Tagged: meeting

The Interplay of Tech, Communications and Occupy

On Saturday, May 12, Tech Ops and Your Inbox: Occupied hosted a community meeting / training. This is a report-back covering the material presented and subsequent discussion.

The initial conversations about this meeting had to do with the intersection of Tech Ops with Occupy in general. Concerns included:

  • How do we ‘serve’ other parts of OWS more explicitly, as service providers?
  • What is stopping or slowing down the adoption of powerful tools such as CiviCRM?
  • Why is it hard to generate overall ‘digital strategy’ at the intersection of different working groups and committees?

Some of the initial conclusions were that:

  • Occupy Communicators often lack a shared language to talk about specific parts of the overall work, and how different groups can coordinate better.
  • Many communicators are eager to understand how Tech Ops works and be in better coordination.
  • There is a widespread consensus that ‘we have to improve our game.’

To this end, myself and Drew, in consultation with various occu-communicators, came up with a combination training and discussion that would seek to address these issues while generating important feedback.

Developing a Shared Vocabulary

Our first step was to define some terms. For our purposes, a Broadcaster is anyone distributing messages for, from, or about Occupy. These are our semi-official voices: The Tweetboat, Your Inbox: Occupied, the Occupy Wall Street Journal, Occupy.com, Occupy.net, Occupywallstreet.net, Occupywallst.org, OccupyTogether.org and many more. Each of these Broadcasters plays a role; but we can analyze each one of them and ask: who are they reaching?

Audiences are the various slices of people that Broadcasters are reaching, with greater or lesser impact. We discussed the ways that one could classify an audience – by geography, race/class/gender, psychographics, and more. But there was broad agreement that the most useful way of slicing was by steps on a ladder of engagement. This is because, if and when we are evaluating the success of a Broadcaster, what would we want the most? For Audience members to move up a rung on the ladder, to become more active in the fight against the 1%.

Together, we came up with a ladder of the following rungs:

  • Hasn’t heard of Occupy, or enough about it to form an opinion
  • Has heard of Occupy but is not a supporter
  • Supports Occupy, but has not engaged
  • Supports Occupy, has engaged virtually, online
  • Has shown up on person for an Occupy event or meeting
  • Shows up routinely, but is not part of a group or committee
  • Is a committed part of an Occupy group or project
  • Full fledged, sleepless organizer with Occupy

People recognized that a large proportion of our communications are directed at the lower rungs – at supporters with a record of strong engagement. Unlike in the early days, when social media and then mass media fueled outreach to millions who were just learning about us, today we are often talking to ourselves – but without healthy and consistent movement of Audience members to higher levels of engagement.

The point of course, isn’t just to map what is going on, but to do something about it. That thing is: help our Broadcasters to be more successful with specific Audiences. But this, a we discovered, can be a problem.

Expressive Vs. Instrumental Communications

I stole this from Matt Smucker’s Beyond the Choir. He writes about expressive and instrumental actions. (The following are my own words, not a quote.)

Expressive: Satisfies the urge to self-express,perhaps at the cost of achieving some impact in the world.

Instrumental: Designed for achieving a specific outcome, even when this means less authentic expression of our individuality or collective spirit.

Participants reflected that with Occupy Wall Street, the very personal, authentic and expressive nature of our actions and communications were a defining part of the culture that built this movement in the first place. Positioning ‘expressive’ and ‘instrumental’ at opposite poles feels uncomfortable because it suggests that being expressive is indulgent and that being effective is a prize worth suppressing who we are.

But at the same time, we heard that often our actions or communications can be both: designed for utmost impact AND highly expressive. The initial burst of enthusiasm for the Zuccotti Park occupation demonstrates that this is possible. What we need to do now is examine our communications, the measurable impact of our Broadcasters on our Audiences and bravely ask the question: what is working? What is achieving our goals as a movement?

Currently, it feels like these questions are not being consciously addressed. The concentration of our communications to inward facing efforts comes at the expense of effective vehicles that spread our message and expand the pool of activists. We talk more and more to ourselves in ways that please each other, even if the real world impact is declining. A shift towards communications that are built around the delivery of outcomes – instrumentality – doesn’t require the wholesale rejection of who we are, but rather the deliberate adoption of additional tools that are mostly within reach.

What Technology Has To Do With It

The technology resources of our movement include databases capable of delivering mass email blasts. Despite the large numbers of people using social media these days, what’s obscured is that we don’t have ‘an audience’ that is reachable via ‘social media’, instead we have multiple audiences that are impacted to a greater or lesser degree based on all kinds of choices: who is speaking, what medium is using, the news cycle, and so on. Email is still seen as crucial to any engagement effort in the real world, but Occupy has done a poor job of taking email communications seriously.

Fortunately, OWS has many resources for helping activists use email more effectively, especially CRM tools, meaning Constituent Relationship Management tools like CiviCRM and Salsa. CRM’s help us evaluate in real time whether or not particular communications are having the sought-for impact. They are excellent for learning what movements actually care about, in contrast to what they say they care about.

