I reluctantly got a cell phone this summer when I was dealing with some family stuff that necessitated a long trip Back East. And I’m not much of a gadget-hound under any circumstances. But, still, T-Mobile’s new Cellphone + Blackberry device looks like a pretty useful and cool toy. And it’s going to be priced at only $199 — a lot less than Treo products.
Our friends over at Environmental Working Group have just released Skin Deep, yet another in their fantastic series of reports that tease the hidden environmental stories out of large databases.
This time, they assessed the ingredients of more than 7500 personal care products, and evaluated them against government, industry, and academic lists of known and suspected chemical health hazards.
EWG presents both its analysis, as well as a [searchable database](http://www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep/browse_products.php) of products with their hazard scores, so you can make more informed choices.
This is a fantastic example of a strategy that combines both policy advocacy and consumer action. Toxics groups around the country should pick up on this as a resource they can deliver to their audiences.
In the past week or so I’ve read through a few “website plans” and “online communications plans” that have been put together for Northwest environmental groups and all in all, I’ve been pretty dissatisfied with them. None of them seem to deliver all of the elements that you’d need in order to go all the way from idea to execution. I’ve talked this over quite a bit with my colleagues [Gideon](http://blogs.onenw.org/gideon) and Drew over the past couple of days, and I’m going to try to get some of my thoughts down here.
* Organizing goals — the purpose of advocacy communication is to inspire people to take specific actions that lead towards organizing goals. Therefore, a communications plan has to identify these goals at the outset — they will serve as a “north star” for the rest of the plan.
* Audiences — a communications plan has to identify the target audiences for the communications. “The general public” is not a valid answer. Niether is “moms.” This is an area where we’re still really weak. Doing useful audience segmentation seems to be kind of a black art, and it doesn’t seem to come very intuitively to our organizations — we are much more comfortable describing people in geographic, occupational and demographic terms than we are at positioning them psychologically. We need to get much better at describing our audiences in terms of their attitudes towards our issues.
* Desired outcomes — what are the attitude and behavior changes we’re trying to create?
* Influences — our communications plans need to identify the “forces and sources” that influence the attitudes and behaviors of our target audiences. For example, who do key legislators listen to when deciding how to vote on conservation issues? How do suburban moms decide whether to buy organic vegetables or not? Our communications strategies need to focus on getting our messages into the channels that actually influence our target audiences.
* Messages and framing — a good communications plan will talk about the good and bad language to use when talking about our issues to our target audiences. How do we create the linguistic structures that position our arguments as winners? Despite some recent good work on this by [George Lakoff](http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org) and crew at the Rockridge Institute, there still remains a great deal of work to be done on this important topic.
* Content — what content do our target audiences need? What services do they desire? What will engage them in fighting for our issues? We need to learn to see our issues from our audiences’ points of view, and structure our information in ways that make sense to them, not according to our organizational chart.
* Tactics — a good communications plan will contain specific ideas about effective communications tactics. Websites with features x, y. z. Press releases with specific elements. Specific advertising strategies, etc.
* Projects — tactics will be bundled into discrete, managable projects that are sequenced in a logical order.
* Resources — projects will have estimates of the time and money needed to execute them — and to sustain them on an ongoing basis.
What else is missing here?
Here’s some information on an important “neighborhood” environmental issue here in my backyard. (Tip of the hat to Ross Freeman of American Rivers for the info.)
>Discovery Park, in the northwest corner of Seattle, is the city’s largest park and offers breathtaking views of the Olympic Mtns from sandy bluffs overlooking Puget Sound. Thousands of families visit this peaceful open space every week to relax, hike, birdwatch, attend educational programs, or simply enjoy Nature.
>In 1973, the City acquired part of an old military base and transformed it into this wonderful urban park. Surprisingly, this protected landscape is now at risk.
>The Navy still owns several dozen acres within the Park and has recently agreed to sell them to a commercial housing developer, known as American Eagle. They may build over 100 new private homes within the Park! Tell them No!
