Tag - networks

New Chapter: A New Democracy!
How Fortressy Are We?
What MBA Programs Don’t Teach You
Remembering Rob Stuart

New Chapter: A New Democracy!

This post announces a new chapter in my work: developing a new democracy to match this new century!

I am working with my friends at Civic Hall Labs to create a new Democracy Lab. We have a 19th century democracy smashing into a 21st century society. This disconnect is causing democracy to fail around the world at it’s most basic job, to represent the best interests of the greatest number of people.

The Democracy Lab will remodel government for the Networked Age. The Networked Age is chiefly defined as social networks powered by digital technology. Every area of our lives is being remade for this new era, except, so far, government. But we don’t begin from a blank slate. There are excellent models from around the country and the world upon which to build. They include:

  • Citizen University in Seattle teaches people how government works through in-person trainings and conferences and online videos.
  • ioby (meaning “in my backyard”) mobilizing neighbors with good ideas to plan, fund and change their neighborhoods often in partnership with local government.
  • vTaiwan started as an online organizing platform for students to protest trade with China. It has since become a platform for citizens to suggest and research new laws, discuss them in open online forums and watch the final legislative deliberations.
  • Living Room Conversations is an effort created by Joan Blades, the founder of Moveon.org and Moms Rising. The program guides ordinary people to invite neighbors with different political views into their homes to discuss important issues and learn from one another.
  • NASA taps the expertise and ingenuity of ordinary people to solve problems and create new technologies.
  • Online platforms like Loomio, mVote, and, of course, Facebook and Reddit bring together large numbers of people to discuss and vote on issues.

And yet, significant gaps and deficits exist. Technology efforts too often focus on making government more efficient rather than remaking the relationship between government and citizens. Online platforms engage large numbers of people in conversations about issues, but do not necessarily connect these people to one another or engage government actors directly in conversations. On land organizing efforts are time-intensive but generally don’t scale to tackle big social change efforts. Citizens are taught how to engage with government, but government leaders aren’t taught how to engage with citizens. In other words, there are points of light but not a constellation of stars for a new democracy.

The Democracy Lab will begin its efforts by:

  1. Mapping the existing ecosystem of players and tools to determine what exists and works, what the gaps are, what needs to be woven together and what needs to be created.

Based on these findings, we will then

  1. Identify and pilot specific local experiments for future scaling and replication. And,
  2. Develop new models for network leadership within public institutions.


In the end, our aim is to revive and recreate the notions of common good and citizenship in a country that embraces diversity and opportunity. We are confident that together we can reinvent ourselves with the same optimism and confidence as generations of Americans have done in previous centuries.


Happy to talk to you about this if you have any ideas to help resuscitate our democracy – we need all the help we can get!



How Fortressy Are We?

I came across this wonderful quiz from Rich Harwood he developed for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (a notorious fortress!) The model highlights the difference between inward facing organizations and outward facing ones:

Certainly rings familiar to us folks who have been researching, writing, and talking for a few years on ways to help organizations transition from traditional command and control models to networks. It reminded of the Working Wikily model the Monitor Institute developed a few years ago of how networks work.

I’ve been thinking there might be a pre-step to Rich’s model. I was asked a few month’s ago whether I could develop a list of questions a group could ask itself to see how “fortressy” they were. So, here’s a start, I need to think more about how to score the answers to these questions, so open to help from you all on that.

How Fortressy Are We?

  • How comfortable is senior management with staff speaking as themselves on social media channels?

Not a chance! They’ll let one or two people speak for us. They’re starting to let more people communicate. We’re all on the channels.

  • How often do you hear the phrase, “That isn’t professional behavior” in your organization?

Every hour! Every day. Most days. Almost never. Absolutely never, but we don’t wear shoes, either.

  • Your communications about your organization focus on how unique and successful you are.

Of course, we have to raise money. Usually, our board expects it. Sometimes. Not often. Never.

  • How concerned are you in revealing your decision-making to the world?

Very concerned, somewhat, a little, not much, not at all.

