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Our movement is "ripe" for network actors.

Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition states that networks with "holes" (unbrokered connections) present the most opportunity for potential gains of efficency and strength. These networks (much like the networks of progressive and environmental nonprofits) can be maximized by creation of successful actors with ties to many points in the network.

An interesting side note...Diversity, diffusion and connections outside organizations are the keys to success. In network theory, diversity is not about political correctness it is about growing power for each network particpant. In network advocacy, it is also about the collapse of centralized leadership which has consitently adapted agendas that fractionalize and segment markets (good for corporate PR and sales strategy: bad for political power).


Political Ants and Evolutionary Computing

Using this space as a little cross-pollinator, I am particularly interested in Eric Bonabeau's work on evolutionary computing. How can we start political movements, messages and policy initiatives that quickly release indicator feedback allowing advocates "hone in" on the opportunities across the body politic like ants to crumbs.

An ant crawls out of its hill and marches toward a half-eaten Twinkie. Another treks to a puddle of water. Others plot routes to their own diminutive chores. Along the way, each lays down a pheromone trail that, over time, tells co-workers where it has been, what hazards to avoid, and which path offers the quickest way home. - Business2.0

The nonprofit and progressive "big tent" agenda is particularly well suited to playing with this model. Our centralized leadership is intellectually bankrupt, out of touch and confused by the loss of the meta-narrative. If we can create an opportunistic political climate we will see higher levels of engagement resulting in incrementally populist policies.


Strong Social Ties

The gurus at Rand have suggested that a core element of functional networks is the creation and nurturing of strong social ties. I agree with them.

The challenge is that we (civil society movement) don't do enough to foster strong social ties among and across our networks of staffs, Board members, management, donors and active volunteers. I can not think of a single capacity building group that recognizes explicitly (as a documented strategy and program initiative) the huge role that strong social ties play in the effective network campaigns. (Although AFL-CIO, ONENW and Karl Rove "out place" staff into other organizations.) We could do more to alter our conferences and meetings to explicitly foster stronger social bonds across organizations. We could support alumni of training programs, schools and successful campaigns.

If 50 individuals get together and beat back Staples, launch a major campaign or work together in a way that creates bonds we should have a firm set of tools (conference calls, email listserves, parties, reunions, etc.) that continue to nurture those bonds for a 2 year period.

The strong ties among staff, volunteers, funders and board members are essential bonds that reduces the "distance" between connections of any participant in the network. The effect is that it helps the network adapt to opportunities more effectively.

IBM looked at business units in the "Community Knowledge Sharing in Practice:
The Eureka Story" by Daniel G. Bobrow
the finding at the conclusion was that the units with the "closest ties" were more successful.


Read danah boyd

At the PlaNetwork conference on Social Networks. I recommend folks intrested in the ASN paper read Faceted Id/entity: Managing representation in a digital world by Dana Boyd

danah (also at conference) has taken an independent path to discover and document a similar approach to controlling online identities. She has done a wonderful job looking at the ways that people behave and the controls that society has developed to regulate personalities. In the context of the ASN paper, everyone should review here paper and look for the complements to the Augmented Social Network efforts.

These papers approach network building at the individual level. This approach is a little different but complementary to the approach that I advocate (focus on layering network supports ontop of the existing ad hoc nonprofit organization clusters to create networking..my paper)

The final must read that pops to mind is is Building sustainable communities thru network building by Valdis Krebs and June Holly. It is a careful look at social networks as they evolved in the Appalachian business community.


Network-Centric Advocacy

There is an amazing amount of intellectual investment into tapping the power of networks. The groups I am interested in working with are exploring the capacity of networks to create positive social changes and pushing our efforts to new levels via network enabled engagement.

At the Planetworks conference, I have been particularly impressed with the people who "get" the possibilites that lie at our feet. I am interested in expanding the dialogue about the ways that we can alter strategy in light of the new tactics that are available.

