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.

Twestival Local: Community Building, Globally

If scholars of the industrial revolution are to be believed, around about 1800, for the first time, humanity probably had in its grasp all it needed to work a 20 hour week and kick back, relax the rest of the time. We had machines, automation and specialisation. Obviously things have not progressed quite like that these past 200 years, though some content we should now re-examine that concept and give it a proper going over. Either way, ever increasing (socio)technological advancements over the past couple of centuries have led to Clay Shirky’s elegantly monikered ‘cognitive surplus’. That surplus is the time left over after we are finished butchering, baking and candlestick making. From the 1950s until the turn of the millenium we put that suplus into TV. Now we have the internet. Wikipedia, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. William Gibson’s unevenly distributed future, today; some of us have more of that time than others, but most of us in the western world have a considerable chunk of time to spend. And despite the neigh-sayers dismissing clicktivists, maybe Twitter and the tools of tomorrow really are finding a role in making the world a better place.

That’s the thing about Twitter, it helps distribute the future. But one has to want that future. Of course many come online and stay in their cultural ghettos, hanging off the words of Wossy or Kanye and broadcasting their meal choice, inebriation level or the football score, whatever, I’m not interested in being condescending here. My point is this, millions more Twitters are putting that cognitive surplus to an altogether more ghetto busting use. Exhibit A: belated happy tenth birthday Wikipedia and your 15,000 strong army of English language regular editors. Exhibit B: #UKUncut, sniping the parts other campaigns can’t reach and yes, I am about to make my point any moment now, exhibit C: Twestival, the likes of which was simply not possible ten years ago. @amanda tells the story better than I could, it’s her story to tell after all, I have just a couple of observations below.

For me, Twestival is not simply a fundraiser, but a platform, a methodology for doing what so many of us in the world of online campaigning find so hard, turning online activity, sentiment and intention, into real world relationships, action and okay yes, raising some funds. And the legacy of Twestival Local 2011 I hope will be long term sustainable connections in communities all over the planet.

Can we change the world on the web? I don’t know, but I do know we can meet and introduce fellow world changers online, switch off the power button once in a while and then go to it. Right now Twestival is organising, or more to the point, facilitating the organising, of hundreds of events around the world on March 24th. Thousand of  people who live in the neighbourhoods (online and off) that have never made eye contact are planning parties, bbqs and get-togethers because that cognitive surplus has overflowed into one glorious pot. Twestival. And I am am unbelieveably excited to be part of the the global management team. What’s more, I’d love to hear your ideas on how we continue building on Twestival’s great work and make March 24th 2011 the ultimate day of online / offline local community building, in whatever shape that looks like where you’re at.