Previous month:
August 2003
Next month:
October 2003

Network-Centric Advocacy and "local walk-ins"

I have spent a few more hours kicking around network-centric advocacy with some friends. There is interest in the theory but most of us are still pretty worried about the transition away from exisisting "oldstyle" organizations. I am not sure who the first offical "full-time" network actors are going to be.

My focus lately has been trying to name the parts of a network-centric advocacy movement. The basic thoughts are centered on the idea that we need to "connect" the progressive movement to each other. In order to do this, we will need to: reinforce an existing "network grid" , "build new grid access points" and then seed the movement with people and campaigns that are "going to use the grid".

RAND guys have been kicking out lots of great thoughts on the function of networks and how to stop them. There are some notes from a symoposium for Front Page Magazine that lays out the threats and strategies that Al Queda uses. (Living in DC, I am nervous about the plans and power of the terror networks. I am also interested in watching to see if the US government is effectively countering network advantages. The symposium notes raise some scarry points.)

A few nuggets of network organizing come from Bruce Hoffman's remarks on the strength of networks. (It is important to be able to tease apart the insights on Al Queda from the insights on networks. The underlying wisdom is still solid in many context reaching from political campaigns, advocacy efforts to law enforcement) How is our investment strategy in progressive and positive endevors learning from the new models of organizing being refined in the world today?

The strength of a network comes from the ability to work on mulltiple operational levels. The three levels are:

* A core of professionals, linked to the nucleus for spectacular high profile campaigns.

* An associated level of participants that are trained, provided with resources and inspired by the network.

* A "local walk-ins" component that allows those with no direct, demonstrateable ties to to act because they are inspired, motivated and animated by the message and mission.

These don't seem like a new set of guidelines. These insights just repackage what campaign staff have been doing for a long time. However, the quote provides clarity to the appropriate role and the amount of "control" over each level of operations. The problem with the modern "large brand" advocacy movement is that the "brands" tend to try to maintain the same amount of control, branding and unity throughout each level of activity. Large groups spend way too many resources attempting to "control" the message of the "local walk-ins". ( I think the Dean campaign is the first political campaign that really got the campaign staff out of the way. )

The paid staff of the advocacy movement should be concentrating on the big spectacular campaigns that they can launch. Those campaigns should inspire the multiple levels of particpants. The spectacular campaigns should attempt to inspire local participation but they should not need anyone but themselves to accomplish results. The core of professionals should recuit, train and empower lots of groups to carry out independent campaigns. The core should provide inspiration, general direction and self-organizing resources for the "local walk-in". However, the greatest work of the core is to inspire activity not control it.

We have a funding and organizational strategy as a movement that runs completely counter to the principals of network-centric advocacy. The majority of financial resources are dedicated to helping "large footprint" organizations survive. We are dogmmatic in our modus operandi. We do not actively fund social ties. We do not actively work to keep connected to the people that worked with us on our staffs and Boards. We are cutting money to organizations that provide tools and training.

The large organizations that dominate the resource investments are using that money to attempt to control and direct local activity rather helping local actors succeed by adopting their fight and accepting a more diverse agenda into the larger movements broader narrative. Our own leadership groups often distance themselves from local voices out of fear that they may be painted with the same "brush" of emotional, spiritual and passionate environmentalism. The large organizations and professional staff can be the most important catalyst in inspiring and empowering the movements. They should shift in the way that they are organized and the way they control resources and agendas.

Web Site Tracking for Advocacy

Gideon Rosenblatt points out a great site that evaluates the tools for monitoring changes in websites. The site of tools reviews are available at

Web Page Detection Services maybe limited by database driven sites and will be phased out by RSS feeds. However, for the short term, these could be incredibly valuable tools.

Web page detection services track changes made on a specific web page. The users (you) paste in URLs to monitor. When there is a change to page, the detection service emails a blurb and a link to the page. Some stripped down version of these tools are free. What should advocacy groups be tracking?

* Staff directories in elected officials offices
* Staff directories in partner groups
* News Outlet Staff Pages
* Guideline pages at favorite Foundaitons
* Press Releases from like minded advocacy groups (jump on the "bandwagon" to create message volume)
* Press Releases from opponents (rapid response and prepare for reporter questions)
* Press Releases from elected officials offices (rapid response and prepare for reporter questions)

Ideas are welcome.... in the comment area.

