This report provides a temperature check on the state of progressive digital organising in Europe. The summary fact sheet is included below along with the Report Description and Contents from the full report.
Download and read the full report: The State of Digital Origanising in Europe 2020 by Tectonica Digital Campaign Solutions.
As we enter a fresh decade, it has become obvious that (despite a few inspiring exceptions) our campaigns for social, economic and environmental justice in Europe are just not winning. Across Europe, we face the rise of the right, in governments and populist movements. The crises of climate change, pollution and environmental destruction continue to intensify. The impacts of the global pandemic we are facing are falling unequally, affecting the oppressed and marginalised far more deeply than the privileged.
At the same time, there is a growing appreciation of the power of harnessing digital tools in our campaigns, while also ceding power to supporters to set strategy and take leadership. There is much talk of ‘digital organising’ — but what does this really mean and how much is actually happening?
In the first study of its kind, Tectonica and GQR surveyed 150 progressive organisations (those fighting for social, environmental and economic justice) from across Europe. We asked how can we define digital organising? How well is it understood? What do digital organising practices look like? How much are they utilised in your organisation? And what are the biggest barriers?
Through 17 in-depth interviews and a continent wide online survey, this report offers a temperature check on the state of digital organising in Europe. Our findings demonstrate what is needed to take distributed leadership to the next level so we can start winning on the issues that matter to us.
The Five-Part Framework for Digital Organising
We developed our own framework to enable us to assess campaigning activities in relation to the term ‘digital organising’, since it is commonly used to refer to a wide variety of approaches. The framework breaks down the full spectrum of online activities in people-powered efforts to impact political change, classifying them according to five major categories; ranging from one-way communication, to coordinated mobilisation and finally to decentralised organising. Our experience tells us that if efforts are not distributed across all areas of the framework, we’re missing key approaches that are necessary to building the power of progressive campaigns, and helping us to win.
What is the State of Digital Organising in Europe? Key Learnings:
A. The right is winning online
Most progressives we surveyed think digital campaigns on the right are stronger than their own campaigns. Many interviewees reported that simple, emotionally triggering messaging is easier to convey, repeat and multiply — especially on social media — giving a natural advantage to the particular breed of right wing movements currently entering the political stage across the globe. Progressive messaging is more complex, harder to convey online, and better understood in conversation.
Some interviewees further blame social media for subsuming or replacing organising networks, others told us that right wing authoritarian governments pose significant challenges.
B. There is massive unrealised potential for digital organising
The good news is that progressives agree — our campaigning work is most effective when we’re communicating, mobilising and organising — working across our five-part framework for digital organising.
The bad news is that progressives are just not doing what they think they need to do to win — activities at the start of the spectrum are most common in practice, and fully decentralised organising is relatively rare.
1. Lack of best practice and education
Our survey shows full digital organising — that is to say actions beyond communications and mobilising — is rare.
This means it isn’t visible, giving a much smaller pool of examples to learn from — this perpetuates the cycle of digital organising best practice being poorly understood, and therefore little implemented. Over one-third (39%) of survey respondents said low-levels of education on digital organising best practices are a barrier to successful digital organising, topping the list of main barriers. A surprising 13% of respondents told us they had received no training at all, even from colleagues.
The lack of clear best practice and research connecting online campaigning approaches to impact has led to the adoption of assumptions and practices that are not working. Without proof of what has worked, campaigners are left to copy and repeat activities regardless of their likelihood to increase success.
2. Prioritisation of easy, cheap low-level actions over long term investment
One-third (34%) of respondents reported lack of resources as one of the most significant barriers to successful digital organising. Digital mobilising practices such as list building, petitions and other one-click actions get immediate results, with figures that can look impressive for internal reporting and address pressing fundraising needs. In contrast, good digital organising takes time, is harder to measure and harder to report on.
The prioritisation of easier to measure, short-term goals may be preventing the development of a longer term strategic vision, affecting the ability of progressives to win in the longer term.
3. Cultural, institutional & language barriers
Campaigners told us that many European countries simply don’t have strong examples of organising wins or a culture of digital organising. This was reported by 22% of survey respondents and came out strongly in interviews, especially when compared to the US. The centralised nature of decision-making among European institutions becomes reflected in political approaches to engagement in campaigns. Full digital organising at a Pan-European level is not fully possible, and the multiple languages spoken across Europe, and inside many European countries, act as their own barrier to campaigning well online.
Tools, Technology & Trends
Big social media platforms and email are most universally used by digital campaigners (used by 91% of survey respondents), followed by collaborative platforms (63% use). The most commonly used social media platforms are Facebook and Twitter, while Zoom, Google-Suite and WhatsApp are the most popular of the collaborative platforms.
Collaborative tools are used by organisers to help recreate the community experience that has been destroyed by social media, building smaller groups in which people can deepen relationships, and making local strategy possible.
Inspiration and Reasons to be Cheerful
Firstly, our survey and interviews show huge buy in across Europe to the value of digital organising among progressive campaigners, although it is little understood and practiced. This means there is vast untapped potential for social change actors to move activities across the five-part framework for digital organising, build relationships and leadership, and potentially turn the tide against the rise of the right.
For progressive NGOs, unions and political parties
1. More communication, sharing and relationship building across the progressive community
2. Development of the evidence base for digital organising into shareable best practice
3. Investment in coaching, training and expert support for digital organising
4. Deploying communications, mobilising and organising strategically to build power
5. Willingness to shift culture and decentralise power
6. Measuring steps towards impact
Funders have an important role to play in making the above happen, by supporting the following:
1. Networking and mapping
4. Long term investment in strategic digital organising research and practices
- Executive Summary 5
- Methodology 7
- Introduction 10
- Key Learnings 12
- A. The right is winning online
- B. There is massive unrealised potential for digital organising
- C. Barriers
- D. Online/offline campaigning can no longer be separated
- Tools, Technology & Trends 20
- SpeechifAI — a customisable social share kit with serious potential
- Inspiration and Reasons to be Cheerful 24
- Beating authoritarianism in Budapest
- One to watch — Campaigning for fair wages in the Netherlands
- Door knocking for climate justice
- Recommendations 28
- Appendix 30
To download the full report, go to: www.tectonica.co/euroreport