>For more info, see:
>The Magnolia Community Club will use all of its general meeting on September 9th to address this topic.
>Join us to demand that this land be returned to the public. The Navy and the Developer will have representatives at this meeting!
>WHEN: 7pm on Thurs Sept 9th
>WHERE: Catherine Blaine School, 2550 34th Avenue West, in the Magnolia Neighborhood
>CONTACT: Paul Bannick, 206-213-0330 x17, pbannick@AmericanRivers.org
Molly and I just got back from a great long weekend in San Francisco where we visited our friend Bill Bradlee.
We ate some great food, enjoyed some amazing weather, and tromped around many parts of that beautiful city.
And of course, I took a few [photos](http://blogs.onenw.org/jon/gallery/view_album.php?set_albumName=sanfrancisco).
After a long period of “radio silence” the dev team at Groundspring has released some of their internal planning documents — Ebase Enterprise Specifications and Screen Mock Ups.
I’ll be reading these closely over the next week or so to get a better idea of where they’re heading, and if you have an interest in improving the state of open-source nonprofit database software, I encourage you to do the same. The spec is refreshingly non-technical, and should be readable by anyone with a decent understanding of basic fundraising systems.
They’re also looking for a [graphic designer/UI specialist](http://blog.groundspring.org/gs/2004/08/groundspringorg.html).
Dave Pollard offers 10 Reasons for Optimism:
- There are more people writing, articulately and eloquently and with the weight of excellent information and argument behind them, about the need for radical change to our culture than ever before. This is a groundswell of awareness and deep caring, possibly unprecedented in the history of man. Something important is happening here.
- The Internet has given us two powerful weapons for change: knowledge exchange and organizing capacity. We’re learning to use them well.
- Women are slowly gaining power and influence in our society. Young women are better educated and better informed than any generation in our history.
- Not having children is no longer, for the first time in our culture, considered selfish or anti-social.
- The Wisdom of Crowds.
- In the next decade much of the baby boom generation will be retiring. That means a huge number of people, a generation with a penchant for change, will suddenly have an enormous amount of time to think, to learn, to do things for reasons other than financial gain.
- Stories have immense power to change minds. We are learning the process of crafting astonishing stories.
- The Power of Community.
- In our search for models and leaders and inspirations, we are becoming skeptical of arrogance and glibness and the cult of personality, and looking instead for humility, honesty, flexibility, collaboration.
- A World of Ends. There is a large and growing appreciation that small and decentralized just works better. And is smarter and more agile.
I could take issue with a couple of these “reasons” — most importantly the power of retiring baby boomers. No offense, but you baby boomers have pretty much defined an era of greed, consumption, self-involvement that the world is going to be a long time recovering from. And there are just too many of you. Now, about my social security payments….
But the item in this list I’m particulary interested in is the power of storytelling. More on this soon, but I would love to figure out how to help activists learn to be better storytellers. I mean literally. Not better at “message” or at “framing” but better at telling a yarn. I think this may be a critical “missing skill” in our movement. Any ideas on how to structure such a training?
I’ve been impressed by the work that Kari Chisholm and his merry band of political junkies down at BlueOregon are doing. And imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So I’m thinking about launching a blog to cover Washington State politics and policy. And that’s where you come in. I need co-conspirators!
If you are:
* Knowledgeable about politics and policy in Washington State
* Have an original point of view
* Can package both of the above into short, pithy, entertaining paragraphs, on a roughly once-a-week basis
Drop me a line and tell me about your beat.
(Yes, Alex, I will be calling you personally about this.)
My friend Clark Williams-Derry at Northwest Environment Watch, has some solid insights into the elephant-in-the-room question of “what to do about the viaduct.” He argues that it may well be rational to look at [just tearing it down](http://peopleswaterfront.org/).
