What are we building?

Matt Stoller asks some insightful questions about the longer term significance of Americans Coming Together and other elements of the “new ‘progressive’ machine”….

>It seems pretty clear that we are building a 21st century opposition party, one that will support a moderate Republican like John Eisenhower Reagan Kerry, but one that cannot advance a progressive agenda… . While CAP is storing the Clintonesque cabinet, ready to be dusted off once Kerry takes office, the reality of our situation is that the political tools that work were not built by the political class. They were built by people who wanted to solve problems. And so if we are to look to the future of a progressive coalition, we should not look to the tools that the political class are building, even those that are in imitation of those that work for the right.

>We should look to the groups that are building tools to solve governance problems for their organizations or groups. In other words, ACT is a smart top-down organization built to get swing voters to the polls in battleground states in 2004. Who knows if it will survive beyond that, or if it should? To a greater or lesser extent, this critique applies to all organizations cited by proponents of a left-wing infrastructure. They are building organizations to do specific things that hurt the current Republican coalition at the polls, but there are no larger principles behind them, as there are for HTML, or Google, or Wiki’s. Media Matters comes closest, but for their existence they are dependent on the right-wing noise machine.

Flickr: one way to organize the distribution of powerful images

Marty Kearns, reflecting on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, asks:

>Digital cameras are going to increasingly document our collective failure of character in dramatic and powerful resolution. What are the images of your work? What are the images of your opposition’s activities they expect will never see the light of day? How is your campaign organizing the collection and distribution of powerful images?

One way that this will happen, I suspect, is with the types of emerging network tools represented by [Flickr](http://www.flickr.com). See, for example, all fo the images that Flickr users have identified as being about [Iraq](http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/iraq/).

Herding free-range cats

Herding free-range cats from the just-added-to-my-blogroll Aldon Hynes is a nice look at the recent [CivicSpace](http://www.civicspacelabs.org) developer summit from someone with considerable experience at both software development and group dynamics.

>There were a lot of talk about usability, the interface and the users’ experience of CivicSpace. There were discussions of architecture and long-term goals. There was a big of a split between the developers and user interface people, and questions about how functionality should be implemented led to long drawn out discussions. Another dynamic was between the need for immediate fixes and action items to come out in the first version, and longer-term goals….

>Open source programmers are the feral free-range cats. Herding them is even more of a challenge….

>One of the first things I’ve always tried to focus on with any group I’ve been part of is defining the primary task. I was somewhat frustrated by a lack of clarity in terms of a primary task or specific sets of apparent goals for the summit….

>There wasn’t a clear understanding of how all the different people involved in CivicSpace interact, or how we would define success. Yet in many ways, this was highly appropriate. CivicSpace seems committed to a bottom-up, emergent approach to activism. People work on what is important to them, and from that a true vision emerges. In many ways, the summit exemplified this approach….

>However, I did observe that I’ve worked with other groups with much clearer goals, and leaders with much stronger personalities that were not able to get nearly as much done as CivicSpace has been getting done. In spite of all the different personalities, goals, agendas, etc., CivicSpace is doing important work, not only in developing and distributing some important software, but also in modeling how progressive open source software groups can work together…..

The New York Model

The New York Model covers some of the interesting ways that RNC protest organizers used SMS (text messaging), VoIP-powered automated telephone information lines, and other leading-edge network technology to power their “counter-convention” efforts, and the independent media coverage of it.

Fun stuff, although I’m still trying to figure out how it’s relevant to campaigns that are playing out over longer periods of time in less intense circumstances.

Amazing Getting Things Done workflow diagram


Carl passed along this fantastic Getting Things Done workflow diagram, courtesy of [43 Folders](http://merlin.blogs.com/43folders/2004/09/getting_started.html) — a very solid (but somewhat Mac-centric) blog on the Getting Things Done methodology. (For more background on Getting Things Done, see ONE/Northwest’s [article](http://blogs.onenw.org/onelist/001348.html) in ONEList.)

Winning the Game of Tit for Tat – In Wealth Bondage

[Marty Kearns](http://www.network-centricadvocacy.net) links to some great pearls of wisdom from Wealth Bondage. Good memes here.

