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Helping National Groups Adopt New Strategy

While we may have a strong bias towards empowered/collaborative approaches, we have to be clear that the tools which make it possible for smaller, disparate groups to come together and function effectively also make it possible for established, large-scale organizations to leverage their depth of resources to build new abilities and power. In the 1990s, it was a consultant mantra that smaller, nimbler new entrants in various industries would devour the older "dinosaur" companies; in reality, the older dinosaurs usually managed to learn from the new models, take advantage of what worked, and happily devoured the little guys. We shouldn't be shocked if we see history repeat itself.

I really enjoy that quote. I agree with it to a great extent (older dinosaurs need to adapt to new models too) except I see the implications in an advocacy and political context to be vastly different than in a business context. In a business world, the "fuel" for who eats who has always been based on profits and revenue. In a business world it matters which book store wins the most profit. The failure of small start ups was predetermined by the amount of seed capital available for the internet pet store, travel agency etc. Large industries could wait out the little guys, borrow their ideas and hire their talent. Many of the top staff of new economy business were absorbed into old "dinosaurs". Political hellraising is a different beast.

In a political and advocacy context the same dynamics do not exist, most of us (staff, volunteers, supporters) do not care which group protects the air, water, human rights. Sure, we need to put food on the table but small talented groups with very transparent fundraising and expense accounting negate some of the trust offered by old brands. New philanthropy is being developed to focus on network stability, The winner is not "one company" or business.

We care about common goals and values. We invest in the campaign with the most chance for success, momentum, or that reflects our values. Additionally, we do not go away when we are broke. I know an old man that has been fighting Atlanta to separate sewer water from rain for 25 years. The guy will not go away. He doesn't get paid and will not be "absorbed by a big dinosaur." He is a network node. Eli Paser from MoveOn started with a web site on Sept 14th calling for a peaceful response to 9/11. He gathered 500,000 signatures. Eli is an activist. If MoveOn goes bankrupt, he would likely start or find a new group to support the next day. Big groups and political parties and campaigns will only be relevant as long as they win. We are now in the era of cut and paste support. (Dean supporters jumped to who? Eli's supporters merged with MoveOn, etc) In our world of politics and advocacy, "brand and group recognition" do not matter as much (a handful of people need it (14 million) and should get it). I am not in this fight to support a man, or a particular group I am here to move an agenda. I will ride the dinosaur or back the bee hive. We have no stock options, we have no brand dividends other then success. A huge chunk of our talents and resources come from our Boards and volunteers that can not be discouraged by lack of money or fame. Our people are not the employees or investors in a Pets.Com. My Board members are dedicated not for money but for impact on our causes. If MoveOn or WWF becomes the ultimate vehicle for connecting people to people and moving an agenda.. who cares? What matters is moving the agenda.

The decentralized model will work for us and be around only because the traditional symmetrical and centralized model will not. MoveOn will eventually be attacked and hobbled (legal, reputations and individuals) because as a single point of failure they are an increasingly high value target. In fact, if I were on the other team, I would let them get almost to the point of success and then unleash a furry of attacks. Given that the bad guys have way more resources MoveOn can muster , Moveon will generally not succeed alone. As long as the "political resistance" is fighting energy, chemical, agro-industry, defense contractors and other fortune 1000 industries we will most likely loose any symmetrical fights. Long term in a "toe to toe" battle for power liberal and poor people will loose if we go toe to toe. We will continue to build up single brand groups only to watch them beheaded by large donations, legal worries, branding worries, management failures etc.

Conversely, the connectivity of modern culture is turbo charging decentralized small group tactics. Little zoning fights are frustrating Walmart because the average mom and pop are getting more powerful. The down sides of network action are being decreased by connectivity and communication. Increasingly our like minded trust networks will be able to swarm resources and talents behind a campaign. Most importantly, we will learn how (and when) to not engage and waste resources. If we have lost momentum and surprise, we will swing staff and talents into new areas and groups. (I know most of my friends would be huge assets in lots of different campaigns. We could work on air issues on Red air days in Atlanta, and be ready to help PNW groups fight Salmon de listing in a few days, and wrap up the week developing web sites and content for a campaign to build a children's medical center in Harrisburg PA the following week.) We can't do it now but the future of network-centric advocacy is not under the banner of a traditional business model merely using new tools.