Cellphone to Postcard Advocacy

Vodafone is launching a very cool service that combines the cellphone with camera and a "postcard" maker. We need a similar advocacy tool to bridge the technical and non-tech public on advocacy efforts. A new way to "tell a friend" that doesn't need email and that can be generated while people are fired up on an issue.

The advocacy postcard option would need to be set up by a neutral service provider. Campaigns and advocacy organizations could set up a number to send postcards from and pre-generate return mailing slips. The cell phone users could then send a photo, text (provided or SMS generated) and an address of a friend. This would be a new generation of a (friend of a friend) that reaches offline with return mailing service.

Step 1. User with a camera photos self at rally, environmental hot spot, etc ...Wish you were here...Please do what you can to help.

Step 2 . Service drops it into a post card with a return signup for next rally/ lobby day/ election/ park clean up/ donation

Step 3. Self-Organizing Network Grows.
Vodaphone Site

Postcards via MMS: Vodafone D2 and Deutsche Post launch new service
* Messages from mobile phones can now be sent to letter-boxes
* Combination of traditional and new media
* Even more fascinating ways of sharing moments with others

Capturing exciting and moving moments with your mobile camera phone, anytime, any place – it is now possible to send snapshots not just to other mobiles or email addresses but also as traditional postcards. At CeBIT, Vo­dafone D2 and Deutsche Post present the "Vodafone MMS Post­card" service (*1) exclusively to Vodafone D2 customers. Both organisations have signed an appropriate agreement. In the in­troductory period until the end of May, this brand new service is available from only 0.39 Euro (*2) per MMS.

Vodafone is launching a service in Portugal that allows postcards to be posted anywhere in the world using a mobile phone. Vodafone customers can use their mobile phone to take photographs, add text and send it to the home of family and friends.

To use the service simply send a photograph by MMS to the number 1599, together with the name and address of the person who is to receive the postcard. Free text can also be added. Immediately after successful delivery of the Postcard, Customers will receive a message confirming the reception and the forwarding by post of the message to the indicated address.

Each Postcard will have the photograph printed on the front and the text on the back. The Postcards will be sent automatically and delivered by post in an envelope to guarantee confidentiality.

Up to the end of November delivery of the postcards will have the promotional price of just US$0.43 per postcard.

. ...

Margaret Mead and Network-Centric Advocacy

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.


Margaret Mead was the queen of networks.  She looked at people, cultures and the way that societies evolved.  She was brilliant and inspiring.  I was thinking about Margaret's "change the world" quote in the context of our current work to change the world.  Network-Centric advocacy is a reflection of the small group nature of her vision. Small groups can and do change the world. 


The interesting idea is that our approach to important issues of environment, health care, education and human rights is often not focused on small groups.  We pour time and money into larger and larger organizations hoping for more powerful results.  We simply assume that if 10 people are politically powerful 100 must be 10 times stronger.


Mead warned that "If we let our generals and our statesmen involve us in international threats and reprisals which fail to bring out the strengths in our character--we may lose" The strength of our movement is not in the centralized organization but in the small bands of activists that sit in each neighborhood.


Our movement marches lock-step with American doctrine to centralize power and control.  We seek to build bigger and  stronger organizations to fight for progressive policy.  The promise of network-centric advocacy is that it focuses on reinforcing casual connectors to issues of social concern.  Network-centric advocacy puts everything on the shoulders of the small thoughtful groups and fosters their leadership and clout.  Small groups can change the world,  our challenge is to help without getting in the way. 



Network-Centric Advocacy Swarm Tool

The one of the problems with actually implementing a Network-Centric Advocacy approach is that the network would have difficulty "swarming" on issues. The rapid adjustments of people, resources and technology into place to make a difference on the way events are managed is a key challenge to network advocacy. However, if a network was able to set up a private trend monitoring system, the participants of the network would be able to see issues emerge before the opposition would have any clue that resources were building against them.

I used to think that the only way for advocacy networks to move together would be to key action on media attention. (I.E. if an issue or event is on the web, in the newspapers, on radio and on TV for 2 days then the network participants would shift resources into place to help reinforce the progressive messages and lessons that can be learned from event.) This would work but it has three limits ...lag time, media agenda and joining a fight at the crisis moment. It has some strengths but it would require incredible speed in getting resources into position.

