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Where the organisation ends and the movement begins…

Today an excellent article about a campaign I have been very active in was printed in a newspaper not-at-all known for its progressive tilt.

It will introduce the campaign to a massive and influential audience who would likely have never heard of the issues before today. This could potentially shift (or spark!) UK public debate on something which has thus far been a fringe interest for a relatively niche part of the activist world.

In other words, I’m pretty damned excited about it!

While not mentioned, I can say with confidence that I played a significant role in the story appearing as it did. As it happens, I was lucky enough to play that role in a paid capacity for one of the organisations involved in the broader campaign.

The organisation I was working with – like all of the other organisations involved, actually – was not mentioned in the article, however, part of the framing of the story, and some of the people whose’ stories were told, came from dialogue I had had with the author, and introductions I had made over the last few months.

I’m not saying this in any way to promote myself, but that when I was working with that organisation, there was a regular emphasis (while much subtler than it can be in most NGOs) on getting the name into the press. This was for obvious reasons most of us will have experienced – building recognition, reporting to funders, etc. All sound reasons, in their own right.

Organisationally – this news story didn’t check any boxes, won’t appear in any reports, or secure future support for their work. Yet it spent resources paying me to help make it what it was.

From a movement perspective though, this story is big news. As I write, it has over a thousand Facebook ‘likes’, demonstrating a reach well-beyond that of most of the organisations involved.

When this many new people become aware of an issue, it makes work much easier for the activists involved, as they are not having to explain it from scratch in every conversation and interview, because the knowledge base of the people you are talking to has expanded overnight.

Further, when this many new people become aware of an issue via an incredibly sympathetic introduction (like this article), it goes that much further to building public pressure for the kinds of changes you hope to see…

But our organisations don’t have an investment in this kind of change. In many workplaces, as soon as it became clear that there would be no direct benefit to the organisation of me putting several hours into emails, research and introductions, I would have been expected to re-direct my attention to a more pressing organisational priority.

Luckily in this organisation, this wasn’t the case.

But the fact that it so often is, highlights the very uncomfortable reality that so often occurs when we create social change organisations: from the moment they exist as separate entities, their interests are not always those of the causes they were set up to fight for; in fact, sometimes they are at odds with those causes.

Work that focuses on maintaining and growing the organisation itself – recruitment, publicity, fundraising, marketing, human resources, IT, among others – are all, at best, tertiary to supporting the cause; if we ‘x’, than we can ‘y’, and hopefully ‘z’ will happen.

But like in the case of this article, ‘z’ might not be aligned with doing ‘x’, meaning it is not where organisational effort will necessarily be prioritised. Which might be inconsequential, but might also be a massive missed opportunity for the movement.

I only mention this, as a reminder, as we are sitting in our organisations, to spend less time emphasising the organisational outcomes, and more emphasising those relevant to the broader causes we exist to serve.

If we cannot prioritise the cause over the organisation, than we have lost our reason for being and are draining effort and resources from places that might use them better.

More positively, how can we make sure that ‘organisational priorities’ don’t trump ‘movement priorities’?

What might help us to remind ourselves about the real reasons we are doing what we do in our organisations, to avoid becoming self-perpetuating machines, detached from the causes that initially sparked our passion?


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Posted in accountability and campaigning and hierarchy and leadership + management and measurement.

2 comments

2 Replies

  1. casper ter kuile Jun 10th 2012

    Yes, yes and yes. This is why better/alternative metrics are so useful – we need different systemic drivers to ensure this kind of work is legitimised.

    Do you have a link to the article? 🙂

  2. Hey Casper – Interesting that you went to ‘better/alternative metrics’… I was thinking of it as one more reason ‘better/alternative types of organisations’ are needed 😉

    …But I’ve got a long history of hating metrics, so perhaps that’s not entirely surprising… partly wonder what that would create, if such helpful convos w/ a journalist were built into numbers… there’s a lot out on there on the perverse effects of much metric reporting, and I worry that the value of that kind of work might be lost in attempts to quantify its value?

    Like so many of the important behind-the-scenes work on a campaign, the important things are anecdotal (and thus subjective, and rarely ‘plannable’), so perhaps we just need to keep building the case for accepting the combined value of a bunch of different pieces of work that have had a cumulative positive impact, rather than trying to pretend we know before a campaign starts, what exactly will ‘win’ it? …One of my last blogs touched on this quite a bit, re: social media reporting and getting past the numbers: http://www.morelikepeople.org/?p=1200

    …And the article was this one: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-2155344/Oil-firms-controversial-exploitation-Canadas-wilderness-locals-say-dying-pollution.html 🙂

    Thanks for reading!

    Liam


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More Like People is an association of freelance consultants, facilitators and trainers, working primarily in the voluntary, community and campaigning sectors in the the UK and elsewhere.