  • What do we do when someone criticizes us?

Freak out! Call in the crisis management people. Spend a day worrying about it. Let the intern respond. Has someone criticized us?

  • Are your measures of success based largely on the number of people who participate in our efforts?

Of course! Largely. Evenly split with other measures. We never count heads or beds. Who measures success (don’t tell anyone)?

Let me know what you think of the questions/measures and what you would add or delete.




What MBA Programs Don’t Teach You

This is a guest post written by Katherine Manning on a topic I’ve been thinking and writing about for a while; the inability and unwillingness of graduate schools to prepare students to lead in a networked world. Here’s how Kate describes herself, “Kate didn’t expect to find herself at the intersection of business, marketing, and the Internet, but with sound writing and editing skills she’s trying to make the most of her interests by writing on her favorite topics. She is an editor for an online educational resource for prospective students.”


MBA graduates hope to enter the business world equipped with myriad skills that will steer them towards success in a fast-paced industry. Truthfully speaking, however, business administration degrees are quite chameleonic and require adaptability in an ever-shifting socio-political landscape. Corporate social responsibility is a rapidly proliferating phenomenon today (especially in academia)—and one online MBA resource goes as far as to suggest that sustainability, social responsibility, and the “triple bottom line” could very well begin to replace the traditional bottom line in the coming decades.

Unfortunately, MBA programs don’t necessarily focus on the networking skills required for success in such a tangled industry as sustainability. In 2011 the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics listed the 30 fastest growing jobs, many of which were environmentally focused. What a lot the curricula behind these job titles lack, of course, is emphasis on effective communication skills, innovation, and global awareness—these things are as critical as knowing how to manipulate numbers. With more and more MBA graduates moving on to work for some of the most admired socially responsible companies like Statoil, ENI, NextEra Energy, and Weyerhaeuser, networking skills and the ability to communicate as a member of the “sustainability” community are crucial to an MBA’s success—especially if one expects to elevate their status in the niche of social responsibility.

Grads with a keen understanding of social responsibility ultimately fare much better in the business world than those who overlook its nuances. The following are a few ideas that MBA graduates can focus on to improve their networking skills.

Having A Conversation

People spend much of their lives talking, especially those who make their living in the corporate niche. From inter-regional seminars to one-on-one sit-downs, MBA grads learn quickly that interaction with others is ubiquitous in business—and conversational skills go a long way. Talking slowly, making eye contact and choosing words carefully inspires trust and confidence in the person being addressed. Listening is also crucial—what the other person is saying and how they are saying it. Conversing with poise and confidence is critical during the interview phase, and those who can clearly and effectively articulate their points are likely to enjoy a long, productive career.

In a world of text messages and Twitter feeds, the shortest way to say something is often the best way. “The ability to speak, write and present succinctly, powerfully and in a timely fashion are critical,” says Huff Post College columnist Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, “whether you’re leading a team in the office or virtually, working with fellow nationals or across borders and cultures.”

One field that stresses concision is journalism. Reporters are instructed how to compose a thoughtful, succinct piece of writing, and editors are trained to trim down the draft even more. The terse, traditional newswriting style is quite useful in modern business, where interaction often does not exceed 140 characters. Business schools that offer dual graduate degrees in business administration and journalism include Columbia and the University of Texas in Austin, and many others incorporate journalistic writing standards into their MBA curricula.

Communicating Ideas With Humility

Idea generation is a fundamental business principle. The creative process one undergoes to generate, develop, and effectively communicate a new idea directly speaks to his or her ability level and potential for growth. Most MBA programs discuss elements of idea generation, but understanding the concept is only the first step to successfully presenting an idea in public.

Will Burns, a contributor for Forbes, stresses that ideas must be nurtured in their early stages—otherwise, they lose some of their luster. “It’s critical to somehow, in some way, preserve the idea’s energy,” Burns writes. He encourages creative minds to remain enthusiastic about their idea—even if that means posting a list of the idea’s positive attributes on a cubicle wall. This will cultivate the idea itself, as well as sharpen the individual’s presentation skills. Once the idea is properly generated, he concludes, “Then, of course, continue to improve the idea. Because you’ve preserved and protected that first impression.”

