OK, here is last week’s presentation on Network-Centric Advocacy to participants in the Open Society Institute’s “Connect US” initiative. You can download the handout version – 1 MB PDF.

Keep in mind that this a very visual and dynamic presentation, below is an outline of the text and links – a pale shadow of the actual presentation. I may post a Flash version later, but you just have to have me do it in person to get the full effect. 🙂



network-centric advocacy

  1. What is all this “blog” stuff?
    And why should I care?

network-centric advocacy!

Ruby Sinreich,

thanks: Connect US
Martin Kearns,

  • If one voice for justice is a powerful statement…
    How about 1,000?
  • Outline

    How has society changed?
    People are less connected… and more connected.

    What is the goal?
    Small change v. big change

    Where’s the strength in a network?
    Network structures

    What does network-centric advocacy look like?
    Some examples

  • How has society changed?

  • People are contact-averse
    Folks don’t want to be on lists. Many would rather “bowl alone” than engage in the community.
    more about ‘bowling alone’
  • But they still get together
    People are naturally organizing themselves, or at least getting things done.
  • Information is decentralized
    Examples of movement action, a.k.a. memes:
    “Memo Gate” was just individuals, but seized upon by the right


This probably used to happen all the time, but unless you worked for a big media outlet, the discovery would be for naught.
Enter distributed knowledge and non-hierarchical communication channels…

  • Movements make themselves
    Other examples of movement action, a.k.a. memes:
    Stop Sinclair. Progressive bloggers built the narrative, struck while the iron was hot.,
  • Distributed knowledge
    Examples of movement action, a.k.a. memes:
    Wikipedia: distributed work – collective voice
  • Network-centric warfare
    Examples of movement action, a.k.a. memes:
    Network-centric warfare (I’m not making this up!)
    Smart mobs


Black Flags Are Deadly Signals as Cornered Rebels Fight Back
– New York Times, 12/12/04

  • How has society changed?
    People are finding new ways to connect while abandoning some old social structures.
  • What is the goal?

  • Not just a law
    A legislative change, or a successful movement to change society?
  • Not just a leader
    An empowered organization, or a successful movement to change society?
  • Not just an organization
    The individual orgs don’t go away, they just collaborate more, and interact with supporters differently.
  • The network can’t be stopped!
    Build a broad movement and the “head” can never be cut off.


“How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. … Children shoot soldiers at point blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically.”
– Pentagon flier for a screening of “The Battle of Algiers”

  • What is the goal?
    An effective grassroots movement for change is a network that includes organizations but transcends their boundaries.
  • How do things get done by the network?

  • Individuals make the network
    Individual decisions form the collective choice.
  • Network Structures
    Different structures have different functions
    Most networks are a combination of these.
    network topologies
  • Social networks are unpredictable
    Social networks move in strange and mysterious ways.


“… unlike many adult networks, there was no core group of very sexually active people at the high school… Instead, the romantic and sexual network at the school created long chains of connections that spread out through the community…”
OSU Research News


  • first person voice
  • community/dialog
  • open archive
  • database/syndication


  • Blogs?
    Blogs: first-person – authenticity
  • Blogs.
    Blogs: syndication – aggregation
  • Blogs!
    Blogs: community – movement building
  • Shared labor
    Distributed work: AdvoKit allows distributed volunteers to campaign any where, any time, as much or as little as they want
  • Shared voices
    Distributed work: MoveOn’s “Bush in 30 Seconds” campaign let activists make commercials, raise money to air them, and choose the winner.
  • Shared resources
    Open source software: collaborating and sharing
    Open source democracy: ?


Open source refers to projects that are open to the public and which draw on other projects that are freely available to the general public…
Open-source software is any computer software distributed under a license which allows users to change and/or share the software freely.

  • Shared knowledge
    Amazon reviews = collective intelligence
  • Personal connections
    People connecting: Meetup, evite, 43things, friendster, etc….
  • What does network-centric advocacy look like?


  • Strong Social Ties
  • Common Story
  • Dense Communication Grid
  • Shared Resources
  • Clear Windows of Opportunity

5 points of “Network-Centric Theory” by Martin Kearns


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