On the other hand, I build tools for little groups and I ma pitching services network-centric campaign models to some very large dinosaurs of the advocacy movement. I am interested in moving the agenda and not helping or hurting one group vs another. I want to see more network-centric infrastructure so all the campaigns can benefit form connectivity. I am working with groups to restructure the work flow, control and asset deployment because it will make their alliances and coalitions more effective and it is the "right thing" to do. Large groups are attractive participants in network-centric advocacy approaches because they have the existing base of support, staff talents and resources to implement campaigns. As the rest of the quoted post indicates, large groups (and the oldest dumbest dinosaurs - foundations) must update strategy and tactics because it is very possible that the cascade effects of old and new tactics combined are the only way to compete in the current climate.

At its core, the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign diverges very little from traditional political campaigns. Field campaigners are given explicit instructions coming down from the top, and their reports filter back up to feed the campaign's growing database. Hierarchical control, established talking points, and registration quotas are all familiar elements to experienced political observers. What makes the campaign's approach different from past efforts is the degree to which dense information flows (albeit one-way) and rich communication media are the fuel for the process, and the explicit adoption of multilevel marketing as a process model. This sort of campaign would have been far more unweildy in the era prior to instant messages, GIS, GPS, email, and ubiquitous mobile phones. In many respects, the Bush-Cheney 2004 exemplifies how a traditional approach can evolve to take advantage of new technologies and systems, without ever changing its underlying nature.

Our resources are currently centralized in large groups and foundations. Those institutions have a responsibility to take effective actions to move the agenda. The challenge to the network crowd is to show them that investing in complementary network-centric capacity is the best way to fulfill their trust.

Email Alerts for Dangerous Air Quality

There is a growing number of states and regional agencies attempting to communicate risk of bad air, water, wind chill , virus outbreaks, whatever. Here is an example of the NC Air Listserve.

These are very cool services. State science folks are trying to get the word out that air is dangerous. Environmental groups should be picking up on all their hard work and connecting them with your members and campaigns. States (and the public supported alert system) can not make the important connection between bad air and coal energy plants, trucks, SUVs etc. They can not say 45 children in our city are going to have a terrible time breathing today because the energy industry has failed to "voluntarily enforce laws". They can not connect the dots between policy and effects. The state will not say that people are sick because AAA, the auto industry and energy lobbiests use your map and fees to lobby for more roads and against fuel standards. However, you can help people connect the dots.

Step 1. Sign up your entire staff and active volunteers to receive the alerts.
(go ahead and give the state everyone's email addressees,,,they wont sell them and they could find them if they really wanted to.)

Step 2. When an alert comes clip the most important points and drop them into your own group's alert.

--- Make sure the alert from your organization includes the advocacy components the agency folks can not include in "official" messages.

--- Include links to important legislation, voting records on important bills, actions people can take.

--- How about someting like ..."Your government suggests you stay indoors today because of bad air quality. are five things you should do because you can't play outside."

Step 3. Build entire campaigns around these free warning systems. How many unhealthy days did you have last year? (American Lung Association) Build a campaign that says you will spend that many days working on nothing but "air" issues. Develop Bad air day drills include special campaigns to visit people in the hospital, sponsor "open gym days" with local fitness centers (attracts members and highlights the problems) work the media. Focus on the policy failures that have put us in the current situation.

Remember, this style repackage of government information works for beach closures (ocean, lake or river), bad air days, flood reports and food and drug recalls. There are systems that will monitor for changes in a web page and email you when it changes. (Watchthatpage) So all you need to do is keep it pointed at agency warning pages , press page, etc. and you have your system set.

Get your email system set to handle outreach (groundspring, graphicmail, etc) and your are ready to roll.

Please feel free to add tips and tricks in the comments section.

Mad Cow Case Study : Crisis Communicaitons

I had posted on the Mad Cow Rapid Response before. (Steroids, Cows, Iowa and Network Advocacy Lessons from the Cattlemen )

It is no surprise to see the PR industry is recognizing the whipping the cattle industry put on the environmental movement with the masterful response to the outbreak. Apparently, folks are wondering if the spin actually ended up burying important health issues?

However, the media has turned attention elsewhere .....opportunity for quick and meaningful the reform (superfund, clean water act, etc) that could have been pushed through in the wake of the outbreak is now lost until the next exposure in the US.

