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January 15, 2004


Connecting People and Organizations in the Environmental Movement


The environmental movement is at a critical juncture in its history.
It has brought about numerous and important achievements over the last
four decades. But recent setbacks in the United States show that its
hard-fought accomplishments are still all too vulnerable to changes in
political winds caused by pressures from special interests. The
viability of life on this planet is too important to allow the short-
term interests of such a small majority to interfere with society's
urgent need for a more sustainable path.

Immunizing society from such harmful influences means integrating a
new set of values into its very fabric at a scale not seen in this
country since the shifts that accompanied universal suffrage and the
broadening of civil rights. It means harnessing these beliefs to build
a broad-based social and political force capable of applying both
political and economic pressure to shifting society into more
sustainable patterns. This is the task facing the environmental
movement at the outset of the new century.

The environmental movement requires new organizational structures and
strategies to succeed in this next phase of its evolution. This paper
presents a model called "Movement as Network." This model may have
relevance to other social movements and networks, but the focus of
this paper is using it to think about new ways of restructuring the
environmental movement so it can be more powerful and more effective.
The core ideas of this model are:

** Movement as Network: The environmental movement is not just some
vague concept, but an actual entity; a network, made up of very real
interconnections between people and organizations that is greater than
the sum of its individual parts. This network is difficult to
visualize, but it is real nonetheless, and the health of this network
is a critical factor in determining the vitality and power of the
environmental movement.

** Restructuring Organizational Ties: Organizations play a critical
role in organizing resources around specific missions within the
broader environmental movement. Today these organizations are badly
fragmented. They have diverse missions but tend to operate with
similar funding and organizational development models that lead to
competitive friction. At the same time, they lack the inter-
organizational connections needed to better integrate their work. By
specializing, restructuring and improving connections between
organizations, the movement has an opportunity to transform itself
into a dynamic network with far greater resilience, responsiveness and

** Segmenting Connections with People: People relate to environmental
causes in different ways. The movement has done a good job of
connecting with one-sixth of the public via "high engagement"
membership and activism strategies. It must now also build a "low
engagement" strategy to connect with the remaining 80% of the public
who share environmental values. New organizational strategies are
required to reach and serve these new audiences.



Ron Arnold, one of the founders of the "Wise Use" movement and a
leading opponent of the environmental movement, once used the phrase
"segmentary and polycephalus"[1] to describe the proliferation of
small, autonomous organizations focusing on various aspects of
environmental protection.[2] The fragmentary nature of this social
movement and the multifaceted lens of issues through which the public
sees it have resulted in the perception that the environmental
movement is inconsistent, divided and out of touch with the concerns
of ordinary Americans -- even as survey after survey shows that most
people agree with its basic values.[3]

In the harsh light of today's political and funding climate, many
environmental leaders are questioning whether the environmental
movement has the right strategies and organizational structures in
place to bring about the kinds of lasting change required to ensure
that our planet remains healthy and vital for many generations to
come. Opinions tend to fall into one of two categories:

** The first sees the movement's chief failings as fragmenting its
power across many small organizations and confusing the public with a
cacophony of voices.

In this view, the right strategy for success in the current austere
financial times is to concentrate investments on proven leaders and
let smaller, marginal organizations consolidate or wither away.

** The second approach has roots in the grassroots organizing theories
of Saul Alinsky, and shuns bulky organizational structures and long-
term strategic planning in favor of more fluid, loose-knit networks of
people working together on high impact campaigns.[4]

This paper is about a third path -- "Movement as Network" -- with the
potential to unify these seemingly contradictory approaches. Movement
as Network shifts the focus away from individual people and
organizations working on environmental issues and toward the
connections that link them together. At the heart of this third path
is a belief that the environmental movement is not just some vague
concept, but that it is an actual entity; a network, made up of very
real interconnections between people and organizations that is more
than just the sum of its parts.

The Movement as Network Model

What follows are the outlines of a new model for thinking about the
environmental movement called Movement as Network. While elements of
this model may look familiar, Movement as Network is not intended as a
description of the environmental movement as it actually exists today.
It is merely a model to simplify today's organizational structures and
relationships as a means of identifying new ways of restructuring the
movement in order to transform its "segmented, polycephalous" nature
into new sources of flexibility, diversity and power.

