What will you tell your grandchildren about what you did during the pandemic of 2020?

I have listened to my kids ask my mother about life during the Spanish flu (Mom was not born but her mother's sister died of it .)  We all have a sense of the historic gravity of this pandemic and economic crash. These are strange times. Future generations will ask about you when they are tested. All of us need to have inspirational stories to tell.  Be your best now. 

Innovate, contribute, act selflessly in the service of others.  Find ways to calm the fearful, feed the hungry, guard those as risk, keep the peace, uplift the tired, and do what no scientist or politician can predict.  Be part of the stories, that you will be proud of.  Wonderful in dark times is impossible to predict.   Bossless distributed networks of people rose up in 2014  to contribute to the fight against Ebola, they jumped in bass boats to rescue people the Coast Guard couldn't after hurricanes, they jogged food to the hungry in flooded New York after Sandy. (many posts here in the past) 

Yes. We have many problems. The problems will get worse.  But we will rise with answers and energy.  We will organize in new ways and at a new scale, faster than ever imagined. Here are just of the few inspirational, distributed, and amazing stories out there. These are exactly the kinds of stories we all want to tell.

The danger of this virus is real. The feelings of helplessness, loss of control, and fear are optional.  Love ya humanity. Do us proud. I look forward to hearing your story too. 

Need you humanity.

Need you humanity.

There's no way to do this alone. There's not a single company, country, community, agency, or family that can survive alone.   

No day goes by that doesn't help crystallize the view of how at you are connected to the farmer,  the worker at the store, the factory cleaning crew in China. The migrants at the border, the sanitation work, police, firemen, and the politicians.  Parents and children depend on the way each behaves. 

We are all connected in this work to endure. We are tied to each other's fate.

The virus and economy are big challenges, but they are not the only ones.

We will only progress if we finally rid ourselves of the idea that we can ignore the truth or close the door, close the border, and close our hearts to the needs of others.

The good news is that most of us know it has ALWAYS been this way.  It is the way nature is.   

Connect, serve others, see the world from other perspectives,  and work together.  Do it because nature demands it. Do it to stay well. 

Can you be effective advocate in the age of hyper-partisan politics?

The world of advocacy in 1994-2007

  • Consensus politics dominate the political landscape and policy agenda. Dick Morris' strategy is navigating a middle-ground and triangulating a new space to create policy.
  • Significant social movements and campaign worked to build “a middle” and establish broad interests in action among a newly organized constituency behind a centrist policy.
  • Focus on the single clear issue and set up a frame in a way that resonated across both political camps but inspired a middle way forward.
  • Strange bedfellows under one tent.
  • Issues with broad support make progress.

The world of advocacy now.

  • Issues that are framed in the middle languish. They are not a priority for people in power.
  • Shifting leadership, micro-targeting messages, echo-chamber media, and increased gerrymandering make each campaign specific to each person, each audience.
  • Building a "middle" or consensus is an action that happens at the end of a campaign. Only possible once two sides of the political spectrum have prioritized the work for their agenda and within their frames.
  • Successful efforts have shifting stories and etch-a-sketch framing.
  • Issues with passionate support among partisan camps influence leadership and make progress.
    • Drones
    • Surveillance
    • Childhood obesity
    • Privacy

We are in the age of hyper-partisan politics. The implications to advocacy groups and agendas.

  • The new strategy is to build the priority of the issue within the core of each camp.
  • Get better at accepting complexity and contradictions in an overall strategy.
  • Push both camps base to prioritize changes for the sole reasons that the issue appeals to various camps.

Need to explore the new skills and strategies for partisan advocates.

  • Partisan focused framing
    • Evaluate the issue resonance among the core participants in each opposing viewpoint.
  • Working in ad hoc solidarity, not a coalition.
  • Build efforts that support networked cells within each camp.
  • Pushing and promote champions within the fringe of the partisan camps.
  • Build support structures which creating moments of alignment and unify fragment actions.
  • Support more issue organizing within each camp.

Closing Thoughts

  • We live in a more partisan political environment.  
  • The trend shows no easing.
  • We must adopt an effective advocacy strategy for shifting the political process.
  • The shift has a significant impact on strategy and accepted the wisdom of campaign planning at the local, state, and national scale.

Movements Work to Control the Field.

