52 things every group needs to be able to do. Do you agree? – Active Citizenship Toolkit

What are the thing that ANY group needs to be able to do?  What do you think of our list below? What is missing?

Things are moving fast with the Active Citizenship Toolkit. We’re getting our social media accounts sorted, some wonderful icons have been done (thanks Solvi!), more people are coming out of the woodwork to get involved in creating the toolkit (for a list of what is needed, see here) or be “crash test dummy” organisations so that when we launch “for real”, it has been tried out in the real world first.

Four of us in the CEM core group have answered questions about ACT – especially around how it could all go horribly wrong; a blog post with those interviews and our plan for coping with those risks will go up soon.

But for now, something even more intriguing.  The five of us in CEM – and three other people – voted on which elements from a very long list were essential for ANY group, whether it was working on climate change, housing, you name it to have (i.e. the group will simply fall apart if it isn’t able to do this).  Each person had a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote.  One person got as far as the “Ds” and then stopped.  We included in the list anything that got at least 5 out of 8 or 5 out of 7 (you have to draw the line somewhere).  The list is below.

The title (these will be refined) is in the first column, the “element descriptor” is in the second and the vote they got is in the third.

I’ve highlighted the ten which were unanimous in red. They were

  • Coping with disruptors and disruption
  • Enabling legitimate peripheral participation
  • Information management
  • Meetings – meatspace, facilitation
  • Morale maintenance (collective)
  • Problem solving skills
  • Strategising (includes scenario building)
  • Theory of change, change in practice (i.e. how the organisation you are challenging has been moved in the past)
  • Understanding class (UK)
  • Understanding motivations to participate in social movement organisations, and how they shift

 

DO YOU AGREE WITH OUR LIST?  What have we got wrong??

Whether you have opinions, questions, or you have some time to help us make this happen, please email marc@climateemergencymanchester.net

