April 21, 2004

Bill Pease: Organizing Online

Bill Pease from Get Active began today’s session “Organizing Online for Political Change” with an overview of online organizing strategies. He addressed questions such as: what are the various contending strategies, and what are the implications of choosing one or the other?

Organizing online is about reaching out to an unaffiliated audience, converting them into engaged, active participants, and retaining them. There seem to be two broad strategies for online organizing. First, the conventional model – an established organization sets an agenda from the top and builds constituencies from grassroots, reaching “down” to group the unaffiliated together and mobilize them. Some examples of this model include the AFL-CIO’s unionvoice.org and Planned Parenthood’s Action Center. Second, the emergent democracy model - decentralized groups engage in self formation, using communicating tools to aggregate constituents from the fringes, from the bottom, and build up power. Some examples include moveon.org, workingforchange.com, and meetup.com.

But which model to choose? Organizations have a lot of choices in front of them, and each strategy has its strengths and weaknesses. Pease pointed out various lessons learned from the web. On one hand, new organizations with creative structure and goals can take on exciting new roles in the political system. But there remains a strong argument for building on structures that are already in place, the pre-existing hubs of power which continue to be effective. Hierarchy is not bad, says Pease, because it allows for distribution of tasks, giving groups a potential competitive advantage

Pease points out some items that should be a part of any effective online organizing strategy. The linking of on-line and off-line activities (seen at meetup.com, or moveon’s bake sales) provides people with the opportunity for true political engagement. It is important to support crucial networking roles—clusterers (fostering strong local ties), connectors (establishing ties across groups), and leaders (to model innovations). Don’t just create networks of people create networks of networks! And finally, for maximum message, develop coherence among groups in a single issue area.

Now, how to do this in the real world? Hmmm.... good thing we all got to hear from representatives for two of the most effective and well-known online organizers, MoveOn.org and Meetup.com!

Posted by taraw at April 21, 2004 09:41 PM
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