Small Group Action: Getting going


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.

Make a Difference


No linky today, too much else on right now. Instead of that I’d just like to link to a short interview I did which is up at the Ruminator.

The interview is with my friend Karen, who is Good People. She came up with a way to do something worthwhile and a steadily increasing bunch of people are jumping on board. It involves sewing, so crafty people definitely want to read. More importantly it shows how she experienced the journey from idea to execution, and I think it’s pretty inspiring stuff.

Also, Karen is useless at self-promotion on account of being all humble and stuff, so do her a solid and read the interview. Maybe you know someone who’d like to help? 🙂

Guest Post: Love Matters

It’s second vote day for the Marriage Equality Bill, & an old friend of mine has a few thoughts about that. The video Craig and his husband Marcel made, at the bottom of the post, is worth watching and sharing. Tell your elected representatives that love matters!

In the past I could not relate the idea of being gay to pride. I remember seeing gay pride campaigns and not understanding the connection between being gay and pride. I no more felt proud being a Kiwi or Pakeha or gay or having blue eyes for that matter. They are all simply ways of describing the attributes of who I am, they weren’t something I had earned, and therefore there was no way to be proud of them.

Today I have a better sense of what pride means. It’s not pride at what I’ve accomplished. It’s pride that I am entitled to and should be given the same respect as everyone else. It’s as simple as this: everyone is entitled to be respected for who they are and treated the same under the law. Some call it pride. I call it respect and civility.

Discrimination is a form of cancer in society. It causes people to feel disenfranchised and isolated, and reinforces ill-treatment of the target group. In my opinion, this prevents a society from ever reaching its full potential.

I know first hand what it was like to be bullied…relentlessly for being gay, and laws that discriminate against gay people indirectly and implicitly reinforce this behaviour. Young LGBT suicides are an absolute tragedy, as are any youth suicides. A society built on acceptance and respect instead of fear and discrimination nurtures and fosters our youth. We owe it to them. We owe it to ourselves.

We have been together now for 15 years, and I look forward to the day when the most interesting thing about that is not the fact we are a same-sex couple, but how it is that he has put up with me for this long.

I’m looking forward to the next 15 years, but this time being your NZ husband.

P.s. No Winston Peters, human rights are not a question of popular vote. Human rights are a question of entitlement and respect. Same-sex marriage is not impinging on the human rights of any other section of society and your job as an elected representative is to protect human rights, not to deflect attention away from the real point of the discussion: State-endorsed discrimination. Tsk tsk.

However, you know what? Even if it came to a popular vote, I have confidence Kiwis would support it.

Thanks Craig!

Here is my Kony post

I didn’t do a Friday linky because I was mad busy & decided that making sense of Kony was a better use of the time I had. Now I share! Because the internet is crying out for one more opinion about Kony! HAPPY TO HALP!

So, you will have not missed that last week the social medias were alight with Kony2012, a viral campaign concerning bringing an African bad guy to justice. It got so big, so fast, that it became real news. Even the 6pm bulletin here in little old NyewZillund carried quite a long story on the phenomenon!

The campaign is by an outfit called Invisible Children and centred on a video that explained who Kony is. It also made clear that sharing the video will help bring Kony to justice. I watched the video. So here are some things:

(1) Apparently a video can go viral even when it is 29 minutes long. This is flat-out incredible. All those grumpy old self-important men who write columns and books about how the internet is the end of concentrated attention can choke on that.

(2) The video is plainly the work of a self-important white male American. I kept wanting him to shut up. Likewise the endless images of red-shirted activists sticking up posters and running around and hugging black people. (But see note 1, below)

(3) But hey, there seems to be a powerful core there. Kony is plainly a bad dude. It is worth knowing about that, and worth fixing that, if we can, right?

Well, sort of. It gets complicated pretty fast. There have been many, many replies to the Kony video and wider campaign, and they come from all directions and focus on dozens of different issues. Sifting through the mess, I’ve fixed on one thing that, in my opinion, a chap or chap-ette should bear in mind when considering Kony2012:
If a step of your plan for justice is “influence the Pentagon to deploy the U.S. military into a foreign country”, then you better be damn sure you know what you’re doing.

As is obvious – I don’t have any confidence that Invisible Children have thought this through. Their promotional material certainly doesn’t indicate any thinking AT ALL about this type of issue, which strikes me as straight-up crazy. The military issue is the big one, to me, because it means even the raising awareness idea at the heart of the campaign, the laudable impulse we have to build a chorus of voices against injustice, becomes problematic as it is tied into the projection of U.S. military force.

Here’s some of the discussion that led me to focus on this issue:
The Justice in Conflict blog breaks down the problems with military intervention as a Kony “solution”. See also a later defence of this post, and a great Salon article by the blog author: Kony2012 – the danger of simplicity

See also a different, complementary take on the dangers of military intervention, also in Salon.

And: “The idea that popular opinion can be leveraged with viral marketing to induce foreign military intervention is really, really dangerous.” – those extremist peaceniks at, er, the Kings College London Department of War Studies.

