First posted at 17:38GMT on 28/10/08 by Daniel Dickens
Barack Obama’s campaign has succeeded in harnessing untapped resources in thousands of local communities. Here’s a micro-level look at their “New Organizers” and what happens when you give citizens a compelling opportunity to participate: Neighbourhood Teams
Notice the progression of defined roles (field organizer, neighbourhood team leader, etc.), how each is inbued with a clear sense of purpose and the responsibility to pass on the torch to others. We’ve designed the neighbourhood teams in Southwark Circle with the same attention to detail and a similar determination to activate local resources for the benefit of the community.
Here’s Jennifer from the Obama Campaign’s local team in Kansas City, talking about how she has changed after six weeks of volunteering: “Now, I’m really asking: how can I be most effective in my community? I’ve realized that these things I’ve been doing as a volunteer organizer—well, I’m really good at them, I have a passion for this. I want to continue to find ways to actively make this place, my community, a better place. There’s so much more than a regular job in this—and once you’ve had this, it’s hard to go back to a regular job. I’m asking now: Can I look for permanent work as an organizer in service of my community? And that’s a question I had not asked myself before the campaign. It never occurred to me that I could even ask that question.”
The Obama campaign has been a fantastic example of participatory citizen impact. It has been inspiring, exciting, and powerful. Yet, as I write this post on the eve of the election here in the U.S., I’m struck with the question: “What next?” Regardless of the election outcome, the fact remains that the vast majority of the thousands of campaign volunteers will recede back into their prior roles in society. As the article posted points out, there will be a portion that are permanently affected and change the course of their lives. But the intriguing question seems to be how to maintain the energy and dedication beyond election night.
The U.S. 2008 presidential campaign as been like no other. Combined with the current events, it poses an opportunity for the next president. To recognize the potential impact of untapped resources in the U.S. and establish a national framework to continue the contribution. Perhaps we can look at the success of the Obama campaign for insights into this framework. Could we harness the unique aspects that held it together beyond just the organizational structure? To begin, consider just three - purpose, attention, and competition.
The Obama campaign has transcended simple volunteerism. It provided an opportunity to belong to a tribe...a tribe with purpose. American citizens were more than willing to lend their support to a greater ideal put forth at a national and local level. The enthusiasm combined with purpose resulted in passion - an extremely powerful force in the world. Not only were they passionate, but they also belonged to something greater. Can the next president provide an ongoing purpose for citizens to participate?
I propose that ‘attention’ is another element worth considering. The US campaigns garnered unprecedented media coverage, to the point of oversaturation. But the by product of that attention was a fuel that fed the passion of the volunteers described above. Organizers and volunteers were for once the ‘top story’ in support of their candidate. This attention is perhaps a way to engage the media in other avenues as a way to inspire participation.
The notion of competition is not regularly cited in community service. But clearly in a campaign scenario, this is a huge factor. It fans the flames of enthusiasm and further defines the unifying purpose. Obviously, in an election the competition is between individuals, but could this focus be transferred to a social issue? Could we harness the energy associated with defining poverty as the enemy (or competitor)? And in a competition, you need a way to keep score. Enter the election polls. Could such regular metrics extend to the social sector? Could monthly poverty metrics energize a group of citizens by seeing evidence of their efforts?
As we learn tomorrow the new leader of the United States, hopefully that man will recognize the available citizen resources that could be energized from the national stage to benefit communities across the country. And if not, maybe we can all uncover some additional tools that can be employed in our own efforts.
Jeff Mulhausen, 4/11/08, 12:12GMT