How do you measure gifts of time, expertise and leadership? What indicators can you use to assess grassroots power building, organising and volunteer initiatives?
To answer these questions, MobLab and 13 other organisations embarked on research, consultations and a global survey to learn how social change practitioners and leaders across the globe currently grapple with these questions. In this report, we have surfaced the key trends and learnings emerging from our scan of existing research and the inputs of 500 respondents from around the world.
Let’s admit it: large numbers of people participating in our social justice campaigns are impressive – to media, funders, and the people we aim to influence.
How do we value and measure people power?
But how do we value and measure the commitments, activities, and relationships that give us the collective power–or people power–to influence campaign targets and drive systems change? That’s the question we’d been hearing more and more and why we teamed up with a dozen partners to find some answers.
People power may never be fully measurable, but we know that it encompasses at least three things. Measuring these in parallel is the holy grail, but right now few organisations are coming close to measuring the full value of people working together in concert.
- breadth of a campaign or organisation’s reach
- depth of sustained engagement and leadership, and
- impact these factors have on achieving the mission.
It seems we’ve taken a “digital shortcut” over the last decade, leveraging new technologies to build unprecedented numbers of followers and supporters for our campaigns while neglecting equally essential investments in volunteers, supporters and members. For many organisations, and even social movements, building breadth has actually come at the expense of building depth of support and therefore long term power.
Breadth is helpful but insufficient for achieving systemic change. We know that lasting radical change requires both broad and deep engagement. We partnered with more than a dozen social change organisations to map how changemakers around the world are measuring people power in breadth, depth, and impact.
MobLab’s key takeaways
Here are our key takeaways from this groundbreaking research, for everyone from activists to organisational staff/leaders and funders.
For changemakers, if you’re not already measuring depth of supporter relationships and engagement (vs total numbers, or breadth), this report highlights a few ways to get started. Whether in a grassroots group, social movement, or an established NGO, tracking how committed people are to your mission (and to one another) and facilitating deeper relationships can be a big step forward.
For organisational leaders, this report is an urgent call to support cultures that are curious, innovative, and supporter- or people-centred. The results also clarified the importance of investing in staff and resources needed to build relationships with volunteers, grassroots, and community groups. The majority of the surveyed individuals found the very effort of measuring people power shifted and informed both tactics and strategy, guided day-to-day decision making, and was used to evaluate the past; essentially, to show them what was working and what wasn’t.
For funders, the results underscore the need to support organisations, groups and movements by investing in organising and power building, which don’t come with the same attractive metrics that we typically see in fundraising and digital advocacy. Funders should support both the implementation of sustained organising and supporter relationship building (outside of short term programme objectives) and ongoing development and experimentation in power building or “depth” metrics.
Measuring People Power has uncovered a new baseline for how social change organisations are measuring depth of engagement, such as the often under-recognized and under-appreciated work of individuals, volunteers and grassroots groups (not to mention the under-resourced staff who support them).
The majority of the surveyed individuals and organisations reported attempting to measure depth of engagement in different ways, and expressed frustration and excitement at the challenges and results. ‘Measuring People Power’ proves that there is a next generation of social change organisations and change makers committed to testing, building, and measuring people power in new and impactful ways.
Most strikingly, a majority of respondents agreed that the very effort of measuring people power helped them identify points of failure, evaluate new approaches, and resulted in tangible changes in their work.
For all of us, this project offers a first look at the current lay of the land. Measuring People Power is a wake-up call that should show us how far we are from adequately valuing and measuring people power, but how committed and curious current changemakers and organisations are by attempting it, with all of the resources and creativity that they possess.
Understanding people power and measuring it will be one of the most important things that we can do to achieve our social change missions. We are not yet able to share proven best practices, but we are sharing promising and creative methods that changemakers are exploring to measure perhaps the most valuable resource any of us could hope to build: people power.
We hope to support more social justice victories by sharing these attempts at measuring breadth, depth and mission-based impact–and continuing to learn.
You are not alone: adequately measuring people power is a global problem
→ More than 500 individuals and organisations participated in the Measuring People Power survey, offering many rich, long-form answers. Respondents represent over 170 organisations ranging from grassroots groups to global Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
→ There remain a few important, regional blindspots as noted in the methodology section.
→ Nevertheless, respondents represent a huge cohort trying to answer the questions of power building and measurement, and nobody has it exactly figured it out. But this study did surface clear ways to improve and intriguing paths forward.
The report is a serious wake-up call for social change practitioners
→ In the 2010s, people-powered organising and campaigning disrupted the status quo and produced change across the world. Yet as we enter a new decade, thought leaders, emerging movements, community organisations, and established (NGOs) alike all struggle to accurately measure the power and impact of people-powered campaigning.
→ Without these metrics, or even a shared understanding of what power is or what it looks like in the world, decision-makers are holding back from investing in people-powered strategies.
→ In other cases, the lack of metrics is impeding our ability to assess what is working and build deeper and broader power.
Tracking online metrics is now the norm — but those metrics are imperfect
→ In the early days of digital campaigning and organising, convincing practitioners to pay attention to key metrics was a significant hurdle. Decades later, this is no longer the case.
→ 91% of respondents reported tracking list size and open rates of email sent to membership lists.
→ More than half said they paid “enough or too much” attention to such metrics in their work.
→ The problem is that “vanity metrics” like these measure overall numbers but fail to capture the value of relationships or the more complex value of people power. And there is a risk of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction and organisations paying too much attention to imperfect metrics.
Most respondents measure the breadth of their efforts, but fewer adequately track depth or progress toward mission.
→ We found a widespread adoption of metrics like list size and total petition signatures—and that’s a good thing! But these metrics primarily capture the breadth of efforts to engage more people.
→ Fewer respondents reported measuring the depth of people’s relationship with an organisation, with one another, or with a cause. → And almost all respondents struggled to measure how breadth and depth interplay to produce progress toward fulfilling an organisation’s goals.
Measuring supporter engagement and network strength is the most obvious opportunity for improvement
→ A number of respondents are looking at ways to quantify the “depth” of relationships: how engaged and connected their supporters and allies actually are. These approaches try to measure people’s capacity, energy, network ties, and level of engagement with a cause. They take the focus off vanity metrics and put it on the relationships, network ties, and distributed leadership that are essential to people power.
→ Most can be replicated without significant new research or technology. If more organisations and movements adopted these measurements, it would mark a significant leap toward effectively valuing people power.
→ One word of caution: these measurements all rely on the theory that strong networks and deep engagement results in more power. That’s a sound assumption, but it means these approaches are still more of a proxy for people power than an actual measurement of people power.
A few approaches are worthy of more investigation
→ There are potential new avenues to measuring people power, albeit ones that need more investigation. These approaches either tied people power directly to progress toward an organisation’s mission or captured the value of people power in a way that decision-makers can readily understand.
→ Unfortunately, only a few respondents noted experimenting with such approaches, and there is more work to do before they can be easily adopted across the globe.
There are barriers—both practical and conceptual—to better measuring people power
→ The challenge of measuring people power isn’t for lack of effort. Respondents identified common barriers to effective measurement. Some are practical, like simply capturing data in people-powered contexts. Others require more thought, such as deciding whether qualitative or quantitative approaches are the best way to measure people-powered strategies. The report includes our own set of research questions that could point the way forward.
To read the report – Measuring People Power In 2020+: Key Survey and Research Findings
To read the full research report – Measuring People Power Research Report on Results from an International Survey