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What is the role of technology in organizing

technology can help, but organizing is all about people.

“Technology is a tool that supports mobilization, not a replacement for live personal contact and relationships” (Tools for Radical Democracy, Minieri and Getsos).

I’m on Facebook. I blog. I tweet. I’m doing the whole technology thing.

But it’s also important to recognize the limits of technology.

Organizing is primarily about relationships, and those relationships are mostly about people.

Technology helps organizing when it works within those relationships and strengthens them. Technology impedes organizing when the organizers starts worrying more about the technology than the people.

When I orient volunteers to use our database I tell them, “Our greatest resource are people: our volunteers, members, donors, and contacts. The database is a tool to help us keep track of this most valuable resource.”

What does this mean for organizing?

  • Connect with people personally. Face-to-face is best, phone is second, even in an online world;
  • Give personal follow-up to personal communication. Reply to those random emails you get. Reply to comments on your web site. People still want to hear from people.
  • On the other hand, don’t shun technology. Technology can be a great way to mobilize people you have a relationship with. Who wants to phone bank thousands of people for each event?
  • Above all, remember it’s about the people, not the technology. It’s about the people you serve and the people you organize.

Do I HAVE to spend more time on Facebook? I guess so.

If Peter Brinkerhoff is right, I sure do.

That is, if I want to reach younger audiences. In his latest Mission Based Management Newsletter he writes,

My daughter Caitlin, who is a college sophomore and 19, informed me last summer in no uncertain terms that “no one uses email, no one listens to voice mail, Dad.

And this is a story I’ve heard from other people in higher ed.

Last night, ICPJ hosted a Dinner and a Movie, and let me just say that the crowd was decidedly not of the Facebook generation. So, if we want to stay relevant (or maybe become relevant) to a younger generation, this tells me that we’re going to need to actively invest in working with them on their terms, using their technology.

Facebook it is.

Just don’t make me twitter.