>1. Personal courage – speak out while the price is still acceptable. The more who do, the less the risk; until the hidden hand of truth and openness reestablish the conditions of real evolution, not winner take all, but civic cooperation and emergent systems under conditions of candor and transparency.

>2. Praise those who show courage. Synchronize through praise, dance, marches, bumperstickers, signs and signals. Do not let it be said by the bullies that resistance is futile, that the hero will die and be forgotten. Keep memory alive.

>3. Satirize, criticize, scorn, shame, blame and give a bad reputation to brands, politicians, PR people, marketers, think tank thinkers, pundits and all others who usurp the role of truth-teller, and provide semblances only.

>4. Stow (don’t show) your education – do not deconstruct the values for which you, or others, may be required to suffer or die. For that would be a betrayal. Be true to the truth. Live in truth. Bear witness. Deconstruct not human rights, plain truth, courage and candor, but those who dissimulate. Start not with the best writers, for God’s sake, but with brands, politicians, think tank bs, and corporate hype. (We are not ruled by those steeped in Milton, Shelley, Keats. Deconstruct what our leaders read – Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Management Secrets of Genghis Khan, The Rapture Series.)

>5. Link to create a resonant network of social capital – whether face to face, on the phone, through email, or your blog; bestow attention on those who see past the spectacle, and who are synchronizing on a more humane and sustainable way of life.

>6. Pass up tainted honors – Do not cooperate with malfeasance. If offered “credentials” for a political convention, or time on a talk show (c.f. Chastity Powers for WB TV Tonight), or a position at a think tank, ask yourself about what it is you are cooperating with, and what it would cost to defect? Will you defect on air, challenging the host, the corporate business model, the advertisers? If not, why are you there? Why simper before millions, displaying your shameless desire to please? Set a better example, and turn down the tainted gift. Become a rallying point in your own right. Do not ride the bully’s shoulders, to speak the bully’s message, or be complicit in it, and think that makes you tall. Your presence on the bully’s shoulder is demoralizing, it shames us all.

>7. Pool effort, talent and money – “giving” from the gifted in defense of the commons from which and to which all gifts tend.

>8. Organize online and off to bring cooperation games, and coordinated action, into not just business, but our civic life as well. Democracy is not just a spectator sport.

Reaching Out With Respect

Heath Packard directed me to “Reaching out with Respect: Environmental Education with Underserved Co
” by Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer and Shamu Fenyvesi. In in, they off
er 15 tips for working with diverse communities, and their advice is applicable
far beyond the relatively narrow domain of environmental education — this is
solid advice for organizers of all stripes.
Continue reading Reaching Out With Respect

AdvoKit is out!

AdvoKit is an open source, web-based Voter ID/GOTV and volunteer
management database that is designed to power large-scale distributed grassroo
ts voter identification & GOTV campaigns.

Anybody who is working on such a campaign really needs to tak e a good close lo
ok at this to figure out whether/how best to use it in your organizing efforts
this fall.

Great job, Dan, Pat et al.! I know it was very difficult to get this out the d
oor, but I’m sure it will be worth the fight.

Real time interactive maps as organizing tools

Social Design Notes has a nice rundown on MoveOn’s use of live interactive maps as a feedback mechanism during live events.

>In Stamen Design’s latest project for MoveOn, the map of feedback has itself become the means of participation.


>On June 28, over 55,000 people in 4,600 house parties participated in an online conversation with Michael Moore about his film Fahrenheit 9/11. Moore spoke over a live, RealAudio feed while users asked questions via the map interface. User feedback was displayed on the map in real time.

The design firm has a nice [series of screenshots](http://clients.stamen.com/moveon_screenshots/) that illustrate the flow of the event. Worth checking out.

Again, MoveOn shows its ability to create innovative one-off organizing tools. I just wish they’d share the code so that others can iterate and re-use. I think that’s part of the obligation of the “big dogs” who have the money to spend on innovation. Too bad they don’t seem to see it that way.

Planetwork: Online Organizing – best practices from the frontline

My second panel session of this eclectic conference.

