Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Evaluating An Organization

While writing some notes for my next planned post (Plan, Act, and Reflect: Group and Personal Praxis), I came up with a chart and thought I'd share it:

Let's say you are a member of an organization and you are talking with someone who is a bit interested but isn't sure if they want to get involved.  They probably aren't going to be very methodical and use charts and checklists, but they are evaluating your organization.  If they say "no" they might not even be able to tell you why they aren't interested, but as I see it, they are sizing you up in a few categories all at once seeing where your organization stands.

Everyone is different, with different thresholds, needs, and interests, but there are some basic questions you'll hear:

"What do you do?"
"What have you done?
"What do you hope to achieve?"
"Why do you think that will work?"
"Where did you get that idea?"
"Is anyone else doing that?"

and so on.

If you take the questions, you can divide things up into categories in a little matrix.  On one axis, you have time - past, present, and future.  On the other, you have the relationship to world - abstract, concrete, and parallel.

Concrete is very grounded and practical - people directly doing things to achieve measurable goals according to a specific plan, building an objective track record.

Abstract is where the inspiration and lessons come from - the values and image of a better world, a critique of the status quo and a strategy for change, and the arcs and lessons of movements before us.

Parallel is other people doing the same things in other places.  If we coordinate together we can achieve more than if we act alone.  If they are leading the way, we can borrow from their experience.  If our ideas and action spread far and wide, we can build power to fundamentally change the world.

What's interesting is that this chart lays out some core pillars that an organization should have, but you can't start out strong with all of them (or even most of them), and it's rare to find good balance.  Looking at organizations I've been involved in, I can quickly estimate where we've been strong and where we've lacked.

A small new organization has no track record and little in the way of action, but it can have a strong, if modest plan.  An local branch or affiliate of a national or international organization can have strong examples to follow and can be a part of a growing, supportive movement.  Some organizations care little about the abstract and focus on planning, acting, and building a track record, while many young anarchist organizations focus entirely on vision and action and ignore the rest.

If you accept that all nine components are valuable, then the chart can help zero in on areas that need work - for example, a local branch of a larger organization might be in a lull - in which case it could be seen as equally strong in most areas, but without a concrete plan or action.  And while the larger organization is experiencing some amazing examples, as a movement, it's likely still in the early stages, with little sense for how we can go from a movement to a revolution.

Something else that's interesting is that the different areas feed into each other and compensate for each other.  A new organization, for example, has no track record.  There's nothing you can do to fix that overnight, but as you build a track record, you need to find a way to assure people that you are credible.  That must be done by showing that you have a solid plan and are acting to implement that plan.  But even that may not be enough - in which case examples from similar organizations in other cities will show that your plan and actions have a chance of working.  If nobody is setting an example, then you will have a hard time convincing people - you're left with using more abstract lessons from history.  Or maybe you can just focus on recruiting people that like the action and are less concerned with whether or not it will work.

Likewise, a new small organization will have very small-scale activity at first.  This can be a problem when recruiting people.  If people see a future of small-scale activity many won't see the point.  Maybe even worse would be people joining specifically because they prefer to stay small and then resisting efforts to move forward.

This requires a bit of stone-soup - if you have a plan for growth and the action clearly feeds into the plan, then you can recruit people on the strength of the plan.  It needs to be credible from the beginning. Detailed enough to be credible and desirable, but not so detailed and firm as to be inflexible and the property of the original organizer. The new members need to fully own and adapt the plan as they go forward.  The plan then helps to build the organization that implements and adapts the plan.

Next up, I'll try to start bringing things together, taking concepts from this chart and some ideas from my previous posts to get a bit more concrete:  "Plan, Act, and Reflect: Group and Personal Praxis"

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