Key ideas and Guide

Underpinning the products, services, research and toolkits that may emerge from this project is an understanding of how membership is changing and what is driving these shifts.  Drivers are trends or forces in the operating environment that may have a positive or negative impact on the future.

This page is a place to start collecting these drivers, and other ideas about how membership is changing. The drivers could form the structure for an introductory guide to the future of membership proposed by Megan Griffith.

 Drivers shaping the future of membership 


The nature of membership organisations, and membership


Barriers to development

More about project development here.

"The committee won't go for it" ... and other stories

Circuit  Rider workshopLast week's Circuit Riders conference in Birmingham was a great opportunity to catch up on the front-line realities of working with organisations, as well as co-presenting a workshop with Laura Whitehead and Nick Booth. Paul Henderson helped out and has blogged the session here.

We video-Skyped with Beth Kanter in Boston, and as usual she has followed up with a terrific post summarising her online fundraising advice. I'll post something later too.

Just as interesting as the workshop was the opening session, where we explored how well-prepared Cicuit Riders - who provide technical support to nonprofits - may be to address their needs. We identified a spectrum.

Roof top protestOn the one hand we talked about the Parliament roof protest where protestors used a mobile phone to talk to the world directly via news media ... and on the other about voluntary organisations still struggling to get their offices networked.

We agreed that social media provides great opportunities for better collaboration, promotion and fundraising as well as campaigning ... but what are the barriers?

The reply from one circuit rider really stuck with me: "The committee won't go for it".

In other words, even if staff have the enthusiasm and capability to introduce new ways of working, their management committees and Boards may block them.

This led me to two further thoughts: we need to think about the reality of adoption of new methods in organisations, and in doing so look for the story or phrase that resonates. More later on the power of stories from another conference.

Back the blogging bosses


Matthew Taylor, at the RSA, is one of relatively few chief executives of nonprofit organisations who have a blog ... now others are joining in, and getting encouragement.
Following news here that that Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the organisation for nonprofit chief executives acevo has started blogging at Bubb's blog, a couple of more established bloggers have launched a support group.
First of all Shane McCracken set up a Facebook group, now Paul Caplan has a public page on his blog inviting more nominations and offering a badge.
 Wp-Content Uploads 2008 03 Back The Boss 125All good fun - with the very important underlying purpose, as Paul points out, of helping encourage the non-bosses to believe they can speak up too:

Some heros are breaking free and we salute them. There are brave men and women bearing the title CEO or Director of this, that or the other who are stepping up and talking as the passionate and interesting men and women they are. They are brave and forward thinking and they make it easier for those of us who are talking to the frontline troops in the public sector and saying: “Yes it’s OK to get out there and have conversations. Yes it’s OK to talk like a human being and tell stories.” Because now we can add: “… because look, your Boss is doing it!”

That's best answer to We can't do that - and they mustn't do it either, and The committee won't go for it. More examples of public or nonprofit blogging bosses over at Paul's place, please. Maybe Matthew could invite some other chief execs across to John Adam Street to give them some first-hand encouragement, and also explain how the RSA Networks project is changing his organisation for the better. (Disclosure: RSA is providing some support for this project, so I am rather well-disposed).

Drivers shaping the future of membership: yesterday's presentation

I wrote this think piece as the basis of a presentation on the drivers shaping the future of membership, for the NCVO membership schemes conference on the 22 April.

Individuals are affirming themselves as individual agents
Individual freewill and autonomy have become important social values. This individualism, although often associated with selfishness, also links to growing notions of self-reliance and personal responsibility. A linked trend is the decline in deference; our willingness to accept without question what those in authority say has declined.

Our identities and how we express them is more complex
Personal identity – how we define ourselves in relation to others – has become increasingly complex. Generally speaking, people are less willing to conform to narrowly defined identities. A sense of individual freedom enables people to define their own identities, often based on multiple cultures or values (an arsenal fan, a mother, a knitting enthusiast, a socialist, fair trade campaigner, Londoner and a British and global citizen!) As social beings, individuals look for groups and organisations to join which enable them to express their identities, campaign for change, meet like-minded people and find out things of interest to them. Our huge and diverse sector and membership organisations in particular, thrive on people coming together in this way.

Political participation has shifted towards single issues
One manifestation of more individual and complex identities is a decline in participation in 'formal' politics. Parties are playing less of a role in connecting the public with the political process as voter turnout at elections falls and traditional affiliations with political movements and parties declines. However, the public is not apathetic and politics with a small 'p' is alive and well. The public have simply chosen to express their values and political ideals through engagement with a number of single-issues, often by joining membership organisations or supporting particular campaigns.

Forms of individualised action are on the increase
Another manifestation of individualism is an increase in individual action. People increasingly think about their own actions as a way of effecting change – one example is the increase in ethical consumerism. The way in which business, government and often the VCS speak to the public, mirrors, and perhaps reinforces, this trend (eg websites like 'we are what we do', or government discourse around personal responsibility in relation to public health or climate change). There is a risk that the actions of individuals are seen as more important than collective action. However, there is an opportunity for membership organisations to facilitate the transition from individual action to collective action.

Forming groups is easier, and does not require a mediating organisation
The internet makes it easier for people to find others that share their interests, often regardless of their geographical location. Many membership organisations have exploited the potential of tools such as e-mail lists and online forums to reach more people and communicate with them at a lower cost. However, there is a new generation of online websites (sometimes termed 'social networking' or 'web.2.0') which have two important characteristics: firstly, they allow an individual to build a unique online presence and profile; and, secondly, they facilitate connections between individual users, allowing each user to build a personal network. These have made it even easier to form groups, particularly without the need for a mediating organisation. As it becomes easier for individuals to make new connections and form groups, power can shift away from traditional membership bodies towards individuals and their informal networks. This can be a challenge for those who view themselves as the only experts in their field wanting to remain the gatekeepers of information for their audiences and these organisations may find that their members increasingly migrate to other online groups. However, for organisations willing to work in a more open and collaborative way, this offers opportunities to engage with people where they choose to come together, and to draw together and aggregate a range of perspectives and experiences.

