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12/11 2008

Organizing without organizations: stroke 2

In yesterday’s post I focused on the growing perception by some people–especially young ones–that traditional cause-oriented organizations aren’t very agile, and it’s difficult to have much influence in them. So they’re going around established institutions and generating advocacy movements almost spontaneously using tools familiar to them like blogs and social networks: what Clay Shirkey calls “organizing without organizations.”

Most activist want to influence government policy at some level. For years letter-writing campaigns, blizzards of email to legislators and calls have been the tools in their kit. Often these efforts haven’t resulted in much response. Traditional advocacy organizations have adopted in recent years lobbying arms to get face-to-face with officials and use the leverage of their constituency to impress their message on them.

But suppose there was a new model of input in which government officials actually invited citizens to communicate with them and promised to use the submitted thoughts in policy formation? Well, there may be a glimmer of hope with the “change” President-elect Obama promised. The Obama transition team already has the website I mentioned before: Change.gov. Obama’s election was successful in part because they were able to use the community organization power of social networks and other online tools to involve a lot of people. The administration evidently intends to continue that practice into government.

Today former Senator Tom Daschle was nominated to be Secretary of DHSS and Director of  the White House Office on Health Reform. At the Change.gov website there is a section for the agenda item: Providing Health Care for All.

There you can fill in a form where you “tell your story” about why health care reform is important to you. And now there’s another place where you can sign up to host a health care reform discussion during the holidays; sort of a MeetUp in your home with a Christmas tree and eggnog.

To me the significance of all this is that these steps–if successful for the new administration–may set a model for more open communication and participation for politicians and agencies at federal, state and local levels. The self-advocacy and direct-to-constituent channels may grow, just as Clay Shirkey predicts.

Agile and aware advocacy organizations have a great opportunity to leverage the organization they already have to have influence through these new online channels. Or…they can just let the new generation of activists go around them.

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