Note from Beth: Shonali Burke, who we interviewed in “Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, let me know about an exciting project she is working on with the Center for Community Change that is hosting the 8th Annual Change Champion Awards (in DC) today (Sept. 20) at the AFL-CIO headquarters in conjunction with the Campaign for Community Change. We got into a conversation about the challenges of measuring the success of community organizing and social justice in a connected age.
There is always a conundrum in measuring social change movements as well as networked approaches. Outcomes for “wicked problems” can be easily counted – policies passed, housing the homeless, educating children. But there are less tangible results such as “we changed the frame” “we engaged our community,” or “we shifted members’ consciousness” which for grassroots organizers on the ground view as the vibrancy of the network . What are the paths to the more easily counted tangible results?
In our forthcoming book, we write a lot about how to measure the steps along the way in a ladder of engagement or theory of change. Social justice movement organizers and leaders are grappling with big questions. What is the long-term change that they want to see? What is needed to achieve it? What are the mile posts to measure along the wato putting more social in social justice? What exactly are the right metrics for measuring this transformation? While amazing large number of members, staging marches, and winning campaigns are important measures of success for a growing movement, there are also important changes that may get missed with numbers alone – changes that a leader, organization, or community experiences through their involvement in organizing.
Perhaps two different sets of indicators are needed: transactions (number of members, voter turnout, etc) and transformations – how people, organizations, and movements have been altered through their collective efforts. How societal and political views have been shifted.
Zack Langway, who runs digital media for the Center for Community Change agreed to write this guest post from his perspective of being a community organizer equipped with these powerful online tools.
Community Organizing and Social Advocacy Measurement in the Digital Age By Zack Langway
In the weeks and days leading up to the Center for Community Change’s 8th Annual Change Champion Awards taking place this evening in Washington, D.C., which honors people committed to changing the conditions that create poverty and empowering those in low-income communities and communities of color, we spent a great deal of time considering what it means in today’s digital world to work with networks and measure important social justice outcomes. Community organizers have tended to focus their efforts on “communities” defined by geographic areas.
As online organizers, we constantly work to find how communities – that in our case have the same core focus of being a part of or allied with communities of color or low-income communities – define themselves. We strive to meet people where they are by finding the tools, platforms, and spaces that will best tap into current communities and can be leveraged to build broader coalitions. This strategy helps transcend geography when looking for solutions to some of the toughest challenges we face in our economy, our retirement security, and our immigration system.
That’s why we use popular platforms like Facebook – we can anticipate the breadth of our reach, we can deep-dive into specific targets, and we can deliver messages in a safe space that, as we work with our online communities, allows everyone to be an agent for change in whatever way they feel most comfortable, even if that simply means “liking” a post. What’s more is that we know that our communities are online.*
- National demographics of key platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, reflect the demographic makeup of the nation.
- Arizona – where we work with partners to organize immigrant communities – nearly 80% are online, of which more than 40% are on Facebook.
- Montana – where we organize low-income rural communities – 73% are online, of which 43% are on Facebook.
- North Carolina – where we organize around jobs creation and retirement security – 70% are online, of which 48% are on Facebook.
Finding and organizing communities, and creating a networked nonprofit online as Beth writes, is only part of our challenge as agents for change. How will we know we’re making a difference? Success is not a single metric, and it’s not a linear path. Community organizing is about getting people who share a common need, a common goal, a common bond in alignment to redefine power structures – and that holds true online. Even when we ultimately do not succeed in a given situation, we build an online movement that has more leverage, is more empowered, and sees greater power in collective action next time around.
We can measure social justice outcomes, especially in online organizing, by how many people were engaged, how many people were brought in from the periphery into a deeper level of engagement, and by what measure our community grows in each major endeavor we undertake. We can measure success of a given tactic with the same metrics any nonprofit or company uses to measure online success – views, clicks, impressions, retweets, +1’s – but the measure of success in organizing communities online places a much greater emphasis on how organizing helps get us progressively closer to our ultimate goal: equality and justice for all people, regardless of race or socioeconomic position.
*The statistics listed were sourced from the Internet World Stats Index
Zack Langway (@zacklangway) is the Digital Campaign Director for the Center for Community Change, a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to develop the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to change the policies and institutions that affect their lives. To learn more about the Center for Community Change, please click here.