Unless CSOs let go of control to a good degree, they will not fully capitalise on the new opportunity of co-creation to leverage impact and improve stakeholder relationships. A good accountability frame helps finding the appropriate risk appetite. Where risk averseness is too high, people may not engage. Where it is too low, there is a risk for people and the organisation. Clarity needs to be provided on what can and cannot be protected in the case of people engagement. Open recognition when something goes wrong is just as important as constant monitoring and quick response when things derail, since the snowballing effect can be huge in no time.
Transparency International for instance chose a much higher risk appetite when launching its campaign Unmask the Corrupt. To increase public engagement in the issue, they asked people to nominate the most corrupt cases (including individuals and institutions) in the world. Despite heavy investments into legal and IT protection, this still meant taking a greater risk than in previous activities which was the price for greater people engagement. The red line they didn’t cross was voter’s safety as people could only vote anonymously.
Amnesty International works with local partners and human rights defenders in dangerous political circumstances. This is more effective than outside lobbying, but it puts people and the organisation at a higher risk. A good example of mastering this is the launch of the Greater Caribbean for Life network. To this end, Amnesty International worked carefully and through soft approaches (publishing research, linking activists together, doing advocacy missions to the region) – all culminating in the successful launch of a local network in a region that traditionally had very little specific abolitionist activity.
When Greenpeace launched the Green Wire platform for friends of Greenpeace to run their own campaigns, staff was hugely worried about quality control and brand protection. Two years later, it was recognised as a superb tool for stakeholder engagement who ran great campaigns.
The key here is to take a smart and flexible approach to risk management. Let go where you can to allow people to engage and allow for trial and error. Protect the core; watch how things unfold in dynamic environments; and only step-in when necessary.