Chapter 3: Alternatives to
a Standard START Course



The previous chapter on how to conduct a START course should not be seen as a confining set of rules and regulations but as a description of one way that seems to work well. It is a structure that you can use, adapting it and building on it to fit your own needs.

Below are some of the many possible variations and alternatives that you may want to use in your particular START course.

A. 12-Session START Course

If your group is unable or unwilling to attend 24 sessions, you might set up a shorter START course. Here are two examples of 12-session START courses. The first touches on all eight major topic groups; the second emphasizes the history of change movements and strategies for action.

Example 1


Session

 

Number

Topic

I. Introduction to START

1

Introduction to START and Personal Introductions to Other Participants

II. Another World is Possible

2

Another World is Possible — A Few Positive Examples

III. Meeting Basic Human Needs — Physical Systems

3

Air, Water, Land, and Food

4

Industrialization and Energy Use

5

Environment and Sustainability

IV. Meeting Basic Human Needs — Economic Systems

6

Meeting Basic Needs in the U.S.

7

Global Economics

V. Providing Safety

8

Personal Safety

VI. Living Together

9

Ways We Are Divided

10

Communicating Information and Values

VII. Strategies for Positive Change

11

Challenging Existing Structures

VIII. Next Steps

12

Next Steps

Example 2

Session

 

Number

Topic

I. Introduction to START

1

Introduction to START and Personal Introductions to Other Participants

II. Another World is Possible

2

Another World is Possible — A Few Positive Examples

VI. Living Together

3

Communicating Information and Values

4

Exercises AND/OR Planning a Change Activity

VII. Strategies for Positive Change

5

Earlier Movements for Change

6

Later Movements for Change

7

Personal and Cultural Transformation

8

Building Alternatives

9

Challenging Existing Structures

10

Theories and Strategies

VIII. Next Steps

11

Exercises AND/OR Planning a Change Activity

12

Next Steps


Clearly, these truncated versions leave out many valuable topics. But it is better to have a short course with good attendance — that is exciting, energizing, and leaves people wanting more — than a longer course that suffers from poor attendance and low energy. A course of the latter type is likely to be disappointing for the participants and discourage their future change activity.

B. Everyone Reads the Same Materials

In the standard START course, participants read different articles (except for one brief summary article for each session) and their report presentations to the larger group are short and not comprehensive. This has the advantage that a wide variety of topics, materials, and perspectives can be covered in a relatively short amount of time, but it has the disadvantage that participants may learn widely different things depending on the particular articles they read.

Another way to conduct a START course is to have everybody read the same materials — a book or set of readings. This ensures that everyone has a common foundation of knowledge, which may help focus discussions and facilitate movement toward a specific change activity. Particularly if the group is interested in a particular problem area, solution, or change strategy, it may work better for everyone to read the same materials and discuss them thoroughly.

Though you are all reading the same materials, you can still have one person take responsibility for reporting on each chapter or set of readings and then use the same process as described in Chapter 2 for reports and discussion. Or you may want to have several people report back on each chapter or set of readings and in that way hear multiple perspectives on each reading.

C. Specific Focus First

A group already engaged in, or just beginning, a common project, may prefer to begin with readings directly related to that project. Care should be taken to select readings that cover a variety of points of view and put the issue in the context of the big picture.

Likewise, a group could begin with a special interest focus such as sexism, criminal justice, healthcare, or poverty. After a few sessions devoted to this special interest, the group could then proceed with the standard START course as outlined in this study guide and discover how that problem is connected with others and fits into a larger analysis.

D. Change the Content

We have tried to provide pithy, well-written readings that cover a broad range of material and offer a variety of points of view. We feel these materials are informative, instructive, and provide a good introduction to essential topics. However, they may not address the particular needs of your group. For your group you may want to substitute different materials such as the following:

If your group wants to read most of the materials in the standard START course, but also wants to read information about a specific topic, it is probably best for you to conduct a regular START course and then after it is over, follow it with a specific issue-oriented course as described in Section 3.F. Otherwise, if you just keep adding material, your group may get bogged down in the middle and never reach the end.

Alternatively, you may want to substitute readings in the standard START course with readings about a specific topic so that the total length of the course remains the same.

For example, you might skip two of the sessions in the Understanding Problems and Identifying Solutions segment and instead substitute a topic that especially interests your group. Homework for each of these two sessions might consist of locating five appropriate sets of readings, reading them, and then preparing a report presentation.

E. Change the Process

For a group to keep functioning in an egalitarian and efficient way, some aspects of the process are vital: sharing leadership, equalizing participation, and having everyone understand and be comfortable with the process. But once you have gotten a feel for the basic processes, there are lots of opportunities for modification and creativity — good and new process ideas are emerging all the time. Groups in the past have tried typing up and duplicating their reports for distribution, having potluck dinners before START meetings, spending Saturdays playing and getting to know each other, scrapping facilitation and time-keeping for a session to see how it feels, having individuals choose the time limits for their own reports, and dividing up into small groups of 3 or 4 for discussion about change.

An example of a valuable experiment in changed process is the procedure used by a group in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In the time normally reserved for reports and discussion they substituted an open discussion focused on a question that they chose the previous week. They chose questions that were general enough so that most of the readings for that session were relevant to it. If, at the end of the discussion time, one or more persons felt that they had not had a chance to contribute from their reading, then they would give a short report.