The activism world seems divided among those that view the technology as a tactic to support traditional strategies and those that see the landscape changing in a significant way so that we need to rethink overall strategy and goals. I can think of many times in human history that this jump occured. The military conflicts and health care history are full of examples where the goals reamin constant (force the enemy to submit to save lives) but the evolution of technologies change the landscape so much that strategies shift. (IE. take land vs. air superiority OR slowly or infect the patients to help them build immunity) Major shifts in STRATEGY can be driven by the evolution of tactical tools.

We need to develop a larger framework for the debate and discussion This is my current stab at the issue. Network Centric Advocacy.PDF

The biggest "win" in this approach is that each step identified adds a layer of network support that not only moves us toward the ideal / utopian goal of powerful self organizing network advocacy but also helps our existing staff and activist become more effective today.


SpamCop.net Can Monkeywrench Your Day

Are spam 'blocklists' going too far?: ZDNet Australia: News & Tech: Communications I have heard of opposition tactics that are aimed at frusrating our capacity to communicate. I hope to collect examples of sites or opposition emails that the "right" has used to censor genuine email debates and disrupt communication.

Submitting genuine communicaiton and listserve sites to spa blockers is a case of underhanded political censorship and monkeywrenching that your opponents may employ to confuse you and disrupt your communications. They may find the listserves you depend on to keep your coalition moving and submit you as a "spammer." The anti-spam technology kicks in very fast and it can take days to get things fixed. It is not good to only have one mass communication tool.

We need to develop a defensive strategy that would allow progressives to quickly move listserve and maillings to new servers and ISPs in the event a critical campaign gets disrupted in this manner. We also need to consult with some legal folks on strategies to collect damages for the attacks.


Leveraging the "Dynamics of Blog-Stories"

Jon Stahl's Journal: Dynamics of blog-stories points to a study by Microdocs. The study outlines the way that current stories develop among the "more techy" crowd of bloggers. The successful blog stories apparently need to have elements that appeals to the geeks. However, it may be worth an experiment to set up an "environmentalsphere" in blog world creating links an critical mass among advocate community.

Can we "force" critical mass needed for message development and message volume by "seeding" many blogs from a community? Is it possible to get a community to blog about each others stories, trackback story elements to journalists that blog and create attention to the extended periphery that reads a random collections of blogs? Can a core community of 60 bloggers create a googlewave? Can a small core of dedicated blogger beak a story, inspiring outside links that spread across the web?

"Rarely can an individual blogger get a story going. It is far more usual that several bloggers blog about an occurrence, an event or a comment elsewhere and then after that bloggers in groups get going. Even a so called influential blogger blogging about a story can rarely get others going. It is only when there are several bloggers writing opinions does a story really get going. "

Can we mimic this with lots of advocacy bloggers? Creating tight sound bite stories that are recognizable as they spread? "The best blog stories are those that are branded with a word or phrase that is highly identifiable with that story.

Changing the variables that influence the results of the Microdocs study gives us the opportunity to influence the breakpoint for a story.


The Romance of Grassroots Organizing is Gone

Jon's response to Herds Blog takles some weaknessess in a decentralized movement. However, I agree with Jon and need to clarify my earlier blog. Small organizations at state and regional level are not part of the "centralized" structure that I find myself railing against. Many of these small organizations are really great vehicles for keeping one or two staff on payroll. It is often the paid staff that are maintaining and fostering networks in local areas that are invaluable to real progress. My point is that there is to much overhead in setting up so many distinct organizations and the "specific issue" focus of the small groups (Watershed organizations, forest groups) limits the ability to deploy staff according to opportunity.

I also would argue with Jon that "the shallow lists of names" is exactly what we need. The models and romantic view of grassroots organizing building long-term relations is not working (nor will it). Most people do not want to engage with progressive movements for more than a few minutes. They are busy and engaged in a life that does not ask them for long term relations. We need new models that find fluid majorities to get fired up on issues as the opportunity to do something emerges.

It is harder to realize that we may need to actully embrace an agenda that extends beyond our specific focus. (This Is really Hard) It also means that we need to show that when folks give us time, money and effort we produce real change with the contributions. Political power is addictive once folks catch on that with a little effort they can achieve something significant they will be hooked.