Organizations in the Network

Organizations have unique missions that lead them to play different
roles in the network.[5] These roles fall into three broad categories,
each with its own set of optimal strategies and organizational
structures. It is common for environmental groups to mix these sets of
strategies today. But one of the primary tenets of this paper is that
the movement as a whole becomes far stronger when organizations
specialize in one of the following three strategies.[6]

People Organizations

People Organizations define themselves by serving distinct audiences.
Some focus on specific demographic segments, while others focus on
geographically-defined communities. These organizations come in two
varieties: small grassroots organizers and large environmental brands.
Their role in the network is to reach out to various segments of
society and help them build appropriate connections with environmental
causes. The keys to success for these organizations are carefully
defining audiences and listening closely to their needs. Because these
groups define themselves by constituents whose interests are rarely
one dimensional, they tend to span issue areas and occasionally expand
beyond a strict focus on the environmental.

Solution Organizations

Solution Organizations define themselves not only by the issue they
focus on, but also by their particular approach to solving it. Some
may solve problems with hands-on field research; some by playing
watchdog to a particular government agency. The range of issues and
solutions is incredibly varied which goes a long way toward explaining
the incredible diversity of the environmental movement. Collectively,
these organizations define the mission of the network by identifying
the problems that need attention and by developing the broad range of
approaches to solving them. Solution Organizations house the
movement's issue-related technical and policy expertise. They also
play a critical role in ensuring that ecologically important issues
receive focus even if they lack the kind of mass appeal to draw large
constituent bases.

Resource Organizations

Resource Organizations define themselves by the particular expertise
or resources that they bring to the rest of the network. These
organizations specialize in developing unique resources and expertise
and in deploying these resources throughout the network to raise its
collective effectiveness. Examples of expertise include fundraising,
technology, campaign strategy, legal strategy or marketing and
communications. Examples of resources include providing financial
support and particular types of infrastructure such as meeting places
or communications infrastructure.

"Re-organizing" the Network

Distinguishing these three different organizational roles opens new
possibilities for rethinking relationships between environmental
organizations and suggests ways the movement might be restructured
into a more powerful and integrated whole. This fusion is captured
symbolically with the three linked triangles in the icon to the left.

Organizational "un-bundling" and specialization

The 1990s were a time of economic upheaval as US financial markets
pressured industry after industry to restructure itself to become more
efficient. The huge decline in charitable funding from the boom years
of the late 90s is now putting similar pressure on environmental

Specialization is one of evolution's key tricks for eking out
efficiencies. Profitability is the private sector's natural selector.
Over the last decade corporations have invested heavily in outsourcing
as a means of allowing them to specialize in what they do best and
increasing their profitability. Because they are not driven by
profits, mission-driven organizations lack the market signals
encouraging them to specialize in what they do best.

As funding has dried up in recent years, the closest thing to this
type of pressure comes from foundations and other supporters trying to
avoid redundancies and program overlaps between their grantees.

The current funding crisis is now exposing the degree to which the
environmental movement has over-invested in institutional overhead at
the local levels in recent years. It is replicating board development,
fundraising and many other functions across thousands of very small
organizations. One of the important conclusions of this paper is that
organizations need to find ways to un-bundle these duplicate
activities and specialize in what they do best. For People
Organizations this means focusing 100% on listening to and serving
specific audiences. For Solution Organizations this means focusing
entirely on identifying the most pressing ecological problems,
developing effective solutions and distributing those solutions
throughout the network. For Resource Organizations it means developing
a resource or area of expertise with broad applicability to large
numbers of organizations and distributing those resources efficiently
throughout the network.

Why the jack-of-all-trades is a master of none

Most environmental nonprofits currently attempt to mix elements of all
three strategies. They do this in part because they have been taught
to do this through a model of organizational development widely
practiced throughout the nonprofit sector. This model emphasizes a
standard approach to diversifying funding through growing large
memberships, hiring development staff, investing in board development,
etc. The uniformity of this model nudges all organizations towards a
common organizational development model, which increases competition
between groups, burdens them with extra administrative overhead, and
distracts them from focusing on what they do best.