Hopefully, we can avoid contaminating the food supply with MDE and steady policy making can push through important reforms. However given that the upcoming meeting of the Public Relations Society of America, "the Washington Beef Commission will unveil how it turned the PR nightmare discovery of Mad Cow... into an opportunity to educate the public about the hype surrounding the disease." We had better start organizing the next rapid response two the second appearance of Mad Cow in our food supply.

Spin of the Day
According to, the Japanese government isn't buying the U.S. Agriculture Department's new mad cow testing program -- or U.S. beef. Much to Secretary Ann Veneman's chagrin, Japanese officials rejected her proposal for an international panel to review both countries' mad cow policies. And in New Jersey, a suspicious cluster of human deaths from mad cow-like diseases, brought to light by one concerned citizen, is raising serious questions about the cost of dismissing the threat posed by mad cow disease and related transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Source: O'Dwyer's PR Daily, April 2, 2004

Are we ready to counter the second round of spin? Have we decompressed and learned anything from this experience? How are environmental / health groups better prepared to push for meaningful reform in the wake of the next food problem? The PR industry is sharing the "success story" and teaching another round of PR staff about how to "manage" spin. Are we doing the same thing?

More on NetGen: Everyone's trying to sell them something

Here is a great story on the behavior of NEtGen that should be challenging the traditional models of engagement of the movement. We need more of our leaders to start asking can we win without their help? Can we think of ways that are peer based, non-membership focused ways to engage a new generation of support? What are you doing that is not part of the strategy that a generation thinks "IS DEAD"? This should be another powerful wake up call to start thinking about new approaches to engagement (as if the slipping agenda was not enough).

"This is a generation of folks who are reluctant to get involved in anything political," Feldmark says. Although they are likely to be interested in service projects such as participating in a stream cleanup and exhibited a strong environmental ethos, they shun labels and "are not planning to be active at all," says Feldmark. And while they show some respect for activists, they think traditional activist tactics are dated. Traditional electoral politics are particularly suspect. "By and large it is a disenfranchisement issue," says Feldmark. "They feel like it doesn't matter, that nobody cares about what they are interested in and that their vote doesn't count."

There is a severe distrust of all messengers, even scientists. The only people that focus group participants said they regularly listen to are their own peers. They also said they are more likely to become engaged when they can see how an issue affects their own lives. Feldmark says, "There was an interest in energy policy once we made the link to asthma. Everyone either had asthma or had someone close to them who did."

This is the network-centric advocacy generation. Peer-to-Peer self-organizing, distrustful. They are my kind of people.

Advocacy Lessons from Google

Here is an absolutely mind blowing article about the guts and strategy powering Google. I feel like I need a few weeks to digest the business strategy and the lessons for advocates. I also need a few hours to look up the tech stuff I don't understand. However, I wanted to take notes on the article and figured I would post them here.

Google has been building a strategy that is focused entirely on lowering the cost of computations and then leveraging that power to build all kinds of tools that are amazing displays of computational talent. Additionally, Google has benefitted from (and pushed the envelope) on the lowering the cost of storage. For the first time, this article has "laid out" the emergent power of these investments and opened my eyes to the long term potential of the Google platform. Google has the cheapest computers a few dollars a year. It has the cheapest maintenance of those computers, and it has an adaptive platform of connections among those computers. This edge gives them the potential to test and run new applications across the network. They have brilliant programmers that want to play with this horsepower and they let their teams play in the Googlelabs space. Google has built the model by accepting high failure rates and making up for failure rates with redundancy. Weblog: The Secret Source of Google's Power

Google is a company that has built a single very large, custom computer. It's running their own cluster operating system. They make their big computer even bigger and faster each month, while lowering the cost of CPU cycles. It's looking more like a general purpose platform than a cluster optimized for a single application.
While competitors are targeting the individual applications Google has deployed, Google is building a massive, general purpose computing platform for web-scale programming.
This computer is running the world's top search engine, a social networking service, a shopping price comparison engine, a new email service, and a local search/yellow pages engine. What will they do next with the world's biggest computer and most advanced operating system?

So make the leap from Google model to network-centric advocacy... we may have something to learn from this giant.

