“In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.”—Alexis de Tocqueville
We urgently need to recruit, train, and develop more organizers; enhance their effectiveness through ongoing adaptation, learning, and sharing of knowledge; and support the emergence of new nodes of practice across diverse domains. Whether it is the challenge of economic justice, imminent climate change, realizing the aspirations of emerging communities, or water, food, and energy crises, we will not find just – or even effective – solutions without widespread social mobilization. Organizing at local, regional and national levels is critical if such mobilization is to occur in ways that strengthen rather than diminish our democratic values, practices, and institutions.
At the same time, our efforts are often less effective than they might be not only because of a powerful opposition, but because too many of us soldier on in silos without adequate knowledge, training, or support. And the promise of social media has too often encouraged advocacy groups to rely on the Internet to mobilize broad constituencies for momentary action that rarely turns into sustainable sources of power and voice. Yet, as last fall’s election demonstrated, on the ground organizing – face-to-face contact that empowers people to act on their values – remains a powerful tool for change.
The Leading Change Network emerged from efforts to address three critical needs:
Recruiting, training, and developing organizing leadership. Youthful organizers are emerging across diverse domains around the world. In the Middle East, for example, young people who compose a major portion of the population are struggling to translate their capacity for mobilization into their capacity for organization. In the United States, constituencies pushing for action on climate change need focus. Colleges and universities largely ignore their responsibility to equip students with the tools for effective civic engagement.
Supporting systematic continual learning across the field. Despite their creativity, energy, and hard work, with some exceptions, organizers often move from one campaign to the next without systematically reflecting on their learning, capturing the lessons, and adapting their practices accordingly. This inhibits their learning, the training they can offer others, and the development of the field as a whole. At present, scholarly research contributes little to the improvement of organizing practice, while the needs of practitioners count little on the agenda of researchers.
Creating greater capacity for organizing in key constituencies. The potential of constituencies strategically oriented toward “change”, whether defined by issue, region, or values, could be more fully realized by encouraging development of their own organizing capacity. The New Organizing Institute, for example, has begun to play this role among younger online and offline organizers in the US. Similar “nodes of practice” can be developed around other issues such as climate change—or in other places, such as the Balkans. Nodes of practice can also be developed around other domains, such as communities of faith and health care. Sharing experience across domains, geographical locations, or issues can encourage the development of greater capacity within all.
The Leading Change Network is a community of practice: organizers, educators, and researchers committed to the following goals:
1) Developing Leadership: We recruit, train, and develop leadership by (1) identifying organizing talent in classrooms, workshops, and campaigns; (2) introducing a pedagogy of organizing to campuses, organizations, and movements; (3) sharing opportunities for coaching training, and mentoring.
2) Continual Learning: We facilitate real time peer-to-peer learning, adaptation, and innovation supplemented by the insights of current research; share organizing materials, resources, and methods; and support face-to-face online and offline collaboration.
3) Creating Capacity: We connect individuals, communities, and organizations that seek change with the methods, resources, and people who can assist in creating the organizing capacity to achieve this change.
Our work revolves around strengthening the practice of organizing, the research that contributes to this practice, and methods of teaching the practice. As a network, we are interested in the development of organizers in diverse settings, researchers in diverse disciplines, and of educators in diverse institutions. Each of these, in their own way, contributes to improving practice. Working across these boundaries increases the effectiveness of each facet. For example, introduction of Ruth Wageman and Richard Hackman’s research on team design to the Obama campaign historically improved field practice. Conversely, problems organizers face can drive important research questions—illustrated by publications organizational effectiveness growing out of work on the Sierra Club. As demonstrated by our work with public narrative, developing classroom content can contribute to organizing campaigns even as organizing campaigns can contribute to course work. As we strengthen one, we strengthen all.