Accountability (minimising ‘lunching out’) Social movement organisations tend to be made up of volunteers, squeezing their work in around many other commitments. Everyone fails to do things they said they would sometimes, but if persistent or important failures are not recognised and action taken to reduce likelihood of repeats, morale, recruitment and retention will all disappear like a fist when you open your palm 7
Allyship We really can’t do this alone, or as some vanguard waiting for others to fall into ‘line’ under our ‘leadership’. So, if you want others to help you, you have to help them. That requires understanding (while not necessarily always agreeing) with their view of the world. Failing to be an ally means you’re gonna be lonely as. 7
Attending meetings- (organised by other people) and how to survive with dignity/sanity intact and ALSO be useful to your group and to the wider movement. Meetings are generally a self-soothing and self-aggrandising effort by failing and flailing groupuscules. Not always, obvs. And they attract people desperate for human connection, who get given information instead. Attending these and being useful to yourself and others is a key skill. Without it you will lose the plot and possibly hurt your group’s prospects. 7
Community organising Who are the people who give a damn, or would give a damn if they had time, encouragement, information and a sense of hope and power? What are the key local issues? How might they be ‘fixed’ or made less bad? If you can’t work with people locally on immediate issues, why would you expect them to join you on a global multi-decade crusade? 6
Computer skills (word processing and data management) Despite the sci-fi tropes, computers can be you friend. And there are a surprising number of time-saving techniques you can use to get the most out of your BBC.Vic20/Commodore 64 or whatever top-of-the-range device you now own. Not having these means you waste time and energy. And to that, computer says no… 6
Convening groups Convening is distinct from formal coalition-building. Individuals and groups are (rightly) wary and weary when it comes to calls for umbrella groups and grand coalitions. Oftentimes more can be done through ad hoc convening work, but it still takes time and skill… 5
Coping with disruptors and disruption Any public meeting or forum runs the risk of attracting people with particular perspectives and fixed ideas that they are overwhelmingly keen to communicate to others. Making sure that they are heard but do not stop others from participating, making decisions and returning to future meetings/events is a crucial skill. Failing to protect space will mean it becomes colonised and unattractive to, well, pretty much everyone. 8
Copy editing for different audiences (tone policing) Appearances do matter when it comes to text-based content. Sloppy and mistake-strewn work creates the impression of a sloppy and disorganised group, causing readers who would otherwise engage to turn off. More importantly still, groups reporting on complex problems and policies need convey their points clearly to a wide range of audiences, including those less familiar with the detail or approaching the matter from a different perspective to their own. Interventions into sensitive or high-risk areas need to keep a keen eye on tone. 6
Dealing with punctuality as a “problem” Lack of punctuality in social movement organisations tends to spiral – 5 minutes becomes 10 becomes 30. Doing anything about it requires tact, social power and determination. Without resolving punctuality issues, groups often decline or die, with morale and credibility sinking regardless. 6
Ego defence mechanisms – – understanding them, explaining them, coping with them and eschewing them When people’s egos are ‘under attack’ , from, er, reality, they use one or more ego defence mechanisms (regression, projection, splitting).  Failing to understand the ways people (and groups) defend their views of themselves in the face of setbacks/criticism/attacks etc means that you will constantly be surprised and wrong footed, unable to offer helpful suggestions and prone to living Groundhog Day over and over again. 5
Enabling legitimate peripheral participation If people have to regularly come to long meetings to find out what they can contribute to a group they won’t – either attend or contribute. And their skills, time, ideas are lost. And everyone is demoralised. Therefore, figuring out ways people can legitimately (with both approval and recognition) participate in a group’s work, without EFMs, is crucial. (Overlaps with maintaining list of jobs and tasks, and volunteer management, obviously) 7
Feedback giving Giving feedback on current performance to people is vital for helping people get better at what they want/need to get better at.  But it’s a can of worms and doing it well is harder than it looks.Not being able to give good feedback means that your insights into how things could be better, how an individual or group could be achieving its potential, will fall on deaf ears. Which, if nothing else, will also demoralise you. 6
Feedback taking Getting feedback on current performance  is extremely helpful.  But it’s a can of worms and doing it well is harder than it looks. Modelling doing it well can help other people.Not being able to take feedback means that insights into how things could be better, how an individual or group could be achieving its potential, will stop being offered, demoralising people who can see things need to change, and creating a false sense of adequacy. 6