The folks over at Bush Greenwatch offer their review of David Orr’s new book *The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics,
and the Environment in an Age of Terror*. It seems that Orr is thinking big — according to BGW, he “attempts to reframe the environment in a post-9/11 landscape.” Sounds like a must read to me.
>Environmentalists and other progressives, many forced into a reactive, ’emergency’ mode by the Bush administration, may find Orr’s ideas useful for putting their work into a larger, more hopeful context.
>Orr offers inspiration for thinking the big thoughts that sustain political and social change. While some of these are certain to provoke controversy, they enrich the public conversation about where to take the movement.
Watch for “Rethinking Green Philanthropy,” an original article co-written by Orr and Pete Lavigne, coming in early September to [ONEList](http://blogs.onenw.org/onelist).
A rather depressing article from the Seattle Times about the state of the environmental movement in Snohomish County, where sprawl is the leading environmental issue.
This article hits on a huge number of important themes that are repeated elsewhere in our movement:
* How quickly things go bad when closed-minded Republicans take over a County Council. (Conversely: the importance of a movement that can mobilize resources for local elections.)
* The increasingly partisan nature of environmental issues — and the growing incivility of elected leaders towards folks who disagree with them. (Methinks this is a trend flowing from the top down.)
* The cyclical nature of public engagement in environmental issues
* The aging of the environmental movement, particularly the folks who are engaged in growth and development issues.
* The environmental movement’s lack of a clear, unified, proactive agenda.
* Our over-reliance on “expert” persuasion of decision-makers and our under-investment in grassroots mobilization.
Paul Brainerd’s [recent article in ONEList](http://blogs.onenw.org/onelist/001651.html) offers some ideas along these lines, focused more at the state level. But there’s still a lot of work to be done, particularly around the challenging of mobilizng people on local issues when against a hostile elected leadership.
Friend-of-ONE/Northwest Paul Loeb has just launched his newest book, The Impossible Will Take a Little While.
It’s an “anthology of hope” that features Loeb’s essays along with contributions from Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Arundhati Roy, Tony Kushner, and V clav Havel. Alice Walker, Jonathan Kozol, Diane Ackerman, Susan Griffin, and Marian Wright Edelman. Cornel West, Terry Tempest Williams, Jim Hightower, Desmond Tutu, and Howard Zinn.
> I believe readers will draw strength from their ideas on how we keep on working for a more humane world, replenish the wellspring of our commitment, and continue no matter how hard it sometimes seems
>I’ve included pieces that explore the historical, political, ecological and spiritual frameworks that help us to persist– with concrete examples of how people have faced despair and overcome it. Some directly address our current time. Others examine what it was like to confront South African apartheid, the Eastern European dictatorships, or Mississippi’s entrenched segregation.
His previous book “Soul of a Citizen” was fantastic. I expect this one to be equally good.
He’s from Seattle, and [speaking here soon](http://www.soulofacitizen.org/Schedule.htm#Seattle).
Metafilter reports that:
>Toronto’s [Deep Lake Water Cooling System](http://www.enwave.com/enwave/dlwc/) was launched today. The system cuts electricity consumption in commercial buildings by 75 per cent by [drawing near-freezing water](http://www.enwave.com/enwave/view.asp?/dlwc/flow) through pipes extending five kilometres out into Lake Ontario. According to the city, the system will save enough power to service more than 100 Toronto office towers or 4,200 homes per year, and it will eliminate 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Here’s a [public television segment](http://www.enwave.com/enwave/news/?s=dlwc&ReleaseID=53) explaining the process.
Way, way cool. Literally.
My partner’s energy engineering firm, [Ecotope](http://www.ecotope.com), is currently working on a much smaller version of a similar system for the new [Northwest Maritime Center](http://www.nwmaritime.org/) in Port Townsend, WA.
