Dogwood Initiative: a great model for grassroots environmental group websites

I’m very proud to post a link to the new website of Dogwood Initiative, who have firmly established themselves as leading-edge communicators in the Northwest environmental movement by creating a website that focuses on publishing original news and analysis about environmental issues in BC.

Will Horter, Michael Begg and the rest of the team at Dogwood really understand the advocacy power of making news, and commenting in real-time on breaking news. And they’re putting that understanding into action. Check out what they’re doing — I really think it’s a model for small grassroots advocacy groups.

h4. What they’re producing

# They’ve defined five issue areas (“beats”) that they’re covering: “Democracy”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/democracy, “Forests”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/forests, “Energy”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/energy, “First Nations”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/firstnations and “Community”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/.
# For each issue area, they’re producing several types of content:
* “Dogwood Bulletins”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/Pages/newsroom/bulletin.php — short, original, informally-written analysis and opinion pieces. Plus occasional “breaking news.” (Will is one of those people who occasionally receives unmarked envelopes from “inside sources.”) This is the really innovative stuff — it’s a kind of writing that most enviros simply aren’t doing. It borrows heavily from the ideas of blogging, and applies these ideas to an issue-advocacy context.
* “News Stories”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/Pages/newsroom/newsstories.php — Short summaries of news stories from the mainstrem media.
* “In the News”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/Pages/newsroom/inthenews.php — news clips specifically mentioning Dogwood Initiative.
# Every month, they pull together their “greatest hits” into an email newsletter titled “Make Waves”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/Pages/features/makewaves.php.
# They’re also doing “the usual” kind of advocacy writing: occasional reports, action alerts, etc.

h4. How they present it

We worked long and hard with Will and Michael on figuring out how best to present their stuff. While I don’t think we nailed it perfectly, there are a few key ideas that I think are worth calling out:

* They really tried to focus on the Dogwood Bulletins. That’s the original, hot news. We put Bulletins in the right-hand column of every page “above the fold.”
* They prominently feature the “Make Waves” email newsletter signup on every page — Dogwood really wants to gather email addresses in order to identify and build relationships with readers.
* In addition to featuring issue-specific content on each issue page of the site, they pull all of the content together into a single “Newsroom”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/Pages/newsroom/newsroom.php that provides a one-stop archive of everything they publish.
* All of the news content on the site is also made available as a “syndicated RDF feed”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/index.rdf so that other websites, content aggregators, and people who like to use RSS newsreaders can easily republis, redistribute and otherwise propagate Dogwood’s memes.

h4. Technical details

There are lots of ways to build a site like this. We chose the popular blogging software MovableType, mainly because its writing interface is incredibly well-designed. Each content type has its own blog, and each blog has the same set of issue categories.

“Andrew Burkhalter”:http://blogs.onenw.org/andrewb, ONE/Northwest’s main Web Dude, threw together a handful of basic MovableType templates that created “content chunks” which could then be included via PHP includes in the basic page templates. One of our amazing volunteers, Jesse Lee, hacked together some quick PHP code that drew issue-specific content from the different blogs for the Newsroom page. We subcontracted the design work to the talented “Brad Hornick”:http://www.bradhornick.com. Dogwood will be using either DreamWeaver or Contribute to maintain the non-dynamic content, which they don’t expect to change much.

The email newsletter is powered by ONE/Northwest’s “email list hosting service”:http://www.onenw.org/bin/page.cfm/secid/6.

Other tools we could have used — and may well use on future projects — include “pMachine”:http://www.pmachine.com, “Plone”:http://www.plone.org, and “Drupal”:http://www.drupal.org, among many others.

h4. Still a work in progress…

While I think the site is a great model in many ways, like any project, there are definitely a few things I think we and Dogwood could do better and/or got put off until “phase 2.” Among them:

* Dogwood hasn’t yet turned on MovableType’s comment features. I hope they do soon, because an important part of the power of online grassroots journalism is the community of feedback and commentary that you can start to create. In a future version of the site, I could also see letting site users write their own articles in separate “Diaries” ala “DailyKos”:http://www.dailykos.com. But that’s a pretty major undertaking, and will require a whole new backend system.
* Some of the features that are under development, but not quite there yet, include: an image library; an online activism center (that’s “centre” if you’re Canadian); site search; and issue-specific RDF feeds.

