The “8-Fold Path” is a list of eight operating principles for building a progressive people’s movement in the 21st century. It is used by all the members of the OPEN Network, which includes organisations around the world like GetUp (Australia), MoveOn (United States), and Campact (Germany).
Note: the order here is not very important – each of these principles is central and they all work in relationship to each other. Think focal points in a web or legs of a table rather than a prioritised list.
Having a progressive mission distinguishes an OPEN organization from process-oriented civic participation vehicles that strive to remain neutral about the issue-specific outcomes of the participation they generate. OPEN exists to move society towards greater economic and social equality, environmental sustainability, peaceful co-existence, and democratic freedom. However, it is equally important to note that OPEN does not pre-define detailed litmus tests and demand adherence from all members on all points. Rather, the approach is to organically weave together a values-coherent community through many different topical, effective, and meaningful campaign opportunities that over time cross-pollinate diverse supporters.
OPEN pursues an “outside power” theory of change, which primarily relies on the collective force of mass citizen participation to move public and private sector decision makers towards just outcomes. People-powered change is distinguished from an “inside access” theory of change that relies on a special set of inside actors to win change through elite channels. Both theories have their place, and OPEN organizations use both from time to time. But the network chooses to prioritize the former because it is more durable over time and it more closely matches OPEN model values regarding power distribution in a democracy. To successfully grow an “outside power” theory of change, large-scale participation is required. Many of the following elements are essential to garnering and maintaining that level of participation.
OPEN organization agendas are set by the members themselves. This is achieved through rigorous testing, clear response benchmarks for campaigns, polling, direct voting, and well-interpreted anecdotal inputs. In many cases member-led organizing is also achieved by equipping members to start and run their own campaigns, and then assigning central organization resources to promote those campaigns. To generate the level of affinity and participation needed to achieve people-powered change, member participation and the cultivation of a strong member experience are critical. Additionally, the combination of “progressive” and “member-led” place a great deal of responsibility on the staff to provide what OPEN calls “steward leadership”—a style of management intended to guide the organization to attract a core base of progressive-minded members who can then collectively chart the future course, based on shared values and in consideration of the strategic information and mentoring provided by the staff.
People and nations, unlike most organizations, focus on and care about many different issues. While people choose some issues abstractly as the most important, when they read the paper every day they see decisions and provocations on a range of topics that will inflame their support or ire, depending on their values. The energy produced in response to that range of topics is what OPEN organizations need to engage in order to grow to scale and to create change wherever change is most urgent and possible. So, while the OPEN model is values-coherent, it is also inherently and deeply multi-issue. Being multi-issue, in turn, offers significant movement-building advantages. There are many issues that enjoy far more agreement than they invoke active discord. If the grassroots force marshalled around an issue is limited to folks who are prepared to sign up for that issue in advance, the numbers will remain small. However, if that issue happens to reach a key decision moment and a multi-issue, values-aligned grassroots force can be brought to bear, the people power will be much larger.
In considering how to spend their time, people tend to place a premium on urgency (i.e., “Why do it now and not later?”). If an issue they agree with but are not normally passionate about is suddenly actionable (due to a breaking news story, upcoming legislative decision, international events, etc.) and an opportunity to take action is immediately made available, they are far more likely to take action. Even small delays can dramatically reduce participation rates. Hence, it is crucial to the OPEN model to be decisive and act quickly. OPEN organizations therefore operate in a low-bureaucracy, high-empowerment management model.
Full-spectrum campaigning devises and employs tactics that allow members to use all of their assets to push for the social and political change they believe in. Member assets include opinion, special talents, social networks, specific knowledge, vote, and material resources (including money). While OPEN organizations use digital means to present information and engagement opportunities (primarily email, web platforms, social networks, and sms), the actual campaign tactics draw people into offline action as frequently as possible. (The members of OPEN organizations have organized over 515,000 local offline events over the last 15 years.)
Engaging in elections adds teeth to organizational advocacy because election outcomes matter to the issues our members prioritize. But OPEN remains fiercely independent from any political party. Praise or criticism, support or opposition, are granted purely on the basis of issue performance. This independence also means that OPEN must ultimately be financially beholden only to the members themselves through small individual contributions. All five mature OPEN organizations achieved this mark within 3.5 years of launch.
OPEN employs digital means to communicate and organize because digital technology allows for accessible, scalable, and rapid engagement. Therefore, investing in the best possible platforms and innovating constantly to meet evolving strategic needs are a priority. At the same time technology is not fetishized and each new tool is evaluated from the perspective of strategic utility and accessibility to our members, who are generally not early adopters.