More Free Wisdom from the Chief-Blogger of the Dean Campaign
Movement As Network: Brilliant Adaptation of Network-Centric Approach to Advocacy by OneNW

Advocacy Toxicity - Technology is not the Solution to Failed Advocacy

danah boyd continues to dig in some really interesting spaces. Her mix of social and technology studies are wonderful. There are some great gems of wisdom that cross over to the advocacy movement (environmental, civil rights, Dean, whatever). danah's contribution fills out some gaps in thinking about the networked advocacy movement. Her post has focused me on the shift that needs to take place is in our advocacy strategy. It is not about our tools or technology but in the failures of our campaigner planners to continually reevaluate the context for social behavior.

danah discusses social network technology (FOAF RyZE, LINKed Etc. ) much like the way I see many of our advocacy groups. We construct movements and advocacy groups and advocacy strategy that wears down rather than empowers. We create a new context with the evolution of each organization (issue) which seems like they never go away. We create a new reality of "advocacy toxicity"- so many calls to action, requests for support that the public does nothing.

Her thoughts are almost always worth reading. It is a long post so I have grabbed the 4 bits of it that I really like. danah's point on social software is highly transferable to social engagement models (advocacy groups) which are last generation's "tools" for organizers.

apophenia: my etech talk: revenge of the user

Social behavior doesn't have a technological solution. We're all involved with social software because we see needs that technology can solve. Yet, by building the technology, we don't simply address or fail to address those needs; we create new realities. At this point, we need to think in a new way. We need to think about what new realities we formed, what new problems evolved, what new needs happened. Then we need to iterate.

Social behavior doesn't have an advocacy group solution. We are involved with our nonprofit advocacy group of choice because we think that groups address the problem yet by building up these nonprofits to address concerns (wetlands, ducks , etc) we create new realities. Groups become the hub for knowledge, magnets for resources, increasingly predictable etc. We need to think in a new way.

The biggest trick in social software is to realize that, just like we can't predict the behavior that users will have, we can't force them into behaving the way we want them to behave while simultaneously giving them freedom to be social. The only thing that we can do is try to understand what is motivating new behaviors and figure out how to adjust the technology accordingly. We must recognize that, for any social software, disparate users will have disparate uses. But like any good city, we have to figure out how to create a live and let live environment, where those who want to visit XXX stores will do their thing without driving the moms with small children insane. You can't kill unwanted behavior without also killing desirable behavior. This is a design challenge, an architectural challenge and a social challenge. And, of course, a business challenge. If we want to make social software that meets the needs of a disparate group of people and not just ourselves, it's time to take up this challenge. Otherwise, we'll spend forever frustrated, failing to understand why other people aren't like us.

danah has teased out "the curse" of advocacy leadership. As a group advocacy groups are befuddled that so many people don't know or don't care. Additionally they are shocked that the public can still "find out" but then behave the same way. The dominate models of engagement seek to shape activists in the same fashion as they have always been shaped.

We have a design challenge in our advocacy movement.

Some people want to be seen; some people want to be hidden. By making everyone far more accessible, those who have something desired become more visible targets. While trying to elevate those in need, give them newfound access to their networks, we can't overwhelm the targets and expect them to play along. How do we meet the needs of different people?

People should be able to comfortable, and EASILY, determine who should be introduced to who. If we figure out how to empower the bridge without wearing them down, they're far more likely to want to participate in the technology we create. Right now, we disempower them AND wear them down; this is not a survivable model. When Jason Kottke posted to Craigslist looking for someone to manage his social networks, he was dead on: this is more of a pain in the ass than valuable.

Advocacy work is often perceived to "supposed" to be a sacrifice. The movement (planetworks, moveOn, e-volve) and companies (grassroots and get actives) of the world are evolving entire new ways to manage your advocacy profile..(see planetworks) or distributed profile models. What we are not doing is checking the multiplier effects to see if the end result is a wear, disempowering or survivable. What would happen if I jumped on all the lists and memberships of groups I cared about...justice, human rights, children's issues, clean air, clean water, education, church reform, school reform, DNC reform, sprawl, biodiversity, local affordable housing, elderly care, corporate responsibility, trail and bike path development, etc. The calls to action, donation appeals and pipeline of engagement would wear me down. Engagement models today are not a survivable model. We need to think again.