Monthly Archives: November 2009

Want to change the world? Be an organizer or support organizers.

By John Hamerlinck

A few years ago Aaron Schutz, who teaches community organizing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, wrote an interesting blog post on “cutting an issue.”  Schutz wrote, “The world is full of what organizers call “problems,” aspects of the world we don’t like—e.g., world hunger, or educational achievement. Problems, however, are too big and vague to grapple with in any coherent manner. In fact, just thinking about them can be disempowering.”organize

Academics love the 20,000 foot view of the problem. It compliments an “expert” model of community engagement as opposed to the crucial, but messier work of organizing. The trouble is that both knowledge and organizing are necessary to create change in communities.

Expertise-driven “programs” too often focus on addressing temporary solutions to issues one person at a time. Community organizing seeks to engage large numbers of people to find collective solutions. It changes the balance of power by creating previously undiscovered power bases.

Partnerships between institutions (like a college and a social service agency) can only produce goods or services. That is what institutions do. Institutions are not so good at mobilizing people who are passionate about an issue to come to a consensus to actively change something. Individuals associated with institutions might be part of organizing efforts. More often than not, however, they are participating on their own time.

If higher education institutions cannot commit to organizing for community change, perhaps we might figure out ways that campuses could support community organizers with the same gusto that they add capacity to other types of traditional client-serving, program-driven nonprofit organizations. This might mean embracing radical notions like a campus-community partnership where the community partner is not a nonprofit organization, but rather, an informal group of passionate and motivated citizens.

If your campus has any effective partnerships with informal associations please share them. If you have ideas on how colleges and universities can support community organizing in general please share those as well.

How Generation Y Uses Facebook

By Julia Quanrud

“People only use Facebook for stalking people they’re attracted to,” says C., somewhat jokingly.  According to C., a recent Minnesotan college grad, he only uses Facebook “to get in touch with people for whom I don’t have other contact mechanisms and for things that aren’t urgent.”

For M., another recent grad from Minnesota, Facebook is a means for “staying in contact with my family outside the Twin Cities.”  M. also uses Facebook to connect with old friends, and used it occasionally during the 2008 political campaigns to connect with organized political activities around the RNC.

Both C. and M. feel that Facebook has little to no value for them in terms of civic engagement.  Neither connects with nonprofits on Facebook, despite the fact that both are involved in their community and volunteer regularly.  The nonprofit for which C. volunteers on the weekends recently set up a Facebook group, but C. doesn’t participate, because it seemed “redundant”.  Rather, C. prefers direct email from the nonprofit’s volunteer coordinator.

But if Facebook is the website of choice for young adults these days, why can’t organizations effectively use it to engage with model young citizens like C. and M.?  A less-than-scientific survey of my hippest friends revealed that most young adults view Facebook as a recreational activity.  You probably shouldn’t use it at work, but it is better than a tabloid when it comes to keeping up with gossip and procrastinating.  So, if organizations want to reach young and active folks like C. and M. via Facebook, there better be a great incentive for them to visit the organization’s page instead of playing Mafia Wars.

The eroded boundary between the professional and personal aspects of Facebook also discourages young adults from engaging with organizations on Facebook.  Users might like portraying themselves as wild party animals to their 200 closest friends, but when professional organizations come knocking, they might become a lot less comfortable with the Facebook identity they’ve created for themselves.  After all, the photo “remove tag” button is there for a reason.  Organizations might try to lure young Facebook users to their page with some fancy Facebook applications, but those applications require users to sign away their privacy rights (and they may be less useful than advertised).  And while Facebook encourages organizations to buy ads in order to attract more users, how effective can an organization’s ad be when it’s adjacent to an ad like this?

That said, civic organizations should continue to explore the potential of Facebook, but they should first develop a strong strategic plan that respects users’ privacy while avoiding what I would label the “fan and flee” syndrome (a Facebook user becomes a fan of an organization’s Facebook page, and then never visits the page again).  Facebook can certainly play a role in engaging youth, as demonstrated by the 2008 Obama campaign, but it is by no means the best way to connect with young adults.  As C. said, the most valuable form of communication with his nonprofit of choice was a direct email.  How old-fashioned.

Developing Indicators of Success

By John Hamerlinck

Here is just a quick post while this is still on my mind. Recent conversations at our forums on assessment and evaluation and an inquiry from a colleague regarding indicators reminded me to share a few useful tips that I’ve collected over the years. None of these are my original ideas, but I can’t recall the individual sources – except for the first one, which I got from Geralyn Sheehan.

  • Never a story without a number – never a number without a story
  • Indicators arise from values. We measure what we value. We value what we measure.
  • Indicators must be: 1) meaningful, 2) robust and technically sound, 3) sensitive and 4) capable of being reported regularly.
  • Measure what you want to be.
  • Measure the cause not just the effect.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of measuring what is easily measurable rather than what is important.
  • Effective indicators give you information while there is still time to act.