the political geek

because all politics is online

advocacy 2.0

Posted on | October 14, 2009 | 1 Comment

For class today, we are reading and talking about Web 2.0 – what it means, how it works, its impact – and the two models of software development named by Eric S. Raymond the Cathedral and the Bazaar. The central idea of these pieces – that the internet has created spaces for large groups of people to get involved and generate new, meaningful output in ways not previously possible – has interesting implications for advocacy organizations too. There are some amazing, innovative nonprofits that have been taking advantage of the collaborative space of the internet to tell compelling stories and generate support for important causes. MoveOn is pretty much the go-to example for this sort of thing, and in the beginning, they were all about the power of online movements. Interestingly, their efforts of late have often been around meetup-style meetings and events hosted by members, and their online presence has been a way to facilitate their offline activities. President Obama’s campaign website was and is (in the form of the renamed Organizing for America) also an obvious example of online involvement driving offline involvement.

O’Reilly talks about the importance of user-generated content (I’m linking here to Wikipedia, the best example of UGC), although he doesn’t use that phrase, as a key part of anything that’s Web 2.0. Something may be considered a Web 2.0 application or approach if it gets better when more people use it, as an inherent part of the design, and the sites described above certainly fit this model.

Another element of O’Reilly’s definition of Web 2.0 is that the site or software is in “perpetual beta”: that it is always unfinished and subject to frequent revisions and updates. MoveOn has integrated this concept into its strategy in an interesting way: it regularly invites its members to vote on the policies it should advocate and the prioritization of its programs. This strategy also provides a rich user experience and demonstrates an attitude of trust in one’s users or members, both of which O’Reilly describes as other pieces of the Web 2.0 puzzle.

MoveOn has had phenomenal success with this strategy, and has had an impact on the public discussion of domestic and foreign policy far beyond that of much older, more experienced nonprofits. It’s possible that MoveOn’s opposition to the Iraq war fundamentally altered the political conversations about the presidential election and was a significant factor in a perfect convergence of factors that allowed Obama to win the election.

History is no longer a sufficient strategy or excuse in the advocacy world, as MoveOn, ONE, and others rewrite the rules of the game, just as Google and Linux did in their respective communities.

The good thing about this internet upheaval is that it means that organizations can make a difference even without a long track record and established successes in advocacy and policy, but to do that, they must think creatively about how to use the web both to find and cultivate existing interest in a policy issue and to shape that interest into a powerful movement. They must trust their users and provide a rich experience for them to interact online. And they must create regular and meaningful opportunities for input into the direction of the movement and the organization.

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One Response to “advocacy 2.0”

  1. Strength in Numbers: Eli Pariser Talks Online Organizing : the political geek
    November 15th, 2009 @ 4:39 pm

    […] philosophy, and therefore the strategy. He talked about how MoveOn emphasizes a strategy of using online activity to mobilize offline activity like raising money, voting, or calling members of Congress. Eli said that, although he is […]