How can social movement organisations learn new skills so that they can do more stuff? How can they sustain their morale and their membership? How can they stop the formation of bottlenecks which will leave them vulnerable to collapse? All good questions, and open for discussion on Wednesday 27th May from 7pm at the CEM scrutiny meeting (all welcome). There’s also a report about this you can download here as a pdf or here as a word document. This below is a snappier !) version. Comments welcome.
Many social movement organisations have little idea what resources they have at their disposal, or what they want and need to be more effective- both as individuals within the group, but also as a group as a whole. This lack is one of the factors that can lead to groups falling victim to despair, co-optation, self-martyrdom and – all too often – collapse.
We at CEM are trying to cope with this problem, through the concept of an ‘Active Citizenship Toolkit’. We have come up with an initial long (but of course incomplete) list of skills , knowledge and relationships that we think we need to be able to operate effectively. These range from ‘writing press releases’ through ‘Local authority – understanding and explaining its budget and budget making processes ‘to ‘dealing with despair/staring into the abyss’ . Each of these is called an ‘element’.
For each element we are now adding a short description of what it involves (and why without it we will encounter problems. Then we are imagining what it would be like to have this element only at novice level (needing a lot of help), practitioner level (no help to do a basic/predictable job), expert (no help needed on complex jobs) and ninja (able to do complex jobs in sleep).
The easiest way is to explain this is via an example. Let’s t’s take writing press releases.
|Mainstream media – writing a press release||Journalists are busy, and a short, punchy press release sent at the right time can catch their attention and make them curious about your issue. Not having excellent press release skills is going to make it harder to attract media attention.|
|Can write a basic press release, about a relatively straightforward topic from a template, in a few hours with only minimal assistance||Can write a punchy and eye catching press release about a complicated topic with just enough information to have the journalist not short-changed, but wanting to contact you for more info, with zero mistakes with less than an hour to play with||Can write, with minimal preparation, an intriguing and inflammatory-but-just-this-side-of-libel press release which explains a complex issue succinctly, with a killer soundbite/quote, when failure would result in wasted time, lost morale and general Bad Things.||Can dictate an entire flawless press release about a Gravity’s Rainbow style issue while simultaneously doing the direct action which is the subject of the direct action, while hotly pursued by Council lawyers and riot police trying to prevent you from Saving The World with your words.|
And here’s another – emotional self-management-
So,we (the five core group members of CEM) went through the entire long list elements and we sorted them into three categories
- “Core” ones – where we will fail quickly if we don’t have that element
- “Peripheral” ones – where we will do better in the long-term with this element, but in the short-term, we can live without it
- “Non-CEM “- ones which are not part of what we (currently) do but may be important for other social movement organisations- for example NVDA and public order situations.
From that, we have been thinking through the level at which we need each of these elements (i.e. two individuals in the core group are at this level on this element: the default is practitioner, but on some we reckon we need to have at least two people who are experts.)
From that, we all then did a self- audit of our current levels on the 75-ish ‘core’ elements. Comparing the audit with the decisions we made about what level we needed, we were able to produce a list of ‘absolute gaps’ and ‘single points of failure’. Absolute gaps are those elements which no person in the group currently thinks they possess the element at the level the group think is needed’. ‘Single points of failure’ are those elements where only one person has the element at the level deemed necessary.
There are four absolute gaps at the moment
- Taking feedback (we think we need it at expert level)
- GDPR (we think we need it at practitioner level)
- Local authority – understanding and explaining its budget and budget making processes (we think we need it at expert level)
- Lobbying councillors (we think we need it at expert level)
We are beginning to come up with plans to plug these gaps by getting (at least) two members of the core group up to speed. Once we’ve done that, we will deal with ‘single points of failure’ by getting at least one further member of the core group up to the requisite level.
We are also creating resources that anyone, anywhere, can use, for free, to get up to speed on the elements. This is of course a) going to take ages and b) is a moving target, as old skills will become irrelevant, new technologies will emerge and our strategies change: nothing is written in stone..
Longer-term we want to
- Finish the element descriptors and level descriptors for all the elements, not just the ones which are “core” for CEM.
- Write “element overview essays”; short pieces which lay out some basic facts and thoughts about each of the elements
- Start pooling and creating development resources and assessment resources for all elements (but starting with ones core for us, mostly)
- Start working with other individuals and groups to improve the whole Toolkit in the real world (beautiful words are one thing, the messiness, difficulty and beauty of the real world is what matters)
You can get involved by
(And if nothing in this list below makes your eyes light up, but you still want to be involved, get in touch with us anyway, especially if you have questions, suggestions, criticisms, warnings.)
- Skimming the elements list and telling us what is missing. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “missing elements” in the subject header
- Skimming the elements list and telling us which ones you think the climate movement in Manchester needs to develop (this would help us prioritise the creation of element and level descriptors, but also in the finding/creation of development resources and assessment resources)
- Writing element and level descriptors (but contact us first – someone else may be doing it already!)
- Find (or create?!) specific development resources and/or assessment resources
This whole process will take months (probably 18 of them or more) . And it will keep changing and never be ‘done,’ in any case – we think of it like painting a very large bridge – by the time you are done, it’s time to start again. Or maybe pushing a boulder up a hill. It’s really, to steal from the Buddhists, about the journey rather than the destination, and we hope you will join us for at least a bit of the journey!
Again, this is up for discussion on Wednesday 27th May from 7pm at the CEM scrutiny meeting (all welcome). There is more info about the proposed scheme, in a report which you can download here as a pdf or here as a word document.