We’ve been talking a bit internally at Groundwire here about how to define effective social change organizing. Here’s what we have so far:
Effective social change organizing creates relationships in order to build measurable power and wields that power to achieve specific, significant behavioral, policy or political outcomes.
How does that work for you?
We like that it is succinct and clearly connects relationships, power and tangible outcomes. But it also raises questions of what we might mean by “measurable power” and “specific, significant outcomes.”
Any organizing campaign or organizer will need to figure out what measures of power are most meaningful for their context, but in general, we think that power is most often measurable in terms of “I can motivate X people to take action Y, which results in Z.”
“Specific and significant” outcomes will also vary greatly across campaigns, but again, we want to emphasize how important it is to be able to articulate these outcomes in specific and measurable terms. Some examples could include:
- Winning an election
- Passing legislation or administrative policies
- Measure shifts in public opinion or behavior
If your “big hairy audacious” goal will take years to achieve, that’s OK, but you need to be able to define some specific shorter-term outcomes to let you know whether you’re on track.
Paul Loeb has just published a nice, thoughtful piece about the Greg Mortensen affair. I particularly liked the following couple of ‘grafs, because they remind us that our fascination with Mortensen is part of a larger, unhealthy dynamic in which we fetishize “innovation” and “heroes” while ignoring systems approaches and long-term experience.
The arc of Mortenson’s fame also reminds me how much our culture enshrines lone entrepreneurs as the ultimate change agents, while displaying a commensurate disdain for those who’ve long worked in the trenches. We see this in international development, where businesspeople or celebrities receive massive publicity for their glamorous new projects, while groups like Oxfam or CARE that work year after year in local communities are left invisible in the shadows, or presented as dull, bureaucratic, and retrograde in comparison. We see the same thing with America’s educational debates, where those who talk glibly of solving poverty and inequality with the instant solutions of high stakes testing, charter schools, or eliminating the long-held rights of teachers receive massive attention, while the experiences of those who’ve actually spent 20 or 30 years in the classrooms are disdained and ignored.
Sometimes fresh approaches can shake things up, and Mortenson’s focus on getting Pakistani and Afghan girls enrolled in school may well be one of those transformative ideas. But his books still feed the narrative that the best way to make change is to ignore pretty much anything that anyone else has been doing all along, and to charge ahead with your own Lone Ranger initiatives.
Following is the only-slightly-redacted text of an actual email exchange I just had with a well-intended but utterly clueless environmental activist trying to get the word out about his work. The original message had about 400 people in the To/CC lines.
From: XXXXXXXX Sent: Friday, April 22, 2011 8:47 PM To: Jon Stahl Subject: RE: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Jon: I have taken you from the list. Thanks for suggestions, but I like sending to diverse strangers, in the field of XXXXXX, especially gov people who live in a protected (idea) world. There is to much time wasted, "talking to the converted". Actually, I get very few complaints. Best, XXXXX
> XXXXXX- > > With all respect, we all really need you to stop putting your > entire address book in the To/CC line of your emails. > > It is creating a huge amount of unwanted email, generating a > "reply all" storm, and it's absolutely terrible online communications > etiquette. Please consider starting an email list (e.g. at > http://npogroups.org or Google Groups) or using a simple email > broadcasting service like http://mailchimp.com. > > Please remove me from your list, too. Thanks. > > cheers, > jon
Sometimes I wonder why I bother.
Laurence Rowe and Martin Aspeli just made the first beta releases of Diazo and plone.app.theming. I couldn’t be more excited. Diazo is a revolutionary new approach to theming web applications. And, while it has been developed by the Plone community, it’s not just for Plone. Diazo can be used to theme almost any web application, and I think it heralds a paradigm shift in how we think about theming websites. Diazo works best with Plone 4.1 (in beta, coming very soon), which includes its dependencies, but can also be installed in Plone 4.0.x.
I can’t wait to see what folks will be able to accomplish with Diazo.
We must have been feeling the Earth Day vibes, because my colleagues at Groundwire have launched three new Plone-powered websites in the last week:
Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design & Construction — the greenest commercial building in the world, currently in planning by our friends at the Bullitt Foundation.
Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust – leading and inspiring action to conserve and enhance the landscape from Seattle across the Cascade Mountains to Central Washington, ensuring a long-term balance between people and nature.
It’s great to be able to work with folks getting the good work done.
I have a continual internal struggle between two competing thoughts:1) Internet social media is a young, rapidly evolving ecosystem, heading towards better understanding of consumers, better solutions, and longer product lifetimes. 2) Internet social media is basically entertainment, where sites, platforms, and communication strategies rise and fall in popularity like yesterday’s television shows and networks, but on a much, much shorter timeline.
With Plone 4.1 now in beta, Hanno Schlichting’s been testing it against some of his big, real-world sites, and finds that it offers a 2x-4x performance boost for sites with thousands of content objects. That’s pretty sweet.
After 15 years, I’m leaving Groundwire.
I’ll be starting a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs this September. I’ll wrap up my work at Groundwire in June and take the summer off to be a full-time dad to Everett and to enjoy summer in Seattle through the eyes of a fifteen-month-old.
I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to be a part of Groundwire over the past decade and a half. I’ve learned a ton, worked for hundreds of amazing, inspiring environmental organizations and have been blessed with the most kick-ass colleagues and co-conspirators this side of anywhere. I am more grateful to all of you (past and present) than I can ever adequately express. Thank you.
I won’t be going too far away. We’re staying here in Seattle. I’ll continue to serve on the boards of the Plone Foundation and Green Media Toolshed. It’s possible I’ll add a consulting gig or two to my plate once I get a handle on my academic workload.
While there’s no denying that this feels like the end of a huge chapter in my life, it also feels like a new beginning. I’m really excited to plunge into the unknown and into what I hope will be a period of creative uncertainty. While I don’t know what the next chapters looks like, I’m confident that they will remix familiar themes: public service, social change, openness, systems thinking, data-driven decision-making and smart use of technology.
Watch this space for further updates. Be seeing you.