There is a wealth of free information online
In the coming years, it will continue to get much easier to access a huge volume and variety of free information online. The type of information that is available is also changing, with much of it produced by 'amateurs' or what some have termed 'the former audience'. 'Experts' no longer have the status that they once had and individuals are increasingly more inclined to trust their peers. This presents a challenge for membership organisations providing information and advice, as it suggests that they may increasingly be bypassed in favour of informal peer-to-peer sources. However, in the context of the ever-increasing amount of information online – a world where 'common sense' can often win out over facts – there is an opportunity for membership organisations to position themselves as a trusted source of information and advice, and to aggregate, filter and provide routes to navigate the wealth of information now available. In addition, membership organisations can increase the quality of the advice and information they provide by building new knowledge communities by hosting and moderating online peer-to-peer services.

Membership is becoming more fluid…
As a result of the drivers discussed above it is likely that individuals' membership of organisations, groups and networks will become more fluid. Research on volunteering suggests that although volunteering overall is stable or growing, volunteering has become more 'episodic' with long term commitments being replaced by more short term activities. Likewise, loyalty is changing. Whereas older generations were often loyal to an organisation, younger generations who are used to far more fluid online networks are more likely to be loyal to a cause which expresses an aspect of their identity or values, and to move their activism, participation and formal membership around different groups and organisations related to that cause.

… and commodified
And as membership becomes more fluid, the membership 'offer' is becoming increasingly commodified – in other words, viewed as a good or a service that individuals (as consumers) can buy or dispose of, rather than a commitment. This is an unsurprising trend as membership organisations respond to a more individualised audience, which is less likely to be loyal to an organisation for life, and offer benefits targeted at individuals as consumers. But is this a vicious circle? Are membership organisations complicit in this commodification, reinforcing the trends of individualism discussed above?

Evolutionary Networks

On two recent occasions I have been confronted with the realities of the information and population explosion. Sharing a meal with a well informed professional person, we have mentioned leaders in our respective fields of work, only to be faced with completely blank looks. These are social trials .... either trying to hide our shock at another's ignorance, or even worse pretending to know who is being discussed. It can be really quite embarrassing if we don't openly understand and acknowledge the reality of the situation. It has always happened to a certain extent, but it is getting increasingly difficult to keep up. And there is little authenticity in pretending.

In the revised Shift Happens film (below) it quotes that the amount of technical information is doubling every 2 years, there were 3000 books published today, 2.7 billion searches performed on google this month . . .

Which is why computers are no longer optional... and why social network sites have literally exploded. We need to manage all the connections and all the information. The truth is really quite profound. We cannot manage without people networks, where we have connections with lots and lots of other people. And with those connections can come a measure of confidence. Perhaps we don't need to be trying desperately to absorb so much information, perhaps it is OK to let others know lots of other things we don't . . . but are only a click or a call away? We need people, and we need to build trusting relationships with those people in order to collaborate.

I think that that this is a truly wonderful thing.

Memberships to associations and groups have in one sense become short hand personal branding. We scan through people's online profiles, including their memberships, as a way of creating a picture of that person.

I was fascinated reading Roland Harwood's post on the development of cities.There is certainly no doubt in my mind that self-organisation has already happened with regard social networking sites.

The challenge is to design systems evolutionary enough and quickly enough to ensure their relevance . . . next week.


Experiences working for membership organisations

Hi all

In the last ten years I’ve worked for membership organisations. I can see that all three would really benefit from using Web 2.0 technology. Many organisations still think that tangible membership benefits like journals and other publications are their unique selling point. In reality, when you talk to members they invariably join for professional recognition and contact with like-minded people.

If you do engage with an organisation’s membership, I would suggest that you bear in mind that members are often reluctant to express what they really think of the current services. This is because a membership organisation is also often the profession’s regulatory body. In such circumstances the majority of members will just keep quiet and reluctantly pay their subscription each year rather than rock the boat.

There are many membership organisations that are well run and forward thinking. I am sure that they will recognise the benefits. It may be worth looking at typical journal’s printing/postage costs and estimate the costs of e-newsletters or RSS feeds to fresh web content instead. Membership bodies often feel that journals are a regular, tangible reminder of membership but I can assure you that many members view publications as a waste of paper.

In terms of online networking, I know of one organisation where a student committee formed a Facebook network so that they could continue discuss things in between their face to face meetings. They also used Facebook to get to know each other and chat about what life was like at each of their universities. Rather than use this medium to contact potential members, a senior manager instructed the students to stop using Facebook because she did not feel that the organisation should be associated with such sites. I think young people nowadays expect employers and membership bodies to provide these tools not ban them!

I wish you luck with this and hope I can contribute further.

Fostering a collaboration culture

One of the most insightful and helpful blogs about organisational change is provided by the Australian consulting firm Anecdote. In a recent post Shawn Callahan highlights the need for a collaboration culture and the role of leaders.

There are a relatively small set of things leaders do that affect culture:

The short-hand for this list is, “How do you get ahead around here?” And if you get ahead by working as a loner, shafting your team mates, taking the recognition when others were clearly a part of the success and having reward mechanisms that reward individual pursuits above all else, then your culture will be the antithesis of what's required for collaboration to flourish. So how do you turn it around?

Earlier Shawn wrote about the role of collaboration co-ordinators

The role of these co-ordinators - or whatever you may choose to call them - is:

As Steve Dale says, It's the people who matter and one of things we should be examining in The Membership Project is the new style and new roles needed in future.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Growing an organisation over a Soho pub

If you want to create a new organisation it can take a long time to get the core group together, raise funds, recruit staff, get premises .... old style. New style ... just start prototyping what you want to do in the upstairs room of the Coach and Horses.

It helps if those involved are social media types, and you can get them together through Facebook, blogs, Twitter and so on. However, I think that the approach that Lloyd Davis is taking may have some general lessons. More on my blog here, or just listen to Lloyd's explanation.

Is your organisation World 1 or World 2?

the birth of controlPeople's reluctance to embrace social media may not result just from difficulty with the tools, but rather from their worldview and how far they like to believe in simple cause and effect, rather than complex interactions.

Two specialists in the use of collaborative methods highlight this. David Gurteen is a knowledge management specialist reflecting on the use of social media. Jack Martin Leith is a long-time expert in the use of Open Space methods for face-to-face events, focussed on co-creation.

David contrasts World 1 and Word 2 view's in a matrix - see below - writing in his latest newsletter.

"We are moving from a world where we were told to do things and where things were structured or planned for us to one where we get to decide what works best for us. We are moving from a mono-culture to a highly diverse ecology.
"We are moving from a simple world to a rich, complex, diverse one. One where power is less centralized and more distributed. We are moving from a command and control world to a world where people can do as they please within the boundaries of responsibility."

Worldviews 1 and 2

Jack Martin Leith wrote on much the same lines in the mid-1990s, and after reading David's article has reposted his here. More about these worldviews at Designing for Civil Society.

If your chief executive and organisation is World 1, expect difficulty in promoting social media. I think that's what is behind We can't do that - and they mustn't do it either.

Update: Anthony Mayfield encourages us to Embrace complexity

It all comes down, yet again to networks, to the online world we're living in. There's no way things aren't going to be complex when the stability, the somewhat misleading simplicity, of mass media and marketing is being blown apart by the reality of life on the web, of living in networks.

When you accept that complexity - massive online networks, a superabundance of stuff, a constantly changing and evolving online world - is not going to settle down soon it all gets a little easier to cope with. When you realise the pace of change in this revolution is not going to slow down anytime soon, you have to start accepting complexity as a fact of life.


Principles. Strong, real, heartfelt principles are what you need to guide you in the networks. You set your direction and head out not knowing what you will find but knowing that you'll have the answers about what's best to do if you keep returning to the principles you set out at the start of your voyage.

Photo credit: DerrickT

It's the people who matter

Steve Dale - who blogs at Dissident - is highly experienced in the field of social media and online communities. He's clearly feeling some frustration with people who think that just installing the right tool or improving their site will help communication flow. In It's not the (social networking) technology - it's the people that matter he writes:

This is getting to sound a bit like my hobby-horse. In response to a query from someone working in local government who wanted to know how they could use social networking sites to engage with their citizens, I felt compelled once again to remind them that technology by itself was not the answer.

I know this is a very contentious thing to say, but you don't need online social networking tools to engage with citizens. You could - for example - talk and listen to them (an ancient craft, dating back several millennia, but rapidly falling into disrepute). I don't want to knock the advantages now available through social networking, which provides enormous opportunities for connecting people we wouldn't otherwise know existed, but let's not lose sight of the fact that technology is an enabler and not in itself a solution. It doesn't necessarily follow that building the best website with all the latest social media widgets will deliver better/more effective engagement with citizens.

The blinding light of Web 2.0 hype seems to be obscuring the fact that the most important aspect in building any community (of interest or practice or whatever) is the people and NOT the technology. Though I do appear to be an increasingly isolated voice on this point. And just in case I'm accused of having Luddite tendencies, I did design and develop the (very successful) Web 2.0 community platform

being used across local government (almost 9000 registered users and growing). There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it's continued success is very much a factor of the considerable investment in the people that support and facilitate the communities within it and not the fact that they have access to the latest social media tools. Surely I can't be the only one who thinks this way? I'm deeply troubled if I am :(

I'll invite Steve over and see if he can give us some tips on how best to engage with people and help a community grow

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Leadership .... anyone?


I wonder if I haven't missed something vital.

 We have web2 which is going to afford freedoms, collaboration, sharing, democratic voice.  I love everything about this.  It fills me with optimism because this vision is based on a wonderful model of humanity - favouring and drawing on its best aspects.

The thing which concerns me a little is that I feel that in this new networked world, and in many of our discussions, the focus is very much on what is expected of the membership organisation. How can organisations increase engagement, inspire innovation, enable the networks to develop and grow fruitfully....? 

What about the responsibilities of the members?  If members are to have this new ability to voice and share their opinions at what point does self-reflection shift toward the individual members and their contributions to the organisation?

The standard membership mindset is to look to the organisation as a provider of some sort and to judge whether the leadership is filling those requirements.  The danger is that with the abilities we now have to make our views widespread through blogs etc the leadership of member organisations comes under what could be considered unproductive pressures.  In politics these pressures are seen to be part of the deal, but is the same true in schools for example, which can be considered member communities too?

Schools are increasingly looking at conducting 360s on Headteachers.  The dangers here seem clear.  Start making leaders run their organisations by popularity politics and you can easily end up with wishywashy/autocratic leaders and/or dominant members. 

What exactly do we NOW expect from leadership both within the organisation and within the membership? How do leaders remain open, listening and inclusive while still actually leading?  Every time a leader says 'no' to something she or he now runs a much greater risk of meaningful fallout - particularly if the 'no' is directed at influential members.  It happens all the time. Your child doesn't get through the audition, is kept in school as sanction, is kept as sub....

Are members, by potentially immoderate use of new tools for sharing, in danger of turning leaders into smiling managers or just invisible semi-enablers?   

 I really hope not. 

What I do hope is that more leaders will blog and stay open, regardless of the dangers... and that more members will become self-reflective and responsible.  I agree so much that the first stop for creating a membership organisation, as so many have said on this site already, is to take care of the human needs first... and create a supportive Connection Culture, which works both ways.

