inhalation given by someone who still thinks arson is okay] might save a few lives, though I doubt it. But is that really a responsible way to be spending money, time or energy while the fire is still raging? Maybe we could save lives by evacuating the neighbourhood by giving people bicycles. Wouldn't it be irresponsible to do that if we could bring in buses or helicopters instead?
  • That any given action has the potential to save a life doesn't answer the question of whether or not it's worthwhile to do. Life Chain might save lives. Creating a pro-life anthem and choreographing and filming a music video for it might save a life. That doesn't automatically mean it's a responsible use of money, time or energy.”

FIXME “What makes a protest effective?” https://comment.org/protest-and-persuasion-productive-or-pointless/

CCBR Handbook p. 17
p. 11
WNAL Direction Matters
“…with anti-choicers setting the terms of debate, how can pro-choice activists respond in a way that best advances women’s struggles for reproductive autonomy?… Pro-choice groups and networks have formed or expanded at a number of universities in response to the activities of anti-choice groups, particularly where more extreme organizations like the CCBR have been active. The danger, however, is that pro-choice activists have sometimes been drawn into, and consumed by, reactionary struggles, focused more on blocking anti-choice groups than on building an analysis rooted in women’s bodily autonomy. While supporting women who have had abortions and protecting women from harassment are the primary goals of the pro-choice response to anti-choice groups on campus, the defensive stance taken by pro-choice students has limited them in taking a more proactive approach to building support for the issues at hand. Anti-choice groups are using the free speech argument to win the public relations battle, leaving some to wonder if groups like the CCBR are deliberately luring pro-choice activists into an unwinnable war.” https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/freedom-of-hate-speech