participative campaigning

'Help us design a direct action to save the whales' is the challenge from this interesting “Defend the whales” campaign from Greenpeace, called I-GO. Although the campaign theme is traditional the process is very different, because it is an open invitation to the public to generate the ideas for the campaign. This looks like a a major NGO trying to engage with the participative nature of the internet, and it's refreshing to see such a big organisation inviting the public to have a say instead of relying on central planning that gets pushed out to activists and volunteers. It's also a forward-looking attempt to harness the power of social networks, since people who register become part of 'a world-wide community of environmental activists' and can rate the action ideas. I think I heard about the underlying technology platform when it was being developed (codenamed 'Melt', as i remember) so it's great to see it live and with such a well designed front-end.greenpeace-igogreenpeace DIY campaign
There's an even more rock'n'roll example of participative campaigning described in detail in Yochai Benkler's book 'The Wealth of Networks' . In a section entitled Networked Information Economy Meets the Public Sphere he describes the emergence from the blogosphere of an effective grassroots campaign against a mass-media outlet (Sinclair Broadcasting) who was transmitting negative propaganda during an election campaign. As Benkler says:
Filtering and synthesis occurred through discussion, trial, and error. Multiple proposals for action surfaced, and the practice of linking allowed most anyone interested who connected to one of the nodes in the network to follow quotations and references to get a sense of the broad range of proposals. Different people could coalesce on different modes of action - 150,000 signed the petition on, while others began to work on the boycott. Setting up the mechanism was trivial, both technically and as a matter of cost - something a single committed individual could choose to do.Pointing and adoption provided the filtering, and feedback about the efficacy, again distributed through a system of cross-references, allowed for testing and accreditation of this course of action.
benkler-chartSinclair stock correlated with campaign

Benkler's blow-by-blow account is really worth a read and conveys the dynamism of self-organised direct action. I guess this is the creativity that Greenpeace wants to tap in to. Although their site says "We need your help to create an amazing campaign that accomplishes the unexpected" it's not clear if the organisation is committing itself to acting on any of the ideas. And maybe that's for the best, because the result seems to be a peer-to-peer swapping of ideas and materials via the site.

Another interesting lesson from Benkler's example is the way that certain well-connected blogs acted as key nodes:
High-visibility sites....offered transmissions hubs that disseminated information about the various efforts and provided a platform for interest-group-wide tactical discussions.

Benkler's further discussion about the connectivity of the blogosphere is nicely visualised in recent blogosphere graphs on Matthew Hurst's 'Data Mining' blog . I suspect that a campaign that's seeking well-formed action ideas would do well to target their call to action through well-connected blogs that reflect the campaign's concerns.