Vocabulary of the Social Change Community
Over a year a ago, I took a position as Provincial Organizer with Dogwood, an organization that brings together local people to defend air, land, and water in B.C. I notice that since then, I have adopted a new set of words and ways of using certain words. This is normal; we all have different vocabularies based on our work, relationships, media habits, and interests, and we are all always learning our own languages.
With the Canadian government’s supplemental Kinder Morgan pipeline consultations popping up across the Lower Mainland, you may find yourself phoned, emailed, Facebook-invited, or otherwise contacted by someone like me – an organizer – who wants you to be involved. Here is a peek at the language and concepts underlying the work of organizing, also known as community organizing or engagement organizing.
A primer on the vocabulary of organizing
Disclaimer: These are working definitions, based on my experience. I readily admit there are multiple interpretations.
Organizing – NOT as in “organizing my closet” or “organizing a bachelor party.” Rather, working with people to transform the resources they have into the power they need to get the change they want.
One-on-one – The glue of organizing. Usually used to describe the first-time meeting you have with a person who wants to get involved in your campaign, in which you learn about that person and their motivations, relate, show them a credible path to solving the problem, and invite them to move forward on that path by taking concrete action. If you are sending lots of emails, but not having one-on-ones, you are probably not organizing.
Check in – A check in is every regular meeting after that first one-on-one, in which you maintain a relationship by asking questions, coaching, and troubleshooting problems. e.g. “I just had such a good check in with a team leader. She’s going to try a new approach to team meetings and let me know how it goes.”
Snowflake – “What does your snowflake look like?” is not a scientific or esoteric question. It means, “What does the structure of your organization or local team look like, in terms of a sustainable number of two-way relationships?”
Ladder of engagement / pyramid of engagement – Not everyone in the world needs to be a leader within your campaign or organization, but there should be a clear path (be it a ladder or pyramid) for random people to hear about what you are doing (e.g. from a person with a clipboard), indicate interest (e.g. sign and check the volunteer box), take action (e.g. show up to a data entry party), be tested for more responsibility (e.g. be asked to run one), and take on leadership (e.g. be responsible for training others).
Hard ask – This comes at the end of the one-one-one. e.g. “Will you be at the event at 7PM on Tuesday?” In normal life, we tend to shy away from hard asks, but once you get used to them, they are the secret weapon for turning bystanders into actors.
So, will you show up to a town hall this month to voice your thoughts on a new oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby?
Click here to find the town hall closest to you. Email me if you need any more information.