Yesterday, I wrote about some of the attributes that drive organizations towards social media parallel those that create the conditions for effective advocacy. Today, I’m thinking more about those overlaps, here in the context of “old-fashioned organizing” as compared to what Kanter and Fine refer to as “network weaving”.
Both concepts have the same fundamental goals:
I share with the authors, as do almost all of the (many) grassroots organizers I know or have known in my career, a belief that organizations are stronger when they have a solid connection to those they serve, and that individuals’ lives are enriched by participation in something larger than themselves.
And I don’t really care whether they call that network weaving, in language that perhaps feels more familiar to those figuring out social media will add to their nonprofit organization’s quest for justice, however they define it, or organizing, which, albeit in online form, it really is.
But it does, for me, raise some real questions about where the points of divergence are. In other words, if networking weaving, as described here, is so much like community organizing, how is it different, not in technical ways (like the media used) but fundamental ones? Are online social networks, for example, more likely to be composed on homogenous groups, thus denying people one of the most enriching parts of organizing: joining forces with those different than ourselves? Are the relationships forged online significantly different (more shallow? more lasting?) than those built face-to-face? Is the role played by a network weaver substantially different than that of an organizer? Do the boundaries of expertise fade away more fluidly online?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, and they are most likely only answerable by work with a relatively small number of individuals–those engaged in authentic online AND in-person networking weaving/grassroots organizing efforts. Because so many of the former organizations have little to no experience in grassroots organizing campaigns (having adopted the strategies specifically to advance their online efforts) and so many of the latter are working with populations that (correctly or not) they assume to prefer face-to-face work, definitive answers may elude us, at least for awhile.
But, maybe, that’s okay. Maybe, for now, our challenge is to really contemplate the questions: to think about how (and when) network weaving complements how we engage people “offline”, and vice versa, and to prompt conversations with our constituents about the multiple ways in which they want to connect to each other, and to our shared work.
Those of you who organize online and/or in-person, where do you see overlap and where do you see significant differences? How can practitioners committed to empowering participation use both strategies? What cross-learning do we need to advance these fields? And does language, how we talk about what we do, matter?