By Australian Progress, Commons Librarian, Robyn Gulliver
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 the results of the survey where organisations provided an image which conveyed how their organising models are structured. We have also supplemented this with images of models provided by organisations on their websites, and quotes from organisations using these various models. The article provides examples of the following types of organising models:
- Geographically based local groups
- Issues, skills, shared identities or task based groups
- Mixed organising models
- The snowflake model
- Grassroots/self-organising groups
- Directed network campaign structure
- Participation and framing based models
- Organising models for the political arena
This article is one of a series developed using survey information provided by twenty four organisations. Twenty of these organisations employed paid staff to manage their organising model, and eight 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, including Organising Model Structures: Influences, Challenges and Opportunities.
Accessibility Note: This article contains many charts and diagrams which may not be read by screen-readers. Please contact us if you need the information in a different format.
Observations about the shape of organising models
We found a lot of similarities across the organising models submitted via the survey. Many used the snowflake model, or a modified snowflake model with additional teams. Some organising models reflected a traditional organisational structure chart, showing lines of communication and accountability. Others utilised the Circles of Commitment, with modifications reflecting their situation.
Our findings are in contrast to the P3 Lab’s Building Structure Shapes: What structure reveals about strategy from six-movement organizations in transition which defined a number of shapes.
For each organizational case, the report offers a structure shape. These metaphorical shapes, like a boat, a big tent, a house, a Rubik’s cube, and a fractal, represent how an organization manages a particular contradiction or tension present in one of the three lenses on structuring (membership, staffing and movement ecologies).
If you would like to suggest shapes for the organising models used in Australia and Aotearoa please get in touch.
Geographically based local groups
Many organisations aim to support local groups that are based in particular geographical areas. These can include state or territory-based groups, or small teams of individuals in remote, rural or regional areas.
For example supporters of the Australian Conservation Foundation can view this map on the ACF website to find out if there is a group active in their local area.
Local groups enable organisations to support people in taking action on matters that are important to them and their local community. However, one of the challenges of successfully sustaining geographically dispersed groups is maintaining a sense of connection and community across the organising model. The following model demonstrates how specific individuals and teams are connected across geographic boundaries, and how these connections are supported through meetings and events.
Formal connections between individuals and teams within one geographically based organising model: Democracy in Colour.
Recruitment in localities where we have local groups, volunteers have lots of opportunities to learn and step up to take on more responsibility.
It should be noted that none of the organisations surveyed had an organising structure that was solely geographically based. They tended to also include issues, skills, shared identities or task based groups, fitting the category of ‘mixed organising models’. However, it is useful to consider how prioritised geographically based local groups are in an organising model; some organisations do the bulk of their organising through such groups. The geographical basis varies, in part due to the theory of change and key constituencies of organisations. For example:
- unions organise on the basis of workplaces,
- political parties organise on the basis of electorates,
- organisations seeking to influence electoral outcomes or MP positions may also organise on the basis of electorates
- youth organisations may organise on the basis of schools or universities
- some organisations may organise on the basis of where the greatest concentration of members and supporters lie (such as state capitals).
Issues, skills, shared identities or task based groups
Some organising models are structured around teams of individuals based on interests, skills, a shared identity or particular tasks. Others include teams focusing on particular processes or actions in their organising models. For example, Amnesty International Australia’s model is structured around local, regional, school based and thematic groups, each of which work on in different strategic areas (highlighted in blue) within the overall organising model.
Amnesty International Australia’s mixed organising model, where a range of local, regional and national groups work on different strategies within the broader organising model.
Many organisations which support issue/skill based groups also have a geographic component. In the past this geographic component has been necessary given the need to bring people together face-to-face. With the shift to online organising during the pandemic recruiting and retaining people from diverse locations has become far easier. Furthermore, these groups offer people the opportunity to participate in many different ways.
Our organising model is focussed around campaign participation and building networks through common issues. I think this is good because we attract people who are interested in taking action now, and participation has a goal and target outcomes.
Mixed Organising Models
While some organising models are structured predominantly around geographic or issue/skill/identity based sub-groups, the majority of organisations use a mix of the two. This is particularly the case for organisations able to dedicate staff to developing and implementing an organising model supporting a range of different types of sub-groups. The following model is one example.
350 Australia’s mixed organising model using a range of geographically based sub-groups alongside groups working on particular initiatives, issues or tasks.
Some mixed models also incorporate the supporter journey. In these models, a range of different group types are sustained in order to support people to increase commitment while being provided with a range of different sub-groups to choose from.
Australian Conservation Foundation’s mixed organising model which also incorporates the supporter journey.
Our organisational model strengths are its scalability, that it is replicable, systematic and consistent. It is adaptable, strategic & impactful. Members feel like they are a part of a community, there’s something for everyone and it has a relational focus.
Some organising models using a mix of sub-group types also include governance and staff roles into the structure. This can include Advisory Teams, a Board, Councillors or other types of governance structures. The following model provides an example of this.
Australian Youth Climate Coalition’s mixed organising model which also incorporates staff and governance teams.
Australian Religious Response to Climate Change: a mixed organisational model that also incorporates members, leaders and partners.
The Snowflake Model
The snowflake model is centred around distributed leadership. In particular, leaders commit to develop the leadership abilities of others, with the relationships between these people the glue holding the snowflake together. Relationships between individuals are what form groups within the snowflake model, as shown in the figure below, reproduced from the manual ‘Organizing: People, Power, Change’.
The snowflake model from the handbook ‘Organizing: People, Power, Change’
The strength of the snowflake model lies in its focus on building strong relationships between each connection. This has enabled some organisations to not only recruit new volunteers, but also support and retain them over time.
