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Network Centric Advocacy is about more than Wires

The Web Rewires the Movement is a fantastic story that documents the evolution of some of the recent network centric advocacy movements.

This article is now a part of the story that documents the real world cases of network-centric advocacy. 400,000 people in NYC and 10 million worldwide coordinated by United for Peace and Justice (an organization with no staff just two months earlier).

I have been looking for the details and numbers for months. Special thanks to Andrew Boyd for telling the story.

In addition to looking at the "wow" and the big cases of web enabled activism, we need to explore the strategic supports necessary to enable ongoing network-centric advocacy. The elements needed to support broad based network centric action are not yet in place.

Whithout core network enabling supports the forces of individual and organizational preservation will tear at the cohesion created in these networked moments. Who gets credit, which organization attracts money and prestige will not matter in a network-centric movement.

We need to focus on building redundancy and reduce the single points of failure in the emergent networked movement. What if move-on makes a mistake? What if the small staff picks the wrong campaign? Law suits, disasters, staff turnover and smear campaigns could threaten a single brand.

The advocacy movement is clearly a diverse system of "hubs and nodes", large groups and individual actors. The challenge is to focus on the layers of connectivity that are needed to rewire, connect and sustain deeper working relationships that enable powerful self-organizing advocacy.

Web Dominace No Longer Tactical Strategy for Campaigns

For several years, I have viewed the use of technology and communication tools as tactical asset. Working at the Georgia River Network, I viewed the Internet and communications as tactical tools to be used to amplify leg work and possibly to reach a few more people. As I jumped to Green Media Toolshed, I again felt that our work of providing internet tools was a tactical support element. I have often critiqued groups that want to focus on the "let's set up a web site" without asking the questions…what are the program goals the web site will support? What is the communication strategy your web site will support? Who are the target audiences? How will the users use it? Why do you need it? How will you keep it fresh? What do you think it will do for you, your staff and your supporters? etc..

The problem is that I am now starting to question my own " smart" strategic thinking or at least to take it in a new direction. I increasingly feel that groups maybe right when they say they need a website. They need a web strategy to dominate the online debate and information flow. The world we live in is changing. "Web superiority" is now as strategically valuable as good program staff, good organizers and even good ideas.

Dominating web communities and online traffic with ideas should become a strategic goal of both large and small organizations. Online communications including websites, blogs, listservs and email tools are no longer tactical elements to be constituted and ignored to support traditional legal, program and fundraising strategies. Web dominance is now a viable strategy.

Move-on, Poets Against the War and the Howard Dean Campaign are current examples of organizations that are using the web as something more than tactical support for programs, people or campaigns. These organizations have used web dominance as a strategy to achieve their goals. Each achieved and manages the web strategy differently (centralized, decentralized) and has found unique ways to flex "real world" power.(protest,fundrasing and poetry meetings) Make no mistake with these organizations it is the web power reflected in the real world not the other way around.

This is a repeatable model for smaller more locally focused issues. The more narrow the local debate issues the more dominance a niche sites can exert over an issue (Google Search for Purple Line) On local level small groups can dominate the online conversation and leverage niche content to build real world power. Politicians, media, funders, and undecideds use the web to gauge interest and look up information on an issue. People forward each other web pages and stories via email. The more you dominate the online world the greater influence you will have in the real world. The hype on the Internet was a few years early for only now are we witnessing the turning point that displays the strategic value of technology strategies. Unless Howard Dean wins we are still not yet to the point that web dominance has a 1 :1 correlation with power. However, it is definitely to the point that a strong web, blog, email, networking, information exchange strategy is as good as any other strategy to achieve goals.