Google has been building a strategy that is focused entirely on lowering the cost of computations.....The network-centric advocacy campaign need to focus on lowering the cost of doing campaign work. What is it that need to be done in a campaign? How can we leverage the dominate trends of the age of connectivity ( cheap phone, Internet and travel) to lower the costs of getting the work done. (MoveOn friend of Friend recruitment vs Direct Mail / Kerry Meetups to organize GOTV actions))

Leveraging that power to build all kinds of tools that are amazing displays of computational talent. ..The early part of 2003, the media and others became increasingly amazed at the adaptive capacity of the Dean internet campaign volunteers from razing money, to pressuring media to responding to calls to table at the Mall.

Additionally, Google has benefitted from and pushed the envelope on the lowering the cost of storage. .. We consistently sink huge chunks of change into full time staff where consultants and volunteers would suffice. We consistently worry about ownership when sharing would be cheaper.

The edge gives them the potential to test and run new applications across the network.
Google has the cheapest computers. It has the cheapest maintenance of those computers, and it has an adaptive platform of connections among those computers. The edge gives them the potential to test and run new applications across the network. Anyone not surprised at the experimental campaigns MoveOn has run over the last year? Traditional groups do not have a operation model that accepts such rapid shifts in program focus. The traditional advocacy operation flows from idea / need => program focus => mission assessment => fundraising => staff allocation=> program design => implementation => testing => fundraising => repeat. It takes weeks to months or years for traditional organizations to develop initiatives and programs. The larger the organization the bigger the strategic planning and navel gazing before hand because the groups is about to invest lots of staff, $$, prestige and brand into an advocacy effort. Meanwhile, genuine grassroots groups and loose movements can test and quickly retest campaigns because investment cost is so low. this leads to a general fell that the large nationals are not in front of the movent but lagging behind the activists in the field.

Google have built that model by accepting high failure rates and making up for failure rates with redundancy. There is great redundancy in the environmental and advocacy movement. (that is good) however, there is terrible coordination of ways that redundancy serves to support failure. The redundancy in the campaigns is competitive and often destructive rather than planned and coordinated.

Lots of great stuff.... I want to come back to this article as time permits.

I also love the folks that are worried about the world's most powerful virus and the Google system developing into an Artificial Intelligence system and wiping us all out like the Terminator movies.

Nonprofit Advocacy Blogging and the "Future of Big Media"

There is an interesting story focusing on the "challenge" bloggers pose to "Big Media" and the advantages that "Big Media" can leverage to maintain "value" in a future where information demands to be free. I highlight this story because it focuses on the changes going on in the media industry and offers strategies to those that want to be "trusted" filters of the news. (ie. advocacy groups who are looking for ways to complement traditional media outreach with a "direct channel" strategy, staff who could easily maintain a network of loose ties that follow their work and progress on an issue, etc.) Parts of this article also resonate with the MovementasNetwork suggestions on developing some people-centric organizations.

Technology News: Viewpoint: Superbloggers and the Future of Big Media

Where the bloggers shouldn't be able to compete is on "perspective" and experienced talent. Perspective, or what the news means to me, is the sustainable advantage. But to provide it, you need to know your customers very well; you need to move very quickly to respond to threats and change. And to do that, responsibility needs to be distributed out to the people who are closest to the customer. In a way, building a blend of what the blogger is and what the news services are would turn out a kind of superblogger.

But to get this perspective, the news agencies will have to bring in some fresh talent and allow that talent to create a more flexible, responsive organization. They'll need to blend the old with the new, and they'll need to think through the use of the massive technology and information they have at their disposal and find better, faster ways to apply that technology so that valuable perspectives can be created and communicated.

There are words of wisdom for our movement in this recommendation. Fortunately, I think some nonprofit groups are working this into the new strategy of their work. ( For Example: Environment Colorado ) This is not a drastic shift for the large organizations and campaigns. They typically strive to become "trusted" sources for a particular segment of people (members) on a particular issue (parks, rivers, wolves, etc). The learning here is to tease out the relationship building features that the bloggers have developed and incorporate the personal openness of staff (ie . Dean, moveOn, etc) with largest more controlled media and communication strategy.

Tobacco's "Sand in the Gears" Strategy

Journal of Preventive Medicine does some great digging in the tobacco document library to unearth the "sand in the gears" strategy. Not so surprisingly, this is the same strategy being used by many of the industrial polluters today. Unfortunately, Capital Hill and the agencies seem to be playing along with the pro-cancer lobbyist then they did in the early 90's.

