Friday, November 17, 2006

Armchair Activism - ironic no more

I just recieved an e-mail from Marty Kearns of Network-Centric Advocacy, asking me to write about a program that chops mammoth data tasks into 12-minute chunks in the hopes that everyone will contrinute a bit of their time and get the job done. It's the barn-raising principle, except you can do it from your armchair.

www.mediavolunteer.org is a portal created by Marty's Green Media Toolshed to help produce an accurate media database for advocacy groups so they can promote their causes. The Media Volunteer project asks people to take twelve minutes to log onto the Media Volunteer website and call a reporter or media outlet and confirm that the information in the Shared Media Database is correct.

I think the challenge in getting people to adopt this project will be making it personal and social. Even though the project is easy enough, volunteers might not see the direct benefit to themselves or their causes. The site is set up geographically, so people are calling reporters in their own area, which is great. (The user interface is also super). However, I think the project will need to create a community vibe in order to be successful.

A good model to look to here are the immensely successful MoveOn Phone Parties which preceded the election. MoveOn did not ask people to access a call list on a website and call undecided voters from the comfort of their own homes. They organized Phone Parties, which created a community vibe around the not-so-pleasant task of making cold calls to perfect strangers. The parties were completely unnecessary from a technical perspective. People could have received the names and phone numbers of voters by accessing a website. In fact, Phone Parties made the process of making calls more time-consuming since people were asked to travel to another person's house to do the calling. However, community became the draw that inspired people to get involved. It worked - spectacularly. According to MoveOn:
* Jon Tester's margin of victory in MT: 2,644
* MoveOn member turnout calls to MT: 73,843

* Jim Webb's margin of victory in VA: 7,236
* MoveOn member turnout calls to VA: 345,289
If the Media Volunteer project is going to work, I think it will also need a community aspect, either in the form or meet-ups or, even better, groups of NGO's that need the information organizing their own volunteers into Phone Parties. This model usies pre-existing organization networks to "get out the call." It's a good project and I hope it succeeds.

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