Sometimes, I end up kicking myself for not carrying a notepad with me at all times – I’d be able could jot down things that I hear immediately, instead of trying to go back later and piece them together from memory.  The other day, I heard a snippet of a country/western song with the line, “sometimes, you have to go in different directions along parallel paths.”  I’m sure the song was about some couple who lost their love and had to go different directions to find their way back to each other (aren’t all country songs about that type of thing?), but it got me to thinking about the larger implications of the line.

GPS can do the same thing; that is, give you different directions along parallel paths.  If you type in a destination, your GPS usually gives you two or three alternate routes ending in the same place.  If you make a mistake and take a wrong turn, the GPS will recalculate to find a different direction to the same place.

So what am I getting at here?   Over the years, I’ve learned that taking different directions along parallel paths is actually quite common in civic campaigns.  In fact, most successful civic campaigns will go down different paths (or at least plan out several different pathways) leading to the same desired outcome.

Since no civic campaign exists in a vacuum, in which all variables remain constant, it is almost inevitable that a different direction, strategy, or contingency plan will need to be employed at some point. With that in mind, Denny Civic Solutions always plans for – and very often takes – different directions along parallel paths to achieve the goal.

Here’s a recent example.  The Campaign for What Works, a client trying to change the antiquated name of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to the Department of Human Services (DHS), knew that to do so would require legislation being passed through the Pennsylvania House and Senate before eventually being signed by the Governor.  The common approach to pass a bill is to introduce it in one chamber (either the House or Senate), get it passed, and then send it to the other chamber and repeat the process.  But when it became clear that the “common approach” wasn’t going to work, the Campaign decided to – you guessed it – go in a different direction along a parallel path.

Thus, two identical bills changing the name of DPW were introduced simultaneously in the Senate and the House.  Not knowing which would move first or garner a larger margin of support, the Campaign moved both at the same time, hoping that one would make it to the finish line first.  Had the campaign followed just one direction, it would introduced the bill first in the Senate, because that’s where conventional wisdom said the support was strongest.  However, in the end, it was the House that surprised everyone and passed the bill first, making it much easier now to pass it in the Senate.

So what can we learn from this?  Leaders in charge of a civic campaign shouldn’t simply expect that the unexpected might happen – they should plan for it.  So the next time your organization undertakes a civic campaign, make sure that you know just what you’re in for – and which paths it might lead you down.