The sequential formula for successful activism is Research, Education, Organizing, Action. Without research, educators, organizers and activists are flying blind, emotionally motivated, but intelligence-impaired.
Investigative research allows organizers and activists to respond to what is actually happening, rather than to what they imagine is happening. Indeed, the most important role of researchers is in protecting activists from attack, because once they start to become effective they will be attacked, in ways they have not imagined by people they are unaware of. Discovering and monitoring those who will organize and fund these attacks is probably the most vital role of researchers, and is usually the last thing activists consider.
Protector societies are an ancient Indigenous institution, but modern activists rarely understand or respect this role. It’s why they usually fail.
No movement gets anywhere until it develops a serious and respected research network that guides the educational and organizational activities leading to effective action. Mobilizing resentment is easy; affecting social transformation is a formidable challenge.
In my 2001 report Research as Organizing Tool, I surveyed four leading investigative researchers about community-based research and how it might be improved. In my 2007 essay The Public Health Model, I examined a strategic approach to using research in social conflict. These and other useful discussions on activism and social change are included in the Special Reports section of our online archive at Public Good Project.
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