Movement Beyond Membership

by Jeremy Osborn, Co-Founder & Operations Director, 350.org

This blog on Digital Accountability first appeared on Disrupt&Innovate – weekly blogs for civil society professionals, leaders & activists.

The guest authors – digital experts from within the civil society sector – recently took part in a four-day CSO Accountability in the Digital Age workshop, facilitated by the INGO Accountability Charter. Here they share the issues explored and outcomes established during this hands-on event. Lauren’s blog is the first in a series of five.


New approaches to digital campaigning and awareness-raising are enabling two-way dialogue between organisations and their supporters and volunteers, in turn strengthening both impact and accountability.
In 2016, two-way dialogue with members is the norm, so what does it mean to continue to ‘disrupt and innovate’ in this space? One important new frontier 350.org is working in is how to use the digital tools we have come to rely on for two-way supporter communication to enable accountability laterally across social movements.

These types of movement accountability are structured through relationships with individuals, networks, grassroots organisations, or other international civil society organisations (ICSOs), and in our experience can often spike around a tragedy or news headline that focuses attention across civil society. Some of the more pointed ‘disruptions’ that 350.org has made, breaking from the standard ICSO mode of operation, have been in response to these kind of major events, on issues that are typically defined outside of the climate movement. Staff who work at the intersection of issues have been able to draw out the interlinkages between different fights for change at important moments, demonstrate solidarity with other struggles, and ultimately contribute to building stronger impact for us all.

In August, 2014, Michael Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson, Missouri, leading to racial justice protests and a powerful escalation of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. 350.org’s Strategic Partnerships Coordinator, Deirdre Smith, penned a personal and poignant piece on the intersection of work against climate change and for racial justice. In this article, Deidre draws startling lines between climate change, and those most adversely affected – in the case of Ferguson, young, black men.

Were the only result of that piece a public display of solidarity and recognition of the Ferguson protests, it would wholly stand on its own. However, it is important to identify and build an understanding across ICSOs that solidarity and recognition is not the sole result of that kind of bridging work. In a world as interconnected as ours, with the digital tools of sharing and expression at our fingertips, the question of where one movement ends and the next begins is a very blurry line.

On the operations side of the organisation, it is important to acknowledge the shakeup that comes with disruptions like the Ferguson letter. We see a number of email supporters unsubscribe because, while they like our work on climate change, they don’t agree with our principles on other issues. Or, donors may respect the views we hold on these issues, but believe that an organisation should stay singularly focused on its issue and not stray into other arenas, citing mission creep as watering down our work.

The learning that 350.org is doing now, and which ICSOs in general must grapple with as a whole, is how to scaffold the broad education efforts of the connections between movements, the accountabilities we have to one another across issues in civil society, and ultimately, the greater impact that fostering those connections and accountabilities can achieve for all our work.

The ‘unsubscribes’ and the donor questions that come with these disruptions are an acknowledgement that the work is not easy – that it takes time, education, and a continued reiteration of how we see the interconnectedness of our work. And that disruption doesn’t come without losing a few folks along the way – that’s OK. Exploring how we become more accountable laterally across movements builds powerful bridges in an interconnected world – not only do we think it is the right thing to do, but it also strengthens the broad foundation of our work as civil society.

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