While a few organizations do successfully manage multiple strategies,
they do so at the peril of ignoring "opportunity costs" -- the value
forgone by investing resources across multiple strategies rather than
concentrating them in one area where they most excel. Organizations
best suited to People strategies, for example, may be tempted to build
their own "in-house" solutions to specific ecological problems. But
doing so usually increases the pressure to push these in-house
solutions on constituents, regardless of whether they naturally map to
their interests. The opportunity cost in this example is that the
resources poured into this particular in-house solution could easily
have been used to improve the organization's ability to listen to and
serve its constituents, or perhaps to grow the organization's ability
to reach more people. Another example is an organization with an
excellent solution to a very specific ecological problem that
squanders its resources by trying to build a large constituent base
out of a niche issue. The opportunity cost here is failing to invest
more in perfecting its unique solutions to their issue.

Specialization and a focus on core competencies open the door to new
strategies and new types of relationships between organizations.
Complexity theory suggests that for the environmental movement to
evolve to its next stage this kind of specialization of institutions
is half the problem. The other half is weaving these very different
individual nodes together into an integrated, harmonious whole. This
will be the focus of the Implications of the Model section of this
paper below.

Reframing People's Connections to the Network

Ask Americans whether they agree with the broad goals of the
environmental movement and four out of five say yes. Ask whether they
are actively involved and the number drops to one in six.[7] This
disjuncture between people's stated values and actions has been an
ongoing source of frustration for environmental activists. The
Movement as Network model approaches this problem by seeing the
"public" less as a monolithic entity and more as a mosaic of many
intersecting segments of people. Segmentation is a powerful tool,
especially when it takes into account people's values, beliefs and
lifestyle preferences. The Movement as Network model segments people
into three nested circles based on their level of interest and
engagement in environmental issues.

1. The largest, outer circle represents the 80% of Americans who are
sympathetic citizens -- people who view the environment as a low
salience issue; important, but not urgent in their day-to-day lives.

2. The next circle represents the one out of six connected citizens
who have some direct connection to a part of the environmental

3. Inside that circle is the active core made up of active volunteers
(activists) and the professional staff of environmental groups.

The history of the environmental movement over the last quarter
century is the story of engaging the two innermost circles and there
is still incredibly important work that remains to be done at this
level. Even in the rosiest scenario, the sympathetic citizens in the
outermost circle will only participate in lightweight engagement in
environmental causes. For more involved civic actions requiring
greater expenditures of personal time and energy, the movement will
stop dead in its tracks if it ignores its active core.

The story of the environmental movement over the next quarter century
is about building relationships with the outermost circle of
sympathetic citizens. It is about engaging the "environmental
majority" and building the deep societal commitment to sustainability
that will protect our world for generations to come.

The organizing and membership strategies that worked well for building
relationships with the inner circles need to be completely retooled
for this larger segment of society. Members of this broad segment do
not define themselves as "environmentalists" so finding them may
require working through churches, parent groups and other institutions
with which they have trusted relationships. Connecting with this
segment means refraining from inundating them with endless streams of
issue-specific action alerts and press releases. It means listening to
people and helping them to interpret and synthesize these issues in
ways that resonate with their core values, beliefs and lifestyle

Implications of the Model

Having outlined the Movement as Network's basic framework of the three
organizational types and the three segments of the public, the focus
now shifts to some of the implications of the model for Solution,
People and Resource organizations.

Solution Organizations

Solution Organizations collectively define the purpose of the network
in that they identify the environmental problems that need attention
and the specific means of solving them. In many ways, Solution
Organization strategy is the easiest to misunderstand because it maps
so closely to how the majority of environmental groups organize
themselves today.

Solution Organizations are extremely diverse due to the variety of
approaches that can be adopted to solve a particular problem in a
particular place. A group that protects orca whales off the Puget
Sound, for instance, might specialize in field research, in playing
watch dog to whale watching tours or in developing marine regulatory
policies. A Solution Organization might spring up to adopt any one of
these strategies or some combination thereof -- and others might crop
up just like it in separate locations.

While they differ on issues and approaches, Solution groups do share a
number of things in common. When they do their jobs right, Solution
groups all carry out the following activities:

1. Problem articulation: Developing a solid understanding of the
problem they are trying to solve through research, then clearly
defining and articulating the problem.

