Community Organising: The Art of Grassroots Campaigning (Part 6)

Elizabeth McKenna and Hahrie Han write about Obama’s use of organizing as the model for building a grassroots movement in the 2008 campaign in their book, “Groundbreakers: How Obama’s 2.2 Million Volunteers Transformed Campaigning in America”:

Obama for America (OFA) made a long-term, organizational investment in developing the leadership potential of volunteers…Working with volunteers, however, is not easy. For decades, most campaigns relied more heavily on staff because, they thought, only paid staff could be pushed to put in the long tedious hours needed to make voter contact. Volunteers were considered too risky because they could not be depended on to show up consistently or to produce the phone calls and door knocks the candidate needed. As one campaign manager for a 2010 congressional race said, “It is more important that we do field [voter contact] than that we have volunteers do it.”11 In short, many political campaigns did not entrust their volunteers with meaningful responsibilities.

The OFA leaders we interviewed described the gamble they had taken. They bet that if they developed the motivations, skills, and capacities of ordinary Americans to organize their communities, they could win. They bet that with volunteers, they could enfranchise, persuade, and turn out more voters than the opposition. They bet, in other words, that they could do with local volunteers what most previous campaigns had done with staff. One Ohio training document from 2008 read, “Volunteer recruitment and retention is the most important aspect of our field program. We cannot achieve the sheer volume of what we need in order to win without their help.”

Ohio field organizer Tony Speare explained, “Rather than trying to do all the work ourselves, the idea was to spend the majority of our time building up volunteer teams and then making them self-sufficient so that by the end of the campaign, volunteers were calling other volunteers to recruit them. They were running all the trainings. They were entering all the data. They were making all the phone calls, knocking on all the doors. And by the end, the last four days we were able to remove ourselves and just coordinate with all of the teams but let them run their own operation.”

The Obama volunteers thus became the groundbreakers who demonstrated the power of an alternative way of running field campaigns in America.

One of the key elements of the organising model was a structure called “snowflakes”.

Thinks 216

How AI Is Taking Over Our Gadgets: from WSJ. “AI is moving from data centers to devices, making everything from phones to tractors faster and more private. These newfound smarts also come with pitfalls.”

The Shape of Techno-Moral Revolutions: Lessons from Carlota Perez: by John Danaher

Donald Boudreaux: “Throughout my time in the AA lounge, I overheard several conversations – some face-to-face, others over telephones – of business people talking business with each other. Although (of course) the specific contents of each of these conversations differed from the others, I noticed that in each one there sounded a common theme: ‘How can we better please those persons with whom we deal?’ Most of these conversations were of how to structure deals that are more likely to attract or to retain customers. A few other of these conversations were of how to attract or to retain good workers. But contrary to what I imagine is the suspicion of free-market skeptics, not one of these conversations was about how to profit at the expense of customers or workers.”


Community Organising: The Art of Grassroots Campaigning (Part 5)

Obama 2008 – 1

In his paper about the Obama 2008 campaign, Marshall Ganz wrote about the five key elements of organising practice: narrative, relationship, structure, strategy, and action:

  • Organizing rooted in bringing people together around shared values, the work of public narrative
  • Organizing based on relationships based on mutual commitments to work together on behalf of common interests
  • Organizing structure based on team leadership, rather than individual leadership, shared purpose, clear norms, and well defined roles
  • Organizing focused on a few clear strategic objectives, as a way to turn those values into action
  • Organizing outcomes that are clear, measurable, and specific allowing for evaluation, accountability, and real time adaptation based on experience

Ganz had this to say about the success of the Obama campaign:

Many factors contribute to a campaign as successful as the Obama campaign – fund raising, paid media, earned media, scheduling, targeting, luck, etc. But by investing in an organizing program the Obama campaign departed sharply from what had become the conventional way to run campaigns: marketing. This was a wise choice because for the insurgent Obama candidacy a conventional approach could only have strengthened the hand of the candidate with more conventional resources – his opponent.

