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Undoing Industrial Revolution on Political Organizing

Here is a thought provoking post by Jakob Nielsen on Undoing the Industrial Revolution. Much of this post can be converted t political and advocacy contexts.  It really calls for the continued build and development of network-centric advocacy architecture.

I have edited Jakob's summary for an advocacy context but I recommend you give his a read too.

Industrialization had the following consequences:

  • Mass-produced products streamed out of the social advocacy movement giving everyone the same thing, with few variations.
  • Centralized advocacy groups emerged due to the cost of establishing efficient mechanisms for creating social change (fundraising, communications shops, lobbyist, etc. )
  • Big nonprofit groups emerged in response to these economies of scale.
  • Distance between decisions and execution increased as nonprofits grew and thus required several management levels between executives, professional staff and grassroots.
  • Centralized cities developed clusters of advocacy (SF, DC, Seattle, and NYC) attracted most of the grassroots groups, concentrating liberal voice and thinking within a very small percentage of each country's landmass.
  • Advocacy, civic engagement and leisure separated, with each occupying fixed times and places.
  • Mass media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, motion pictures, and so on) emerged and began broadcasting a small set of messages to a large number of people.
  • Mass marketing used mass media to sell mass-produced products to the working masses.
  • Image building became a primary means of sustaining market position in a mass-marketing environment

It is a haunting legacy. Big groups are now effectively marginalized and a bulk of resources and talent are locking into industrial age advocacy operations. The writing is on the wall. The movement slowly moved away from a distributed public and into the hands of professional advocates. The challenge continues to be "feeding the beast" of industrialized advocacy which is driving resources away from the edges into the centralized leadership.

Here is his follow up on trends worth considering in a network-centric campaign world. ( I am just riffing on Nielsen's points.) The movement should seek to:

  • Design custom-built products instead of mass-produced ones. Use a dense connectivity of the movement to connect individuals into civic engagements that are meaningful to them. The Internet allows for efficient transmission of individual needs to a dense woven grid of public interest groups helping the most relevant groups respond to each user inquiry. The movement should have a united front dedicated to listening and responding to users quickly helping them state what they want and connecting them to the best social engagements that hook them in participation in the progressive movement.
  • Niche products. Small groups are the heart of the movement. The activists core volunteers and ties in with groups at the local and state level. All national organizations need to offer cross-promotion with the niche issue groups that have greater success engaging small activist networks.(IE... Little river groups may only have 50 core activists each but there are 2000 groups.) The reality is that the power increases across the board even if the primary point of entry is not the final group the person engages with (today, donor and membership driven groups do not share member request)
  • Virtual community groups instead of big firms in centralized locations. Sorely needed improvements in collaboration software will let people better work together, even if they're in different locations and work for different nonprofit organizations. The average progressive chatter on the yahoo groups dwarfs traffic on any of the largest nonprofit discussion sites. With enough strategic support eventually issue teams will come together for projects based on the required expertise, and then disband. (think Anti-walmart efforts)
  • Geographically dispersed nonprofit infrastructure will be possible allowing key organizations to locate in battleground states instead of locking all the good people in self-selecting echo chambers. (Defense contractors have been spreading factories to congressional districts for 30 years..nonprofit should consider the same) Highly productive people can work at home and live far from big cities and centers of nonprofit activity (who are the first NGO's moving staff to PA, OH and Florida?) Not only is this good for the cause of getting to know target audiences but the dispersal also reduces the opposition calls that northeast liberal elite.
  • Narrowcasting and one-to-one media are what the Web is all about: providing exactly what individual users want in each individual moment. Narrowcasting is also what makes search marketing so effective. Rather than blast uniform messages randomly, a search ad is seen only by people actively looking for the exact thing being sold. Traditional mass media will diminish in importance: TV networks, for example, are irrelevant when you're picking shows from a menu. Our local community groups and neighborhood activists are the vehicles for narrowcasting messages. Large campaigns and nonprofits should move toward narrrowcasting into many markets with saturation strategies coming from many different voices not a national,celebrity spokesperson.
  • Reputation replaces image as the way to build a company, product, or brand position. This is partly because you can't establish an empty, slogan-based brand through mass marketing when there's no mass media. Also, reputation becomes more salient in the virtual world where it can be stored and aggregated. Reputation manager systems like Google place the most highly rated offers first, regardless of the vendor's size. MoveOn and healthy nodes will replace "top brands"

These trends drive decentralization and reduce the advantages of being big. It is all happening and mostly unavoidable. The challenge to the community is not when it will happen but how smoothly will power centers participate in the network-centric vs. the industrialized advocacy sector.

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