There is a distinct change in lacrosse played at the beginner level versus the college level. After back-to-back games watching my daughter (9) play and then University of Maryland (Go Terps! #1 Women’s Lacrosse in the country), it was easy to see that even with the same rules and equipment,  players at the different levels not only had improved skills but fundamentally different strategies.

My daughter's team worked hard to get the ball to the stars, moving the team into a set formation passing the ball along the chain to score. There would be variations in the plays but the ball moved toward a few players until one of most productive shooters could score.  At the elite college level, the game was about creating space, moving players out along the edge to draw out defensive responses and create gaps for action.

At this more advanced level, all players are a threat and the focus seemed to shift toward managing the field for the players, creating space that opened opportunities to score. The work focused on pulling a defense apart, thinning the density of the defense so that many players could flip the ball into net. The team focus was less about the players and more on creating spatial control and the field awareness needed to win at the highest levels of the sport. These dynamics are similar to soccer, the board game GO, and social movements.

Unfortunately, many of our supporters and reporters focus on the star players rather than the effort it creates to control the field. The goal is to dig into the ways we can foster winning social movements.  Movements control the field. 

Being labeled a “movement” is a reflection of evolutionary status. One person or organization does not qualify as a movement, yet there is no set size of a movement. Movements are messy, complex and organic. The movement label is shorthand, an inclusive term of many independent leaders and supporters, their support structures, all that they can tap into, as well as their capacity to disagree as often as they align on work.

Movements are a reflection of self-directed, adaptive, resilient, self-sacrificing, supported and persistent initiatives to work on complex problems. There are no movement structures, but instead a movement is a mass migration of people, organizations, businesses and communities unified in common story, driving to shift culture, policy, behavior and norms. Successful movements build and transform the landscape as they progress providing a base for further progress. A quick scan of the first few pages of google news for” movements” produces a snapshot of the current movements that come to mind, including the movement against fracking, the climate change movement, the tea party movement, Occupy, #blacklivesmatter, the anti-austerity movement, the dump-Trump movement, the maker-movement, the LGBTQ movement--the list goes on.   

A key evolution point in a movement's trajectory is the transition away from any single point of failure, to be loosely structured and resilient enough to absorb setbacks. The agility and adaptive characteristics of movements are fueled not only by personal stakes, individualism, driven leadership, passion and local control, but also by unpredictable solidarity and a distributed organizing approach that resists centralization. The difference between an organization, coalition, centralized campaign and a genuine movement is the way each fuels smart local initiatives and the ways leaders align power.  

Building a movement is actually more aptly perceived as unleashing a movement, creating new spaces that help the movement surge in wider, expansive and still supportive directions. As a movement gains organizing momentum, strategies shift to broadly unfold and push a wide set of actions that draw opposition thin rather than clustering and making defense easy.  This distributed layout requires a shift in thinking and strategy.

Hope Lies in Humanity. Networked Humanity.

image from www.cidrap.umn.edu
In the biggest threats to humanity, humanity (not technology) must be the answer deployed to solve the problem. In human history, people are always "the fancy innovation" that solve complex problems.  Unfortunately, many planners don't engineer solutions that effectively leverage networked people solutions.  Planning seems unable to adapt to the reality that humanity is much more connected than most of our mapping "sees".  We are a network, a fragmented network but full of potential to connect, collaborate, and swarm on the fly.  

It was not drugs or fancy innovations that brought numbers down.

Local volunteers going house-to-house to explain the virus, or tirelessly burying bodies in the safest possible way, were crucial to stop the spread.

Communities accepting the realities of the virus and changing their everyday lives, and families allowing their loved ones to be taken to isolated treatment centres all played a strong role.

Weak health systems were bolstered - Liberia only had some 60 doctors to treat its entire population before the outbreak began. But an influx of local volunteers and international teams helped.

Despite these efforts some scientists say there is a chance the virus will never go away. If cases do not get to zero, it could become endemic - part of the fabric of diseases present in countries at a low level.

And other outbreaks are likely.