Our work is about change not "real social relationships between real live people." These relationships are a means to an end or a bonus to our work. If we can adapt to a new connected body politic "the right's" biggest strategic advantages will be neutralized (influence from TV($$) and large ($$) centralized lobby groups).


The Problems with Natural Occurring Networks

Building sustainable communities thru network building by Valdis Krebs and June Holly is a careful look at social networks as they evolved in the Appalachian business community. The paper has some great "findings" that confirm my experience with the environmental advocacy movement. Valdis is the "social network mapping guru". I have tons of respect for his work.

Points to ponder..

"loose self-forming networks are generated in two ways. Undirected groups form networks along the laws "birds of a feather flock together" and "those close by,form a tie". -- This is the story of environmental movement. Our water groups get together, land trusts, etc. We also have some cohesion among group leaders with the states and in regions. Valdis explains that this method of clustering results in small dense clusters with limited diversity, cutting itself off from outside ideas and innovation.

Valdis also goes over results of a 1997 study of IBM business units. Among all the segments studies organizations with the "shortest network paths of information flow and knowledge were able to adapt to change most effectively.

The implication of the paper is that movements must work at networking. The networks that develop naturally are good but they do not build true resiliency, they do not add significant strength, assimilate new ideas or generate redundant capacity.

We must develop and support connectors. we must also find ways to shorten the information flows across a broad network. We need to "seed" broad networks across a spectrum of issues, expertise and political opinions. We need to decrease the barriers to working across organizations and issues. We need to eliminate the barriers to setting up and nurturing diverse networks.


News Media to "contract" bloggers

Get bloggers on board

Blogger News for the mainstream. As a another opportunity to "push" local stories groups should cultivate relationships with local bloggers. I would recommend spending a few minutes the day before a release "seeding" the internet blogs with key points from your media release. Journalists are writers and many blog. Like most bloggers, they probably "slurp" the feeds from other writers they respect. Blog relations could be another channel for advocacy communication. Pushing key stories via the blogscape to see if it helps stir interest among traditional media.

"Web guru Steve Outing has urged online publications to improve their journalistic 'talent' by scouting for bloggers.

Mr Outing, senior editor at the Poynter Institute in the US, "This could be the year that mainstream media companies acquire the best blogs, underwrite them, and turn them into viable businesses,"

He recommended that local news sites identify the best local bloggers and offer them contracts. "The best ones produce content that's as good as the stuff your staff produces - perhaps even better - so consider publishing an acquired local blogger in print as well as online."


Kevin Coyle and the Green Gauge Report

Kevin Coyle is a leader in researching the barriers to intelligent discussion of environmental policy and politics. He is worried about the results of the 2002 Green Gauge study published by Roper ASW, (March 2003). He is concerned that the results indicate new challenges for society. Kevin reports that the for the first time in several years there is a decrease in interest (6%) in environmental issues.

Ironically, amid the war and concerns for America's security and economic future the report finds that fewer people are saving electricity, recycling or reading labels on pesticides to ensure protection from environmental risks.

After 20 years of environmental education, community outreach, the "professionalization of environmental activism", years of movies, new cable stations focused on environmental issues, media attention and Capt. Planet; a majority of Americans report that they know little or nothing about environmental issues and problems.

Do they really know nothing? or has industry and environmental messages created by "professionalizing" staff complicated the environmental debate to the point that most American's feel they don't know what they hell everyone is debating? It seems clear that they support clean water, breathable air and saving green space. However, those messages bore the current leadership (academics, policy staff, media, funders) and they push debates beyond the reach of the "casual connectors" to environmental concern. As more Americans "tune in" to environmental debate they continue to hear about fleet limits, parts per billion and the details that industry loves to debate. They hear that "scientific community is confused"-- blah blah

Our spokespeople are disconnected from the public. The public can't relate to people that get paid to be environmental advocates. Messengers and message continue to drift away from the realities that impact peoples daily lives. We need to give the local hellraisers more voice. The local rancher watching grasslands dryup because industry is mining coal 2 miles away. People that must stay indoors in major cities because of the air pollution. Fisherman that can no longer fish. Etc.

The full 2002 Green Gauge Report. It is available for a fee through Roper ASW.