"I believe we must place much greater emphasis on what I call 'the learning society' - a society that learns to listen to itself, reflect on itself, and create new possibilities for its future." Richard Harwood 

 Pic from




members vs volunteers

I am reading the report of the Commission on the Future of Volunteering and I starting thinking about the similarities between members and volunteers, and got myself into a bit of a muddle - where does one end and the other begin? Is an active member actually a volunteer? Or does the title of membership denote a more committed position? Or perhaps just the addition of a financial committment in the form of subscription?

Now that we are asking Fellows to be more involved; to give time, ideas and support to the Networks platform and each other, it occured to me that this is more akin to volunteering than ever before, and the report might therefore have some interesting advice as to how we attract people to join the RSA and get them involved.

I am only halfway through right now, but I'll make a note of anything that catches my eye and post it later.

Membership as a badge of honour

At today's NCVO conference about Membership Schemes we had two excellent opening speakers talking about the marketing strategies needed to attract and retain members, and also membership as a process of engagement and belonging.

Diane Lightfoot, Director of Communications and Fundraising, United Response, emphasised the need to be very clear about who you were targetting, understanding the internal and external context, and making an offer carefully designed to meet member's need. Diane also said it was important to be clear about what relationship and involvement you wanted with members - ranging from receivers of information to having a role in governanance.

Will Reeves, Membership Development Manager at the Society of Operational Engineers, suggested member recruitment was the equivalent of Will you Marry Me? There might be flirting, dating - at an event - chatting online before the proposal ... the membership pack. His advice: engage gradually with potential new members, and target the "divorcees" who have left. They are the easiest to re-engage.

I asked what difference the Internet might be making, and we ended up talking about belonging. Membership could be a "badge of honour" and a talking point to start conversations others. Somehow signing up for a Facebook group was not as strong a bond.

I shot the video on a phone ... so sorry about the sound quality. Still experimenting.


Organising without organisations: maybe

Clay Shirly book jacketClay Shirkey's new book Here Comes Everybody is about "the power of organising without organisations". In it he says that Web 2.0 changes everything:

Everywhere you look, groups of people are coming together to share with one another, work together, or take some kind of public action. For the first time in history, we have tools that truly allow for this.
In the same way the printing press amplified the individual mind and the telephone amplified two-way conversation, now a host of new tools, from instant messages and mobile phones to weblogs and wikis, amplify group communication. And because we are natively good at working in groups, this amplification of group effort will change more than business models: it will change society.

On the other hand I found some scepticism about adoption of new tools among Circuit Riders at their recent conference as I noted earlier. I've now posted video from the conference sessions in which Circuit Riders talk about whether the tools for change are available - and whether they have the skills to use them.

There's a video of Clay speaking recently here, and you can see him in person at the RSA on March 18.

Product idea - an introductory guide to the future of membership

Hi all

Future Focus reportI'd like to think about ways to turn all the excellent ideas generated in this project into something that membership organisations can use as a way into thinking about the future. One way to do that could be to publish an introductory pocket guide to the future of membership. We have an existing series of these things, they are called Future Focus, and having spent a long time working out the best format and style we think they work really well. Each one sets the scene then takes the reader through six drivers - 'forces or trends that could positively or negatively shape the future of your organisation'.

Each driver gives

It also has a handy worksheet to pull thoughts together and a fictional case study to bring it all to life, plus copious signposts to other resources and ideas.

They work really well, particularly for those new to the topic, which I think is really important. After all, its fine for us to discuss all these interesting things but we want to engage organisations on the ground too!

Previous editions are free to download here

Re-thinking organisations as networks

Ncs08Covermd-1I originally published this at at Designing for Civil Society. The ideas seem so central to this project I thought worth having on this site for reference.

Michael Gilbert launches the first edition of The Journal of Networks and Civil Society with a suitably provocative article on The End of the Organization?

In this he ponders whether the growth of internet-based communications means our traditional ways of organising for social good will change dramatically.
Michael's argument is that nonprofit organisations are in large part set up to fit in with past and current ways of raising funds, meeting government regulations, employing people, organising volunteers. We then end up with a hierarchical system of trustees and staff. Organisations also reflect past communication needs - but these are changing:

Relationships within organizations, between organizations, with constituents, the media, funders, policy makers, and others all have distinct patterns of communication that shape the structures of organizations and civil society.
Throughout the world, these patterns of communication are changing. Whether because of the plummeting costs of communication in the developed world or the historical leapfrogging of modes of communication in the developing world, more and more people who wish to communicate with each other, are doing so.
Some existing communication patterns, however local or small scale they may be, genuinely reflect people's motivations and are thus scaling up as barriers to communication are lowered. In turn, they are displacing and destabilizing other patterns, particularly the hierarchical and insular ones that characterize the modern organization.
Is this the end of the organization? Probably not by name and certainly not in the broadest sense of the term. But the traditional, tightly controlled, top down, branded organization is finding itself having to adapt and change. The organizations of the future will not look like the organizations of today.

