Small Group Action: Getting going

friends

I need your help.

I’ve been working for a bunch of years now on an idea to help us turn our feeling that things aren’t right into real action that has an impact on the world. It’s a toolkit that I call Small Group Action. It’s been used in workplaces and in classrooms and by groups of friends, and it works. It was the basis of my Masters research and I know it can make a difference. 

It’s time to get SGA out into the world, so people can put it to work. I’d welcome any support you can give me.

What is Small Group Action?

It’s very simple: you get a few people into a small group, say 4 or 5 people. You agree to do one action together – a short-term commitment only. You choose the action together, and plan how to get it done. Then you go for it.

4 or 5 people is big enough to do small but substantial things. (You can chain actions together for added effect.) It’s also small enough the group is easy to manage. Short-term means it’s an easy commitment to make, and you get the satisfaction of doing something sooner rather than later.  Group effects help keep you on task – you can actively motivate each other, and no-one wants to let the others down. 

All simple stuff, but harnessed together, all pointing in the same direction? It makes for a powerful engine. 

(There’s more than this, of course, but this is the heart of it.)

What am I trying to do?

The goal is to get the SGA toolkit out into the world. I’m in need of advice about the best way to do this! Some ideas: 

  • A small SGA handbook and forms that walk you through the setup process, all free to download and print.
  • An online tool or app that takes you through the setup process, then sends out reminders/notifications.
  • A website/community that shares ideas for actions and promotes success stories.

Obviously the social nature of SGA lends itself to social media, but I’m not sure how this could integrate effectively with Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc. 

What do I need from you?

First – advice. Help me figure out what the hell I’m actually trying to get done, here. Comments are good, here on the blog or on Facebook or Twitter. Or email me!

Second – enthusiasm. If this is a thing you could see yourself using, sing out.

Third – expertise. Visual design people, community people, web people, psychology people, UX people, game design people, comms people – any offers of help or guidance gratefully received.

OK then. Here we go.

UPDATE: I’ve put a step-by-step and an action checklist over on the Taleturn website.

Anonymous Events

(This was going to be part of the Linky, but I realised I wanted to say a bit more, so….)

Seems like Anonymous, the global hacker group that emerged from the wild free-for-all of the 4Chan websites and burst on the scene with global action against scientology, are doing some interesting stuff right now.

Operation Darknet was a sophisticated plan that, if I’m reading it right, broke through the anonymity of the “Darknet” (the most hidden parts of the internet) to grab identity details for a paedophile network; and it did this because paedophile users undermine and discredit the Darknet, on which Anonymous relies to function. That’s a bit of a hashed summary but the statement is well worth a look. Particularly interesting, they were supported by contacts in the group behind the Firefox web browser.

Operation Cartel on the other hand is yet to launch, and is even crazier. They’re taking direct action against a very dangerous & very resourceful Mexican drug cartel. I would not be surprised if some Anonymous members – or those believed by the cartel to be members – ended up dead because of this action.

Makes me reflect on Anonymous. Global worldchanging events are being enacted and affected by a bunch of 14-year-old tech geeks*. This isn’t a phase; this is structural, part of the incredible shift in power that new communication technologies have enacted. Global life has shifted (irretrievably) online, and power in the online world cannot be restricted by politics or class or any of the traditional control mechanisms. Online, power derives from knowledge and commitment, and only knowledge and commitment. And teenagers are famous for fiercely adopting causes, and for inhaling knowledge about subjects of interest. Oh – and for having time to fill. Anonymous and its successor networks will be making news for a long, long time to come.**

* Yes, that’s the stereotype and it is unclear how much it relates to the reality. But as stereotypes go – I mean, whoa. This has been the demographic with the least social power of all demographics. That was the entire rationale behind that great TV show “Freaks & Geeks”. Time was, 14yo tech geeks were the lowest of the lowest of the low on the totem pole of power. Well. That’s changed.

** And yes, sometimes Anonymous do crazy stuff that probably hurts more than it helps. Comes with the territory. I hope the ratio of help to hurt shifts positively as experiences accumulate through the network and are passed down to new generations of members. And it seems to me that the primary motivation of Anonymous is social justice, with lulz a close second; I suspect that these networks will always tend towards these motivations, partly because teens are fundamentally concerned with these things, and partly because more negatively oriented motives will not be able to sustain a large network. In other words, I think their hearts will always be in the right place when they break stuff they shouldn’t.

