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from The Trouble Maker's Teaparty, Charles Dobson
the book here
overlooked cause of low levels of citizen involvement is the internal
dynamics of all-volunteer groups. Countless grassroots initiatives
wither and die without achieving anything because members don't
pay attention to what can go wrong inside a group. Many citizens
groups quite simply drive away their most able members. In a typical
arc, a new member will step forward to work with others on some
public issue, last for a relatively short time, then disappear back
into private life, never to be heard from again. A flash of green,
then nothing. What causes this kind of wilt?
little fun. People who take themselves too seriously can
turn any task into a chore. Getting together should feel more like
recreation than work, no matter how serious the issue. Long-term
activists have fun when they get together. They almost always enjoy
making fun of people in power. Those who understand citizen involvement
stress the importance of having fun over all other considerations.
much emphasis on organization and too little on mission.
Hoping to become more organized, many small groups create little
bureaucracies that drain everyone's energy. Often so much
effort goes into maintaining the organization that there is little
left to pursue the reason for creating an organization in the first
place. Beware of creating a board, forming a non-profit society,
writing grant applications, fundraising, annual reports, Robert's
Rules of Order, and the other components of organizational quicksand.
many meetings and too little action. Most people would
prefer to act on something concrete rather than sit at a meeting
wrangling over an issue trying to "reach consensus".
Some meetings are necessary, but try to keep frequency down, the
length short, and the number of participants small.
much deciding and too little creating. Every advocacy group
needs to generate options for action. To do this well, participants
need to switch off their Voice of Judgment and brainstorm. Unfortunately,
when people get together for a meeting they usually switch on their
Voice of Judgment in preparation for decision making. If they remain
in this critical frame of mind, they will generate few options for
action, little will get done, and no one will have any fun.
many people. Because of the emphasis on getting more people
involved, many people feel that large groups are better than small
groups. This is a mistake. A working group should not exceed ten
people. A small group does not preclude working with others under
the umbrella of a larger group; nor does it prelude communicating
with larger numbers of people through email networks, special events,
and annual conventions.
little contact. It is hard for people to maintain a working
relationship if they rarely see one another. Once a month is the
usual minimum for long-term projects. Once a week is best for hot
or short-term projects. Once a week also fits the way people schedule
other activities. If regular face-to-face contact is difficult,
regular phone calls or email may work as a weak substitute. Community
groups need to pay more attention to unplanned contact.
much to do. Groups of nine or less can often manage on
personal resources, but as group size increases and there is more
to do, a shortage of money and time often leads to spiraling decline.
Without paid staff there is no one to look after organizational
house keeping, and no one to train, manage, and reward volunteers.
As people disappear, many grassroots leaders burn out trying to
do more and more themselves. A lack of resources does not mean giving
up. It means keeping your group small, and inventing clever ways
to use time, connections, and skills. Most important it means matching
what you do to the resources you have available.
Troublemaker's Teaparty: A Manual for Effective Citizen Action
by Charles Dobson
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