Group cohesion is an important factor in the effectiveness of activist group work. Cohesion fostering practices and processes can be prioritised and adopted into an activist group’s culture to improve group member and whole group wellbeing and effectiveness. Methods to improve the internal group dynamics of activist groups include broadening people’s self-awareness and the ways they behave in their groups. As well, there is an emphasis on the relationships group members build and the deeper connections they make in order to develop a cohesive group culture. – Munro, 2021
In a 2021 article published in Interface: a journal for and about social movements entitled “United we stand: fostering cohesion in activist groups”, Liane Munro makes a strong case for the importance of tending to and developing healthy group dynamics in order to achieve goals and maintain growth and unity. Combining insights from manuals and other training materials with those gleaned from interviews and surveys with Non-violent Direct Action (NVDA) activists, she finds that:
No single tool or combination thereof is a panacea guaranteed to create collegial groups at all times. However, when an activist group actively and strategically focuses on its cohesion by inculcating cohesion skills, knowledge, practices and processes they are more likely to be more cohesive and effective. – Munro, 2021
Munro’s findings can be read in greater depth in her article. She identifies various interconnected functions and expressions of group cohesion, as summarised in the following tables. (Accessibility note: The tables below are image files. Please open the PDF if you would like the text version.)
Munro suggests that activists can enhance their overall work by considering the degree to which these factors are already present within their groups and by intentionally developing strategies to foster them. Her work discusses the dangers of ‘groupthink’ as well as how conflict can be healthily managed and harnessed. She also points to various prosocial practices which develop qualities such as emotional flexibility, self-awareness, emotional regulation, deliberative dialogue and respectful listening.
Based on their long term experience the ten activists interviewed for her study suggest the following practices are useful in dealing with conflict and fostering cohesion:
Munro’s article most closely considers and tests the use of “personal narrative practice” in creating cohesion. This involves members “telling the story of their activist journey, sharing their personal experiences, feelings, values and motivations in relation to their activist group and the broader movement the group is a part of.” This process is shown to foster pro-social feeling and is one of many tools that Munro suggests could be adopted from group formation onwards.
I think that, as activists, when we collectively imagine and practise prioritising group cohesion, we begin to collaboratively develop new skills that intentionally keep our groups connected, self-sustaining and resilient. This is a different kind of commitment to our group. It is a commitment to a regenerative culture, one that has intentionality and review in the design. This approach, I believe nurtures a whole group culture that embraces respect, self-responsibility and belonging as well as individual and whole group wellbeing and flourishing. – Liane Munro, 2021
About the author
About the author Liane Munro is a PhD candidate at the University of Wollongong, Australia. Her work focuses on the group dynamics of activist groups. Her work pays particular attention to the intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, practices, processes, as well as participatory systems and models that can foster prosocial behaviour in groups. She has been a social and environmental justice activist for over three decades. ls519 AT uowmail.edu.au
Munro, Liane, United we stand: fostering cohesion in activist groups, Interface: a journal for and about social movements Article Volume 13 (1): 129 – 156 (July 2021)