Information management Closely related to project management, this is specifically how to organise, process, control and use information. When information is understood it emerges as knowledge, which can be used to make effective decisions, that can lead to appropriate actions and deliver meaningful results. Not having good info management wastes time and credibility, and hurts morale. 7
Inter-group dynamics in social movements Groups with the same words in their names may have very different perspectives on the causes of the problems they are both campaigning on, different styles of working, and different end goals. Add to that there is a competition for the attention of the media and the support of “The Public”, and often personal grudges, well, expect problems. Not admitting or preparing for those problems is one of the quickest ways to catastrophe, besides Business as Usual capitalism. 6
Intragroup conflict, Seeing it, Accepting it/mediating it and the underlying issues In the honeymoon phase it’s all air kisses and ignoring of microaggressions. But as a group grows/ages/endures then tensions can grow. Left unacknowledged, unmanaged, the smallest things can become proxies and pretexts for vicious fights that come outta nowhere, especially if the political goals of the group remain unreached and more-distant. Failure to understand the causes, consequences and possible remedies of intra-group conflict will lead to tears before bedtime. 5
Introducing new members to an existing group Different people come with specific skills and motivations. Being able to find the right person for the right (usually unpaid) job, and present the work to them as an opportunity for warm-fuzzies or activist credibility tokens is a valuable skill. Not having it means you don’t get to tap into the broader ecosystem of potential supporters. 6
Listing jobs and roles which need doing/filling Spontaneity requires loads of planning. At any given time you need to know what jobs and roles folks can take on, with each job listed with a guesstimate of how long it will take, what skills and levels are required. Not having this means you are going to lose volunteers, who are put off by chaos, or who are afraid of being emotionally blackmailed into more and more work… 5
Lobbying politicians Local politicians are largely used to being lobbied about dog shit, potholes and street lights. And blamed for what is going on in Westminster, obvs. They’re busy, stressed ad sometimes tribal af. Lobbying them requires tact, compassion, stamina. Not doing so means you will lose, at a local level (you will probably lose anyway, obvs) 6
Meetings – meatspace, design following any decision, event, project, initiative or action, this is a process to reflect and evaluate, what went well, what did not, and what could be improved will help in future decision-making and action-taking. It should help the group adapt and learn in an iterative manner for the future. This should help long-term thinking and help create a more resilient group. If you don’t postmortem, well, you risk not learning, or learning slowly, and failing to keep members/grow the group. The same mistakes being made demoralises and frustrates… 6
Meetings – meatspace, facilitation Meetings, if they ever resume in the post-coronavirus world – require more than the hiring of a room and the scribbling of an agenda/putting chairs in a circle. In the absence of good facilitation, meetings will often discuss the wrong things in the wrong ways, allowing the loudest to dominate and the quiet (and often smarter) to flee – mentally and then physically. The waste of talent and potential is heartbreaking and unsustainable. 7
Meetings – online – business/internal meeting Online internal group meetings should be a decent way of regularly sharing information, discussing issues and making decisions without the faff of all having to trek to a specific place. Consideration to the elements common to meatspace meetings of a similar nature should happen, but again what changes could or should happen to make it work better online? 6
Meetings – online – facilitating Online meetings just like the meatspace versions can go awry without good facilitation and need more than a link sent round just before the intended time. Specific to online meetings will be understanding how to use the platform to get the most out of the time you have together, the challenges to both stimulate conversation and keep disruption (e.g. ego-fodder) to a minimum – from the speakers, audience and technology. Thought should be given to what could or should be different now that you are ‘virtual’. 6
Meetings – online – public – advertising and preparing Online meetings are a potentially valuable way of getting wider participation from the public, as they can help avoid issues like travel time & cost as inhibitors. However they come with their own challenges – dealing with technical challenges for participants, lack of ability to do self-propelled mingling, cannot offer people nibbles / drinks! Preparing your meeting structure is therefore vital to overcome / work around these differences. 5
Meetings – reporting on them Meetings. They can be (usually are) a black hole for time, energy, morale. But they can also be spaces of reflection, connection, strategizing. Being able to report succinctly and clearly on what happened, and what might happen next, is a useful and underrated skill. Its absence means folks are flailing in the dark 5
Meetings – welcoming new folks without seeming cult-y Old hands/regular members of social movement organisations massively underestimate how much emotional effort goes into turning up to a meeting full of people you don’t know, especially if they don’t look like you. If groups don’t have a way of making meetings welcoming (but not overdoing it, obvs), chances are the new folks will not come back. #epicfail 6