We are still exploring it but building from a “local organiser” focus with the role of the core volunteer to connect with existing groups and organisations as well as bringing on board new people. This is instead of a group building focus at the moment. This may change over time, but currently it is working for us.
Environment Victoria’s organising model is built around a snowflake recruitment process supported by staff and an Action Network Support Team.
Other organisations use a snowflake model but base this around groups, or teams of individuals working together. The model below uses this approach to support a very large number of groups, that otherwise would be difficult to sustain via a central team of staff or organisers. It also helps build stronger relationships between groups that can offer mutual support independent of the centralised team.
Australian Education Union Victoria: A snowflake model where campaign hubs each support three sub-branches
The focus on relational organising and the snowflake model means that everyone is connected with each other and things can function without the organiser around most of the time.
One organisation has moved towards a snowflake, or ‘distributed organising’ system. In their model paid staff focus less on directly mobilising supporters and more closely on enabling and training volunteer organisers. Their organising model aims to build multiple expert organising teams, which are self-sustaining and motivated by working on tactics and issues that are relevant and meaningful to them. At the same time, this reduces pressure on staff time, and fosters stronger personal relationships between leaders, advocates and active supporters.
Some organising models are based on grassroots power, where local groups emerge on an issue and coordinate with other groups through a horizontal decision making structure. Different communication channels can be used to support this horizontal decision making, as shown in the model below.
Extinction Rebellion South Australia: A grassroots organising model which indicates how groups within the model communicate
The self-organising system (SOS) used by Extinction Rebellion shares similarities with models that form from grassroots mobilisation. Five characteristics mould the shape of an SOS model:
- Distributed authority
- Self-organising circles
- Decentralising power through roles, circles, mandates, tensions and proposals,
- A linking structure, and
- Radical transparency.
More information about these characteristics can be found on the Extinction Rebellion Derby (UK) website.
Diagram of Extinction Rebellion Derby structure. Available https://rebellionderby.earth/circles. Photograph: 15 October 2022
Activists hold the key elements and functions of the organising model. This is achieved by decentralising the knowledge basis and skill sets and empowering members and activists to lead and set the direction.
Circles of commitment
The circles of commitment is a model which enables organisations to think about their constituents in terms of the different types of commitment they demonstrate to the organisation. It also enables organisations to identify what kinds of behaviours help step people ‘up’ into higher levels of commitment (see also the engagement pyramid). While often used in conjunction with an organising model incorporating local groups, some organisations use it as a standalone structure.
The following example is from a group which does not seek to organise groups. Instead they organise individuals around mobilisation moments, and recruit volunteers with specific skills and expertise (on an individual basis).
An example of an organising model based around circles of commitment rather than sub-groups
In contrast, the following model both defines their supporters through the circle of commitment while also highlighting their local and specialist teams. The leaders within the circle of commitment play an important role in recruiting new supporters.
Australian Parents for Climate Action’s adapted circle of commitment also incorporates local action groups and groups with specific skills and expertise
Directed network campaign structure
Many different types of organising models seek to support the four principles common to directed-network campaigns. These were defined by Networked Change in their 2016 report ‘Networked Change: How progressive campaigns are won in the 21st Century’.
The four principles of directed-network campaigns. ‘Networked Change: How progressive campaigns are won in the 21st Century’, Mogus & Liacas, 2016. Page 6.
In directed-network campaigns a central group (usually with staff) help develop the framing of messaging on the particular issue. Staff will also develop and coordinate strategies and tactics, but with substantial freedom and agency provided to the grassroots. Directed-networked campaigns can also encompass groups and movements, and their structures also often borrow from other traditions. In the following model a centralised team supports the movement, which mostly consists of local action groups. However, the model is further supported by a parent organisation, a Board, a central leadership team and a council.
Tomorrow Movement’s organising model is an example of a modified directed network campaign where local action groups and movement support teams are supported by a central core of staff
Using moments of momentum to bring energy. The Directed Network model – while it has its downsides – overall helps build national cohesion and focus to win.
Participation and framing based models
Another organising model found within this project were organisations which define their organising model through participation rather than membership in a particular sub-group. This is often utilised in conjunction with a Circles of Commitment diagram, defining the participation behaviours at different levels.
Results Australia organising model incorporates particular behaviours within circles of commitment and different types of sub-groups
The model is also extremely relational which means in a relatively short period of time, advocates become skilled in parliamentary engagement quickly.
Similarly, some organisations focus on framing and messaging. The particular communication goals of relevance are identified first, and then resources pooled across all goals.
In Climate Justice Union WA’s organising model teams work collectively across sectors
Building a grassroots movement is at the centre of everything that we do, because we know it’s only through people-power that we can achieve our vision for the future. People power is built by helping individuals realise their own agency to change the world by acting with other people on strategic campaigns that shift power from big corporations to communities.
Organising models for the political arena
In addition to organisations which focus on mobilising outside of the political arena, some focus exclusively on that area. These organisations often focus on growing local groups in electorates at peak moments within the electoral cycle. Their structure needs to include groups or committees which accommodate periods of rapid growth and concentrated action, as well as governance bodies that provide consistency and stability.
Our model is transparent, and allows growth and empowerment of our grassroots members as they join us. It requires genuine commitment from members to self-select and volunteer to build solidarity and work in the interests of our political collective.
- Read the other articles in the Organising Models Mapping Project collection
- P3 – Building Structure Shapes
- How to structure teams for organising
- 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
- Distributed organising: How To Guide from Blueprints for Change
- Blueprints for Change Progressive Organizing and Campaigning Manual
- The Starfish and the Spider: The unstoppable power of leaderless organizations, Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom