The Organising Models Mapping Project, run by the Commons Library and Australian Progress, explores different organising models being utilised in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. The project includes a survey of organisations which use organising as part of their advocacy.
This article presents a summary of survey responses and information about three different organising models that respondents used:
- Decentralised organising,
- Directed network, and
- Strike Circles organising models.
All quotations in the article were provided by survey respondents who use these models in their organisation.
Elements of Decentralised Organising Models
Decentralized organizing for social change refers to a style of community organizing and political activism that emphasizes the importance of local, autonomous decision-making and the creation of decentralized networks of individuals and organizations working together towards a common goal. In decentralized organizing, power is distributed throughout the network rather than being centralized in a single leadership structure.
We believe change comes from the grassroots and people working together and collectively.
The key features of decentralized organizing include:
Decentralized organizing empowers individuals and local groups to take action and make decisions on their own, without relying on a centralized authority.
Decentralized organizing emphasizes collaboration and coordination among local groups, rather than central control and command.
Decentralized organizing creates a network of interconnected local groups, each with their own specific goals and strategies, but working together towards a common goal.
Decentralized organizing allows for a high degree of flexibility and adaptability, as local groups can respond quickly to changing circumstances and opportunities.
Decentralized organizing creates a more resilient and sustainable movement, as it is less vulnerable to disruptions and attacks on a centralized leadership structure.
Decentralized organizing has been used successfully in a variety of social change campaigns, including environmental activism, social justice movements, and political activism. It is particularly well-suited to campaigns that require the mobilization of large numbers of people and the coordination of decentralized networks of organizations and individuals. These networks can link groups in diverse and isolated communities.
The people that are involved in our organisation offer communities to take action on climate changes and together we can build the social licence for climate solutions and break the social licence of those industries responsible for climate breakdown.
Decentralized organizing has gained popularity in recent years, particularly with the rise of the internet and digital technologies, which have made it easier for people to connect and collaborate on a global scale. However, it is important to note that decentralized organizing also poses some challenges, including the need for effective communication and coordination among local groups, and the need for a shared vision and strategy to guide the movement as a whole. One other issue is recruitment, as volunteers often need initiative and confidence to become engaged in decentralised campaigns.
[We do] recruitment in localities where we have local groups, volunteers have lots of opportunities to learn and step up to take on more responsibility.
Elements of the Directed Network Organising Model
Directed networks are a network of organizations and individuals in local groups, which are connected and working together towards a common goal or purpose. At the centre of a directed network is a group of dedicated organisers (usually paid organisers) who together help facilitate campaign strategies and tactics, create resources, and build shared platforms for local groups and volunteers to share information and mobilisation activities. This type of organising models is called ‘directed’ because there is a clear direction of flow or influence from the central hub to the local groups mobilising in the campaign.
Our organisation works to enhance coordination, participation, communication and connectedness across the social change sector to increase the impact and effectiveness of all our work.
NetChange defines four principles for directed network campaigns:
- Principle 1: Opening to grassroots power
- Principle 2: Cross-movement network hubs
- Principle 3: Frame a compelling cause
- Principle 4: Run with focus and discipline
They also define ‘six building blocks’ of directed network organising:
- Establishing a people-powered theory of change
- Designing supporter paths and roles
- Establishing a recruitment and onboarding process
- Setting up coaching and support for distributed supporters
- Platforms and tools to support a distributed community
- Defining milestones and moments of a distributed campaign
Directed networks for social change can be created and maintained through various means, including online and offline organizing, face-to-face meetings, and the use of social media and other digital technologies. Effective directed networks for social change require strong leadership, clear goals and strategies, and effective communication and coordination among the network members.
Advocacy action taken by people on our email list and in wider society show decision makers that our issues are widely felt and our solutions have broad support amongst voters.
Elements of Strike Circles
Strike Circles is a model of social change that emphasizes the role of small groups in creating systemic change. The key elements of Strike Circles are:
- Small groups
Strike Circles are based on the idea that social change can be initiated and sustained by small groups of individuals working together towards a common goal. These groups are usually composed of a few individuals who share a common interest or concern and who are committed to taking action to create change.
- Direct action
Strike Circles focus on direct action, meaning that they engage in specific, targeted activities that directly challenge the status quo or bring attention to a particular issue. Direct action can take many forms, including protests, demonstrations, direct negotiations, and civil disobedience.
Strike Circles have a clear strategy for achieving their goals, including a clear understanding of the target, tactics, and timeline. They also have a plan for how to escalate their actions over time, in order to build momentum and create change.