So there’s that. (See also note 2.) It’s why I’m not keen on this campaign.

And with that comment this post could end, but I have loads more tabs open, so I’ll carry on. Because there are many other concerns about Invisible Children. They have been criticised for questionable accounts & poor value as a charity (contested), and for framing the Kony problem as a white man’s burden. (Note, at the end of the article, the tweets by Teju Cole who is my new favourite Twitter follow.) (Also, more on the white savior complex.)

Two big critical themes seem to be more prominent than others. (Certainly more prominent than the concerns over military intervention that I see as the biggest problem.)

One is oversimplification. It’s a complex situation and the video and campaign paint it as a simple one. It is dangerous to oversimplify a complex situation, say the Warscapes crew. Or, more snarkily:
“On March 6, hundreds of people told me to take thirty minutes out of my evening to watch Invisible Children’s Kony documentary. If, on March 7, you’re not taking thirty minutes out of your evening to read the International Crisis Group’s November 2011 report on the way forward for stabilization and conflict resolution in LRA-affected areas, you’re not doing your job correctly.” – from the blog Securing Rights, which is actually a lot more sympathetic to Invisible Children than many voices, see their fascinating response to discussion.

The other is the absence of Ugandan and other African voices. The value they bring to the table is self-evident, and the fact that I’ve got this far without addressing their absence shows that I’m embedded in my white western perspectives too. BoingBoing did the work of pulling a whole bunch of good stuff together. This link is worth clickering.

Right. That’s enough of Kony2012. I’m personally more interested in Syria, showing both my personal as well as geopolitical biases. I would be very interested to hear from other people about Kony – not about whether you agree with me or not (although yes I am interested in that also), but rather how you’ve navigated the whole Kony webstorm. Did you ignore it? Watch the video and leave it there? Get into the arguments? I’m curious how we navigate controversy and information these days.


Note 1: Being self-important isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re in the activism game. A certain douchebagginess can certainly help get things done. I just won’t like you very much.

Note 2: The viral video not only has the Pentagon as the heroes, but its feature U.S. politician, leading the charge on this issue, is none other than infamous climate-denial doofbrain Sen Jim Inhofe. Check out his other greatest hits. My favourite: “In 2006, Inhofe was one of only nine senators to vote against the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 which prohibits “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of individuals in U.S. Government custody.” AWESOME ALLY FOR YOUR SOCIAL JUSTICE CAMPAIGN DOODZ.

Election ’11: Something you can do

In our MMP electoral system, every vote matters.

Social psychology tells us that the biggest influence on our behaviour is the behaviour of people we know.

Our day-to-day social groups usually share our opinions on political matters, but Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, other social media tools) connects many of us to people beyond this.

So here’s a simple thing you can do before the election: announce on social media how you’re going to vote. Perhaps also say why if you can sum it up in a sentence. No big song and dance required, no need to engage in arguments if people reply. Just speak up.

It will count.

D&D for MMP

On Saturday I helped out for a few hours at the D&D for MMP fundraiser, in which some very game folks embarked on a 24-hour D&D marathon to fundraise for the Campaign for MMP.

MMP, for those outside of NZ, is our current proportional electoral system, which is coming under the eye of a national referendum. I think it’s likely to romp comfortably home, but complacency is not a good idea when there are some well-funded opposing forces with an interest in decreasing the fairness of our democracy.

My role was to sit down with my friend Ben and run the social media for 4 hours, 4pm to 8pm – a live update stream, Twitter, Facebook, and the blog. We had a good ol’ time, and reviewing the 24 hours it is clear our stint was, er, the least reverent.

(I can’t access the livestream right now to find it but I recall being particularly pleased by a comment speculating that the monstrous Owlbear was created after an owl and a bear sat down for a cup of tea in Epsom.)

The event raised about $2000 which is very nice for a grassroots campaign to have. It also seemed to get some nice profile-raising media out of the event – hopefully that translates into a few more dollars and votes.

It was a fun time, and nice to contribute to the bigger picture for a change, something that’s been very hard to do while having adventures in nappyland.

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.

Occupy Wall Street

(Sitting here in New Zealand, I am obviously well-placed to Give Advice to the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Here on my blog I address an audience of as many as TEN different people, and I’m sure the weight of these multitudes will carry this message to the people who need it most. You’re welcome, freedom.)

OWS does not have a list of policy and process demands (yet) and it houses enormous diversity. This movement, says the media and political establishment, is incoherent and without focus.

But the OWS protestors do have a clear single focus; an overarching unified goal of which they share pursuit. The goal is this: getting the powerful to admit there is a fundamental problem with the economy.

This should be the core message of the protests. Every time a camera gets turned on someone at OWS, we should hear this demand. (I’m sure someone has said these words, somewhere, but I haven’t seen it and that means it isn’t high enough profile.)

The protesters all know there is a fundamental problem. They say to the camera: “We are here because our society is broken”. But I haven’t heard anyone say “and we demand that the bankers, the politicians, the media pundits, admit this!”