I would encourage you to read the whole article, and indeed subscribe to the Journal. You get a 300-page pdf for $18.95. Michael is mainly US-based, but the journal has a lengthy article by Geoff Mulgan and colleagues at the London-based Young Foundation, on "Social Innovation. What it is, why it matters, and how it can be accelerated". That's worth the price alone. I'm sure the ideas in the article will be further explored at Social Innovation Camp which Paul Miller and friends are running on April 6-8 at the Foundation.
I'm glad to say this is all very useful underpinning for the re-inventing membership project Simon Berry and I are developing with the RSA and NCVO Foresight team. That was inspired in part by an earlier article by Michael called The Permeable Organisation.
We'll shortly have a multi-user blog system up where anyone interested will be able to help us design the project.
I'm also encouraged by the way that blog comments suddenly pop up which serve to confirm a hunch. A year or so back I posted an item quoting an excellent piece by Lloyd Davis on how social media support the informal "shadow" side of organisations.
Now Philip Holden adds a comment:

I commented on Lloyd's blog because there is some well-established sociological theory that illuminates this.
I don't want to write an essay here (though I guess I should one day, at least on my blog...) so suffice to say that social structures (including companies and voluntary organisations) are just that; social structures.
Simply because they appear to be formal or self-evident doesn't give them any special ontological status. More importantly when they go unquestioned or even unnoticed it's a pretty good bet that they do so to someone's benefit.
Further, the power to recognise certain structures and to legitimise them rests with only some people (rich in certain forms of capital).
Dang! It's turning into an essay.
Can I put it simply? Well, the 'shadow' organisation (or society) has always been there (in Bangladesh as well as elsewhere) but only certain people have the authority to call it out of bounds.
Read Bourdieu!!

If we take notice of the informal as well as the formal, it's the blog comments as well as the journal articles that give us clues about what people are thinking and talking about around the globe.
So - which nonprofit organisations do you think will wither, and which will re-invent themselves?


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Start small, work with enthusiasts

Chris Brogan, writing from the US, offers advice on how a nonprofit organisation might begin using social media:

A friend from the UK writes to ask me how she might help her somewhat traditional trade association see the value of using a social networking application to facilitate communications between association members, and maybe also as a way to encourage new members to participate. Trade associations are a perfect type of organization to employ social networking tools to encourage conversations and build digital relationships. Here are some potential next steps.

He suggests using a platform like Ning, and taking gradual steps:

Starting with a big empty platform is scary. I recommend building out a few user accounts for some members, and maybe finding a few “friendlies” to build a profile and start messaging back and forth. It always feels easier to understand when you can see real world examples of members using the system. Round up about a half dozen people who might be more inclined to “get it,” help them build an account, add a user pic, etc, and then send a few messages back and forth. Then, when you display and/or demonstrate to the member base, they will see “themselves” in it.

Chris's post has prompted some equally helpful comments from people emphasing the importance of top-level commitment, and noting that bottom-up approaches may meet with resistance in traditional hierarchical organisations.

I'll be looking out for more useful posts on Chris's blog after reading this footnote:

The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.

Maybe a model for developing content on this blog?

Hat tip for Dave Briggs

Supporting teams, communities, networks

Conversations at today's conference on membership confirmed what a big stretch membership covers, from providing infomation, advice, a voice, networking opportunities, through to the development of collaborative projects between staff and members. Each activity will require different communications, marketing and engagement approaches.

Fortunately Anecdote have published an excellent paper on Building a collaborative workspace  written by Shawn Callahan, Mark Shenck and Nancy White. It isn't aimed at membership organisations, but is very relevant if you see membership in some instances as a collaboration going beyond an offer and acceptance of services . The authors first give us some useful definitions:

In team collaboration, the members of the group are known, there are clear task interdependencies, expected reciprocity, and explicit time-lines and goals.

In community collaboration, there is a shared domain or area of interest, but the goal is more often focused on learning rather than on task. People share and build knowledge rather than complete projects.

Network collaboration steps beyond the relationship-centric nature of team and community collaboration. It is collaboration that starts with individual action and self-interest, which then accrues to the network as individuals contribute or seek something from the network.

There is a checklist to establish whether you have a collaboration culture appropriate in each of these situations,  a listing of success factors for teams, communities and networks, and discussion of the role of leadership. I suggest taking a look at the rest of their blog too.

Also very relevant, I believe, is a piece by Steve Dale on Communities of Practice, where he identifies what a good facilitator should do to meet different needs for members helping each other, developing and disseminating best practice, supporting innovation, stewarding knowledge.

We'll have more here over the next few days from the conference, but meanwhile one of the issues that resonated with me was the increasing capacity for members to network directly with each other, rather than through the centre, because of what's possible on the Internet. I believe that organisations would be wise to support this activity as an additional benefit they offer, on these lines: "of course you can connect with others on the Net without us, but we'll make it easier for you to find interesting people, we'll offer additional communication tools, and the opportunity to meet".

If organisations do go down that route, they'll need to look at the lessons from facilitation and collaboration specialists.  Sophia Parker told us how the RSA is developing RSA Networks on these lines, and she will post something here in the next day or two. It's proving quite challenging, but RSA are sharing their project evaluation as they go, as Sophia reported here earlier.


The end of Management

I’m returning to the debate about the end of the organisation with Josien and Joitske both having since added to the discussion.

The original proposition by Gilbert forsees change in the predominent “unit of interest”, the organisation, without clarifying what is meant by that except to differentiate from the geographical community.

I think we are mainly talking about structures which employ people. This holds even in the voluntary sector which is still based on hierarchical principles with a full time paid staff treating the volunteers either as customers or low cost labour.

So Gilbert is arguing that the new communications channels facilitated by internet technology will change the internal structure of the organisation, and also blur the boundaries between organisations such that new forms appear which are no longer recognisable as the old organisations at all. The hierarchical and insular characteristics are being destabilised and displaced.

Josien initially agrees and cites some examples of changes we can expect to emerge:

I think the essence of what is being offered here is a fundamental shift in power away from the employing organisation and towards the individual citizen. That would be quite extraordinary, revolutionary even. So what is it that ties people into unequal relationships with the employing organisations in the first place? Well it’s the need to earn a wage in order to pay for rent and food etc. This has been the case ever since we were chased off our own land and turned into wage labourers with the first industrial revolution. So now the internet will set us all free from this servitude? Well I think it could play a role in doing so, but not the evolutionary role that is being marked out. A gradual shift away from organisations while they are not looking, handing all the power over to individuals acting collectively as communities is not on the cards in my opinion, because this scenario conveniently ignores the existence of the state. Whether it be the nation state, the UN, the IMF, NATO, the EU or whatever there are huge forces at work with a vested interest in maintaining the dependence of individuals upon wage labour relationships in order to maintain the flow of profit from the poor to the rich. And they control the infrastructure, education and armed forces as means to police their own continued position of power.