Strike Circles rely on strong relationships between members, as well as between the Circle and other organizations and individuals. This includes building trust, fostering open communication, and creating a sense of community among members.
Strike Circles are led by individuals who have a clear vision for the group and are committed to the cause. They provide direction and support for members, as well as acting as ambassadors for the group and its goals.
Strike Circles are flexible and adaptable, and are able to adjust their strategy and tactics as circumstances change. They are also able to collaborate and coordinate with other Circles and organizations to achieve their goals.
Our model inspires similar people to take action – they love big actions and big impacts. It is nimble, flexible and suited to the core organisers.
Strike Circles is an approach to social change that has been used successfully in a variety of contexts, including labour movements, environmental activism, and political campaigns. It emphasizes the power of small groups to create change and highlights the importance of direct action, strategy, and strong relationships in achieving social change.
We believe that collective action demonstrating people power enables change. For us, our collective action demonstrates to our politicians and to corporations that the Australian community takes climate change seriously, and wants to see action!
Communication and Decision making
How do organisations balance communication and recruitment with connection and shared campaign goals?
Each of these three organising models share a common characteristic; they allow flexibility for local volunteers and autonomy for local groups to engage in actions that feel relevant to their local communities. However, these characteristics can also lead to challenges in ensuring all teams have a shared goal and work together. The following table demonstrates how groups communicate across their networks and make strategic and tactical decisions.
|Model||How they communicate||How strategic and tactical decisions are made|
|Decentralised organising||Weekly email updates to committee volunteers, monthly zoom calls.||Designing new strategies and campaigns together with our volunteers through workshops and in person conferences|
|Directed network||So far we’ve been hosting regular webinars both to provide strategy updates and ask for feedback or tactic brainstorms. For a short time I also managed weekly email updates for a group of volunteers who were participating in a long term tactic.||All tasks come as direct asks from staff organisers.|
|Currently, almost all communication runs between staff and community members, without a good space for the community to communicate with each other.||The idea was that a central hub would be organising organisations. Somewhat unexpectedly, we’ve ended up with our own list of supporters. We intend to still work towards a Directed Network campaign but have not decided how we might support e.g. groups or go for a more grasstops style of leadership development, or a membership model.|
|Strike circles||Emails, Slack messages, fortnightly National Calls. Each local group self organises.||Tasks are allocated at group meetings by attendees|
What challenges do organisations experience with these models?
Like all organising models, balancing what the organisation hopes to achieve with what it is able to achieve brings challenges. Survey respondents were asked to describe the challenges they faced in their organising models, and any solutions they were hoping to implement. The following table lists their responses.
|Model||Challenge||How can this challenge be resolved?|
|Decentralised organising||Limited staff capacity, local groups in areas where there are a lot of other climate groups, no clear pathways for individuals outside of locations where there are groups to be involved||Have more volunteers involved outside of local groups, build Movement Support teams that can support local groups|
|Directed network||Our main barrier is capacity – the organisation is not staffed to actually do organising, nor is it enough of a priority in our campaign strategy.||We are seeking to overcome this by being clearer about what organising model we think is needed to build the movement that we need to win and then work to resource that appropriately.|
|As a new campaign space, we’re still working to build a shared understanding of our vision and goals. Our supporters are broadly interested in [our cause] beyond the narrow scope of our campaign so focus can be an issue.||If we want to see growth and a legitimate movement, we need to be much more invested in supporter engagement and empowerment through both training and relationship building opportunities.|
|Strike Circles||Core volunteer burnout and overwork; high volunteer turnover; constant need for retraining.||We haven’t. This model isn’t built for community-based organising or directly supporting/enabling local groups.|
Decentralised, Directed and Strike Circle Organising Model
- Resources for decentralised organising by Richard Bartlett
- Networked Change: How progressive campaigns are won in the 21st Century by Jason Mogus and Tom Liacas (NetChange)
- Six building blocks of distributed organizing campaigns, NetChange
- Reflections on Sunrise Movement’s Strike Circle Program: Learn How We Created Hundreds of Local Teams
- Momentum Webinars on movements, mass decentralised organising and mobilisation by Momentum Community
The Organising Models Project
Twenty-three organisations responded to the survey, of which twenty employed paid staff to manage their organising model. Eight of these organisations had been engaged in organising for either 1-5 years or more than 10 years. You can read more about the survey responses in other articles in this series:
- Approaches to Organising: The Ganz Model
- Overview of the Organising Model Mapping Project
- Organising Model Structures: Influences, Challenges and Opportunities
- The Shape of Organising Models
- People Within Organising Models
- Autonomy, Flexibility and Accountability in Organising Models
- Support and Leadership in Organising Models