Dogwood Initiative: a great model for grassroots environmental group web

I’m very proud to post a link to the new website of Dogwood Initiative, who have firmly established themselves
as leading-edge communicators in the Northwest environmental movement by creati
ng a website that focuses on publishing original news and analysis about enviro
nmental issues in BC.

Will Horter, Michael Begg and the rest of the team at Dogwood really understand
the advocacy power of making news, and commenting in real-time on breaking new
s. And they’re putting that understanding into action. Check out what they’re
doing — I really think it’s a model for small grassroots advocacy groups.

h4. What they’re producing

# They’ve defined five issue areas (“beats”) that they’re covering: “Democracy”
:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/democracy, “Forests”:http://www.dogwoodinitia
tive.org/forests, “Energy”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/energy, “First Nati
ons”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/firstnations and “Community”:http://www.d
ogwoodinitiative.org/.
# For each issue area, they’re producing several types of content:
* “Dogwood Bulletins”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/Pages/newsroom/bullet
in.php — short, original, informally-written analysis and opinion pieces. Plu
s occasional “breaking news.” (Will is one of those people who occasionally re
ceives unmarked envelopes from “inside sources.”) This is the really innovativ
e stuff — it’s a kind of writing that most enviros simply aren’t doing. It bo
rrows heavily from the ideas of blogging, and applies these ideas to an issue-a
dvocacy context.
* “News Stories”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/Pages/newsroom/newsstories
.php — Short summaries of news stories from the mainstrem media.
* “In the News”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/Pages/newsroom/inthenews.ph
p — news clips specifically mentioning Dogwood Initiative.
# Every month, they pull together their “greatest hits” into an email newslette
r titled “Make Waves”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/Pages/features/makewaves
.php.
# They’re also doing “the usual” kind of advocacy writing: occasional reports,
action alerts, etc.

h4. How they present it

We worked long and hard with Will and Michael on figuring out how best to prese
nt their stuff. While I don’t think we nailed it perfectly, there are a few ke
y ideas that I think are worth calling out:

* They really tried to focus on the Dogwood Bulletins. That’s the original, ho
t news. We put Bulletins in the right-hand column of every page “above the fol
d.”
* They prominently feature the “Make Waves” email newsletter signup on every pa
ge — Dogwood really wants to gather email addresses in order to identify and b
uild relationships with readers.
* In addition to featuring issue-specific content on each issue page of the sit
e, they pull all of the content together into a single “Newsroom”:http://www.do
gwoodinitiative.org/Pages/newsroom/newsroom.php that provides a one-stop archiv
e of everything they publish.
* All of the news content on the site is also made available as a “syndicated R
DF feed”:http://www.dogwoodinitiative.org/index.rdf so that other websites, con
tent aggregators, and people who like to use RSS newsreaders can easily republi
s, redistribute and otherwise propagate Dogwood’s memes.

h4. Technical details

There are lots of ways to build a site like this. We chose the popular bloggin
g software MovableType, mainly because its writing interface is incredibly well
-designed. Each content type has its own blog, and each blog has the same set
of issue categories.

“Andrew Burkhalter”:http://blogs.onenw.org/andrewb, ONE/Northwest’s main Web Du
de, threw together a handful of basic MovableType templates that created “conte
nt chunks” which could then be included via PHP includes in the basic page temp
lates. One of our amazing volunteers, Jesse Lee, hacked together some quick PH
P code that drew issue-specific content from the different blogs for the Newsro
om page. We subcontracted the design work to the talented “Brad Hornick”:http:
//www.bradhornick.com. Dogwood will be using either DreamWeaver or Contribute
to maintain the non-dynamic content, which they don’t expect to change much.

The email newsletter is powered by ONE/Northwest’s “email list hosting service”
:http://www.onenw.org/bin/page.cfm/secid/6.

Other tools we could have used — and may well use on future projects — includ
e “pMachine”:http://www.pmachine.com, “Plone”:http://www.plone.org, and “Drupal
“:http://www.drupal.org, among many others.

h4. Still a work in progress…

While I think the site is a great model in many ways, like any project, there a
re definitely a few things I think we and Dogwood could do better and/or got pu
t off until “phase 2.” Among them:

* Dogwood hasn’t yet turned on MovableType’s comment features. I hope they do
soon, because an important part of the power of online grassroots journalism is
the community of feedback and commentary that you can start to create. In a f
uture version of the site, I could also see letting site users write their own
articles in separate “Diaries” ala “DailyKos”:http://www.dailykos.com. But tha
t’s a pretty major undertaking, and will require a whole new backend system.
* Some of the features that are under development, but not quite there yet, inc
lude: an image library; an online activism center (that’s “centre” if you’re Ca
nadian); site search; and issue-specific RDF feeds.