… When Obama introduced himself to the nation at the Democratic National Convention in August, 2004, he inspired a nationwide constituency by telling a story of his own calling, reminding us of our calling as a people, confronted us with urgent challenges to that calling, and inspired us to make choices we must make to realize our vision of who we are: a story of hope, a ―public narrative… Obama‘s gift – and skill – for telling this story of hope created the potential for a movement especially among the young, a movement of ―moral reform‖ in the best American tradition. But it could not happen if it were not organized.

…A highly motivated constituency, rooted especially, but not only, in the young, moved by a story of hope that engaged their values and drew them to candidate and campaign was transformed into a very powerful electoral force. To be sure, the financial resources generated to support this effort were extraordinary, but other campaigns have raised lots of money and not used it in this way. This effort was able to combine the enthusiasm, contagion, and motivation of a movement, with the discipline, focus, and organization that it takes to win.

Young (and old) India will need to borrow ideas from the Obama 2008 campaign, unite to kindle hope, and work for change in the coming years.

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Prediction: The future of CX: McKinsey on customer experience. ” Today, companies can regularly, lawfully, and seamlessly collect smartphone and interaction data from across their customer, financial, and operations systems, yielding deep insights about their customers. Those with an eye toward the future are boosting their data and analytics capabilities and harnessing predictive insights to connect more closely with their customers, anticipate behaviors, and identify CX issues and opportunities in real time. These companies can better understand their interactions with customers and even preempt problems in customer journeys. Their customers are reaping benefits: think quick compensation for a flight delay, or outreach from an insurance company when a patient is having trouble resolving a problem. These benefits extend far beyond the people typically thought of as “customers”—to members, clients, patients, guests, and intermediaries. Early movers in the world of customer-experience analytics herald a fundamental shift in how companies evaluate and shape customer experiences.”

Chidambaram on the 1991 reforms: “We discovered we always had wings, but we had forgotten to fly. Thirty years ago, this week, we took to the skies.”

Nitin Pai: A Brief Economic History of Swadeshi. “This paper traces the history of the swadeshi idea from its origins to the present day, identifies its political trajectory, assesses its impact on the Indian economy and outlines how it could be interpreted in the context of an independent, liberal democratic republic. It shows that swadeshi has always been a political project cast in economic terms and its empirical track record is far less impressive than its exalted place in the popular narrative. It concludes by arguing that India’s national interest is better served by acquiring capability than self-reliance and most importantly, by embracing an open economy. “

Community Organising: The Art of Grassroots Campaigning (Part 4)


Central to the persuasion process that is at the heart of organising and relationship building is the concept of the public narrative. Marshall Ganz refers to it as “an exercise of leadership by motivating others to join you in action on behalf of a shared purpose. Although this worksheet focuses on your “story of self”, the goal is to identify sources of your own calling to the purpose in which you will call upon others (story of us) to join you in action (story of now).”

More from Ganz on telling one’s public story:

Stories not only teach us how to act – they inspire us to act. Stories communicate our values through the language of the heart, our emotions. And it is what we feel – our hopes, our cares, our obligations – not simply what we know that can inspire us with the courage to act.

By telling our personal stories of challenges we have faced, choices we have made, and what we learned from the outcomes we can inspire others and share our own wisdom. Because stories allow us to express our values not as abstract principles, but as lived experience, they have the power to move others.

A good story public story is drawn from the series of choice points that have structured the “plot” of your life – the challenges you faced, choices you made, and outcomes you experienced.

  • Challenge: Why did you feel it was a challenge? What was so challenging about it? Why was it your challenge?
  • Choice: Why did you make the choice you did? Where did you get the courage – or not? Where did you get the hope – or not? How did it feel?
  • Outcome: How did the outcome feel? Why did it feel that way? What did it teach you? What do you want to teach us? How do you want us to feel?

A public story includes three elements:

  • A story of self: why you were called to what you have been called to.

  • A story of us: what your constituency, community, organization has been called to its shared purposes, goals, vision.

  • A story of now: the challenge this community now faces, the choices it must make, and the hope to which “we” can aspire.

This graphic from Ganz captures the interlinkages in the story:

These ideas were applied to great success in Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign.

