AFL-CIO, AFSCME, SEIU, Americans United, Campaign for America’s Future, Campaign for Community Change, Move On, and USAction joined together to build a national coalition whose top priority was health care reform. Dan Cramer of Grassroots Solutions and Tom Novick of M+R Strategic Services (M+R) provide a fantastic evaluation.
They were able to interview the key players (70) and review all the documents and activities of the campaign. Evaluation: Executive Summary of Findings and Lessons from the HCAN Campaign | Atlantic Philanthropies
It is a great piece of work. I highly recommend reading it.
What I liked?
- Facing a well financed opposition demanded genuine mobilization to counter inside beltway lobby. This recognition lead the managers to focus on build the network early.
- The early network approach was a point of evolutionary determinism and set into motion many of the the things that were ultimately very important to success.
- need to push power to the field and build grassroots organizing.
- requirement that success was going to be created from distributed capacity therefore capacity building in the field was strategic primary strategy.
- The coalition effort reinforced a need to constantly communicate a clear vision (enforced by funding).
- HCAN worked hard to maintain communication lines among the partners including listening and keeping the partners in touch (p2)
- there were many shared resources created by the campaign.
- shared story bank
- shared online outreach strategy
- advertising budgets
- capacity building
- “HCAN specifically built their field operations using a network model that worked with existing organizations and networks. This is in contrast to a campaigm model where staff are parachuted in which is often used for national adv. campaigns. The network model allowed for greater volunteer recruitment and engagment. Most came through the networks but the organizations were able to use health care to get many new people involved.”
- The network was able to “quickly adapt and respond to events”.(p10)
What was missing from the report in my opinion?
- A really good budget breakdown.
- A deep discussion of the effective field operations. What were the staff structures that worked well? (in the lessons sections this structure is outlined… local organizers > field coordinator on the ground > regional manager > national field director) Did other staff configurations work? where there any flatter states that were effective? What were the job roles and responsibilities at each level ?
- How did the reporting mechanisms benefit the field operators and local organizers? Or was everything a report “up” meaning the reporting was not aligned with the network structure?
- Where was the coalition blindsided? Why? what parts of the risk was the coalition blind to?
- The types of actions that were effective at reinforcing the common story, motivating the staff, etc. The report misses the important “human side” of keeping the network together.
- The details about the communication grid of the network. What worked and what did not? what did the field staff find most valuable in keeping “in touch”?
- The online /offline issues need to be explained further.
- did capacity building in the states focus in local online engagement capacity or was that portion of the campaign centralized?(as report seems to suggest)
- What was the key differences in the states that did online and offline coordination well ? Are there characteristics of the states that did not leverage offline that can be identified and addressed in future efforts.
- Which advertising was most important? 20 million in ads to produce 873,000 calls to congress and 600,000 faxes seems like an all online focus could have been a more productive.
- What tricks did HCAN do to keep the network management and coordination costs to just 9%? What is included in that? How much overhead was absorbed by state and coalition partners? Did they all break even on the contracted work? Does this set an unrealistic expectation of network building work? Was the strategy and development part of the overhead or project costs? (Even the evaluation at $170,000 is a tiny % of 47 million dollar campaign. Is it sufficient?)
What is worth further discussion?
- How was trust built in the campaign?
- How did alignment and common vision discipline get reinforced with partners that were not being funded?
- Accountability mechanisms and planning. What were the feedback mechanisms that enabled the network to learn as it operated? How was reporting enforced?
- What was the plan to sustain the connectivity in the network after HCAN? There is discussion of the challenges with sustaining the operations in the field (which is highly unlikely) but there is no discussion of the strategies to maintain the network value over time.
- Is it at all surprising that any grassroots mobilization this large is not well liked by congressional and administrative staff? (This seems more an indicator of success as the insiders will always feel like they want to control the game)
- Was the fundraising distributed? HCAN calls the centralized fundraising a failure but I would expect the distributed nodes to be more effective at that work.
- Is there any reason to believe the lessons, organizational, campaign and otherwise are scale dependent? are these lessons only true for really big campaigns or is it fair to say that HCAN is a 47 million dollar network-centric effort demonstrating the complete scalability of lessons that the grassroots leaders have seen play out in a neighborhood campaigns?
I increasingly believe that with an intentional plan. Advocacy Networks can be built and directed. It is essential that the analysis of these networks be completed with an eye toward evaluating the success or failure of the components of network-centric advocacy capacity.