Are you ready yet?

Me, three weeks ago:

I’ll expect that disaster survival kits were hauled out and checked across the country this past weekend. We certainly checked out ours, and yes there are a few bits and pieces we could add to it.

But human nature being what it is, as the earthquake recedes from memory, our impetus to add those things will fade away.

Did it fade away for you? A bunch of people noted here or on Facebook their intent to get on top of the disaster survival kit sitch. More would have read it and nodded agreement. Well, time’s up. Have you followed through? Cal and I are almost there – we still need a new torch, because our current one is pretty weedy. Oh, and a transistor radio. Everything else we needed to do got done. And here’s a secret: we did it all either on the first day, or right now on the last day, of that three week period.

Because, fundamentally, we suck at following through. The go-to psyc theory for intended action is the Theory of Planned Behaviour, which says that what we intend to do comes from our attitudes, the social norms around us, and the amount of control we have; and what we actually do mostly follows what we intend to do. That mostly is the tricky bit, unsurprisingly. The gap between intent and behaviour gets pretty big.

In my own thesis work (zing!) I found two other important parts of the puzzle that fill in that intent-behaviour gap: effort, and frame of mind. Effort is the get-up-off-the-couch factor, and we tend to underestimate it. Frame-of-mind is bigger – it’s about how we’re doing when we get the opportunity to act. Good mood, bad mood, etc, but also – and crucially – just plain remembering.

So, a bunch of people stated their intent. Did effort and frame of mind get in your way, or did you follow through? Tell me, I’m curious. If the latter, this is a reminder right here. Christchurch is still getting aftershocks. Wellington is still vulnerable. Lots of places have their dangers and they could hit any time.

Get it done.

Edited to add: Jenni has taken up this idea and is pushing it forward, nudging her friends to get their own kits sorted and promising to chase them up in three weeks. Great work Jenni!

Getting Ready: Checking

But human nature being what it is, as the earthquake recedes from memory, our impetus to add those things will fade away. I’m going to use this blog and its small but attentive readership as a motivation tool, by declaring: in three weeks, our disaster survival kit will be fully stocked up. (6 Sept)

A bunch of people put their names down, and no doubt others thought “yeah, I’ll do that”.
Now, two weeks have gone by, and in NZ the earthquake remains on the front page. Have you done what you intended to do? One week to go in that original plan…

(Encouragement by example: lostperdita has)

As before, comments are encouraged – tell everyone how you’re going. Collective action beats solo action. All the info you need is here: NZ getting ready website

This is Kaibosh

My friends George and Robyn have been hard at work the last few years on starting a charity. I think it’s pretty amazing. They are behind Kaibosh, and what they do is collect surplus food from retailers (so it doesn’t get chucked into landfill) and deliver it to charities working with people who could do with a bonus meal.

That’s pretty much the whole deal – there is leftover food at place A, and hungry peeps at place B, so they make the connection. Simple premise, but (as always) a complex mission in the real world.

George sez:

We wrangled a few friends to become members of our board of trustees and have spent the last 18-months trying to raise funding to increase the scale of our efforts. Our main support has come from Wellington City Council and the Lotteries Commission. With their help we’ve leased an office on Holland Street and hired a part-time Operations Manager. We’re now able to step up our operations (to date we only pick up food from Simply Paris and Wishbone) and hopefully expand our volunteer base (currently sits at six non-trustees).

That is how you walk the walk in this world. I give this whole enterprise one mighty double-rainbow-all-the-way thumbs up. Kaibosh is having a launch party at their HQ tonight at 6pm – come along if you’re in W-town, and eat some of the food, which is of course donated from local businesses.

Kaibosh website
Kaibosh on Facebook

Getting Ready

Perhaps you heard: there was a great big earthquake in Christchurch. A reminder that NZ is basically a big faultline with Lord of the Rings scenery on it. And, as Jack has noted, it’s a reminder that in NZ the disaster survival kit is an everyday common-sensical thing, rather than a sign of extreme right-wing anti-government paranoia.

I’ll expect that disaster survival kits were hauled out and checked across the country this past weekend. We certainly checked out ours, and yes there are a few bits and pieces we could add to it.

But human nature being what it is, as the earthquake recedes from memory, our impetus to add those things will fade away. I’m going to use this blog and its small but attentive readership as a motivation tool, by declaring: in three weeks, our disaster survival kit will be fully stocked up.