Websites are also tools, and at various times groups or actions have struggled with them. But the kinds of questions about this tool are often not asked during the planning stages: should it collect data, like event RSVP’s? What would it be stored? Who is it aimed at? What audiences are unlikely to respond, and therefore need an alternative outreach tool?

One of the questions to the audience was about the parent site of this blog: NYCGA.net. I asked folks who was on it, and whether or not they were still using it as a collaboration tool for working groups. A number of people stated that they used to use it a lot more than they do now, and that one of the main reasons was the proliferation of mean-spirited personal attacks. This is an example of how a tool widely used and praised can have it’s impact reduced as a result of built-in weaknesses. Our ability to manage tools appropriately demands a great deal of shepherding resources, creating effective feedback loops, including strong, non-technical voices, advance planning and of course support for developers who perform specialized work.

In everyone of these areas, the Occupy movement in general, including Tech Ops, has struggled, and this is a reflection of widespread issues in the movement. One of the exercises we carried out illustrates this well. Towards the end of the day, we asked teams of 4-5 to come up with plans that include a Broadcaster, an Audience, at least one online communication tools, and a call to action.

Five ideas were presented (see below). I asked the group, who agrees that we should definitely do at least one of these? Everyone I could see was in agreement. Then I asked, how many of you would agree to work on one of these ideas even if it wasn’t one of the ones you supported? Most of the hands dropped. The clear implication is that Occupy as a movement has excellent mechanisms for proposing and initiating projects. But we don’t do a good job of ensuring that projects have sufficient support to be done effectively. This is how the culture of ‘expressiveness’ trumps ‘instrumentality’.

It felt to me, that most people agreed that our communications needed to do a better job of achieving specific impacts, namely moving people up the ladder of engagement (or through the funnel). But even if we were to agree on projects designed to do that better, it isn’t clear how many of us would step our of our comfort zones to learn new tools, commit to greater coordination, more advance planning, and hammer out agreed upon definitions of success.

Tech Ops, Occupy.net and other movement innovators have a fantastic record of supporting the movement. But mixed in with that are what some might call flaws:

  • Large scale efforts that take so much resources and time that they can scarcely be called OWS efforts. OWS might not exist as a coherent movement by the time they are launched.
  • Tools are introduced that don’t have a high level of use. In other words, we have invested energy in tools for which demand is weak, there is little or no marketing of the tools, and in any case they weren’t part of an answer to a problem presented elsewhere in the movement.
  • Important tools that are essential and in productive use suffer from weak post launch development. This isn’t the fault of the developers who stick around trying to address those weaknesses; but as a system, we aren’t able to focus resources where they are most needed in a timely fashion.
  • Projects advance not because of widespread agreement that they deserve priority, but because a small number of key players move ahead. In contrast, larger scale efforts that are widely seen as urgent and necessary might languish because they require widespread agreement on the details. (Fundraising tools come to mind.)

Five Projects Presented

The teams presented five projects:

  • A direct action performance project that a live action MEGA BALL BINGO gambling game. It would be played on Wall Street, with the goal of having folks arrested specifically for the crime of gambling. (Irony alert!)
  • A call for camping out in Chantilly, VA to protest the annual Bilderburg gathering of the global 1%. A proposed site could facilitate a mass gathering with travel arrangements, information, and coordination. Would include a component similar to Operation Paperstorm.
  • Building an Occupy crowd-funding service that allows us to deliver funding to our projects more effectively.
  • Preparing a campaign site for the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street (Sep. 17) with event listings and personal stories.
  • An ‘incumbent-be-gone’ campaign that calls on people to vote out all politicians on election day, and helps aggregate resources to that end from like-minded people.

The value of the exercise isn’t in the creativity of the actionable projects presented, but the work of connecting a mission oriented, real world effort to the tech tools necessary to implement it well. This could have been done a lot better – but it drove home the point that conversations specifically about tools should happen more often.

Evaluation and Next Steps

Attendees who stayed until the bitter end said that they were happy to learn more about Tech Ops, both our tools and mind-set. Folks seemed to like the chance to discuss strategy in the abstract, as part of a training, without being wedded to a specific project or effort. In particular, people liked the shared creation of a funnel or engagement ladder demonstrating some of the work we need to improve.

Comments were made about the training being somewhat disorganized, the moderation was too heavy and too dominated by myself, and it seemed at times that I was driving a specific point of view as opposed to laying out information or teaching skills. (All of this is sadly true.)

One idea floated on the Tech Ops discussion list is a ‘Tech Ops Assembly’ that would be larger and more inclusive, and less agenda driven. Many of us feel that more trainings would be great for all kinds of skills and tools. Stay tuned.

Tech Ops Meeting 3/25/2012

Reportbacks

Pea on NYCGA.net:

Pea on OWS.net development:

Shawn on OWS.net content:

  • Content has 10 articles ready for editorial process.
  • We have a tentative editorial workflow, but haven’t run anything through.

Darrell on Tech Coop:

  • Start with skill spreadsheet, need people who are interested in being involved in the tech workers coop to fill info, also take a look at notes and give feedback.
  • Next meeting is 4pm Friday at Commons.