Tools Can Monitor Attention to Social Issues

An amazing tour of has opened up a new world of a early warning system. Richard Rogers has created an amazing tool called the "Web Issue Index" . The tool is a "ticker" with issue layers. The significance (rise and fall) for an issue is measured by frequency of certain terms mentioned, frequency of mentioning and traffic a URL . Richard Rogers has been using the tool in all kinds of cool ways watching the flow of change in the issues.

Hopefully, the tools could be tweaked to monitor the pre-website communication channels (listserves, media advisories, calendars of meetings, etc.) These monitoring tools could provide an advance peak at emerging issues to network participants so that "swarming" becomes increasingly based on the network agenda rather than strictly on media coverage. A private and secure system would not reveal the details of the traffic but would help network participants start to connect with the right players and begin the shift of resources into place for emerging campaigns.

The Web Issue Index of Civil Society may be likened to a consumer price index. A consumer price index watches price fluctuations in a stable set of goods for indications of inflation. The Web Issue Index watches the campaigning behaviour of stable sets of non-governmental organisations for indications of attention to social issues.

Check out

Strategy Decay and Environmental Activism

A fantastic article by Gary Hamel in the September 2003 HBR looks at resiliency and threats to corporations. Gary looks at the big boys of corporate America and points out that the trend over time (1973-2003) is that big companies are failing. McDonalds, Coke, Intel, AT&T Disney, Ford, Motorola, Sony and Hewlett Packard are not beating the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Big no longer means that the groups have an advantage. Hamel outlines an interesting case that starts to hammer home the idea that the advantage of product incumbency is shrinking.

So What?

Hamel's views are relevant to the current state of the environmental movement. If we shift his focus on companies to environmental organizations many of his statements start to outline the challenge that is identical to the movement.

"Successful companies, particularly those that have enjoyed a relatively benign environment, find it extraordinarily difficult to reinvent their business models. When confronted with paradigm-busting turbulence, they often experience a deep and prolonged reversal of fortune."

Our movement is at the start of a curve into a possibly "deep and prolonged reversal of fortune". Every movement is a successful until it's not and our leadership and funders are surprised that the strategy that has taken progressive agenda this far is failing. Hamel lays out a similar history sketch for the tech and telecom sector. Was it really a surprise for them? Is it going to be a surprise that the poorly organized and deeply divided movement of 14 million old white city dwellers is going to fail to protect the environment? Is it a shock that 18-24 year olds don't embrace the same agenda or the same models for civic engagement?

Hamel lays out a great little sidebar in the article to focus questions on "anticipating strategy decay"(p.59) for businesses. I challenge the leadership of the movement to ask these questions of our own advocacy strategies.

"Business strategies decay in four ways - by being replicated, supplanted, exhausted, or eviscerated" I suggest the same is true of advocacy and political strategy. Hamel questions help clarify meaning in each threat of decay. Again, I think the current leadership would need to truthfully answer these questions in all the wrong ways.

Replication- Is our strategy loosing distinctiveness? Do we possess any competitive advantages that are truly unique? Is our performance becoming less exceptional and more average?

Supplantation - Is our strategy in danger of being superseded? Are there social, technical or political shifts that reduce the power of our current model? Are there nascent business models that might render ours irrelevant? Do we have strategies in place to co-opt or neutralize these forces of change?

Exhaustion - Is our strategy reaching the point of exhaustion? Are our markets getting saturated; are our customers more fickle? Is growth rate decelerating?

Evisceration - Is increasing customer power eviscerating our margins? To what extent do margins depend on customer ignorance or inertia? How quickly, and in what ways are customers gaining additional bargaining power?

The basic strategy and leadership of the environmental movement has centered on building large organizations and centralized "brands" to fight for environmental protection. However, many of the advantages of this strategy are being eroded by shifts in public behavior (not joiners), a devaluation of the main products (newsletters and snail-spam) and rapid changes in technology (low cost organizing tools).

The signs are clear that the movement should not wait for a collapse of the advocacy organization bubble. We need to build a diversity of strategies in the ways that we protect environment, reach out to the public and engage volunteers in our efforts. We need to find more ways to support individual actors and help move leadership opportunity out to the edges of our community.

"Success is not self-perpetuating" yet beyond the basic organizational capacity investments we have not stratgically built the framework for individual, grassroots and network-centric advocacy engagements.

Speed not Secrets Drive Network-Centric Campaign Success

One of the advantages to organizational advocacy is that organizations have the ability to control information flow.  They can plot campaigns and political strategy behind closed doors. They can keep secrets.  Many "old school" political warriors have looked at the required transparency of network-centric advocacy model and decided that it could never work.