Have you checked yours, and found it wanting if so? I invite you to add your name in the comments making a similar pledge. I’ll check up on you and on myself in advance of the three-week deadline. Don’t run the risk of waking up to a local disaster next year and kicking yourself for letting it slide now.

Read up on what you need here: NZ getting ready website

It’s not the thinking, it’s how we’re thinking.

(with apologies to ALAC)
Things aren’t working as they should.
Everywhere you look there are systems that don’t deliver what we as a society want them to deliver. Law enforcement, workforce management, politics, education, media, to name five that come to mind for some reason.
Why is everything broken?
Answer: it’s not. These systems work perfectly. Keep a system running and it will inevitably trend towards finding the smoothest, least complicated way it can do what it does.
The systems fail us not because they’re broke, but because they have to interact with something that they cannot control and that we did not design: us.
We resist change. We resent uncertainty. We fear difference. We desire status. We react emotionally not logically. We interpret the world as stories. We construct for ourselves a self-identity.
Everything that doesn’t work comes from the way we think.
We break the world for ourselves.
And this means we can fix it.

RESOLVE group

Yesterday attended a talk at university by Dr Wojke Abrahamse of Surrey’s RESOLVE working group, about their research project to encourage lifestyle changes in the home in response to climate change. Their project used a mix of information provision, goal setting and tailored feedback over the internet, and achieved significant changes.
This has a lot of crossover with my own research in this area (indeed, one of the questions asked was whether anyone had tried using groups – I held my tongue but will email the relevant parties later). It also has the same limitations – self-report risks of inflating results, preaching to the converted, etc.
Three things of interest:
(1) there is some evidence that environmental changes are more likely to take root when accompanied by other big lifestyle shifts, particularly moving to a new home. Seems obvious now it’s been pointed out. Something to keep in mind anyway…
(2) one of the participants in Wojke’s study was so enthusiastic he tracked carefully the energy usage for each shower by each member of his family… among his detailed conclusions? “The strongest indicator of shower energy use is hair length”. Hee! Is Greenpeace ready to start a “short hair will save the planet” campaign?
(3) this came out in discussion – Wojke felt that the very different circumstances of each person make it difficult to advise people in general where they should start if they want to make some changes, but I think her own data tells a different story. The right place to start is with the very easiest things. All behaviours are not created equal, and some can shift markedly without much difficulty (e.g. stopping the use of standby on your appliances, shifting to low-power lightbulbs) while others demand much more to shift (e.g. using your car less, shifting to home-cooked food from prepared processed food). In her own data, car use patterns hardly changed, even though change in other areas was distinct; this is precisely to be expected. It just seems obvious to me that people should start with the very easiest things (regardless of the relative ecological impact of those things) because each change builds up context for, commitment to and moves identity towards environmental responsibility. (This also betrays my bigger diagnosis that individual action is primarily useful for its consequences in the political marketplace, making politicians act like this stuff matters to voters.)

Freeze for Climate Change

This Friday there’s going to be a Freeze in many centres around NZ. Random people will assemble at 1pm and freeze in place for 5 minutes. Volunteers will hand out little flyers about climate change to people.
It’s for the UN’s World Environment Day, June 5. This year’s host is Mexico City, whereas last year it was good old Wellington, NZ – not that you could tell. Although the Freeze guys did their first run then too:

They expect many more people this time out. The WED theme this year is specifically climate change oriented: ‘Your Planet Needs You – Unite to Combat Climate Change’. There’s a specific focus on the Copenhagan meeting in December, which adds to the messages out of the massive Kyoto Science and Technology Forum in December, which identified Copenhagen as the crucial moment; and the recent talk by Bill McKibben of 350.org pushing for a global day of action in October. You’ll be hearing a lot more about Copenhagen as we get closer to the conference, but the take-home message is that everyone involved in climate change response is looking at this event. This will be where things happen, or don’t happen, that set us on our global course.
So: Friday. Standing still in a street. If you click the videos in my Friday Linkys you’ll know I’m a sucker for that kind of street theatre-intervention. Will it save the world? Of course not. Will it help? A bit. And every little bit helps. Check out the website and head along. If you’re not in NZ, figure out what your area is doing to mark the day – there’ll be something happening. Keep your eyes open and if you can have some fun along the way, great.
Oxfam NZ has a petition on this same subject.
Another reason to care about Copenhagen: it is the stomping ground of REPTILICUS.