Since our meeting on Monday (March 20), I’ve been working on finishing the Indivisible-Upper Yellowstone website and forum. There have been technical glitches (of course) but the main thing bugging me was the question – Among ourselves, how do we best communicate about issues and actions?
Issues and Actions will be the, what, of our group: Lifeblood, essential work, main task…? This means that almost every day we will be faced by new or resurging issues that one way or another we, as a group, will need to learn about and decide if they are: 1. Important enough to us and 2. Something we can or should do something about. If an issue proves to be important and doable, then we need to turn it into action. But what kind of action: Demonstration, letter to the editor, call-in, email etc.? This is called selecting tactics. Assuming there are viable tactics, the action has to be scheduled, logistics worked out, people notified. Then we go out and DO something, which in turn should be documented and hopefully given some follow-up. There’s a cycle here, which given the political realities, will have to be repeated often and for at least two years, and likely, four years.
As we talked about in the last meeting and perhaps you’ve read in emails, we’ve been starting to organize our “issues and actions process” by asking for volunteers in several areas where work needs to be done: Issues (research and recommend), Tactics (research, learn from other groups, recommend and train), Communications (inform our members and the public, maintain the lists of members and contacts), Action Planning (shape and coordinate actions, logistics, follow-up) and Action Teams (where appropriate, people who go out and do things).
I’m really happy to say that we had a good initial sign-up covering all of these work areas (from the March 20 meeting) and it’s always open for others to join in (hint, hint). These volunteers will be the coordinators for the work area in the issues and actions process; but we will also need open full group participation from time to time.
Making a process like this work reasonably well is, first and foremost, a communications challenge. At every step, people need to communicate among themselves what’s going on and what’s going to happen (who, what, when, where and why). Decisions need to be made…and communicated. I wish we could point to a single model that could (simply) explain how to do this, but frankly the rapid fire of issues, the relative complexity of responses, and the newness of the Indivisible movement don’t provide ready answers on how to effectively communicate. I’m sure there are others out there working on the same problems, but we aren’t able to communicate with them…yet.
So for now or for a while at least; it’s DIO (Do It Ourselves).
After mentally chewing on this communications challenge for a week, I don’t have a lot of answers. Some, perhaps; but I reckon it will be a best practices approach to let everybody in on the thinking. Also to participate in doing, as I suspect the best way to learn how to communicate everything is to try communicating – hopefully with some sort of starting point.
One place to start is by considering all the ways we can communicate. Ponder this list:
- Person to person meetings: Either individually or as a group, it’s the core way to get complicated things expressed and decisions made. Of course, scheduling is the problem. It’s difficult to get everybody or even most people together at the same time.
- Phone: Either individually or in conference calls (for example, by Skype) talking can be very efficient, but as with meetings, scheduling is a problem.
- Email: This has the benefit of not being tied to a schedule, but email may also be slow to get responses and it can be a chore to keep track of the traffic (technically, the message threads).
- Website: For the most part, like newsletters, the website can be informative but is largely one-way communication.
- Forums: Electronic forums, such as the one we now have installed at the website, allow people to “chat” or “message” about organized topics simultaneously or at will. Forums can also have “voting” capability and provide focus for many people. However, forums require access to a computer and lots of typing.
- Chat/Internet Messaging: Like forums, these entail a great deal of typing, and like the phone, may need scheduling.
- Phone Text: Most mobile phones can handle texting. Like chat and email, timing and the difficulty of typing out complicated thoughts is limiting.
- Social Media: Like Facebook and Twitter there is a capability to respond to information. The difficulty usually lies in keeping the posts and responses organized (also private).
It’s pretty obvious that no one way of communicating will be sufficient. It’s not at all obvious, given our complicated issues, timing, and large membership, what mix of communications will work best. How do we approach this challenge?
Here’s a proposal:
We take one or more issues (real issues) and consider them as a ‘test’ for developing our way of working on and communicating issues analysis, tactics selection, action plan development, action team preparation, issue and action communication, action execution and follow-up. For example:
Special Election for Montana’s seat at the U.S. House of Representatives. We know that elections are going to be a big part of Indivisible-Upper Yellowstone’s mandate – but in what way? What can we, or should we do, in lieu of the fact that many organizations and of course political parties already cover the field.
Research and develop a local (state or regional) issue that can be executed before the end of the Montana state legislative session. (Parenthetically, we need a reasonably comprehensive list of state, regional and local issues, similar to the one we have for national issues.) The legislature has already kicked out some dandy bills that might be candidates. This tests our ability to stay on top of the often more obscure state/local legislation.
Given some issues: Run them through a hypothetical ‘issues and actions’ process. First, think through possible ways of communicating and organizing. For example: People working the Issues can research the current status of a Montana bill and recommend things we could do. [Communicating with each other via email, phone, and the website-forum]. Their recommendations are posted to everybody. [Via email and website, possibly social media.] Either by physical meeting or by voting on a forum, members can approve the recommendation or not. If approved, people working with Action Planning will develop with the people who know Tactics to create the schedule, logistics and approach for action(s). [They might use phone, email, or forum to communicate while planning.] Put together an “action plan” for the membership, or specific Action Teams. [Probably communicated by email]. People do the action and they must be able to communicate about changes, probably by phone. When an action is finished, somebody should report on how it went. [Email, website, or some sort of semi-official reporting]
Not simple, I know, but we manage to do this sort of thing by winging-it all the time. What a more formal approach can do is, hopefully, make the process better thought out and thereby making actions more effective and lowering the number of mistakes or errors. The goal is to make the process as simple as possible, make it routine, because we’re literally going to go through it a hundred (or more) times in the years to come.
So first we describe the process on paper, and then we test it with a real issue or event. (Hopefully not in crisis mode.)
Before the next general meeting, which is April 17, I propose we have a meeting of the people who volunteered (the list is below) for areas of work – and anybody else who’s interested – to brainstorm about how we communicate and organize the issues and actions process.
As a starting point (that is, negotiable), how about Monday April 3rd 6:30PM at the Food Resource Center?
Indivisible-Upper Yellowstone, Chairperson