Making Waves in Advocacy

So, perhaps obviously, I’m not cool enough to have one of the first Google Wave invitations. (If you’ve got one to offer, um, remember who’s your favorite macro social work blogger?) But I’ve been reading quite a bit about Google Wave and how it works, including some very helpful posts with detailed screen captures that demonstrate how it works. And I’m on the list, so you, know, they’ll call me.*

It’s still too soon to know how nonprofit organizations will really use Google Wave, and if it will permeate the social change sector completely enough to have a real impact. But here are some of my preliminary thoughts about how Google Wave might help advocacy efforts, and what we should be thinking about in terms of applications as we see it more fully come online.

  • In a given advocacy campaign, advocates could dynamically share the responses that they’re getting to specific messages/appeals–what I’m thinking here is that, for example, you try out a message with a given target, say, “We should reduce imprisonment of individuals on drug offenses because of the potential for cost savings.” Then, because you’re using Google Wave to collaborate, you (or any one of your allies, which is where it’s most helpful) can change the talking points in real-time, with a notation like, “Senator XYZ was very receptive to the cost savings argument. She wants dollar figures and thinks this could be the year for drug sentencing reform.” Then, rather than continuing to use messages that don’t work as well for the next day or so, or, worse, having people use messages without filtering back to you any information on how they’re working, you can tweak, collaboratively, as you go. Yes?
  • Target lists and target intelligence could be manipulated in this way, too, not just messages. As you find out from a given advocate that Representative ABC is a definite “yes”, for example, you could change your strategy chart to focus on Representative DEF. Yes, you can do all of this with email alerts today, but it’s much more cumbersome, it all has to be funneled through you (a particular problem during an intense campaign, when time is of the essence, or during a legislative session, when you may be less than available), and it doesn’t give as much ownership to your grassroots advocates.
  • Especially as campaigns go global, we need ways to work collaboratively with people with whom we may not ever have face-to-face relationships. As one who has had the unfortunate experience of trying to edit message boxes, press releases, strategy charts, and even white papers on conference calls, or with “track changes” in a word processing document sent via email, I welcome anything that makes such collaboration less unwieldy and more egalitarian. Here, people don’t have to worry about downloading and saving new versions and figuring out who made what changes. In an increasingly mobile world, that’s an advantage. And no one is the final editor, or clearinghouse, and that’s important ideologically, too. The live transmission could also greatly reduce the need for those conference calls (see above), which could save advocates time and money!
  • Google Wave, unlike a static document that is edited, can be replayed so that anyone can see who said/added what, and when. That sounds tremendously helpful for processing an advocacy campaign with a grassroots team, a kind of living archive of the campaign’s evolution, without someone having to actually take the extra step of archiving it.
  • A particular Wave could include not just text, of course, but also photos and video, which would make it a terrific tool for training advocates to deliver those dynamic messages referenced above. Imagine: in order to recruit a particular advocate, rather than just emailing a script he/she is to deliver to an elected official, you include them in a Wave, which has not only a script but embedded intelligence about targets and messages, a brief inspirational video from an affected client, a graphic that visually explains the issue at hand, AND the ability to communicate live with an ‘expert’, to answer any questions, provide support, and clarify concerns. You could have a Wave, combined with cell phone communication with elected officials or other targets, as a regular part of your advocacy–no one’s “together”, but no one’s really “alone” either!
  • And my final thought on Google Wave: I was really impressed with the process recording, of sorts, from Future Majority. It illustrated very clearly that, with Google Wave, collaboration can be really collaborative–everyone working on something together, rather than people contributing their ideas to the final arbiter. I like the egalitarian nature of the process, and I think it holds promise for improving how we solicit the partnership of those with whom we’re working for social change. Why just ask people for ‘input’ when we can invite them to co-create with us?

    That’s the wave I want to catch! (There, I’m done, last corny ‘wave’ allusion, I promise!)

    What do you think? Please share your experiences with Google Wave and your reactions to any of these ideas. Until I get a chance to try it out (hint, hint, Google), this is all just conceptual, but, as we gear up for the legislative session, I’m excited about the possibilities.

    *I just got my invitation–thank you, Google! Those who are “waving” already, I’d love to talk about your experiences, and I’ll look for you as soon as I get a chance to try it out!

  • 2 responses to “Making Waves in Advocacy

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Google Wave. I have read about it and thought that this is another Web 2.0 tool that social workers and social service oraganizations need to learn about and find ways to use in our work to meet the goals of the profession. I agree with you that Wave looks to be a powerful tool for advocacy and am interested to hear about your experience with it.

      • I’m hopeful that my kids will get over their illnesses and I’ll get to really try it out this weekend, b/c I want to root my thoughts in more concrete experience before I start trying to incorporate it into campaigns. Still, given how expensive some of the (admittedly quite helpful) online advocacy tools are today, the potential for nonprofits and grassroots groups to use these free tools to accomplish some of the same ends (collaboration, real-time sharing, embedded contact tools) is considerable. There’s a new tool called Plancast that I’m interested in, too–you can, from what I understand, essentially ‘invite’ people to participate in what you’re working on in the very early stages, sharing your plans (hence the name), which I think has real potential as a social networking tool to build relationships with those who are interested in what you’re thinking about…a way of bringing people in on the ground floor rather than asking them to just click and sign our petition once it’s done–a shift in how we view “particpation”. I hope to check that out soon and will share some thoughts if it seems useful. Thanks, Leslie, so much, for reading. If you’re “waving”, I’ll look for you!

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