Note that this style worked in the Kalamazoo group because the members’ self-discipline allowed equal participation. In groups where a few people often dominate discussion, the standard format would likely work better.

F. Issue-Oriented Course

Introduction

An issue-oriented course gives a group an opportunity to focus in more depth on a specific subject using START perspective and group process tools. An issue-oriented course can be used to study a particular issue, to prepare for change efforts in that issue area, or to provide background information to an existing change organization that is developing a change campaign. Before conducting an issue-oriented course, it may be best for a group to conduct a regular START course first. Here are some advantages to doing it this way:

  • A regular START course gives a group a common background of thinking in analysis, vision, and strategy.
  • It provides grounding in the big picture of social problems so that the specific issue can be seen in a broader context.
  • It helps people avoid being trapped by short-sighted or narrow, tunnel-vision solutions.
  • It provides experience in functioning together that can make the group more democratic, its meetings more efficient and enjoyable, and the actions that grow out of the START course more effective.

There will be some situations, however, perhaps with action groups that are already functioning and operating under time pressure, in which it makes sense to start out immediately with an issue-oriented course. But it is particularly important for these groups to begin with some readings that provide a big picture perspective before focusing on their own issue.

Choosing a Subject

There are infinite possibilities for study topics — any report in the regular START course could be expanded into months of study. But there is no need to be arbitrary. Below are several questions to ask in choosing an issue:

  • Is the issue something that is important to the people involved? Is it an issue that people are facing directly in your area? Is it something that a change movement can be organized around?
  • Is it an issue your group would want to tackle and push for positive changes — would they engage in more than just a theoretical exercise?
  • Will the information learned in the START course be applicable to peoples’ daily lives?

If you are still having trouble choosing, pick several likely issues, construct web charts or force field analyses (see Section 2.H for details) to relate them to the rest of society and brainstorm questions for research. This might help illuminate the potential or drawbacks of different issues.

Setting Up the Course Format

As you set up your course, be sure to include the essential aspects of START that are built into the process — wide participation in information giving, egalitarian group process, inclusion of vision, strategy, and action thinking as well as analysis. Below is an example of a list of sessions for a 9-session course. This model provides a basic framework that you can adapt and modify:

Introduction

1

Introduction to the Course — personal introductions; choosing the subject

2

Building a Base — learning about the other participants (exercises on personal oppressions, personal sharing of goals, etc.); choosing readings to provide broad perspective and analysis of the issue

Analysis of Problems

3

Issue Analysis — reports and discussion of readings on the issue

4

Issue Analysis — reports and discussion of readings on the issue

5

Issue Analysis — reports and discussion of readings on the issue

Visions of Positive Alternatives

6

Issue Solutions — reports and discussion on visions of positive alternatives

7

Issue Solutions — reports and discussion on visions of positive alternatives

Strategy and Action for Positive Change

8

Strategy and Action — strategy games; how to build a campaign

9

Strategy and Action — strategy games; how to build a campaign


Consider starting a campaign around the issue as you are studying it. Getting involved in change activity raises many vital questions to study, while studying suggests different approaches to change.

G. A “Starter” START

A “Starter” START is a one-session demonstration intended to introduce people to the START content and process.

Agenda

An agenda for a 3-hour “Starter” START session might look like this:


Time

Item

10

Personal Introductions (if the group members do not already know each other)

5

Excitement Sharing

5

Presentation/Decision — Agenda Review

15

Presentation — Introduction to START (presented by the meeting convener)

5

Distribute copies of short articles

20

Individual Reading — participants read the articles

45

Presentations and Discussion — reports on readings (4 x 5+5 minutes each + 5-minute discussion of readings and discussion questions at end)

10

Break

40

Exercise — Connecting Problems to Social Change Solutions

15

Discussion — Questions and discussion about the 24-Week START course and whether the group should undertake one

10

Evaluation


3 hrs

Process

It has been our experience that groups conducting a “Starter” START often do not have an opportunity before the session to read articles, so reading time is included in the session. But most of the other agenda items can be conducted in exactly the same way as in a regular START course.

In keeping with the idea of START, reading materials should address an issue in the context of the broader situation. Reading materials can be distributed so that each person reads a different article (although there is time for only four people to make report presentations). However, we have found it more effective to use just four or five articles, so that each article is read by at least two people — one person presents a report on the reading and others who have read the same article then add to it. Be sure to keep to time limits on the reports and urge people to report on the points in the articles which were important to them rather than trying to summarize the article. Since the purpose of a “Starter” START is to demonstrate the process, this should be stated clearly. The focus should be on illuminating the process (and much less on addressing the content) so special attention should be paid to equal participation, time limits, and explaining the purpose of each agenda item.

H. Self-Study

The materials gathered here can, of course, be used for self-study. But much of the value of START comes from discussing ideas with other folks, engaging in various kinds of exercises with others, and considering how to work with other people to bring about positive change. The idea of tackling a big problem with the support of many other people is much less daunting than pondering how to do it by yourself. If at all possible, study, discuss, and reflect together with at least one other person.

Next Chapter: 4. Underlying Principles of START