2. Solution development: Identifying, testing and developing specific
approaches to solving the problem. In many cases, the output at this
stage is a specific set of policies they want to see adopted.

3. Strategy development: Developing the power map identifying decision
makers, influencers, allies and opposition. Determining how to reach
and persuade the first two, work with the third on areas that are not
core competencies, and neutralize the fourth. In many cases, this
amounts to the packaging of policies in ways that aid their adoption.

4. Solution implementation: Executing the strategy. Assessing impact
and refining as necessary.

The Movement as Network model has the most to say about step three
because strategy development is the step that is most focused on
identifying how a particular solution relates to other people and
organizations in the network.

Scale affects how to reach decision makers and influencers

The number of decision makers and influencers involved in bringing
about a particular solution determines the scale at which that
solution needs to operate.

Lowering carbon dioxide emissions by appealing directly to tens of
thousands of drivers to persuade them to drive less, for example, is a
large-scale problem because it involves independent decisions from
many individuals. In contrast, tightening state regulations around
stream flow policies could be a smaller scale solution if officials
are capable of being directly influenced by a handful of concerned and
motivated activists. The number of decision makers and influencers
involved in solving a problem determines its scale. Scale determines
the types of strategies that need to be employed in order to bring the
solution to fruition.

The tight issue focus of Solution Organizations narrows their appeal
to niche audiences of people with passion for their issue. Some issues
appeal to broader audiences than others, but rarely do Solution groups
at the local, state or regional level build active constituent bases
larger than five thousand people. What these constituent bases lack in
size, however, they can make up for in passion. Well run Solution
Organizations can have very strong followings of loyal financial
supporters and volunteers and extremely involved activists. Solution
Organizations thus are most effective when they work on problems that
are smaller in scale and where they operate at the two inner circles
of the public: the active core and the connected citizen. Solutions
that involve small numbers of decision makers and influencers are the
perfect scale for these types of organizations.

Solution groups are analogous to product companies. Product companies
focus their resources on developing great products. They can reach
niche audiences effectively on their own, but in order to scale out to
much larger audiences, they need to rely on intermediaries. For
example, Levis designs clothing that meets the needs of particular
audiences but distributes through retailers to get them into the hands
of large numbers of people. The company could invest in building its
own retail outlets, but doing so takes away from its focus on making
great products and competing at the retail level may dissuade larger
retailers from carrying its line. The Movement as Network model
suggests a similar relationship between environmental groups, where
People Organizations become the channel through which Solution
Organizations reach large segments of the public for large scale

Because a large part of what Solution Organizations do is develop
policy around specific issues, this model suggest they focus on
developing and packaging "policy products" that can be easily marketed
and distributed by People Organizations.

Identifying and Working with Allies

Environmental protection work is subject to constant change.
Strategies that fail to respond quickly and flexibly to the changing
ecological, economic, political and social forces lose effectiveness.
The most effective Solution groups mitigate these kinds of risks by
developing a range of solutions to the problems they work on.

Outsourcing is a powerful way to increase an organization's breadth of
expertise and range of solutions without diminishing its
responsiveness to change. Rather than permanently maintain a top-tier
campaign strategist on staff, for example, a Solution group might
contract this work to a specialized organization or consultant when it
is really needed for a particular campaign. There will always be
solutions that are so specialized or strategic they need to be staffed
in-house, but many, many types of activities, such as fundraising,
organizational development, and technology planning and
implementation, have broad applicability for large numbers of
organizations and are excellent candidates for outsourcing.
Outsourcing is, in fact, the primary connection between Resource and
Solution groups. Outsourcing frees organizations to concentrate
resources on those activities where they truly add the most unique
value -- their core competencies. In this sense, Solution groups become
the network's "solution catalysts" by fluidly marshaling the
expertise, resources, people and organizations best suited to solving
a particular problem.

When this kind of coordination of resources and expertise happens
between Solution Organizations it forms a "Solution Network." Because
Solution groups work with the most engaged segments of the public (the
active core and connected citizens), improving collaboration within
clusters of Solutions organizations is one of the most important
things the environmental movement can do to more effectively engage
its current constituent base.

Within the Movement as Network model, there are two distinct types of
Solution Networks: solution sharing networks, and solution
coordinating networks.

