Hardcore Organizing in Under Resourced Communities : More on Ego-Centric vs Network-Centric Organizations
Jon has picked up the thread on "network-centric vs. ego-centric" from the panel at NTEN and the Evolve crew (see Characteristics of network-centric organizations). Jon raises some great points. The most important is his observation that the most network-centric operations are the "hardcore social justice/community organizing groups such as WORC and Northern Plains". It is interesting because it supports Marc Osten's presentation on the very same panel. Marc did a study of 2 health organizations and found that the under resourced organization "listened" more and had developed a culture of learning. There is a connection.
Could it be that there are connections between underdogs, resource limited organizations and network behavior? Yes. The answer is yes. yes yes. One of the reasons to adopt a network strategy is the failure to have enough resources to "win" in a symmetrical fight. The more resources groups gain, the more centralized power enjoy some advantage, the more likely that ego-centric strategy becomes attractive. (It is harder to feel like you gain more by participating in "networks" if you are the biggest and best resourced player at the table. --that takes amazing leadership) When you have little or no resources collaboration becomes a "no brainer". The novementasnetwork and network-centric papers, rants, presentations and discussions are really about getting our movement to focus on the reality that we are fighting over top of the garbage pile. Comparatively, our entire movement is the underdog. While some groups feel well resourced, we are collectively all dealing with small %s of the resources that can be used against us by just one industry (energy, timber, agro-industrial or sprawl development) . The point of much of my focus over the last year is to look at the endgame (where are we going? Is any individual organization ever going to be large enough to win alone?) and realize that we need to operate as a network to achieve our vision and therefore we need to develop strategies that not only fund organizational capacity but network capacity.
A few thoughts on this:
1) Ego-centric organizations are framed very negatively. I'm not sure that's completely fair. There are sometimes valid reasons for centralization and control. Not every issue can be approached through a network-centric model, any more than it can be solved with a command-and-control model.
1) I can't think of any national-scale advocacy/campaign organizations that actually have many "network-centric" qualities. Even the most vaunted examples, MoveOn and the Dean Campaign, have many more "ego-centric" qualities than "network-centric" ones.
3) The groups that seem to have the most network-centric qualities are actually the hardcore social justice/community organizing groups such as WORC and Northern Plains.
3) I think the challenge is for groups that think of themselves as advocacy/organizing groups to figure out how they can adopt more network-centric behaviors.
Given the rapid way I crank out the post on this blog it is often painful to watch my poor writing skills create division when none exist. I do not think that network-centric is the "only way." I just think it is a way that we are not thinking about enough. I do not know folks outside E-volve, movementasnetwork and a handful of others that have actually started to look at the implications of building network capacity into their work. I also have been focused on cranking out consulting bids to large groups, campaigns and coalitions that not only set out the "challenge" is to update advocacy strategy to the age of connectivity but offered time, skills and tools to help them address that challenge.
The challenge is not to the groups but to those of us that are the theorists on developing ways, projects, case studies and examples of the way these ideas actually create success and multiply the power that we have. It is our job to believe, think harder, work harder and make the connections that matter. It is our job to work with our friends to connect our networks and practice this in the campaigns we develop and in the organizations we work for.
The comments from the people at the session and the exercise was intended to challenge the comfort level with the status quo.
It is probably unclear from this post but my focus is on helping the advocacy movement (groups,people, staff, participants and funders) from many sectors (health, environment, civil rights) more successful. I am not pro or con organization it is all about moving agenda. If I thought buisness, religions or government agencies could do the job I would be over there selling, preaching and beauracrating. I am convinced that my role is here firing up the connectivity or our network and squeezing more environmental recovery and protection for our investments.