Thinks 214

Ethan Young interviews Richard Epstein about his book “Simple Rules for a Complex World. “What Epstein argues for in this book is a return to a classical liberal model of governance, where the government simply sets simple ground rules and allows a natural order to arise from that foundation. Today the government has entangled itself into countless areas of private life, spewing regulation and red tape as far as the eye can see. This has come at a drastic cost, not just to our checkbooks, but to our innovative spirit. Such a system is also contrary to the basic tenets of sound economics and a recipe for further decay. ”

The Internet Is Rotting: By Jonathan Zittrain. “Too much has been lost already. The glue that holds humanity’s knowledge together is coming undone.”

Suprio Guha Thakurta: So, you have an idea. What next? “Pretotypes, MVP, Product-Market Fit, and Customer Journeys.”

Community Organising: The Art of Grassroots Campaigning (Part 3)

Mobilising vs Organising

Marshall Ganz explains the difference between mobilising and organising: “Leadership in organizing is based on relationships. This is a key difference between mobilizing and organizing. When we mobilize we access and deploy a person’s resources, for example, their time to show up at a rally, their ability to “click” to sign a petition (or their signature), of their money. But when we organize we are actually building new relationships which, in turn, can become a source not only of a particular resource, but of leadership, commitment, imagination, and, of course, more relationships. In mobilizing, the “moment of truth” is when we ask, can I count on you to be there, give me $5.00, and sign the petition. In organizing the “moment of truth” is when two people have learned enough about each other’s interests, resources, and values not only to make an “exchange” but also to commit to working together on behalf of a common purpose. Those commitments, in turn, can generate new teams, new networks, and new organizations that, in turn, can mobilize resources over and over and over again.”

Here is more from Hahrie Han in her book, “How Organizations Develop Activists”:

Mobilizing [is] transactional activism. A transactional approach to activism focuses on the quantifiable indicators of the numbers of people who take action—how many people clicked on a link, looked at a page, attended a meeting, made phone calls, or contacted an elected official?… Because it focuses on achieving transactional goals, mobilizing conceptualizes the relationship between the activist and the civic association as an exchange relationship. Exchange theory says that the relationship between activists and associations is based on exchanging resources that each has to offer the other… In this framework, the job of an association leader is to maximize transactional outcomes by creating volunteer work that is as costless as possible. Because time and effort are the most valuable resources activists have, the goal is to make the work quick and easy so that more people will do it… When associations are focused on making activism as cost-free as possible for the volunteers, they tend to provide only the technical and material needs activists have.

Organizing [is] transformational activism. In contrast to transactional outcomes, transformational outcomes focus on the ways that collective action changes the affects, outlooks, and other orientations of individuals and groups. Examples include the increasing ability of people to see beyond their own self-interest, shifts in beliefs about their own agency, or changes in public opinion. Organizers focus on transformational outcomes because these changes make it more likely that people will become leaders within the association, working not only to achieve associational outcomes, but also to recruit others to do so.  In transformational organizing, the goal is not only to get work out of the activist in   the short term but also to invest in developing the activist’s capacity to act… A key assumption in transformational organizing is that the interpersonal relationships activists have are the locus of leadership development and transformation… Transformational approaches to organizing, in contrast, conceptualize participation as the product of dynamic social interactions and seek to create participatory opportunities that maximize the quantity and quality of those interactions.

Here is a nice comparison from Advocacy Iceberg:

Jason Mogus connects organising and mobilising: “Organizing is building your power. Mobilizing is spending your power.”

In other words, mobilising is about transactions and organising is about relationships. Central to the idea of organising is the idea of self-us-now.

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The Great Game of Risk Played in Category Creation, and Why the Winning Strategy is Aggression: by Tom Tomguz. “Imagine a big map of customers, a huge game of Risk. Each time a customer buys software, its color changes and it’s off limits for 3 years. Marketshare in the first 1-3 years dictates marketshare for years 4-6 at least. The more customers you convert to your company’s color, the stronger the brand, the greater the awareness, the more reference customers, the more capital to raise, the easier to hire and grow. There’s a flywheel spinning in the background that isn’t obvious until the latter stages of category creation. The winner takes most of the spoils.”