The whole case study is outrageous when you consider that each day of delay increased cancer deaths by nonsmokers and those that were working to throw "sand in the gears" knew they were not merely protecting the "right to smoke" but intentionally doing harm to nonsmokers (second hand smoke) by blocking rules on indoor air quality. (Feeling any rage?)

The researchers obtained the information on the tobacco industry's political strategies based on tobacco company internal documents made public through litigation in the United States. The documents are available at the Minnesota Tobacco Document Depository in Minneapolis and the British American Tobacco (BAT) Document Depository in London. Strategies that are outlined in the journal's report include:

- Lobbying the first Bush Administration to approve an executive order that would impose new risk assessment standards for federal agencies, thus delaying the release of the EPA report.

- Urging the first Bush Administration transfer jurisdiction over environmental tobacco smoke from the EPA to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which would have squelched the EPA report.

- Applying enormous political pressure directly by alleging improper procedure and policy at EPA.

Most of the strategies eventually failed, but the authors say the political pressure from U.S. Rep. Thomas Bliley, Jr., R-Va., was a success.

"This is the first report showing how a single member of Congress in conjunction with his staff, tobacco industry attorneys and executives worked very aggressively to advance the tobacco industry's interests," Dr. Hurt says.

The process is revolting. Unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of staff and politicians willing to sacrifice public health for corporate (personal) gain (think GE (king of the superfund sand throwers), plastics, pharmaceutical, mining, waste management, timber, real estate development, energy development ...) I am not sure where the network-centric story is in the anti-tobacco history but I sense that the fight was very decentralized for a long-time. Family members, doctors, researchers, health advocates, etc. victims slowly building and connecting the dots until states and big law guns joined the network and tobacco retreated. Was there a tobacco "media trigger" (was it the photo with all the executives swearing under oath) that toppled attention? or was tobacco industry strategy "bled" to death with to many families connecting dead relatives to tobacco.

(don't get me wrong..I used to enjoy the occasional cigar, smoke, chew while I am out on the trail (kids make you wiser.) Tobacco should not be illegal. The focus of the report is on "sand in the gears" strategy. It disgusts me to no extent the industry played games with the health of nonsmokers and kept the dangers of tobacco hidden from the older generation for so long.)

10 Lessons from 3 days at N-Ten

I thought I would try to rattle off the top 5 reasons N-ten was worth the time and money. While not everyone could go (although 600 people working on nonprofit tech was a huge surprise for me) it was interesting to see who came and who did not. It is also interesting to think about ways that the nonprofit sector is lagging behind for profit business strategy and the factors contributing to the disadvantages.

1. Networking with nonprofits (Technology folks from Sierra Club, NPCA, United Way, Organizers Collaborative, OneNW, Npower, Planetwork, and Circuit Riders (all the folks that ride from nonprofit to nonprofit -like old west federal circuit judges). Collectively, these people are dealing with organizational challenges by providing technology assistance. However, there were many tales of really smart staff being frustrated that the groups they were working in. The frustration was focused on the failure of the groups to adopt strategy that properly leverages technology in campaigns. Most of the staff seemed resigned to the idea that they had little power to influence the strategy of the groups and that the tech job was perceived as a support operation.

2. Networking with technology builders (Democracyinaction, Citizenspeak, Organizers Collaborative, Penguin Day participants, Care2, CTSG, GetActive, BeaconFire). Most of these folks were working on business models to stay or become profitable in the midst of very rough times. I would put GMT in this category although we are on the smaller side of the pack.

3. It was interesting to discuss the spam vs. political free speech debate. It was also really interesting to see the toolset being developed as an uncollaborative grid of services. Unfortunately, I feel like the advances in technology without a shift in strategy are merely going to accelerate strategies of failure. I worry that anyone who is a friend of nonprofit is going to get their data sliced and diced and machine organized to the point that most nonprofits (who do very poor job on communication strategy) are going to feel like their spam is the only message ever landing on the end users inbox. We will ultimately wear down, listen less and disenfranchise supporters because the "membership and fundraising department " will want all the data on every contact to run through the cultivation database so future messages can be further branded and segmented. There were lots of fancy ways to improve the one-to-many broadcast approach and few examples of many-to-many tools in the works.