So my initial argument is that the economic relations determine the social structures, that organisations exist to exploit the employer/employee relationship and that changes in communications, no matter how promising are secondary to this.

But I could be wrong.

What if the change in communications were able to facilitate new economic relationships all by themselves without the people even needing to lift a finger to overthrow the old states?

According to the theory of the Long Tail, new technology can reduce the cost of production or distribution such that existing markets are totally disrupted. Dinosaur corporations are then replaced by new, agile startups empowering networks of freelancers and massed amateurs.

So we can all quit working for IBM and Tesco and just sell each other collectibles via eBay? Well in actual fact, some of us really can do that but it isn’t the basis for a whole new economy. The long tail phenomenon only affects certain segments of certain markets. As I pointed out, we still need shelter, food and other basic necessities provided and that is all under the control of a long established order, seemingly unthreatened by Google and Facebook.

In fact the ‘new technology’ of the threshing machine, printing press, coal, steam, steel, radio, electricity and so on could have ushered in a new society based on common ownership and democratic administration but we’re still waiting for that two or four hundred years later because in that struggle for power, the old order won. History tends to repeat itself, but not always in the same way.

Joitske then joined the debate with a kind of middle position.

“The organization is there to stay, but the manager is not”

which brings up the question of the role of management within organisations which is tied up with the role of the middle class in the bourgeois state. It’s long been known that self-organised groups of people can produce more effectively without having parasitic supervisors getting in the way. That’s not to say that we don’t ever need leadership, but that in natural structures leadership emerges from amongst the community rather than being imposed and directed from above or outside.

Joitske claims that “more and more organizations thrive on knowledge workers” and I think that’s another important point which could help to clarify our debate here because as Josien observed in her second post, “When you immerse yourself in web2.0 and only talk (or rather, skype, phone, chat, blog, tweet) with others that populate this small universe, it is easy to think differently.”

How many knowledge workers can the economy support as a percentage of the total population and what exactly is a knowledge worker putting back into society?

Maybe the transition from management to knowledge worker is just the old petit bourgeoisie re-shuffling their own deck of cards, with no real impact for the foundations of society, which is based on the production of socially necessary ( as determined by the market) goods and services, oblivious to the real human needs and environmental impact.

Because really we are all ‘knowledge workers’ and always have been. The distinction between workers ‘by hand and by brain’ is a false one, injected in the nineteenth century by the Fabians and others. Yes, there are laborious unfulfilling repetitive tasks which need to be performed by somebody, but try doing any of them without a brain. If any job can be reduced to manual tasks only then it has already been replaced by machinery. So if we are all honing and deploying our own knowledge and skills in every area of life then what is special or different about these so-called knowledge workers?

I think I’ll just end with the question for now, not having even dealt with so many more points from Josien, Joitske and others, but looking forward to reading further contributions and comments as we attempt to both broaden and get to the nub of an interesting debate, or at least I hope so.

First posted at RSS

The end of management March 8, 2008

The many sides to being a digital member


David Armano produced this diagram for a panel contribution to the Ad Age Digital Marketing conference. It seems to me very relevant to any organisation thinking about the different roles its members may occupy in future. He writes:

Like many of you, I'm a "consumer"—I buy stuff. I'm also an active participant in social networks incorporating many of the social utilities like Facebook, Twitter and blogging in my daily routine. I'm part of multiple communities. I produce content. I'm a "user" (sorry folks, it's not a dirty word)—I use Web applications and software regularly. I don't even think about it. It's like breathing. And I'm a customer too. But above all, I'm a person—a human being.

He says it is the geeks who are designing experiences on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, and then goes on to enter a plea for what he calls social design, quoting Josh Porter:

"Social design is design that focuses on the social lives of users. It deals with the activities, behaviors, and motivations of people who work and play together through software interfaces. It is built on the observation that many of the decisions we make are greatly affected by those we surround ourselves with in our social lives: our family, friends, and colleagues."


So the geeks build the platforms and networks. The users use them. The users become participants. Participants form the networks and communities and participation in communities sucks up our time and attention.

David's interest is in where this leaves marketing. I think that the same question will arise for membership organisations: where does this leave their recruitment, services and support strategies. It can't just be take the subs, send out the newsletters, organise the events. Members will be organising among themselves, forming their own connections, developing their own content. Digital marketing may give us clues to what's coming, if not off-the-shelf models for what to offer in the nonprofit world.

Hat tip to Tony Molloy for link via Twitter.

Do also take a look at  David's Blogs are free samples of your brand too.

Turning a tanker: recreating one of the oldest membership organisations around

I thought I'd share my comments from yesterday's conference at NCVO. I was talking about the RSA's experiences in renewing itself as a membership organisation that's fit for purpose in the 21stC.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the RSA, it's a 250 year old Enlightenment organisation, with a long-standing commitment to achieving positive social change. That commitment has not waned - far from it - but over the last year we have been trying to make sense of what it means in the modern world. Two particular things seem different to when the RSA first started. First, the nature of the social challenges we face are complex and global in their nature, requiring the actions of many to tackle them (I'm thinking about climate change, terrorism, food security to name a few). Second, people increasingly have the tools to work together on issues they care about, unmediated by organisations - here I'm thinking in particular about the role that web 2.0 can play, but one only needs to think about farmers organising by text message to realise it's about more than that too...