Naturally, some ideas are never fully accepted. Rather than treat a failed creative venture as a roadblock, businesspeople should draw inspiration from such an instance. “Personal humility is not inconsistent with professional ambition and professional drive,” said Derrick Bolton, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business, during a November 2011 interview with Forbes. An unpopular idea is forgivable; an unfavorable reaction to disapproval often is not.

Diplomacy In A Foreign Land

The number of American MBA grads who find work internationally is currently smaller than expected—but as Bloomberg Weekly reported recently, plenty of jobs are available overseas. This is true of markets in Europe and Asia, as well as emerging entities like India, China and Brazil. Marilyn Eckerman, Director of Graduate Management Career Strategies at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, encourages graduates to have an open mind when choosing work. “The economy and job market over the last couple of years has persuaded students to be more open to geographic flexibility and mobility,” she said.

If a graduate opts for employment abroad, they must understand the implications of living outside the United States. Businesspeople in a foreign country may behave differently than their American counterparts, both with clients and one another. Many cultures place a great deal of importance on the way one dresses, conducts a meeting or even eats a meal. Adherence to these cultural details makes a strong first impression. Knowledge of that country’s economic inner-workings and familiarity with the local language also benefit expatriate businesspeople.

Business students are also traveling internationally these days. According to the 2010 Global Management Education Graduate Survey, 28 percent of current students study outside their country of citizenship. In particular, Americans are leaving the U.S. to earn an MBA abroad in unprecedented numbers. This experience introduces the student to a new culture—and offers a unique glimpse into a foreign market.

In these uncertain economic times, MBA grads must fully prepare themselves to enter the work force. It is not enough to be well educated. These men and women must also master the finer points of business administration that are not taught in a classroom.


Remembering Rob Stuart

My friend, Rob Stuart, the person who introduced me to social media and implanted in my head the notion that “it’s all about the network,” passed away suddenly and tragically last week. Jed Miller and I wrote a post for TechPresident about what Rob meant to us and the field of social media for social change. It’s inadequate to the task, Rob has left a huge hole for all of us in the network in which he was a huge hub, but we can at least remember and appreciate what he did in the short time he was here. If you knew Rob, I hope you’ll have a chance to share your memories of him on one of the pages listed below.

Here is the post:

Late last week, and far too soon, our friend Rob Stuart passed away in Philadelphia. Rob was the hub that connected dozens, hundreds, of us that work to build communities and create change through digital technologies. “It’s all about the network,” is a catch-phrase he was already using when, for most of us, “the network” was still ABC, CBS or NBC. He was right, it is all about the network, and his legacy as a network builder is especially clear as tributes to him spread across the virtual community he imagined before it was there.

To fully understand Rob’s importance to the evolution of the Internet as an organizing tool, you need to forget the names Twitter, Facebook, Howard Dean, Personal Democracy Forum and “blog” and imagine the moment when email was used mostly for one-to-one correspondence and it required technical expertise to post information online.

The interconnected community of techies, grassroots organizers, political operatives and non-profit groups that work for social change had fewer ways to stay connected then, so it was more difficult to see ourselves as a community, or to benefit from each other’s knowledge and encouragement. Rob changed that, partly by seeing it was missing, and partly by knowing the people, and the path, to make it happen.

The power of storytelling through technology, the potential of mobile phones for social change, the use of microtargeting based on zip codes, emails and voting records, these are just a few of the tools Rob was talking about before they became digital gospel for organizers.

Like any good evangelist, Rob had an infectious enthusiasm when he talked about what was possible and what you needed to know. He had enormous faith in what people were capable of, mingled with a simmering impatience with all the ways people didn’t get it yet. Frankly, you need both the impatience and the faith to succeed promoting new technology. It’s not always comfortable bucking institutions, or trying to drag them into a new century, but it’s demanding and exciting and that particular tension suited Rob.