4. Collecting soft intel on competitive products, energy and funding for nonprofit technology folks. It is really interesting to see the folks that show and the folks that do not. I was in a discussion with a mix of folks in the hall (best place to hang during much of the conference) and we started discussing the incentives and barriers to nonprofit technology builders and apps.

5. Marc Ostens' analysis of learning organizations.

6. Mike McCurry gave an interesting talk about the role technology is playing in modern campaigns. It was nothing new but to hear the analysis coming from this "insider" was refreshing.

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.

Ego-Centric vs. Network-Centric

I presented at the N-Ten conference in Philadelphia over the weekend. It was great. There were lots of nonprofit tech folks (500+) hanging around discussing tools, strategy and new models of engagement. I walked away with a few gems from attending the meeting. Hopefully, I also made lots of great connections.

Marc Osten was on fire with an analysis of the new CRM tools and the savvy database mining techniques which are not really changing anything except clustering users (I need to search around to see if he shares his powerpoint slide and do a re-rant of his thoughts. ) It is great stuff and people should look at what he a has found in "learning" organizations.

Anyway, the panel I was on included April Peterson (democracyinaction) and save our environment queen. April has some great tools at DemocracyInAction and I hope she gets the resources she needs to expand the reach and modularize their offerings.

Finally, I wanted to make sure I captured the conversation that focused our panel and post the network-centric vs. ego-centric comments that we scratched out on flip charts for my notes. It was picking up on a thread from the E-volve Foundation and something Rob Stuart and I had been flushing out with friends.

EGO-Centric Organizational Characteristics
* Focuses on expanding the size of the organization.
* Staff evaluations based on internal goals and objectives
* Value placed on raising organizational profile
* Organizational development and centralizing organizational resources
* Resistant to information sharing - Information viewed as proprietary.
* Hierarchal decision making structure
* Members contribute $ but not ideas
* Membership roles are narrowly defined (e.g. give $ not ideas).
* Defines programs as unique or original
* Power is centralized

Network-Centric Organizational Characteristics
* Focused on expanding number of people / organizations reached
* Focused on expanding capacity of network to perform
* Focused on expanding the network - participants and capabilities
* More attention paid to information sharing
* Values and rewards sharing of information
* Values social contact between staffs of partner organizations
* Encourages development of strong social ties
* Facilitates rise of multiple leaders by enabling coordinated action
* Values coordinated action over "leadership"
* Distributed power structure
* Power is pushed to the edge of the network
* Leverages and shares resources with partners
* Values cooperation, collaboration, redundancy and interaction.
* Members are full fledged "network citizens"

Please take a minute to comment on your take on ego-centric vs. network-centric.

Distributed Collaboration : One of the Keys to Network Advocacy

One of the big keys to network advocacy is to move "production" of political power out of the organizational confines to multi-organizational or individual contributions. While many past post have focused on this idea the article in Wired ads to the understanding that political campaigns need to bring new business models to the drawing board. The network-centric planners need to be looking at ways to "open source" campaign work.

Many of the quotes from this article jump right from business and manufacturing into the struggles of the modern advocacy campaign. It is also nice to see that the open source approach doesn't mean the death of the larger organizations but merely adaptations of existing strategies.

Wired 11.11: Open Source Everywhere

Just as the assembly line served the manufacturing economy, open source serves a knowledge-based economy. Facilitating intellectual collaboration is open source's great advantage, but it also makes the method a threat. It's a direct challenge to old-school R&D: a closed system, where innovations are quickly patented and tightly guarded. And it's an explicit reaction to the intellectual property industry, that machine of proprietary creation and idea appropriation that grew up during the past century and out of control in the past 30 years - now often impeding the same efforts it was designed to protect.

Open source offers biotech companies a cheaper way to do research. "The corporations have been locked in a zero-sum game," Jefferson says. "It costs them a fortune to buy and lock up a product or a technology. And if they don't, a competitor will get it and they'll have no access to it. So it's a real change in the status quo we're proposing. We're reducing the obstacles for everybody so big companies won't view this as antithetical to their own progress."

The question then remains focused on the steps that a campaign planner needs to take to open source the manufacturing of political power. (I will post on that tomorrow)