Pew India Religion Survey. One of the findings: “Indians value religious tolerance, though they also live religiously segregated lives. Across the country, most people (84%) say that to be “truly Indian,” it is very important to respect all religions. Indians also are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community (80%). People in all six major religious groups overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths, and most say that people of other faiths also are very free to practice their own religion.” More from Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Rama Lakshmi and Devangshu Dutta.

Randy Barnett: “The Constitution is the law that governs those who govern us. It’s not the law that governs us. The Constitution is the law that governs those who govern us.” [via CafeHayek]

Community Organising: The Art of Grassroots Campaigning (Part 2)

What It Is

Britannica on community organising: “In community organizing, members of communities are organized to act collectively on their shared interests. Saul Alinsky is commonly recognized as the founder of community organizing. Alinsky emerged as a community organizer in the second half of the 1930s. His thinking about organizing was strongly influenced by the militant labour movement in the United States emerging at the time. Alinsky’s approach emphasized democratic decision making, the development of indigenous leadership, the support of traditional community leaders, addressing people’s self-interest, use of conflict strategies, and fighting for specific and concrete results.”

Dave Beckwith and Cristina Lopez write: “Community organizing is the process of building power through involving a constituency in identifying problems they share and the solutions to those problems that they desire; identifying the people and structures that can make those solutions possible; enlisting those targets in the effort through negotiation and using confrontation and pressure when needed; and building an institution that is democratically controlled by that constituency that can develop the capacity to take on further problems and that embodies the will and the power of that constituency. Heather Booth, founder of the Midwest Academy and legendary community organizer, expressed the fundamentals in this formula: OOO = Organizers Organize Organizations.”

Hahrie Han: “I’ve always thought about the challenge of pulling people off the sidelines into public life in a way that makes them real agents of change, realizing their own interests – as opposed to consumers of something else. And that can happen through elections, or through traditional community organizing, or through unions, or elsewhere.” More: “Democracy is a muscle. Just as babies have to strengthen their leg muscles to walk, we all have to develop the skills we need to act collectively to achieve our common interests. We must invest in the organizations and movements that can equip people in that way. Only then will people become the source of resilience we need to protect democracy.”

Michelle Oyakawa: “[Organising] begins with people building relationships with each other and learning to transform those relationships into power to make the change that they want…People are not only struggling with powerful institutions and social forces, they are also wrestling with themselves to find the courage to take action. Organizations can help leaders navigate this and provide them with support and a vehicle to make their voice heard…When people come together, build connections with one another, take action repeatedly and reflect on it together afterwards, they can create a better world for themselves, their families, and their communities.”

A final quote from Marshall Ganz: “Leadership is accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose in the face of uncertainty. Organizing is leadership that enables people to turn the resources they have into the power they need to make the change they want.”

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Inside the direct-to-consumer wave sweeping India: from Mint. “A frenzy of new-age brands…are trying to sell directly to the consumer (D2C), bypassing traditional marketing and sales channels. You mostly won’t find these brands in stores and you will rarely find a celebrity endorsing them, which means you are not footing the bill for sales commissions or marketing spends. The margins saved on these expenses allow such brands to deliver high-quality products. They then add in a layer of sharp and digitally promoted narrative—around the quality of ingredients, or the community that the produce comes from or the family that owns the business in a way that appeals to the sensibilities of an aware, quality-conscious customer. Throw in sustainable packaging, customized products and prompt delivery and you have the recipe for the consumer trend sweeping India. In categories ranging from electronics, furniture to personal care and lingerie and coffee to cosmetics, D2C brands are shaking things up.

What if everyone’s nutrition was personalised?: from The Economist. “How the mass adoption of personalised nutrition is changing people’s health—and the food industry. An imagined scenario from 2035.”

David Perell: “Writing effectively raises your intelligence by outsourcing your working memory to the page. It’s a little like math class, where teachers rightly tell students to put their ideas on scrap paper. They know that the more you write things down, the more your mind can tackle hard problems. By writing, you outsource your working memory which helps you explore nuance in a way that you can’t do with only your mind.”