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Problems Campaigns Face: Riffing from PDF

We are in a unique moment of people organizing. At this time, our culture becomes both increasingly tied together and fragmented (danah boyd). Organizers dreamed for years to be able to reach millions of people (YouTube) and they pined for the day thousands of allies could collaborate in synchronizing efforts (Iranelection ish) to agitate for change of culture, industry or policy.

Now we sit in among vast networks of supporters, allies, friendsters and professionals (1000+ at PDF) as committed to our issues as we are, but working together alludes us. change remains just out of reach.

We know much about campaign planning (spitfire strategies) and communications strategy but the underlying alignment mechanisms for marshalling and managing the power in campaigns have shifted beneath our feet (who is momsrising…go Roz!). We are transitioning from an organizational-centric world dominated by good management, ownership, hierarchies and “the firm”  to a network-centric world driven by leadership, transparency, reach and sharing (Ny311, government spending dashboard).

Leaders in broadcasting (newspaper) are being replaced by those focused on creating connections (craigslist). Both will always exist, but there is no doubt networks and network organizing represents a transformative trend.

Today, as movements organize they need a mix of both traditional campaign and communications strategy coupled with network strategy. (Obama)

Common Problems that Many Campaigns Face.

Experience demonstrates that these strategies are less effective without complementing each other. (Gates on education ) The interplay of campaign, communications and network capacities influence the planning implementation and success of each.

Coalitions, collections of groups, and crowds of people often lack the clear vision, campaign objectives and communications plans (PDF…although Sunlight stuff is a nice direction) that help identify the critical networks for further engagement, direction and collaboration. However, even when like minded and allied leaders can agree to connect and collaborate without a unified vision the emergent networks rarely develop the functionally collaborating infrastructure (Green Group) so that the participants can self-organize a clear vision, campaign objectives and subsequently develop campaign and communications plans.

In both scenarios, the coalition without clear objectives and the campaign without the functional network, basic levels of network infrastructure are needed to move forward. However, time after time organizers get stuck with little budget and no plan to solve the fundamental dysfunction in the networks the campaign depends on to achieve success.

The lack of budget and plan stems from a mix of both planning and management issues. There is often an unspoken lack of trust of the base and an unwillingness to trust allies. Yet, there is little investment in the systems that would build performance of far flung collaborative team ( fostering trust in the base).

Organizers that don't trust people to be as committed as themselves therefore design processes to get mild users to support the most committed rather than to actually engage and work effectively with the many-many-many less committed activists. There is a lack of diversity in the "committed base" and most effort is focused on recruiting a more diverse set of people into the same mindset rather than diversifying the agenda and the definition of what the movement is committed to achieve. Many leaders are oddly proud to be disconnected from trends in culture, communication and technology.(not at PDF)

The combined effects of these management biases and systemic gaps create a mess and complete lack of alignment between objectives, organizing, revenue plans, budgets, vision, communications, network organizing and technology plans. The resulting tossed salad of tech tools duct taped onto an organizing effort with no intention of listening, learning, serving and adapting makes a mockery of bottoms-up ownership. (thinking PickensPlan Ning)

On the planning side, many groups have even acknowledged that they are now entering a phase of network building, “taking a network approach” or that they are dependent on networks to create change but when pushed they have no framework for even discussing why, how or what are the elements that make an advocacy network functional.

Unfortunately, groups have no process or limited capacity to identify these conflicts and gaps. As organizers, they have limited experience bridging bottoms up discussions with mangers, funders, planners. Their is not enough circulation of the stories and theories of change that could realign the policy, network and communications activities.

Organizers and tech builders don’t have the materials, work process to help staff better understand organizing in the age connectivity and what is developed by foundations is disregarded and by consultants is trademarked.

We can look at all the pretty tools and see all the activity (online and off) but until the network builders and technologists explain the shift in logic that occurs to more of the organizers embedded across our movement most of us agitating for change will remain as we were only with better websites. 

I had a blast in NYC at PDF.  It was great to take time to step back and look at the broader trends and the ways those trends influence work at Green Media Toolshed and the training I do with Netcentric Campaigns. These events like PDF make me realize how fast the technology is moving in shifting the logic and thinking of the technology leaders and the gap that is emerging between that edge and traditional organizers and current leaders of organizations.

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