But the hope is the world will be better prepared and have learnt to pay greater attention, should Ebola, or another disease like it, strike again.

via www.bbc.com

Network power becomes proportional to the risks/threat we face.  In a crisis, it is no longer an awareness issue but an issue that we have not sorted out how to manage the logistics of the power of a "just-in-time" humanity.  From the refugee crisis today to Ebola outbreak in 2014, to the huge numbers of talented people want to help and participate in the solutions to climate and refugee crisis, the opportunity of our time is sorting out what works needs to be done, what work can be done, and building quality control by volunteers on volunteer  as a system to really swarm as a species.  We are capable of so much more than wikipedia.  

The basic challenge to massively distributed engagement is the ultimate in civic tech.  It is not crowdfunding but crowdwork support technologies. Stacks of organized services that accelerate the processing and sorting of volunteers by volunteers, and also empowering  large groups of people breaking down challenges, developing strategies together,  break strategies into work, breaking work into tasks, assigning tasks to vetted volunteers and also manage volunteer checking and rechecking their work and feeding results and observations back into strategic context.     

Examples worth looking into include OccupySandy, AidMatrixNetwork, National Service Corps, Snowcrew





Hey Siri tell Congress Save the Polar Bears : When will Siri, Alexa and Cortana get into politics?

Siri, Cortana and Alexa can read email, book hotels, tell political jokes and manage your lights (seriously they can just ask them).  How long before they can fill out requests to sign petitions automatically once commanded?  If personal agents start participating in politics how low does the basic level of the engagement ladder go?  What does Congress do with petitions from Alexa, Cortana or Siri when they feel like people don't even have the time and interest to read or fill in the basic elements of an action alerts?  How long before Congressional staff are using AI to respond to mail they get?   Is this the first step of the AI nightmare?

This new wave of voice-driven assistant technologies rides on the back of advances in artificial intelligence, rich collections of user data and growth in keyboardless and screenless devices. Additionally, great speech recognition is now built into every major operating system. Google, Apple, Baidu, Microsoft and Amazon provide this capability for free, enabling a new generation of apps to drive user adoption.

via recode.net

Does the mean the end of clicktivism with easier AI-ivism? 


Disruptive Networks of People Root Change in the Power of Humanity not Violence.

Absolutely brilliant, grounded and sharp insights from David Haskell at DreamsinDeed published over at SSIR. His insights on working with people in hard places is among the best I have ever come across.  I love his view of leaders he calls "dreamers in hard places".

 "Dreamers in hard places" are under valued, under appreciated, under the radar, and under represented in the leadership of our world and our work.  In fact, the way we structure movements demonstrates that we fear "dreamers from hard places" participation at the levels of governance and power.  Most of the best leadership in traditional organizations can't even interact effectively with people that are genuinely squaring off abuse and trauma spread by government and industry.   

David's body of work is inspiring and the approach is network-centric to the core.  His team builds networks to support dreamers in hard places. 

 What sets a dream apart from a good idea? We apply four tests:

  • A dream is celebrated by the poor, and unsettles the powerful.
  • A dream invites everyone to the table, including those we don’t like.
  • A dream requires that everyone change, starting with the dreamer.
  • A dream is worth bleeding for, not just working on.

via ssir.org

Some of the questions his work leads to includes  "Do our models include people not like us?", "Do the poor celebrate your arrival?", "Does the answer also make sense to people that are only educated at the school of hardknocks?", "Have we created a microphone so the smallest voice is heard?", "How does this strategy draw in opposition to be a part of the solution?", "How does this put the last first?"

How many of the strategies and campaigns that you ever worked on pass these questions?  Are you working on dreams? Are you pushing power to the edge?  Does your work make sense to the people most impacted by the problem?  Are they working with you on the solution?  Are you seeking diversity of people to support your work or are you working to diversify who you work with so you can serve broader agendas?

Expect the punch in the face as part of your strategy development.


 In many context, it is always a struggle to find partners that want to invest in creating adaptive process and infrastructure.  In times of uncertainty, we are often attracted to the "silver bullet" rather than the negotiated settlement.

I love clear work plans but I work in so many context that make them unrealistic like campaign planning, culture change, leader organizing and foundation fundraising to name a few. Or at least, these chaotic environments require a very different kind of work plan.

There’s a boxing adage that says "everyone has a great strategy until the moment they get punched in the face". This probably military saying along the same lines ... Everyone has a great plan until someone starts shooting at you.  The only true strategy is to make sure you can take the kind of punch you Are going to get and yet still stay in the ring. Only then can you shake it off, and develop an adjusted plan to victory.

