Directed-network campaigns combine self-organized people power with enough centralized structure to focus on clear political and cultural targets. The Networked Change Report gathers findings from 47 campaigns and defines four key principles for directed-network campaigning. Read the executive summary below for a taster and visit NetChange to download the full report.
The Networked Change Report maps out the strategies and practices that made today’s most successful advocacy campaigns work, while so many others failed to create lasting change on the issues they address.
We started by identifying advocacy campaigns over the last ten years that achieved significant impact insofar as they forced changes to corporate or government policies or created widespread attitude change.
To reflect the needs of most progressive organizers, we put special emphasis on groups that started with relatively few resources and went on to achieve substantial victories – a capacity that we are calling force amplification in this report.
The final study sample, a total of 47 campaigns, is largely North American and includes campaigns from all sides of the political spectrum, a wide variety of more traditional causes and finally, corporate campaigns that mobilized their client base.
Institutional heavyweights, grassroots upstarts and directed-network campaigns
As we sorted through our data, three groupings emerged based on organizational scale, structure, and impact.
In this three-tiered classification, institutional heavyweights such as the NRA, AARP and US Chamber of Commerce are older organizations that function in a top-down manner, run very efficient and effective pressure campaigns and apply considerable acquired clout and capital to successfully influence government legislation.
Grassroots upstarts, such as the Occupy Wall Street network, Arab Spring uprisings and many hashtag-driven campaigns, typically have few resources at the outset and are largely driven by self-starting supporters who coordinate actions through a very open and horizontal decision-making structure. These movements and campaigns succeed in creating dramatic growth and raising a wider discourse around the issues they champion but often fail to create sustainable systemic change.
The third group, what we call directed-network campaigns, performed exceptionally well in terms of both impact and force amplification and are therefore the largest source of strategic insights in this report. Exemplified by cases such as the Fightfor15, Not1More and the Keystone XL campaign, they are typically led by a central body that frames the issues and coordinates energies towards shared milestones but also leaves a fair amount of freedom and agency to grassroots supporters and a diverse network of inside and cross-movement allies. Starting with relatively few resources, these campaigns mobilized complex organizational structures and an engaged supporter base for sustained periods of time and achieved some degree of policy and cultural change.
Four principles common to directed-network campaigns
Having identified this relatively new yet highly successful category of campaigns, we wanted to ensure that this report served as a practical tool for both traditional and grassroots campaigners to integrate best practices into their work. With this in mind, the bulk of the report is spent unpacking the strategic and tactical approaches common to the highest-performing cases in our study group.
The four Principles below represent the main pillars of directed-network campaigning. In Section 2 of the report they are further detailed into operational approaches, which lay out concrete tools, tactics, and practices employed to operationalize the principles.
Why directed network campaigning gets the goods
Our experience and research into wider cultural trends leads us to conclude that directed-network campaigns succeed because they are aligned with new sources of self-organized people power but maintain enough centralized structure to focus it on clear political and cultural targets. In other words, they successfully marry new power with old power.
These campaigns achieved success, we believe, because of their ability to open up to the new cultural forces which favor open-ness and grassroots power but also because they framed and strategically directed this power towards concrete policy outcomes. In short, they married new power with old.
By opening to new models of organizing in a network society, directed-network campaigns generate greater public engagement and achieve rapid scale with relatively few resources at the outset. With an executive structure that establishes strategic direction and carefully manages resources, these campaigns have what it takes to survive in an advocacy landscape now saturated with information and calls to action that compete for our attention.
This new model has now reached a scale where it is extremely relevant to those working for social change and to those funding such work. It is our hope that the findings in this report will enable accelerated implementation of best campaigning practices by progressive movements of all sizes.
- Executive Summary 4
- Methodology 7
- Introduction: New power, new challenges 8
- Section 1: Overview of findings 10
- Section 2: Principles of directed-network campaigning 13
- Principle 1: Opening to grassroots power 14
- Principle 2: Cross-movement network hubs 16
- Principle 3: Frame a compelling cause 19
- Principle 4: Run with focus and discipline 23
- Analysis and recommendations 26
- APPENDIX A: Sources of inspiration 30
- APPENDIX B: Endnotes 32
- APPENDIX C: Groups studied 34
Visit NetChange to download the full report.
- Campaigning - Distributed network
- Campaigning - Strategy
- Collective action
- Organising - Distributed network