Through several decades as a tech guru, Rob’s wisdom about crowds was a touchstone. He also had a child-like affinity for new gadgets and the caffeinated tenacity of an expert political networker.

His formative advocacy experiences involved lobbying and grassroots organizing on environmental issues. Organizers have a head start in turning digital tools into movement tools, because they inherently understand how social networks can turn the hunger for change into action.

He followed up his early work lobbying at NJPIRG by joining the Rockefeller Family Fund, bringing evangelism for tech into the donor community years before it became a mainstream funding interest.

The group that is now NTEN, the non-profit sector’s largest community of tech professionals, began in the early 1990s as a small email list of “circuit riders,” consultants to under-resourced organizations looking to adapt to the emerging digital age. (With traditional “circuits” and preachers on horseback both receding into history, the pun of the name is itself an artifact.)

Veteran non-profit tech leader Gavin Clabaugh, now at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, was instrumental in the creation of the first “circuit rider” meetings. He says the term itself was not Rob’s, “but everything else was. He took what was just a little idea, and turned it into a movement.”

The vision for a national organization for non-profit techies was born in 1997 at a remote ranch in Montana, during a retreat to engage more funders in the field—and, as Gavin tells it, after several rounds of homemade beer. It was Rob who took up the idea in earnest, using the platform and resources of the Rockefeller Family Fund to launch a national effort. “He did a series of meetings around the country,” said Gavin, “and pulled in advocacy people and evangelists and everybody from the technology community.”

Those meetings grew into a National Strategy for Non-Profit Technology, a program that in 2004 merged with existing circuit rider “round-up” events under the umbrella of the Non-Profit Technology Enterprise Network, NTEN. A decade later, the NTEN community could fill a stadium, as the current director Holly Ross points out in her remembrance of Rob.

From the inception of NTEN, through his founding of Evolve Strategies and up until his death last week, Rob was also a prominent community organizer in Philadelphia. He cared deeply about maintaining the lovely, close-knit place where his own children were growing up, and about connecting his community and organizing with them for social justice. On issues from equal rights for bike riders and preservation and public access to parks, to wider problems like the environmental dangers of cell phones and hydraulic fracking, he led, and created ways for others to lead.

Rob’s commitment to grassroots organizing defined not only his vision for the power of digital technologies, it also defined him. Whatever satisfaction he found in teaching people about the power of technology, bringing power to the people of Philly gave him even more. In Rob’s Philadelphia Inquirer obituary, one city council member called him “the 18th member” of the council.

The only thing that lit him up more was talking about his and Sarah’s daughters, Marina and Amelia. Rob’s love for his family and his city are inextricable from his intellectual leadership in the tech-for-good movement. It took us almost 10 years to understand, as a group, that personal passion and local outcomes are the renewable energy of online organizing. Rob knew all along because he never knew anything else.

If the measure of a man is what he leaves behind then, as Gavin said over the weekend, “Rob leaves us so much the richer.” To appreciate this, all you need to do is follow the reactions to Rob’s death over the networks he wove and nurtured so carefully, a large, far-flung web connected by and to him, reaching out on different social media platforms with quotes, photos, videos, and vivid accounts beginning “Remember when Rob said-” and “Let’s not forget what Rob did for. …”

We do remember, and we’re grateful for the time we had to learn from him, work with him, laugh at his latest gadgets or outrageous ideas, and marvel as so many of them took hold. We’ve watched the small cadre of circuit riders grow into a thriving community that continues building on Rob’s work and his vision. Hopefully we can bring the same enthusiasm and joy to it that he did every day.

Jed Miller is internet director of the Revenue Watch Institute. Allison Fine is co-author of The Networked Nonprofit.

The family plans a memorial service for 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at Trinity Memorial Church, 22d and Spruce Streets, in Philadelphia. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to benefit a community garden that Rob helped found: Logan Square Garden Fund at Evolve Foundation, 1 S. Broad St., Suite 1840, Philadelphia 19107.


Copyright © 2018 Allison Fine