Twestival: Lessons for Campaigners

Twestival Toolkit

That was fun. A few months of hard work, lots of new friends made all over the world and a tonne of cash raised for non-profits doing some good work. Thanks Twestival Local. But before consigning the project to the filing cabinet, let me quickly consider some of Twestival’s more interesting attributes.

Twestival may be many things, but primarily Twestival is a network, a Latourian actor network even. It is made up of people and concepts and held together astonishingly by a large number of narrow but elastic paths/relationships on Twitter. Maybe on some other lesser social networks too. Twestival displays the classic characteristics of a network; it’s distributed (simultaneously globally, locally), it is robust (knock out one city, the rest continue unaware) and it is scalable (expansion and contraction do require relatively little resource overhead).

Look, I knew all of this before working on Twestival but actually experiencing it work was pretty special. I can’t overstate the value those Twitter paths played in management and information dissemination. Of course email and Google Docs and Skype were part of the toolkit, but day-to-day when something had to be done fast, and when exciting a volunteer as well as spreading a message was crucial, then Twitter was the medium of choice. Twestival didn’t happen without it.

Where does Twestival go next? I don’t know, ask @amanda. That’s not so important as where some of these network management techniques go. I’m going to let Manuel Castells bring the party:

Networks are complex structures of communication constructed around a set of goals that simultaneously ensure unity of purpose and flexibility of execution by their adaptability to the operating environment.

Sounds just like Twestival and indeed lots of other campaigns. Maybe it’s time we conceived some of our campaigns using a paradigm of networks rather than in the classic Euclidian manner encompassing, as it does, a start point (campaign launch) and end point (win/loss), typically in two dimensions with one axis denoting the all too quick passing of time.

What do we gain from a network approach? I’ll give one benefit right now; people. For many campaigns, finding, organising and activating volunteers is a tough job. We have to spend valuable time seeking out those who are engaged, receptive to action, capable of action, willing to spread our message and so much more. Aspects of network theory as proscribed by Castells and Yochai Benkler, may help us out here. Certainly Castells would have it that in the networks, where innovation is a valuable commodity, the innovators become apparent quickly. That for me was the beauty of Twestival. Innovators coming to the fore, engaging, taking the project framework and iterating.

So two jobs now for campaign (network) organisers. 1) Be aware, you are creating networks, not a-to-b routes. 2) Figure out how to find the innovators. Both of these warrant follow up posts.