NGOs & Nonprofits, Social media & networking


I’ve been watching Priscilla and Nicholas’s conversation with interest. Today I had a chance to review the research that sparked that conversation and had a few thoughts that I thought might be worth sharing… (This post is on the long side, but there’s a lot in the report!)

The core of the conversation has been about different levels of participation within campaigns and how to progress people “up the chain” from limited participation to more active participation.

What I found interesting in reading the report is how the findings reflect my own experience working with the community during the inaugural Earth Hour (which I might mention is happening again this year) and other campaigns I’ve been involved with.

Update: Key diagram

In the time since I first posted this, one of the key diagrams in Nicholas’ post no longer appears correctly. I’ve recreated the diagram for some recent presentations and am posting it here for context/future reference.

Diagram outlining some potential roles participants in a campaign may play

Micro communities

One of the points in the report is that the key to engagement is to mobilise what the report authors term as “micro communities” – that is the small groups within a mass group (families, peer groups, work groups etc.)

People play different roles within the community, from passive participants (the largest group) to those that are proactive in organising events etc. (a much smaller group). The report mentions that offline events are often the center piece around which groups form.

This was definitely the case with Earth Hour – the event itself was imagined to facilitate this kind of community interaction. Events were planned by family and other groups nationally and internationally, despite the first year being focused on one locality – the greater Sydney metropolitan area. And, of course, each event was organised by the more active participants within the community.


On slide 27 the report outlines two core motivations for micro communities – Protection and Enhancement. (Incidentally, the authors also suggest that there is a gender bias towards Protection by males, Enhancement by females – see page 61.)

I found this quite interesting – and it resonated with my experience of the motivations I’ve heard from people around environmental issues, and in particular climate change.

As a quick example, the Protection motivation may kicks in around “protecting my kids”; the Enhancement ethic kicking in to “improve our local area”.

Geographic motivators – make it local

The other aspect I found interesting was the split between Rural, Suburban and Urban motivators (outlined on and around page 36). Rural were very much focused on local issues, Suburban on local with a view to national, and Urban on national and international issues. This, too, broadly maps to my experience in talking to participants in various campaigns and programs I’ve been involved in.

As I mentioned in the comments to Priscilla’s post, geography has been shown as a key factor in fundraising – targeting geographically out-performs targeting on issue.

The report also makes the point that it’s easier to localise global issues than it is to globalise local issues (page 39). This is definitely true of global warming.

One of the exciting projects I’d seen undertaken recently was an attempt to create fact sheets about the impacts of global warming on local areas around Sydney – i.e. how it will impact people in Balmain, or Mosman.

I suspect it’s the same principle at play when we find that an individual’s story has more gravity than hearing about 100,000s of people in dire straights. (WWF’s Climate Witness program definitely takes this approach.)

Types of participation

Priscilla and Nicholas have been focusing on this aspect of the report and I don’t really have a lot to add that they haven’t already ably said.

I suppose the one point I’d add re: moving people along the participation scale would be to re-iterate a comment I left on Priscilla’s earlier post – I don’t think that’s something an organisation can actually cause – I feel that movement along this scale is caused by human interactions and factors external to an organisation’s campaign, be that personal relationship to the cause, organisation or campaign, or the influence of others in a peer group that are already engaged.

What we can do, however, is facilitate people once they have made the choice to move along this scale.

(Pages 58 through 60 have some great diagrams explaining different participation types.)

Participation journey

The participation journey outlined on page 54 also rings true from my experience. We see this type of community coalescence in many campaigns. It was definitely present during Earth Hour, but also Digital Eskimo’s “Raise the bar” campaign. I also perceive this as being the premise of a lot of GetUp’s campaigns – motivate people around a specific issue, and then over time move them towards other issues of (potential) interest.

I think the biggest challenge to organisations is how to get a community to move onto a new issue, rather than disbanding. Often this is quite difficult because the focus throughout the campaign is on the objective – achieving the change, or making the event a success.

So if/when the goal is met, the organisation is often ill-prepared for how to engage the community in further issues (if, in fact, there are relevant issues that the organisation is engaged in).

I think it’s critical for organisations to consider how to transition the community post-campaign as a core part of their strategic planning. This planning may occur later in the campaign, closer to a result (one way or another) – but it shouldn’t be left until after the campaign has ended.

The role of the host

I also found the pages from 86 through 92 very interesting as well.

Environmental issues

Page 100 has a great little diagram that identifies the type of environmental themes that resonate with participants in the study. This matches closely my experience working in environmental campaigns. In my mind, the Future is man made site (which I was involved in producing while I was at WWF-Australia) was a direct response to this understanding.

Participation scenarios

I suspect there’s a different participation scenarios than the 4 listed on page 105 – that is something of a mix between scenarios 1.0 and 2.1. Very few campaigns that I’ve seen currently heavily rely on the “user generated content” space (I prefer “participant generated content as a term, but I digress), but are still heavily dependent on online interaction – i.e. not just an add on to an offline campaign as outlined in Scenario 1.0, but not so far as to be in Scenario 2.1.

The most effective campaigns I’ve been involved in (usually as a participant) are strongly integrated campaigns that leverage strong online and offline components. This may be a combination of host-run and user-initiated activities – so the organisation also has a voice and is not handing the reigns over to participants completely.

What is true of strong campaigns is that the people engaging with the campaign have a sense of ownership of the campaign and are supported well by the host organisation. This does not necessarily equal participant generated content. Although participant generated content is a suitable option for some campaigns, it’s not necessarily appropriate for all campaigns.