Capacity building is the resilience strategies.   1. Building capacity of people to lead and withstand the punches and the opposition that they will face.  2. Building the organization capacity to shield the people. 3. Building the network capacity to connect people to each other and facilitate the flow of information and new alignments of power because strategies one and two are guaranteed to fail.

As organizers, there are some pretty big trends out there that are going to rattle some cages in the next few years. We need to be ready for them because they will transform the base of people, culture and political context that we operate in.  If you are looking at creating social and policy change on a 3-5 year horizon and building steps toward great change, here are some of the combinations punches coming at us.   I don't know exactly how these emerging models will hook into the campaign world but my instinct is that they will.  Assumptions about the potential impacts of these trends are shaping the ways many of us in the sector think about organizing strategies.  

I have loose notes on most of these concepts but I thought it would be worth pouring them out online to start some more thinking and feedback on the trends.  I leave it to all of us to  to leverage these trends in a way that fuels uplifting social change.

  • Unrest + increased connections = the age of revolutionary politics.
  • The rise of the multinational organizing to counterbalance multinational corporations.
  • The rise of the effective partisans and the collapse of middle political ground.
  • Monetization of followers on facebook.
  • LinkedIn as a co-working engine and a personal career platform for the gig economy.
  • The proliferation of cyberwar tools from nationstates to corporations, individuals and small organizations.
  • The use of reputation and bitcoin like currency outside of hacker circles.  
  • Internet of things reaching into new edges of the marginalized and disconnected creating access, story and data that circumvents efforts to hide abuse.
  • Mobile phones with more spacial awareness.  Spatial awareness of the phones and people. The rise of alternative experiences in the same space.  
  • Drones and autonomous vehicles in advocacy and documenting situations without fear.
  • Syndication of civic engagement opportunities.
  • Artificial intelligent agents like Siri, Alexa and Cortana lowering clictivism to AI proxy work.
  • The multiplayer online game generation meets community organizing.
  • Real time synchronization of organizing during broadcast events
  • The Slow Movement meets advocacy efforts.
  • Expanded and targeted delivery of physical things at lower cost.  

Complexity is Not Stable. New Power, Old Power and Balance

A great set of articles by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms , “Understanding New Power”  and a follow up riff on that article from from Michael Silberman on MobilizaitonLab have inspired some noodling around with their work.

In the table below, I remix a similar table provided by Heimans and Timms with a slightly different focus in order to point to the stability of the models used. I am reshuffling the layout by looking at gaps between production of power and value and the degree to which the producers of that value and power share in the governance and benefits of their contributions.

Potentially if a business/model is in different columns in the top row than in the bottom row, it is less stable and open to competition from competing models that are aligned and more stable. In some cases, the shift toward stability will come from revolt and/or organizing from within.



A more detailed response to the articles by Silberman and Heimans and Timms is published on Netcentric Campaigns’ official blog, Netcentric Advocacy. I hope you’ll check it out.

Mend the Nets. Network Discussions and Tuna.

We need to continually elevate the field of network building by engaging deeply with other people that are also supporting uplifting socail and policy change thru building networks. Lately,  I am interested in conversations that use disciplined frameworks to look at the desired throughput of a network and then use that to define the scale and structure necessary to deliver those results.

Additionally, I love digging into projects that seek a rationale consistancy about the nature of the  "nodes of the network." And from a starting points discussion of throughput and nodes, look at the protocols for connecting the nodes and the ways to build the functional capacity and strength of those connections.

  Tony Proscio's riff on a presentation by the president of the Helmsley Charitable Trust, John Ettinger, arguing that when foundations group their grantees into networks it “may lead to quicker learning and more efficient operations.” Or, Tony quite rightly points out, sometimes “it leads nowhere at all.”

It’s a painful truth. Networks sometimes fail―or at least fail to meet their full potential. The good news is that when networks fail or struggle, there are identifiable (and correctable) reasons. 

 I am looking forward to continuing the discussion and suggest folks check out Tony's pecies and the recorded presentation at Duke (follow the links below for more of the conversation.) 