The RSA today has 27,000 Fellows (what we call our members), from a very diverse set of backgrounds, spread all over the world. Until recently, these Fellows were seen as a rather passive audience, with our mission being 'delivered' through the production of pamphlets, seminars and lectures, similar to a traditional thinktank approach to social change. What we are trying to do now, alongside this thinktank-y work, is create a Fellowship that is much more focused on action - where the Fellows themselves, rather than the organisation, are the agents of change. It's a huge challenge for an organisation which has a massive legacy and a culture that has in the past tended to be wary of overdemanding Fellows with half-baked ideas (I'm exaggerating, but you get my point...)

Over the last year, with the generous support of NESTA, we have been testing our hunch that the single biggest value of being a member of the RSA is meeting, collaborating and working with other Fellows in pursuit of real social change. We've experimented with new, more interactive events based on Open Space techniques. We've also tried to make the most of online opportunities, developing a proto 'ideas marketplace' online. The current version is a test site, but the lessons we've learnt about how to make such a site work are being incorporated as I type into the RSA's new website.

And given we've only been running for 7 months or so, we've made some real progress. Over 500 of our Fellows are signed up online; we have about 15 networks of Fellows around the country working on issues they care about, like reducing reoffending, or re-engaging excluded young people.

There's a lot further to go however. The 3 challenges I shared in the workshops yesterday were:


The RSA doesn't pay its Fellows to work on projects: instead it wants to make it easier for Fellows to *do* something with their passions, to turn those passions into real projects that have an impact. So we've had to learn how as an organisation we can unleash those passions. We've found that at the heart of doing this is the need to 'hear' people, to acknowledge them, and to help connect them to others who share those passions. Of course, increasingly sophisticated tagging systems and so on can help, but this stuff needs a human touch. Facilitation is a new role for somewhere like the RSA, but it's increasingly forming part of people's job descriptions, and this will need to continue.

Creating the conditions

The RSA created a small team (the RSA Networks team) to run the work that's gone into this change project so far. Our constant challenge has been to remind people that we are not another project on the work plan, but instead that we are the engine of change for the organisation. Every single interaction Fellows have with the RSA needs to communicate the right messages, and invite action - from the format of the lectures, to the design of the welcome letter. And every part of the RSA needs to consider how to involve Fellows, which means looking again at how we design projects, and what incentives staff have in their roles. Any organisation seeking to engage with their members on new terms needs to see this work as affecting all the 'touchpoints' of the organisation from the receptionists to the chief executive!

Challenging mindsets

Related to this is a problem that any membership organisation seeking to create more action-focused partnerships with their members will face: that organisations have an annoying habit of building walls and creating power dynamics between people on the inside (staff) and people on the outside (members). Those staff need time and support to recognise the potential benefits reaped by working more openly and collaboratively. Our tactic at the RSA has been to take something of a guerilla approach, trying to 'infect' all the different parts of the organisation one way or another with our work, and finding advocates in different departments and offices who can inspire others around them.


This stuff takes time; many of our Fellows who were excited when we set out on this journey are frustrated at how slow progress has sometimes felt. But we have learnt that you cannot underestimate the scale of cultural change implicit in the desire to turn members into agents for social change in their own right. But the huge potential makes it all worth it. Just think, if we engaged 1% of our Fellowship in projects for social change, we would be nearly 4 times as big as the next largest thinktank in the UK. I vote for what we're doing any day. I think the vast majority of our Fellows would too.

We can't do that - and they mustn't do it either

ChangeThe realities of introducing social media into organisations was brought home to me again yesterday at a conference in Cardiff for people in housing associations with responsibility for PR and communications. We had some fine presentations about developing the brand, dealing with media, using storytelling. These days tenants are customers, housing stock is homes - and quite rightly so.
I ran a couple of workshops on what blogs, wikis, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and the like might bring to the mix, and how organisations could use lots of free tools from Google and other sources. I tried to focus on what this meant for organisations, as people become more able to find their voice to contribute ideas, experience - and of course complain if they were not happy with services.
New media tools can give housing associations better ways to provide information, and support communication and collaboration within and outside the organisation. However, if the tools are in the hands of the resident/customers, that changes power relationships. Things shift from "take it from us" to "we'll take it from each other".
That's where the difficulties arose. While many people in the workshop were excited by the possibilities, they foresaw difficulties which were summed up in two phrases. The first was "we can't do that" - which meant the IT department and senior staff won't let us look at certain sites, or use free tools. The second was "we can't let them do that" - which meant that within the culture of the organisation it would not be conceivable to help customers develop their own voice, except within quite tightly controlled circumstances.
These constraints did not apply to everyone, and of course there are ways to work these things through in organisations, as Colin McKay sets out in his excellent Secret Underground Guide to Social Media for Organisations. However, what struck me was the number of glum nods to these observations, rather than the number of challenges.
The consensus in the workshops was that significant change was a few years off, not least because the customers of housing associations were (as a whole) older, poorer and less media literate than the rest of the population. Introducing social media would not be a high priority in addressing their needs.
On the other hand the PR and communications people in the workshop did feel that they should, personally, be exploring what social media could offer. Problem is, will that be seen as a priority by their bosses?
As well as a presentation and discussion, at one of the sessions we played a new version of the social media game, which I think worked pretty well. I've put all the instructions and cards up on the social media wiki. Please feel free to download and try the game for yourself.
Any examples of organisations - housing or otherwise - that are prepared to help their customers or members find a voice would be welcome.

I'm off to hear Clay Shirky talk at the RSA about his book Here Comes Everybody, which explains how people are organising without organisations. Landlords beware.

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We-Think brings innovation and challenges

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At the launch of the book We-Think - which promotes the potential of the web for mass collaboration - I asked author Charles Leadbeater about the possible impact on nonprofit organisations. Would people find they could get information and contacts, and support causes on the web, so by-passing organisations?

Charlie said that the social web could present a big challenge to the social sector - but it could also open up scope for tremendous innovation.

There's a full report, with more videos, here.