Small self-organizing teams would need to layout a campaign idea, the strategy, budget and goals to successfully leverage the network.  Trolling the network is a sales effort to pick up the right mix of people interested in implementing the campaign.  Network participants would need to reveal the strategy they are working on to other network participants (to get feedback and support). They would need to ask friends and friends-of-friends to contribute to the effort.  The more solid the plan becomes the more details the core team would reveal to attract resources( people,technology etc.). I would assume that network participants would want to back the campaigns that have the best people, best plans, biggest impact for minimum investment and the best chances for success.  The theory is that as you go across the network to build a campaign or project you would reveal to many secrets and strategies traditionally guarded.


The "knowledge is power" players horde strategy, connections and limited resources. They come from a school and a tradition that has lost many campaigns because they have been out maneuvered by opponents.  They also racked up "wins" because they were able to careful control and plot a strategy to win the day.  They are right in many campaign scenarios.


Network-centric advocacy is not dependent on secrets for success.  The power of the network-centric model  comes from speed.  Individuals that are part of the network would quickly connect across a communication and social grid to find a ripe campaign opportunity.  The campaigns would be able to scale up people, talent, hardware, expertise and public support very quickly. They also benefit from the speed to disperse into nothingness and to quickly abandon loosing efforts.  Network-centric advocacy gains power in the fact that it can engage in so many campaigns with flexible resources that it becomes very difficult to defend against. 


Everyone can know that the network of environmentalist are fighting for clean air, clean water, protection of biodiversity, sustainable economies and against dirty industry and politicians. They can know that 50 talented staff might engage a new two week legislative campaign on the next discovery of a cancer cluster, oil spill, flood, industrial misstep, blcakout, police brutality,etc. Unfortunately, there are a million opportunities to push progressive policy and hammer bad politicians. (Everyone knows the basic Move-on strategy but the unpredictability of the agenda is part of the difficult thing to counter.)   The power of network-centric strategy is not in the ideas but in the implementation. 


Anyone who has had a good idea for a business or an invention only to watch someone else get a the same idea up and running knows that creativity is not in short supply it is the implementation that is defines the winner.  A network-centric advocacy movement wires the implementation skills and ideas together and assumes that the advantage will be gained in the speed. Some of the opponents may know the full details of the campaign plan but will be unable to successfully counter the effort because they will not be able to scale responses, adapt when the campaign launches nor hold their internal resources at necessary campaign level for long periods of time. 




Network-Centric Advocacy Map


Visualize the networked nature of the environmental movement...Another presenter at the Planetworks argued that we didn't need to focus on the network-enabling infrastructure but should continue to build larger more centralized organizations. The problems are that he is wrong and I can't draw. How can folks understand that our movement and our groups are a network? How can I help shift perspective to network level away from the group and campaign focus? What would the network-centric view of the liberal movement look like?

The environmental movement is a network of organizations, people and campaigns. We are not a competitive market or top-down hierarchy. This image from is a great visualization of typical nodes and hubs that make up the modern environmental movement. I look at this image as a map of the national, regional and state organizations that connect to each other through thousands of points of interaction. I want these lines to represent the phone calls, emails, campaigns and friendships (not the web links presented by touchgraph). The ideal map of the environmental network would also show the thousands of groups not connected to the "pure" environmental agenda or larger groups. In a bigger map (again that I can not draw) I see three or four of these identical maps of civil rights groups, education, family health, immigration, trade, etc. There are not enough points of connection.

In an ideal map, we would see more direct links from node to node and multiple links and nodes to multiple hubs. I want to see the connections made by the staff that move from one organization to another, the board members that serve on multiple boards and the funders that bridge so many groups. We are a network. We need to see it. We need to find more powerful ways to connect. Most importantly, we need to find ways to exploit the power of those connections.

Until we do there is little return on the network diversity and we might as well follow the advice of the old guard and build him some bigger (clients) organizations.

