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.