Places to intervene in a system

Michael Gilbert drew my attention to Places to Intervene in a System — most excellent strategic thinking about how to change systems — not just how to fight campaigns. Michael is right — every social change activist should read this.

A slightly different version of this article is presented over at Wikipedia.

Briefly, the nine places are…
Continue reading Places to intervene in a system

Busy life, slow blogging

Usually the end of the year is pretty quiet here at ONE/Northwest, but these past couple of weeks have been a madhouse. Projects are washing in over the gunnels so fast that we’re starting to get a little swamped. On the other hand, there is a pretty incredible energy in the air here.

One of the most exciting things is the fact that we now have a formal presence in British Columbia. Jodie Tonita will be doing some of the outreach and organizing work that forms the base for a solid field presence. I can’t say how excited we are to have her on board.

(The other) Jon and Alan’s Excellent Alaskan Adventure

The brothers Baldivieso (Jon and Alan) are among the brightest stars in our galaxy of amazing consultants. They recently did a tag-team consulting trip to Alaska for us. Jon recently wrote up a great set of journal entries from their trip, which are a wonderful (and very, very funny) glimpse into what life is like “in the field” for ONE/Northwest.

Reading this article took me right back to 1996-1998, when I spent a good deal of my time doing trips like this to places that included Juneau AK, New Denver BC, Billings MT, Takilma OR and glorious Spokane WA.

Concentric Circles

I noted with interest this tidbit from Howard Dean’s blog

Glen Johnson in the Boston Globe examines how Dean’s strategy has kept opponents off balance:

The campaign has found success by creating a new paradigm in politics. While traditional campaigns such as Kerry’s have a pyramid-shaped structure running from the campaign manager on down, Dean’s campaign is more comparable to concentric circles, with independent spheres across the country overlapping with Dean and the senior staff at headquarters in Burlington, Vt.

Whither Cascadia?

Sometimes it’s cool not to have editorial filters. Today on Seattle Indymedia, somebody started this thread declaring that:

“Those of us in Cascadia advocating secession (I must include myself here, sadly) are fond of talking and short on action. The revolution (even a peaceful one) will not happen without action. It is time to meet each other face-to-face, to start organizing neighbourhoods, to build an alliance of substance. I am proposing an All-Cascadia Conference in early 2004, prior to the conventions of the U.S. national parties.”

The entire post, and the comments that follow, are an interesting microcosm of the attractions and difficulties of bioregional identity.

Interesting conference: PlaNetwork

The upcoming conference PlaNetwork: Networking a Sustainable Future looks really interesting.

NETWORKING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE will focus on the ways in which information technologies and the Internet can continue to play a key role in accelerating progressive change and establishing a peaceful Planetary Civilization.

* How can the Internet allow us to see ourselves, and our collective aspirations, even more directly and productively?
* How can the Internet be used to mobilize global citizenry around other critical issues affecting our future: ecological destruction, resource depletion, human rights and economic justice?
* What communications strategies would best enable us to mobilize networks, draw attention to specific issues, envision alternative solutions, and bring about change?
* How might we use the financial resources of a newly networked global citizenry to implement system-wide transformation?

A key question

Here’s a question that’s been on my mind lately:

The antiwar movement has done a great job of using the Internet to mobilize activism around a “high-salience” issue — i.e. the story that is at the top of the news every day for months.

Extensive research has shown that the environmental movement — and most other social justice movements — are “low-salience.” That is, they aren’t at the top of most folks’ list of important issues, even though people are generally sympathetic/supportive.

The question is: what, if anything, can organizers working on low-salience issues (e.g. the environment) learn about online activism from folks working on high-salience issues (e.g. peace)?

What is power?

Following up on Gideon’s recent post… what might it mean for ONE/Northwest to “power” a system?

1. The ability or capacity to perform or act effectively.
2. A specific capacity, faculty, or aptitude. Often used in the plural: her powers of concentration.
3. Strength or force exerted or capable of being exerted; might. See Synonyms at strength.