Jon Udell writes:
>> Discussions about open source and innovation tend to cluster around two opposing memes. One says that open source can’t innovate; the other that only open source can innovate. Both are wrong. Sometimes large, well-funded R&D programs can achieve breakthroughs that lone geniuses can’t. And sometimes the reverse is true. Either way, the real innovation of the open source movement is the architecture of participation. It can help turn a good idea — wherever it came from — into a best-quality implementation. [Full story at [InfoWorld.com](http://www.infoworld.com/article/04/08/13/33OPstrategic_1.html)]
>The term ‘open source’ presumes that the essence of software is source code, and that participation means hacking it. And that’s true. But the emergence of the services model creates modes of participation that don’t require access to source. Back in 2000, Rael Dornfest introduced the term open services in order to make that distinction.
>Of course, participation needn’t involve programming at all. Much of software’s value is created by the community that surrounds it. Such communities can flourish, or not, independently of whether source code is open or closed.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! This is an eloquent phrasing of an incredibly important distinction. The “nonprofit open source” community should be focusing at least as much on developing open communities as it is on writing code. Both take resources, and open code cannot succeed without strong user communities.
Electoral reform at the provincial level in BC is marching forward. Did you know that BC is seriously considering proportional representation and other alternatives to the winner-take-all single member district system that we currently have in common? Our friends up at The Tyee have great article on the electoral reform process in BC that shines some light on a complex but incredibly important structural issue.
>The good: Mixed member proportional representation (MMP), an electoral system used widely around the world with a proven track record of producing fairer results while maintaining geographic representation and improving the number of women and minorities elected
>The bad: Keeping the system we have â€“ a good option for those who enjoy wild swings in public policy and poisonous public debate.
>The ugly: Single transferable vote (STV) â€“ used for parliamentary elections only in Malta and Ireland, it is so notoriously difficult to explain that I won’t even try.
Oh, how I wish that these issues were on the table down here in the States!
Spent some time last week hashing out some big ideas with Matt Price of the Environmental Support Centre and my Vancouver-based colleague Jodie Tonita.
After a rather rambling conversation and a cold beer, Matt pulled a few great lessons for network organizing out of the ether:
- Set clear power building objectives
- Practice participatory engagement
- Let the issues choose you
- Create structures that allow nimbleness
- Train and retain organizers
- Reframe environmental messages
Let’s look at each of these a bit more closely:
Set clear power building objectives
As Saul Alinsky [reminds us](http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0679721134/qid=1092610816), the purpose of organizing is to build power. Power allows you to make change. Campaigns that do not build power cannot make or defend long-term change. Too many environmental groups are good at identifying the policy outcomes they wish to promote, but are unable to articulate how they will build the power they need to realize those outcomes.
Practice participatory engagement
Alinksy also writes that there are two forms of power: organized money and organized people. Since most progressive activists do not have ready access to massive amounts of concentrated money, our power-building strategies generally must focus around organizing people. (And as the Howard Dean and MoveOn campaigns have shown, you can raise serious money from organized people.)
The fundamental way to build people-centered power is to create ways for people to engage in the process of making social change. We’re talking about leadership development — helping people rediscover their power as citizens by using it. It’s a process, not a destination, and most environmental groups, even those with democratically elected boards of directors, are *terrible* at this. Too many of us still view our members as people who write $25/year checks and nothing more. And we make them write checks *before* we communicate with them.
New and emerging Internet organizing tools allow organizers to engage people (albeit somewhat shallowly) at big scale and low cost. These tools, which are mainly being pioneered by the big national campaigns that have dollars and staff to spare, are very promising, but are still in their infancy. The most successful ones will probably be those that can help faciliate “real-world” organizing, and/or move people up the ladder of engagement.
I suspect that there is still tremendous untapped potential in fusing Internet tools with the proven techniques of organizing local chapters that feed democratically into larger state, regional and national structures where power flows from the bottom up rather than the top down.
Let the issues choose you
Too often, we spend too much energy on issues that aren’t salient to enough people to build the kind of power we need to effect the social changes we seek. Jonathan Peizer [makes this point](http://www.movementasnetwork.org/001403.html) very eloquently:
>You can’t artificially contrive issues — they either capture people’s attention and imagination or they don’t. Each issue also has a ceiling for participation. There are only so many people interested in helping spawning salmon or the spotted owl. And there’s only a limited number of people beyond these issues core adherents that can be whipped into rabid passion on the subject.