Cross-posted atHome and Netcentric Advocacy


Great talk at Google about Social Physics. Sandy's ideas resonate with my work across a movement. We are often trying to shift many people that are allies in a movement to generate the ties Sandy discusses. We think about social and advocacy campaigns needed the same capacity to work together as scale and in the same way Sandy talks about social learning and social teams within large companies.

It is worth a watch.

What Does It Take to Learn to Collaborate?

This is a brilliant flash of analysis and nice crisp language on the roles and responsibilities for collaborators. I like the way Chris Thompson at  interactioninstitute.org teases apart the characteristics of people that are going to be good at collaboration.  The exchange is worth a read. 

  • Skill – creating conditions for effective collaboration/building trust, designing effective process, deft facilitation, generative listening and inquiry, getting on the balcony/holding the big picture, thinking broadly about “success” (results, process, relationships), celebration of others’ success, being a connector/network weaver, understanding social/power dynamics . . .
  • Attitude – not knowing, humility, bring your expertise but don’t get trapped by it, belief in abundance, appreciation of difference and diversity, authenticity, curiosity, caring, eagerness to learn, seek win-win, respect for others’ perspectives . . .
  • Will – the drive for ongoing personal and systemic development, to push through and keep the collaborative going even when the plane starts to shake, eyes on the prize, willing to put reputation and resources on the line

via interactioninstitute.org

Not all knowledge is evidence, not all good advocacy is evidence based. Disagree.

The title of the clipped article below triggered my response more so than the content. "Not all good advocacy is evidence based".  I have a slightly different perspective on that phrase.

All good advocacy is evidence based. The practice of advocacy itself is built on a historical record that shows advocacy is the necessary requirement for policy change.  Some believe advocacy is more of a dark art than an evidence based approach to creating policy change. Evidence suggests advocacy is required to create any policy change.

This is not really what the riff is about but the discussion of evidence based advocacy is a jumping off point to acknowledge that evidence shows us advocacy is required and necessary. Evidence teaches us how to refine advocacy efforts. Evidence shows us what advocacy works.  If we are committed to creating change based on evidence, then we must commit to effective evidence based advocacy to achieve the desired results.

.image from www.ph.ucla.edu
 John Snow presented a map to London Epidemiological Society to advocate for the closing of the Broad Street well.  His contribution was more than research and mapping. Not just a great doctor and scientist. He persuaded others to understand and prioritize his evidence. He persuaded policy makers to act.   John Snow made his mark as an advocate.  Would he have been quite as remarkable if he didn't also secure the change, close the pump and stop the cholera outbreak?  He actually developed a water borne theory on early outbreaks but the Broad Street event stands out because of the advocacy.   

Our goal as professionals is to demonstrate that such a perception of advocacy is disconnected from the world of evidence and science is wrong.   As dedicated and disaplined campaign practioners, our work is more in line with E.O. Wilsons vision of great science, "work like a book keeper, think like a poet". Expereince, evidence and knowledge tell us that policy only changes through inspiring action (not just presenting facts).  

otherwise, I like the riff...

Evidence is not the same thing as Knowledge – Evidence is usually taken to mean “hard” demonstrable, measurable things. Evidence comes from direct observations, surveys, experiments and evaluations and the like. Evidence is crucial to advancing scientific learning as well as on an everyday level to know how things are going such as through programme monitoring. Knowledge (i.e what we know) is internalized learning – in this sense we only know something demonstrated by evidence if we have internalized it- i.e. we “believe it”. Similarly there are things we know (and act on) for which we don’t have strong evidence – often this knowledge comes from learning and direct experience – even if this is not documented and measured. Much important learning is not documented as evidence – that’s why we often ask for someone else’s advice – someone who “knows”, someone who has done it before.

Not all good advocacy is “evidence-based” – Evidence-based advocacy has been interpreted by some to mean advocacy that uses data, charts, includes report citations etc. to show the strength of the evidence on which a particular argument is based. However it’s probably fair to say we all know people who are unimpressed by numbers and so even if the argument is made more concrete by using them for some audiences this will be a poor method of persuasion for others. A weaker definition of evidence based advocacy would be that the argument we are using to persuade is informed by and supported by available evidence, and is not contradicted by it – but that the evidence itself is only used if that is helpful in making the case with the particular audience. I sometimes jokingly refer to this as “evidence-supported” advocacy. It’s also worth mentioning that part of effective advocacy is understanding and taking into account the interests, needs and prejudices of the person you are trying to persuade – issues such as the political situation in country, a person’s background etc. in this case you might well stress certain evidence that appeal to the audience and downplay or even omit others. Possibly your whole appeal might be at an emotional level or about values and ideals rather than evidence at all (e.g. all children ought to have a right to free education – beecause it’s the “right” thing to do). This isn’t evidence-based advocacy – but it might be good advocacy. What I think we should not do is advocate for things which are contradicted by available evidence – or where we don’t have some grounding either in evidence or in principle (e.g. in Human Rights principles).