Interesting Email Strategy - The 5 Page Letter

Dick Morris is probably claiming to much in a mid-term analysis of email campaign but there are bits of wisdom worth looking at in his article. I worry a bit about his claim that the email "turned" so many voters considering how well the "Bush Wave" and Rove's 72 hour campaign plan influenced last minute voter behavior. I suggest reading with a [email protected]#$% filter set to high. Morris' logic is a little fuzzy and he is sales man pushing his company but email seems to be different in the context of advocacy.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) used e-mailing to win his closely contested race for reelection. The Huckabee experience should serve as a model for campaigns in the future. - Dick Morris

Sending the Message at the Right Time
One of the things that the campaign was able to do was build a sense of timing because the election is the big day. In advocacy campaigns, we fight long-term campaigns that often lack the climatic and final act of an election day. Many groups tend to bombard users throughout the year without measurement / judgment points for success and failure. Move-on and Howard Dean have been effective this year at creating these points with the email campaigns. (Raise funds by the FEC reporting deadline, beat the Cheney fundraising lunch)

On the Thursday before the Tuesday Election Day, Huckabee contracted with (Morris' firm) to do a statewide e-mailing to a list of 545,000 people in Arkansas. Since Arkansas only has 2 million people, the e-mailing promised to blanket the state, reaching most of the Internet households. - Dick Morris

They held off the on the email until other media and the moment had "softened" the market. I would image that if the email appeared much earlier or on a regular basis it would not have had the same "open rate". Just a few days before the election, the public is saturated with media coverage and paid ads. The deadline and the confusion create an atmosphere that inspires people to look for clarity. Most importantly, the undecided portion of the public are the ones that might read an email looking for additional information.

The Format

The e-mailing featured a very detailed description of Huckabee's record as governor, broken down into categories like "crime," "education" and "family issues" for easy access by voters. The message, attractively presented, was pasted into the body of the e-mail itself to save voters from having to download an attachment.

The letter about Huckabee's record was signed by former Arkansas Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt (R) to give the message added credibility. The text of the e-mail was much longer - five pages - than would have been possible in either a TV or a radio ad, but gave the voter the option of browsing through to find the categories that most interested him. - Dick Morris

Five Pages! I can't believe they sent a five page email. I assume that they had no tracking but it really opens the door that in a political / advocacy context people may want more information. Spam and sales material for products tends to dictate really short emails. Jacob Neilson (Email Newsletter Usability) has research that promotes Word of the Day as the ideal model and he specifically comments that it is bad if they take too much time or demand too much work. Five pages is unbelievable.

The Result
The great thing about the article and looking at email in a political setting is there is always money for polling. This is one of the few email articles that seems to really point to before and after numbers. The polling analysis is the feature of the article that makes it worth reading and to glean its findings more carefully.

The effect of the e-mailing was electric. Huckabee said afterward that "it might well have made the difference" in the election. Sent out between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Thursday, the mailing sent a jolt through the tracking polling. Huckabee's vote share jumped to 53 percent while Fisher's fell to 37 percent. A few days later, Zogby confirmed Huckabee's 53 percent vote share in his published polls, and on Election Day the governor was reelected by a 53-47 margin. - Dick Morris

The Politics of Science

Great articles/sites on Bush Science and Politics.

Rep. Henery Waxman's committee has done a lot of homework on the ways the Bush administration has manipulated the scientific process to benefit their policy.

MotherJones also has a useful timeline of the subtle and not so subtle changes in committeee makeup and rules that the Bush Administration is tinkering with to gut environmental protection


What do I do?

1. Make sure you look up the issues you debate, look for all the "bush-vodoo-science", that is related to the issues that you work on. Look up all the science that groups you are consistently fighting might use. Also watch the committee list
if they release a report, or change the rules it is a good opportunity to point out the manipulation.

2. Pull together some talking points and pre-write a rapid response release.

3. Build a local media list (many of the national outlets have covered the story) and an email list of opinon leaders that you should send a rapid response to in the event that your opposition quotes the faulty science or committee.

4. Start monitoring the news

5. Set your browser start up page to a google search page ... Search Google for your key terms, copy the complete url ...IE.. into the Home page for your browser. (This way when you open your browser each day you will produce a fresh search.) When a news story pops up implement the rapid atttack.

6. Pass on the links to the site and sign up for the updates from the committee.

Talking points from the Site and the full report.

The American people depend upon federal agencies to develop science-based policies that protect the nation’s health and welfare. Recently, however, leading scientific journals have begun to question whether scientific integrity at federal agencies has been sacrificed to further a political and ideological agenda.
The report Politics and Science in the Bush Administration (.pdf) finds numerous instances where the Administration has manipulated the scientific process and distorted or suppressed scientific findings. Beneficiaries include important supporters of the President, including social conservatives and powerful industry groups.

A full overview of Bush on the environment can be found on the NRDC site