Worse, we fail to understand that we can’t control the agenda. Natural and human disasters happen no matter what our strategic plans say, and we must be ready to respond. We need to do a better job of capitalizing on the issues that present themselves.
Create structures that allow nimbleness
Being “ready” requires resources — planning, networks, policy solutions, PR strategies, etc. Campaigns “on the shelf” and ready to go when the moment is right. Government and corporate interests invest tons of money in this, environmentalists nearly none. Marty Kearns has [written a bit about this](http://www.network-centricadvocacy.net/2004/01/network_advocac.html).
Train and retain organizers
Great organizing doesn’t “just happen.” It requires trained, talented human beings who have a great mix of listening and leadership skills. The environmental movement is heavy on campaigners who advocate passionately (and skillfully) for policy objectives, but it is short on organizers who can go into a room of ordinary people, listen to their concerns and help them find a path towards effective action. We desperately need to invest more resources in this kind of nuts-and-bolts training — and we need to take far better care of the folks in our movement who do this kind of work. WORC’s [Principles of Community Organizing](http://www.worc.org/development/pocotraining.html) training workshop is a rare example of grassroots organizing training within the environmental community. Groups like [Hollyhock Leadership Institute](http://www.hollyhockschool.org) are doing some great stuff on personal sustainability for activists, but much more needs to be done on create organizational structures that keep people happy and healthy.
Reframe environmental messages
Specific environmental issues are rarely “top of mind” issues. We need to make sure that we’re framing our issues in langauge that sets the terms of debate in our favor. (Think about how the right has used “tax relief” to frame taxation issues.) George Lakoff has written extensively about this. Some recommended starting points:
* [“Simple Framing”](http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org/perspectives/simple_framing)
* [“Inside the Frame: An Interview with George Lakoff](http://www.alternet.org/story/17574)
* [NPR Interview with George Lakoff](http://www.npr.org/rundowns/segment.php?wfId=1667389)
If you dig this kind of stuff, there’s more on this at http://www.movementasnetwork.org.
The chattering monkeys over at DailyKos are brainstorming up some ideas for shoestring campaigns. Worth a read — a lot of good ideas directly from the grassroots in there.
The folks from [SPIN Project](http://www.spinproject.org) offer some [great thoughts](http://www.alternet.org/election04/19557/) for how nonprofits can prepare for the day after the election — no matter who wins.
This type of scenario planning is all too uncommon in the nonprofit sector, and I’m pleased to see that such smart folks are stepping up to the plate in a very busy season.
(Tip of the hat to [Michael Gilbert](http://www.gilbert.org).)
Washington Post writer Neil Pearce [summarizes a recent study](http://www.postwritersgroup.com/archives/peir0706.htm) by the Califorina State & Consumer Services Agency:
>The California State and Consumer Services Agency, in a study of 33 green buildings, concluded that their construction costs are slightly more expensive — $3 to $5 a square foot, or 2 percent — than conventional structures.
>But a big difference emerged when the agency factored in reduced costs for energy, water and waste-disposal, plus enhanced employee health and productivity. The estimate: $50 to $75 per square foot savings over the average 20-year life of a building — more than 10 times the 2 percent cost premium for green buildings.
>It seems obvious: the reason only a tiny percentage of new American buildings and retrofits aren’t green isn’t cost. It’s lack of ingenuity or knowledge of new construction techniques — architects and builders wed to the “same-old,” lenders leery of anything unconventional.
>The fault also lies with national leaders unwilling to tell us in clear terms that a nation secure economically and environmentally and against foreign threats, means energy savings across the board — efficient and sustainable buildings included. It’s a message our current president apparently doesn’t comprehend, at least won’t articulate.