Evidence does not equal truth – An obvious point, but evidence is based on fixed observations that are often partial, and new evidence emerges all the time often contradicting or muddying the conclusions we arrived at from past evidence. Just because we have evidence for a particular model or theory doesn’t make it true. We also need to be aware of personal biases in interpreting evidence – in particular people tend to interpret evidence in a way that is supportive to their existing way of thinking.

via kmonadollaraday.wordpress.com

 I would add that evidence doesn't equal prioirity.  Assembling evidence on a problem or solution doesn't mean that change will happen. Experience demonstrates that effective change needs to be based on best solutions and best science but experience doesn't demonstrate that development of best solutions and solid science means change will be implemented.  This disconnect is often created because of a clash of priorities. Science, evidence and experience allows us to know guns are the key contributing factor to needless deaths but the advocacy struggle is over priorities to act on that knowledge vs. taking on economy, immigration, debt, etc.  Advocacy helps build intensity, focus attention and elevate priority. Good advocacy is based on a field of evidence about advocacy and campaign work.

P.S. I strongly recommend Ghost Map by Steven Johnson on Snow's work.


What is the word for planning that doesn't create a disconnect with doing?

I am struggling to find the right word or better word for planning.

Good campaign work is adaptive by design.  Effective advocacy is experimental and iterative. Building networks and developing strategy are not opposites but deeply connected. The advocacy network building work we do drives results and our activities and work efforts are the best channels for learning.  

All this being said,  I can't put my finger on the right words to communicate this "better thinking by moving" work we do.  Movement and thinking are connected. We develop advocacy network theory,  campaign theory, organizing theory as we work and through our work.  The real world environment and real users feedback are the most influential drivers that shapes how we think plan network mobilizations.  We are constantly learning by doing and planning while we act.  

I can't find the word for this approach to strategy development in a live campaign  environment. I really need it. 

In our work, we have 3 phases of engagement to support people organizing campaigns. First, we assess the network. Second, we develop network action plans. Finally, we build the network to mobilize on issues and policy change.     

We often get tripped up explaining our work because network action planning is a very active process for us.  The point where theory meets practice is the point for the best planning and forecasting how things will work. I focus on the idea that planning means "working out the subcomponets to a strategy in detail. "  In my work the "working out" can consist of setting up the websites to understand how people will engage with a network, running a few network campaigns to see how otheres interface with network operations, launching services activites to "prime the pump" and demonstrate the ways that the advocacy network will operate as it scales.  Only with the very fine level details and experience gained in this style of network planning is it possible to make the adjustments and prepare for a genuine mobilization.  

My problem is that planning as a term has a bad rap as ivory tower,  think tank and  theoretical.  It is seen as a process void of deliverable other than "the plan". I am not sure I buy into this separation.  

Or am I just failing to get this right?  Any help with this little communication challenge will be greatly appreciated.

Jason Silva. Seek Awe. Amen Brother.

One of my favorite philosophy courses in college was focused on romance, awe and fantasy. Now i am really enjoying the work of Jason Silva. 

I am enjoying these riffs for the content, inspiration, style and unique framing of story.   Jason is creating one story that is positive and high energy without being explicit. He  positions the viewer as a surviver working through a struggle to break into new ways to think.

The way that he crashes though topics and fields of study with excitement and intellectual giddiness reminds me of my favorite friends, teachers, co-workers and old roomates. I have never seen anything like it captured so well (even sent my college prof a thank you letter and a tip to Jasons videos.)

(http://vimeo.com/jasonsilva)  It is high energy imagination at its best.  Seek Awe. Amen Brother.   


  Inspire awe in your friends, coworkers and kids.