This panel features Ruby Sinreich from Planned Parenthood, Sally Green from Human Rights Campaign, Jason Lefkowiz of Oceana, Becky Bond from Working Assets and Don Means from Meetup.com

I’m hoping these folks, all working on big-money national campaigns, will share some ideas that can “trickle-down” to smaller scale groups.

Bill Pease of GetActive introduced. Framing: tried to bring together field organizers from a variety of successful online organizing campaigns.
Continue reading Planetwork: Online Organizing – best practices from the frontline

The fallacy of social entrepreneurship

Alex Steffen argues that the term “social entrepreneur” has lost its meaning. This is a rant I wish I had written. With some good followup discussion.

Business (at least business as it functioned in the 20th Century) is in fact exactly the wrong model for leadership development. You don’t want to train a whole mess of egotists who excell at making funding pitches to boards. What you want to do is train people to collaborate effectively, to build networks of innovation and communication, to spread tools and swarm problems and maximize the impact of available resources. Nourish the network!

Timebucks.org — community currency based in Seattle

I spotted TimeBucks.org today. It’s a community currency program “made up of people trading non-commercial services in communities all over the United States and Canada.” This [isn’t a new idea](http://www.transaction.net/money/community/), but it’s a worthwhile one.

Steve Van Dyke, the creator of TimeBucks.org, has done a nice job of building a polished, easy-to-use site that includes a bunch of social networking features. Which is smart, because a strong social network is important to a successful community currency program.

Looks like a pretty new project — but the top 3 networks are Seattle, Vashon Island (!) and Portland.

Since one of the ways TimeBucks are created is by volunteering, I think it would be cool if more environmental groups that use volunteers a lot would sign up with TimeBucks.


Jon Udell offers a nice reflection on the power of the participant/narrator.

It’s been clear to me for a long time that the participant/narrator, armed with easy-to-use Web publishing technology (aka blog tools), will be a key player on every professional and civic team. A couple of years ago I sketched out how blog narrative can work as a professional project management tool. Just today, I learned of a great example from the realm of civics. Not co-incidentally, it involves another XML.com regular, Simon St. Laurent.

Simon lives in Varna, NY, which is between Ithaca and the town of Dryden, whose Democratic Committee he now chairs. Today’s Ithaca Journal fills in the backstory:

St. Laurent can be seen, notebook and digital camera in tow, at Planning Board and Conservation Advisory Council gatherings, as well as at special meetings on fire departments, speeding and comprehensive plans. So I admit, my curiosity was piqued. What could motivate this seemingly normal man to submit himself to hours of political talk and legalese? Talk that even elicits occasional groans from those delivering it. Turns out, it’s all in the name of a blog — http://simonstl.com/dryden/.

“I volunteered with the local Democratic party in the last elections and made some calls for them. People would ask me questions and I’d have partial answers and they’d have partial answers. It seemed like an opportunity to learn more about what was going on and to help the person on the other end of the phone.”

So on Nov. 6, St. Laurent launched his Dryden site. Six months later, he hasn’t missed a posting. [Ithaca Journal]

Now that the hype about political blogs has died down, it’s clear that this is the real deal: a grassroots effort to connect a political process to itself, to its constituency, and to the outside world. No fanfare, just steady and reliable information flow.

Every team can benefit from this approach. By narrating the work, as Dave Winer once put it, we clarify the work. There can be more than narrator, but it makes sense to have one team member own the primary role just as other members own other roles.

The key idea here the importance of folks whose role in a team/process is to *connect the process to itself*.

Dean campaign tools developer takes aim at nonprofits

Dan Gillmor reports that Zack Rosen, the wizard behind the Drupal-based “DeanSpace” campaign collaboration toolkit that helped power Howard Dean’s campaign, is going to try to build a YahooGroups-like toolkit for political campaigns. It’s to include “content-management, mail list and forum posting, blogging and much more.” And of course, the typical grandiose dream to “establish a permanent foundation that can spearhead social software development projects for nonprofit organizations.”

Right now it sounds like so much vapor. But it could turn into something, you never know. DeanSpace was an impressive effort that made some smart decisions (building on open-source toolkits, great documentation, clear focus).