In November, the Institute for America's Future convened a gathering to begin addressing this challenge systematically, in the launch event of the IAF Engagement and Collaboration Program. Over 50 activists and scholars gathered at Gallaudet University to discuss core research gaps, and to brainstorm about ways to collaborate and learn from one another on an ongoing basis.
The Engagement Symposium, funded by the Turner, Surdna and Beldon Foundations, grew out of an initial analysis prepared by CTSG for the Turner Foundation in March 2001, which identified a need for this type of project and nine other programmatic areas of investment.
Robert Borosage, IAF's co-director, opened the day and identified the key questions that the Project hopes to address in the future, including:
Borosage noted that the context for the Engagement Symposium event -- the election of 2002 where over half of the country chose NOT to vote -- was both auspicious and daunting for those interested in re-connecting with Americans on so-called "progressive" issues. One perspective to consider, which Borosage described, was the rise of the conservative movement in the last 35 years. From its low point in 1964, the movement's architects took the very long view, and seeded a series of historic projects to reach out to new constituencies/institutions, to create new voices and messengers. Serious, patient and committed capital was invested to develop the conservative infrastructure, with a commitment to bring these ideas into both the national political debate and electoral politics.
Speakers and Resources
The day began with an amination of current approaches, tools and performance metrics for engaging voters, members and activists. Attendees broke into two working groups on engagement metrics and systems & collaboration.
Available additional information from speakers (slides forthcoming):
Outcomes in Brief
Event planners sought three outcomes from the Engagement Symposium.
The Engagement Challenge: The day began with an examination of current approaches, tools and performance metrics for engaging voters, members and activists - and then moved to explore what it will take to push current engagement efforts to the next stage. Dan Carol of CTSG presented a schematic for understanding how funders could gain more efficiencies in funding multiple engagement "lab experiments" by linking these investments to collaborative mechanisms and protocols. Roger Hickey, IAF co-director, presented a long-term vision of the engagement opportunities that abound, noting the potential for an army of activism as baby boomers retire and devote more time to community service.
Cross-Pollination: The Institute invited a wide range of participants from politics, advocacy, academia and the for-profit sector to create new conversations and learning. Commercial experience in designing "customer relationship management" and psycho-demographic clustering are highly relevant to the engagement challenge. Advocacy group experiences in creating deep affinity relationships based on values and passions, not just political affiliation, are another opportunity zone for learning and testing.
Learning Networks: While we know that old alliances and affinities are changing, we don't know why or to what extent. There is a shortfall - an absolute dearth - of useful research on what engages people who care about choice, environment and related issues. There is a powerful need for shared metrics, statistics and demographics of success to test and evaluate engagement strategies, offline and online. Two workgroups on engagement metrics and systems, as well as collaborative mechanisms to support engagement, met in the afternoon to begin developing these networks.
The Institute for America's Future's Engagement and Collaboration Program will continue to sponsor discussion forums on the twin challenges of engagement and collaboration. IAF's upcoming and specific objectives include:
About The Institute's Collaboration and Engagement Project
Half of America does not vote and millions of citizens remain unengaged. Existing advocacy groups are constantly struggling to find new ways to collaborate and extend the reach and effectiveness of their work. Funders, in turn, seek better measures for assessing short and long-term project investments in these areas. The Institute for America's Future will sponsor a series of events, workshops and publications focusing on the two central challenges facing the progressive movement: engagement and collaboration. The lead project advisors are Dan Carol, Founding Partner of CTSG.com, and Mark Steitz, co-founder of Target Systems Development - both specialists in the cross-cutting challenges of communications, demographics, collaborative technologies and techniques as well as grassroots engagement campaigns and collaborations in the field.