There is an inherent danger that people-powered strategies like Greenpeace’s one billion acts of courage to defend the climate or Amnesty International’s aspiration to engage 25 million people every year, focus on the quantity not quality of relationships. Numbers of people engaged are a good first indicator of relevance and success. To achieve long term transformative change however, it is important to come to meaningful and empowering relationships. Accountability practices must look beyond vanity metrics and focus on how people for e.g. move up an engagement pyramid. Greenpeace’s Mobilisation Cookbook is a great resource of examples on how to engage people beyond just clicking to crowd sourcing the content of campaigns.
The active training of hundreds of people to perform direct nonviolent actions is a next step up their specific engagement ladder. MoveOn has developed sophisticated tools to continuously measure how engaged their supporters are and how to further improve this relationship. Jhatkaa measures after large campaigns how deeply supporters still feel involved in the topic and if the interaction was empowering for them. Root Change monitors if online relationships translate into offline collaboration – indicating more lasting stakeholder involvement. Very often the answer is NO. In the Obama re-election campaign 2012 by contrast Kate Catherall found that one of the most powerful things they did was to connect people personally street by street on very specific issues of Obama’s programme. Talking to their neighbors on issues they personally cared about, significantly increased people’s engagement in the cause. As the chair of DFID-CSO Learning Partnership steering committee, Restless Development led a group of the PPA partners to develop a more holistic theory of change for the learning partnership. This included measuring improved relationships as a success indicator as an output toward stronger civil society relationships and helped to make the theory of change more transformational in its intent – beyond the simple creation of learning products. This helped to shift the discourse between DFID and its 42 strategic CSO partners and to improve partner engagement and collective success. Organisations truly following a people-powered work approach need to define success in terms of long term and meaningful constituency engagement and find ways to make it a reality.