If this was the message, then perhaps the TV cameras would spend a little less time asking protesters what policy changes they want, and a little more time confronting bankers and politicians with the realities of the system they have created.

(OWS is changing the discourse anyway.)


I am angry.

Last night under urgency Parliament got a new law about internet and copyright almost all the way through. Three things about this make me angry:

(1) The law specifies that if you are accused of downloading illegally, you are presumed guilty (more info)

(2) The law gives government the power to punish a person by removing access to the internet entirely

(3) A controversial law such as this should not be put through under Parliamentary urgency.

More info about the bill is here.

This is a shameful episode in NZ politics. Bad law, and indefensible process. You cannot legislate morality, and you cannot legislate to fix technological failure.

Both major parties voted for this law. Only the Greens opposed (with two independent MPs). Remember that at election time.

Guest Post: Ending World Poverty! & Kiva

Guest post! I’m delighted to share this post by Sean from the excellent, and at present quiet, screenwriting blog Writing About Writing. (He also exists in the real world where he is a splendid fellow.) It’s about microlending service Kiva, which I’ve mentioned before. Sean – thanks for this, a privilege to have this insight!

Hi everyone, I’m Sean.

Morgue has asked me to share my experiences with Kiva, the microfinance website.

Kiva provides lower-cost loans to the world’s working poor, and Kiva is what that this post is about, eventually. But first I’m going to talk about myself for a while (ha ha, you fool Morgue, giving me this platform!)

I’ve wanted to address poverty for a long time, ever since I did a primary school project that opened my eyes to what my life was like in a developed country, and what I could have expected if I’d been born in a developing country instead. I felt lucky and guilty at the same time.

Anyway, ending world poverty was one of my long-term goals that would occasionally pop into my mind: “Oh yeah, really must do something about global poverty one of these days…”

Flashforward to me getting older. Statistically, half my life was over, and I hadn’t done anything substantive about poverty (apart from those World Vision 40 hour famines when I was that primary school kid).

I heard about Kiva through a workmate, who asked for a Kiva voucher as a going-away present. All very worthy, I thought at the time. But I was also impressed that she’d forgone the usual beautiful bowl/platter/piece of jewellery that a leaving workmate would usually get from the rest of us, for something as abstract as a voucher for a good cause.

Anyway, the Kiva seed was planted, which grew to me checking out the Kiva website, mulling it over, and eventual some action. I asked my relatives to give me money for my birthday last year, rather than the extra DVD/pair of socks that I didn’t really want or need. From that money, I made my first Kiva loans.

Okay, so what is Kiva? Kiva is an online conduit that closes the gap between ‘wealthy’ lenders (that’s me!) and people seeking loans in developing countries. Run out of San Francisco, Kiva was set up in 2005, and now has 572,389 lenders (or so!). Lenders provide their money for free – a lender (almost always) gets their money back in repayments, but makes no interest on the loan.

As a lender, I’m provided with summaries on loan applicants from across the developing world. There’s a description of what the loan will be used for – loans are usually for inputs into a small business e.g. buying stock for a shop, or animals as livestock – and some personal details about the loan applicant, which helps humanise the loan. After viewing the summary, I then have the option of loaning US$25 towards the loan applicant (through PayPal), and this US$25 is combined with loans from other Kiva users to fully fund the loan.

Kiva provides loans through field partners based in the countries concerned. The field partner acts as the liaison between Kiva and the borrower: field partners write up the details of the loan on Kiva, and are responsible for the repayment of the loan. As a lender, I can follow the progress of the loans being repaid, and hear updates on how the loan has made a difference for the borrower.

I get to choose my priorities for the loan portfolio. I usually fund women through Kiva – women have relatively little control over the world’s wealth and resources, so I feel like I’m working to redress that in some small way as well. It doesn’t always have to be business loans either – I’ve lent money to someone who needed to replace their roof in the Philippines.

So what are the issues – nothing is perfect, right?

A field partner did suspend repayments on one of my loans for a time due to political/economic turmoil in the country concerned. They’ve since resumed repayments, as they’ve been able to do so.

A bigger deal was when I realised that field partners charge interest to borrowers, and that this level of interest looks exorbitant by Western standards. There has been some criticism of Kiva for not making this plain enough on their website, which I sympathise with. The fact that field partners charge interest isn’t hidden, but IMO it’s not highlighted either.

But after thinking about it, I accepted that the level of interest needs to be measured against the costs of processing loans, and also the rate of inflation in any given country. As far as I can tell, the lending rates are considerably better than would otherwise be available. Kiva defends the field partner’s loan rates here, saying they need to be high in order to cover the costs of the field partners.

Kiva itself makes no money from the loans they are helping to process. As I make a loan, I have the option of also donating US$3.75 towards the running costs of the organisation. Plus Kiva has various corporate partners and supporters.

So, where am I now? I feel good about my Kiva loans. I’m not going to single-handedly deal with global poverty like I used to dream of. I’m not some kind of Economic Superman. But in a small way, I feel I am making the lives of some people in the world a little better in some ways. That’s what Kiva gives me, and that’s why I like it.