How to build a research team

Are people in your city already conducting power research? Find out by filling out this survey.

At LittleSis, we think there are many benefits to doing power research as part of a team. Carrying out research with other people from your organization or community allows you to share skills, build relationships, and come up with more creative ideas for projects than you would if you were working alone! If your team includes activists and organizers, it also helps ensure that the research you’re doing is useful for taking action, not just research for research’s sake.

Building a power research team is similar to building any team of people looking to take action! When you’re beginning to build your team, take time to consider who you have existing relationships with, who can join, and who needs to be in the space. As you reach out to members in your community stay true to racial, gender, migrant, and worker justice by strategically identifying and inviting people from these movements. It is ideal that your research collective represents a broad base of movements so that the connections between different struggles are highlighted and unite us towards collective action. Further, by inviting folks from different organizations and struggles, this will allow your research collective to fill in and support the research needs of those in your community more broadly.

Below are some basic tenets for building your research team based on what we’ve seen work well for activist-researchers across the country.

Step 1: Outreach

Step 2: Coming together to do research

Be creative and have fun! Finding ways to make a supportive and enjoyable environment for your team will build trust and make the detail-oriented nature of research a community effort. Check out a few of the ideas below!

Pizza and Profile - invite your research crew over and eat pizza while you build out the profiles of local power players.

Monthly co-working sessions - find a date and time that everyone comes together to hold space and support one another as you are investigating and building.

Monthly Trainings - come together with your crew to join LittleSis during one of our monthly webinars. Or, host monthly skill shares put on by the people in your crew.

Power Hour! Power Mapping Happy Hours

Research-a-thons - Bring together your team and supporters for a discrete, collective effort to find all the information you need for a particular target in a few hours. For example, a power research team of 15 people in New York City came together for three hours and found email addresses for 120 CEOs and business executives collaborating with the Trump agenda.

Step 3: Choosing your first project

Who governs? Who benefits? Who pays?

To make sure the research you’re conducting is both relevant and useful to local organizing efforts, you’ll need a few things:

A few resources that can help launch your research projects:

Below are a few guides centered on national research efforts currently moving, if you’re interested in plugging in, reach out to us here!

Step 4: Take Action!

How to push a target:

Here are a three examples of the way power research - coupled with writing, strategic media engagement, and direct action - can serve grassroots interest!

Activists in Ferguson Broaden Scope, Unveil ‘Power Behind the Police’

N.Y.U. Students Revolt Against Pro-Trump Billionaire

Trump Collaborators of Philly

A few great organizing guides can be found below:

The Rural Organizing Project has many great tools and resources to help you with capacity building and organizing.

Project South has free curriculums and tools that can help your research crew ground your analysis in a broad, local and global historical context, you can find them here.

The School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL) has many free organizing training resources.

Curious about what abolition is? Interested in finding ways to take concrete steps toward abolition? If so, check out the education and resource tools at Critical Resistance.

The Movement Net Lab has an amazing consolidated list of communication tools that can make collaboration and decision making for your research crew that much easier - check it out here!

Case Studies

Saint Louis MLS Stadium

Saint Louis researchers and organizers achieved an important win in April of 2017 when a proposal to use public money to construct a soccer stadium was defeated.

Research Phase Local researchers did hard investigation on the political action committee, AspireSTL, lobbying for the sixty million dollar project to construct yet another sports stadium in the mid-size city. Collaboratively, they we’re able to identify the individual, wealthy owners of the Saint Louis Football Club who were posed to make lots of money from this project. It was no surprise that none of the individuals we’re tax paying residents of Saint Louis city. Researchers used the oligrapher to map out the corporate millionaires pushing this effort.

Public Education/Media From here, a researcher and organizer published an article in a local newspaper - this article educated a broad audience of Saint Louis residents on who was really benefiting from the proposed construction of the soccer stadium.

Coalition Work In collaboration with a local coalition known as Team TIF, activists from different struggles were invited to write and share how sixty million dollars could be used in the interest of the public rather than a handful of members of the corporate elite. By doing this, organizers were able to engage the interests of people from varying movements, such as: reproductive health advocates, local organizers fighting against police brutality, and affordable housing activists. This strengthened efforts to appeal to the masses by exposing the big contradictions this measure posed. Why invest so much money in a stadium when most Saint Louis city residents are suffering from a lack of investment in public goods?

Win! On Election Day, Saint Louis voters said NO to Proposition 2! After much hard work and a significantly smaller budget than the their opposition - activists and organizers defeated the frivolous interests of big money investors who had spent over one million dollars campaigning for a soccer stadium.

Trump Collaborators of Philly

In Philadelphia, like many places across the country, there were large protests in the weeks following the election of Donald Trump. Thousands of people who hadn’t previously been involved in social justice organizations were marching in the streets and beginning to organize among their communities to resist the Trump agenda. In the weeks following the election, some activists and organizers began having conversations about what kind of infrastructure we needed for the local Philadelphia Trump resistance to flourish and the different ways that newly-politicized people could put their skills to use for justice.

Coming Together One hole we identified was power research--a real understanding of the corporate and individual players who are standing in the way of justice in Philadelphia and which local players are collaborating with Trump and his agenda. We know that in order to carry out his agenda Trump needs the support of a number of powerful individuals and corporations and therefore that one part of Trump resistance should be exposing, pressuring, and disrupting those players. But we weren’t sure who those players were in Philly.

Identifying shared goals and skills We partnered with a community group called the 215 People’s Alliance and began to pull together a group of people interested in doing power research. In our first couple of meetings, we brainstormed research projects that would be useful for different organizations in Philadelphia. We also took stock of what kinds of research skills people in our group had that they would be willing to share with others. We realized we had a lot of skills in the room; everything from GIS mapping, to investigating ring-wing foundation donors, to using Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings to map our corporate networks. We decided to start having regular skillshares and “research sessions”---stretches of a couple of hours when we all bring our computers, get some pizza, hang out, and do research together.

Research Phase To start, we settled on three priority projects. One project was creating a guide to “Philly’s Trump Agenda Collaborators.” You can see our final product here. To create the guide, we first went through news articles from our local papers that identified local Philadelphia executives, lawyers, and corporations with ties to Trump. Once we had a list of Trump collaborators, we created a template of questions we wanted to know the answers to about each collaborator (For example, how exactly are they related to Trump or his administration? What local politicians have they contributed money to? What Philadelphia civic institutions do they sit on the board of?). Each member of our team took 2-3 collaborators to investigate. We had 2 research nights where we got pizza, hung out, and did research on our targets together. Then we used to record the info we found and make maps about their relationships.

Public Education With the help of 215 PA, we compiled the research on and released it in the lead up to May Day and the call for anti-Trump actions and strikes. Our hope is that this guide will be a living document and a resource for people organizing for justice across the city!