III. Challenges to People-Powered Work

Balancing organisation-centric and people-centric needs

The first challenge is to define “people”. Does it only include supporters or members? Then the organisation’s accountability to broader groups of affected stakeholders and sustainable change is questionable. Prioritising accountability to the mission and clarifying different accountability commitments to different stakeholder groups is important.

Further challenges arise when legitimate actions to preserve the organisations’ healthiness are not necessarily the best for long term impact. For example, every organisation needs to demonstrate success in short intervals. This may easily tip decisions towards short term actions rather than potentially more important long term activities. Campaigns focusing on dramatic incidents are easier to launch and run than those addressing important but silent heroes or topics. Securing the next grant or growing supporter lists is important from an organisational and impact perspective. At times however the best contribution to sustainable change is to support another organisation. In most organisational cultures however this is not the preferred option. We tend to favour the expert, hands-on staff over the convenor and facilitator of other people’s ideas and actions. Energy among staff is easier to maintain for short term action than persistent follow up. But it is the latter that is critically important – in particular where social movements have prepared the ground for change but did not have the perseverance for long term institution building.

Organisational needs are not per se at odds with success for people and the environment. But it needs an ongoing and very honest examination of what serves what and a high degree of responsiveness to people outside of the organisation to steer a good path.

People engagement needs to go beyond masquerade

It may seem that increased stakeholder engagement means per se greater accountability to them. But not every interactive, co-creational relationship ensures people become true partners in a shared mission. Some digital companies for instance with very interactive customer engagement practices at the product level use these relationships to extract personal information and manipulate people’s wishes to optimise company profits.

For the new model to be successful, CSOs have to ensure that engagement of stakeholders is not just a masquerade to achieve organisational success, but necessary to advance the shared cause. CSO accountability in the digital age means creating an ecosystem in which people can contribute in a responsible, self-motivated and active way towards the change they care about. To tap into the digital opportunity of leveraging connective impact, CSOs have to become extremely responsive to what people want and offer and become the best service provider for people’s expertise, capacity and skills to solve the shared issue.

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