Why walled gardens may not work for membership organisations

Walled garden

The Economist questions whether "walled garden" social networks like Facebook will be able to continue to lock in user content. In Everywhere and nowhere, the author doubts whether there is a long-term business in the walled garden model, unless web mail or other services allow transmission of content across the boundaries. I wonder if the same issue will face those membership organisations creating closed member-only networks. Here first is the general analysis from The Economist, which acknowledges the value of social networking sites:

Social networking has made explicit the connections between people, so that a thriving ecosystem of small programs can exploit this “social graph” to enable friends to interact via games, greetings, video clips and so on.
It is this interaction that Clay Shirkey celebrates in his book Here Comes Everybody. He explained at a recent RSA lecture how networking means people are organising without organisations, without boundaries. The Economists adds:
But should users really have to visit a specific website to do this sort of thing? “We will look back to 2008 and think it archaic and quaint that we had to go to a destination like Facebook or LinkedIn to be social,” says Charlene Li at Forrester Research, a consultancy. Future social networks, she thinks, “will be like air. They will be anywhere and everywhere we need and want them to be.” No more logging on to Facebook just to see the “news feed” of updates from your friends; instead it will come straight to your e-mail inbox, RSS reader or instant messenger. No need to upload photos to Facebook to show them to friends, since those with privacy permissions in your electronic address book can automatically get them.The problem with today's social networks is that they are often closed to the outside web. The big networks have decided to be “open” toward independent programmers, to encourage them to write fun new software for them. But they are reluctant to become equally open towards their users, because the networks' lofty valuations depend on maximising their page views—so they maintain a tight grip on their users' information, to ensure that they keep coming back. As a result, avid internet users often maintain separate accounts on several social networks, instant-messaging services, photo-sharing and blogging sites, and usually cannot even send simple messages from one to the other. They must invite the same friends to each service separately. It is a drag.
The same issue is raised by Lynn Wallenstein who predicts the Decentralisation of Social Networks in 2009/2010.
People are going to realize the value of their information being held by sources like Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Delicious and want to control it and “own it”. They will realize the danger or loss they would face if cut off from these sources and the value of the information that they are freely giving large corporations.
Lynn commends the dataportability movement which promotes the ability to discover and share data between tools and sites, and the disco-project for "silo free living". Lynn says this involves making the social network modular and building connectors to make those modules speak. She gives an example:

We have three friends; Sue, John and Nancy. They all each have a blog, a micro blogging solution, online photos and interest groups they are apart of. They want to be able to effortlessly share these bits of information, but each have their own preference of the tools they want to use. Sue has a Wordpress blog, uses Twitter and Flickr for her photos. John stores all his information on Facebook. Nancy has a hybrid solution where she uses Facebook for most things, but like Flickr for her photos.

So what now? Well currently all three friends would have to have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and follow multiple Wordpress blogs. Not only is that annoying for each of them to have to use tools they don’t want to, but that means they each need to check in tons of places to keep up. So the Diso solution would be that everyone runs in the configuration they want to whether that is self hosted or hosting with a provider that supports cross platform communication and when you want to check your friends information it is displayed for you in your UI from your friend’s chosen source.

So from our example when you wanted to look at your friends pictures, if you used Facebook for photos you would view all the photo information in Facebook, but for your friends that used Flickr or something like gallery, it would talk to those web sites and get the pictures and display them for you.

So what does this all mean? If everything “falls into place” correctly you will be able to host your data wherever you want and still communicate with your friends without your information being held hostage by one centralized provider. This is not to say that commercial providers won’t exist, they will just be competing based on features and not winning because “I have to be there, that is where all my friends are”, but win because they have the best feature set/interface/network/speed/tools.

By having open source solutions to social networks components, you can of course choose to self host everything and truly “own it” but the larger providers if they don’t already provide methods to export/get your data, the “connectors” will allow you to take your information where you want to go, so while you may not “have it” in terms of you are hosting it with a company, you have the freedom to move it where you want, in essence making it yours. Using Flickr but decide you like Picassa Google better? No problem… move it.

I think similar issues may well challenge membership organisations as they build social networking capabilities into the services that they offer to members. There may be an inclination, on the part of organisations, to try and keep members within the walled garden, behind a login, providing special tools and access to content as part of the benefit from paying dues. The argument may also be that "our members aren't terribly technical, they want a simple solution in one place". However, I can see problems that will stem from the way people participate online, and the one per cent rule. This rule of thumb, seen across many online communities, is that one per cent of those involved initiate fresh content, while some ten percent comment and the rest read or view. There's nothing wrong with that - provided any community can retain the one per cent. Without them things die. The problem with walled gardens, for the one per centers, is that they are only attractive if other people like them are also around. There's no fun posting items if others don't respond. If you operate in many different online places - as the one-per-centers generally do - then it is frustrating being unable to link to content you have created within the garden. You know few people will go through a registration process, even if that is available to non-members. Of course, the response of the walled-garden organisations will be - "recruit your friends and then they can come in to the garden". This might have worked a few years ago, but as The Economist is arguing, it isn't likely to work in future even where membership of network systems like Facebook is free. The new online system UnLtdWorld recognises this, and promises data in and data out, while the English Heritage Our Place takes a different approach. The RSA is in the midst of moving its prototype RSA Networks site to a new site integrated with other offerings to Fellows, and so is likely to continue to be an interesting testbed for these discussions. But supposing a membership organisation heeds the warnings implicit in The Economist article, and decides not to go for a walled garden? What's the alternative? I think one route would be on he one hand to help its members to become more digitally literate across the web, and on the other to create open areas of sociability that would draw non-members into its ambit. At that point, as new relationships develop, there are opportunities to provide additional premium services not generally available. That's the route my friends at Ruralnetonline are taking with their mix of free and paid-for services. Anyone got other practical examples? Do you agree that walled-garden are unlikely to succeed in the long run?