Agenda

Email Address Policy

  • Shawn presented proposal last week, didn’t get consensus. Doesn’t tonight either
  • Narrowing proposal: can every member of the content team at OWS.net have an email address for use in the editorial workflow at request? (pea, shawn, devin make call)?
  • Outcome: Passes by consensus

Financial Status / Budget

  • Report from Matt: $250 owed per month for servers (Datagram), $400 for livestreaming, paid on Dan’s & Devin’s credit cards, Matt has money to pay them back what we owe them so far. Dan has ~$1200 (extra battery money) which we can use going forward. That’s it. Unclear if we’ll get any more out of GA.
  • Proposal
    • We pay what we owe people that they’ve spent already from the funds we already have
    • If we can get any more money from Accounting (even just back pay for Feb/March), we pay for Teradeck for 1 more month. At the end of that month, absent further funding, we shut it off (we still hope to find a donor). If we can’t get any money, we cut off Teradeck now. (There is a $200 cancellation fee for AT&T data plan.)
    • We save whatever money remains to keep Datagram servers running as long as possible.
    • Matt will get ahold of Devin & Dan to get invoices/receipts, Matt & Darrell will get together at some point this week and put it all online somewhere. We’re not sure if Shawn is currently our financial point person, but if so he’s replaced by Matt.
    • We should be scanning & uploading all receipts. Everything that people have should be emailed to tech@nycga.net. Take a picture with your phone if you don’t have a scanner.
    • Outcome: Passes by consensus

Terms of Use

  • We consense on prohibiting unauthorized disclosure of personal contact information in Terms of Use.
  • Action: Add amendment to policy
  • We table “personal information” more broadly, David will come back with proposal on better wording.
  • Also, we consense that Pea can move the policies from the Docs to site pages.
  • Action: Create pages and commit footer updates to repo

Home Page

  • Matt wants livestreaming somewhere on NYCGA.net homepage – specific place to be left to designers. Every day there’s something right now.

Sunday Report Back – 3/4

Lots of exciting horizons ahead of us.

  • OccupyWallStreet.net is coming together, content is being collected and prepared for launch.
  • maydaynyc.org is live.
  • The first major newsletter release is on it’s way, keep up with the discussion on the mailing list. If you are interested in joining the news letter team email newsletter@occupywallstreet.net
  • wiki.occupy.net is getting a face lift soon (this week?)
  • New online policies are in place, currently under review by our law team.
  • Tech ops has been invited to submit an application to Prix ars Electronica, check out our latest version of the application before we send it out.
  • The nycga.net got a little shout out on NPR today
  • map.occupy.net had a bit of a design update, more information can be found on collaborate.occupy.net
  • NATO and G8 will be in Chicago this May, currently under a new bill HR 437 that just passed the house and senate protest will be illegal in any environment with secrete service.

Agenda

  • “Analyzing The 1%” TV Show
  • Meeting Schedule
  • Crowdsourced Funding Platform
  • SIS (Office Space)
  • Civi for Working Groups (consensus)
  • Metrocards (consensus)
  • Marketing/Misc

Continue reading

Remote Participation in General Assemblies

For months there has been a call to bring the General Assembly into people’s homes. Direct Democracy doesn’t work for people who can’t make it out to directly participate.

Please join the discussion on this topic on the Tech Ops forums.

Portland is working on a proposal to allow people to vote over livestream while Boston is working on live blogging using a service called Cover it live. Here in NYC we are working on digital polling of GA’s using radio “clickers” as well as recording live tweets. Our live stream will soon be getting a high def boost to make sharing of our meetings all the more clear.

Let’s look at some of the pro’s and con’s of off site participation. Continue reading

Sunday Meeting Report Back

Cross section of a tree stump with arrows pointing to the outer bark

I would like to suggest a report back format where everyone shares their thoughts on the meeting. Add to this post or comment please.

Drew – We spent the first part of our meeting discussing how we can deal with inequality in our group. The discussion brought us to three main points: Training, Mentor-ship, and Outreach.

I don’t want a group dominated by white males from privilege but I am also struggling to maintain what we have already built. These problems can be solved together. By training people how to use tools, mentor/skill share with those who want to build the tools, and though out reach to listen to feedback from the community one lowers the barrier of entry into Tech and allows for more people to be involved in building and maintaining our shared resource.

If highly skilled person with access to technology is the inner ring, then I need to focus on serving those in the outer most rings. I, though, must strike a balance. I don’t have the resources to connect with the outer most rings right now, but I (and Tech) should always strive to reach that goal.

The group agreed on a number of things to move us in the right direction.

I hope the training program I’m working on will help broaden our lovely group. I plan to share and gather feedback from my morning sessions and then take it down to Charlott’s Place in the afternoon. I will be looking for an after work space to run some training to allow our work bound brothers and sisters to join in the fun.

We then gave report backs. Agreed to implement Charles’s Terms of Use statement on the web site and open it for general review by the community. The group also discussed Devin’s project proposal which he will show us on Wednesday.

The food from Kitchen was great tonight!