Meetings, minute taking and action tracking It’s a necessity for any organisation of more than one person to have a structured way for its members to discuss things, take decisions, decide on actions to be taken, track who is responsible for completing the actions, and progress against them.
Together this set of activities may be referred to as a “management system”.
6
Meetings, post-mortem (online and meatspace) Meetings can exceed, meet or fall short of their goals – and other things can crop up that are worth chewing on. Being able to conduct a thorough post-mortem of a meeting means you’re able to innovate/prepare better in future. Failing to post-mortem means you will learn slowly, if at all. 5
Mentoring Mentoring is the creation of conditions (explicit goals, regular meetings, wisdom/support, feedback, a sense of care and safety) where you help someone else develop their skills, knowledge, relationships and general abilities
If you don’t have the skill in your group, you’re unlikely to be able to increase the skills base quickly, leading to ossification, risk of single points of failure, dominance by those with the skills and ultimately folks voting with their feet/the group dying
6
Morale maintenance (collective) We all want the world to be a Much Better Place sooner rather than later. We want to play our part. BUT… If your group goes up like a rocket and down like a stick you demoralise not just its members, but other groups and individuals who were hoping/needing it to stick around. You need to be able to spot any patterns (and underlying causes) of over-ambition/under-delivery, the likelihood of burnout, its symptoms, how to care for yourselves and sustain your collective active citizenship. 7
Morale maintenance (individual) We all want the world to be a Much Better Place sooner rather than later. We want to play our part. BUT… You are doing nobody any favours if you go up like a rocket and down like a stick in your involvement. You need to be able to spot any patterns (and underlying causes) of over-commitment/under-delivery, the likelihood of burnout, its symptoms, how to care for yourself and come out the other side. 6
Non Oppressive language Our language has an influence on how we think. We can unwittingly (or let’s face it, wittingly) use terms which give offence and perpetuate bad ways of thinking. Spotting that, devising alternative terms which are still lively, is going to help us with allyship. 5
Post-mortems and evaluation Following any decision, event, project, initiative or action, this is a process to reflect and evaluate, what went well, what did not, and what could be improved will help in future decision-making and action-taking. It should help the group adapt and learn in an iterative manner for the future. This should help long-term thinking and help create a more resilient group. If you don’t postmortem, well, you risk not learning, or learning slowly, and failing to keep members/grow the group. The same mistakes being made demoralises and frustrates… 6
Press release creation and circulation 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 media attention that much harder to come by. 5
Problem solving skills Problems are all around us, why else would we be here? Solutions to problems are rarely straightforward or readily available. Problem solving is the skill of considering many different ways to resolve something, the “perfect solution” vs what is workable under current constraints, as well as thinking of non-obvious or mainstream ways to address a given situation. Without these skills, groups will continue to be stymied by the same old issues and make no progress. 7
Project management Most things that we do – either as individuals or groups – require managing a bunch of moving (and shifting) parts, over time, with dependencies and sequencing and complicated stuff. There are project management skills which make this easier rather than harder. Not having them condemns you to wasted time, effort, lessened morale and the likelihood of collapse 6
Proofreading Appearances do matter when it comes to text-based content. Sloppy and mistake-strewn work creates the impression of a sloppy and disorganised group, causing readers who would otherwise engage to turn off. More importantly still, groups reporting on complex problems and policies need convey their points clearly to a wide range of audiences, including those less familiar with the detail or approaching the matter from a different perspective to their own. Interventions into sensitive or high-risk areas need to keep a keen eye on tone. 5
Recruiting people for specific tasks Different people come with specific skills and motivations. Being able to find the right person for the right (usually unpaid) job, and present the work to them as an opportunity for warm-fuzzies or activist credibility tokens is a valuable skill. Not having it means you decosystme of potential supporters.on’t get to tap into the broader 5
Research Covers a dazzlingly wide range of tasks and professions. For most social movements, research will means gathering a range of detailed, statistical or contextual information on a given issue. Some of this may be widely known to others outside of social movements; some it may be hidden or not in the public domain. 5
Strategising (includes scenario building) Strategy without tactics is the slowest way to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. If your group cannot develop, through discussion, and then update some sort of realisable strategy, then you might be having fun, meeting your needs, but you’re not exactly a social movement organisation, now are you? You’re a club, a hospital. 7
Theory of change, change in practice (i.e. how the organisation you are challenging has been moved in the past) Changes, eh? It turns out that these children that you spit on are not always quite aware what they’re going through. If you can articulate a theory of how things change, and what role your organisation and its allies might have, you’ll be in a better place to keep going, and gain other folks’ support. Without it – well, it’s like tactics without strategy, innit – the noise before defeat… 7
Time Management This is the process of organising and planning how to divide your time between specific activities. Good time management enables you to work smarter – not harder – so that you get more done in less time, even when time is tight and pressures are high. Failing to manage your time can damage your effectiveness and can cause stress for yourself and others. 5
Understanding Ableism Ableism isn’t just a lack of wheelchair ramps and rancid elderly uncles (lots of disabilities are “invisible”, anyway. Ableism an ideology, and like any ideology, it has its supple and hidden sides, complete with justifications and immune responses when attacked. And you’re walking around with a big healthy dose of it. So, if you want to do allyship at any meaningful level, you’re gonna have to take a good look at patriarchy and yourself. If you don’t, you’re part of the problem, and you’re gonna (further) exhaust women (and some men). 5
Understanding class (UK) Class isn’t just Eton Rifles and old school ties. It’s an ideology, and like any ideology, it has its supple and hidden sides, complete with justifications and immune responses when attacked. And you’re walking around with a big healthy dose of it. So, if you want to do cross-class collaborations at any meaningful level, you’re gonna have to take a good look at the class and yourself. If you don’t, you’re part of the problem, and you’re gonna (further) exhaust exhausted people 7
Understanding intersectionality There’s no simple map for figuring out which systems of injustice will play out in which order in which ways. Sexism, racism, ableism, classism and other categorisations will have different kaleidoscopic outcomes. This, in essence, is the idea of intersectionality (and yes, there is such a thing as intersectional environmentalism). If you don’t get this, you simply can’t do good allyship, and you’ll be bewildered and ineffective in rapidly changing situations. 5
Understanding motivations to participate in social movement organisations, and how they shift People participate in social movements, at differing levels of intensity and lengths of time, for a variety of motives – the Cause, the desire to use skills, make friends, feel recognised, keep despair at bay, “etc”. Understanding their motivations and providing – as far as possible – for them, is key for keeping them involved for the long haul. And without long-haul involvement, we are toast. Not understanding motivations will virtually guarantee repeated ‘up like a rocket, down like a stick’ patterns… 7
Understanding Patriarchy Patriarchy isn’t just wife-beaters and rancid elderly uncles. It’s an ideology, and like any ideology, it has its supple and hidden sides, complete with justifications and immune responses when attacked. And you’re walking around with a big healthy dose of it. So, if you want to do allyship at any meaningful level, you’re gonna have to take a good look at patriarchy and yourself. If you don’t, you’re part of the problem, and you’re gonna (further) exhaust women (and some men). 5
Understanding power within social movement organisations Just because you’re sat in a circle, doesn’t mean there are no angles or people angling for power. Even (or especially) if there is no formal structure, that does not mean that good ideas will not sink without trace if they come from the wrong person, or that mistakes and foul ups will be properly investigated. Not understanding how power works means you;ll be at first surprised, and then demoralised by the how things turn out 5
Understanding privilege (white, male, CLASS, ableist etc) One goldfish to another: How’s the water? Other goldfish: What’s water? Which is to say, if you have privilege, it can be particularly hard to see. But see it you must, if you want to be effective in what you do, and someone others will want to ally with 5
Understanding White supremacism White supremacy isn’t (just) some murderous knuckleheads dressed up in white sheets. It’s an ideology, and like any ideology, it has its supple and hidden sides, complete with justifications and immune responses when attacked. And you’re walking around with a big healthy dose of it. So, if you want to do allyship at any meaningful level, you’re gonna have to take a good look at white supremacism, and yourself. If you don’t, you’re part of the problem, and you’re gonna (further) exhaust people of colour. You know who to credit for the emotional and intellectual work of explaining white suprremacisms 5
Volunteer management Volunteers on a project/for a group require careful attention. They need to be given the right prompts, encouragement, support (without suffocation), opportunities to develop skills if they want to. If you don’t have the skills, you lose those people, lose morale and get a bad reputation, making future recruitment tricky. 6
Your country’s political landscape Understanding the current balance of power between parties – and who funds them, and how the system works (and how it is “supposed” to work) are kinda crucial if you are going to make sense of the daily grind of “politics” 5

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