In a solution sharing network, organizations share knowledge and
resources around a particular solution or approach to environmental
problems. In many cases, the organizations participating in solution
sharing networks are geographically distributed and collaborate
relatively easily because there are obvious benefits from having a
dedicated local presence in a particular place.

Examples include habitat restoration work, watchdog roles, land
acquisition, and field research. If these local points of presence
remain isolated from each other, investments are duplicated and it is
difficult to build the critical mass of expertise needed to develop
the solution to its fullest potential. In some cases, the network is
hub-like with the bulk of the expertise and innovation occurring in
one centralized location. In others, the network is more peer-like
with expertise shared in a more distributed fashion across


Sidebar -- Example:

The Land Trust Alliance is an example of a fairly centralized solution
sharing network, by disseminating best practices in land conservation
solutions with a network of over 1200 land trusts operating at local
and regional scales.


In a solution coordinating network, organizations with different
solutions collaborate and target their different approaches at a
common problem. Forest groups, for example, might connect their legal
strategies with public outreach and land acquisition work in a
coordinated push for protection for a particular area. These types of
solution networks typically take the form of short term collaborations
and account for the bulk of multi-organization campaigns in the
environmental movement today. Solution coordinating networks are very
important because they can bring together fairly passionate
constituent bases from the two inner circles of engagement. Solution
coordinating networks are tremendously powerful for bringing about
deep forms of engagement on small-to-medium scale solutions.

Solution coordinating networks can be extremely difficult to maintain
because of competitive friction between groups, arising from a
scarcity of resources, with money being one of the biggest sources of
division. Organizations participating in solution coordinating
networks can have a lot of overlap in their pools of prospective
financial supporters. This is because these supporters are more likely
to connect with these organizations through an affinity with an issue
than through the particular programmatic approach the group takes. For
this reason, groups in solution coordinating networks are extremely
protective of their relationships with supporters. There are
technology solutions that enable coordinated communications across
organizational constituent bases without sharing actual names between
groups. These solutions will go some distance to enhancing
collaboration amongst these networks, but deeper collaboration
requires that the movement focus its attention on reducing the
financial sources of competitive friction between members of solution
coordinating networks.

The focus on narrowly defined issues that most Solution groups have
limits their appeal to niche audiences. When Solution groups face
problems requiring participation from larger segments of the public,
many are tempted to try to build these connections themselves. This
path leads to failure because their niche issue lacks the kind of
broad appeal capable of attracting large audiences. Another approach
is for Solution

Organizations that face large-scale problems to partner with People
Organizations to in effect "distribute" their solutions to a larger
constituent bases. The networks that form between these types of
relationships are solution distribution networks. As Solution groups
run into problems that require reaching out to the larger ring of the
sympathetic public, these distribution networks should not be limited
to nonprofit environmental organizations. Other kinds of nonprofits in
the health, social justice and other sectors may make excellent
distribution vehicles for certain types of solutions. Similar
distribution partnerships might also be found with for-profit
publishers, broadcasters and retailers.

People Organizations

People Organizations define themselves by their audience. Where
Solution Organizations start with issues and use power maps to
identify the decision makers and influencers they need to engage to
solve that issue, People Organizations start with clearly defined
audiences, work to build their power and then apply that power to a
variety of issues. People Organization strategies come in two flavors:
big brands and grassroots organizers. While different in many
respects, both share a laser-like focus on understanding and serving
their constituents in ways that go beyond mere positioning to the very
core of their what they do and how they do it.

People-centric Grassroots Organizers

These are the grassroots organizations of the environmental movement.
They coalesce around relatively small, well-defined communities of
people who band together in order to increase their collective power.
These grassroots organizations tend to eschew marketing techniques as
a means of connecting with constituent bases in favor of more direct
forms of face-to-face outreach and other traditional organizing
tactics. These organizations are critically important for a number of
reasons, not least because they are the environmental movement's
primary means of connecting to the people who live in many of the
remote areas it seeks to protect and to communities impacted by
environmental health issues.

Some of these communities are bound by values while others are bound
by a shared interest in a specific issue, such as removing a toxic
waste site. Values-based grassroots organizations tend to be longer
lived and more institutional in nature because their members share
broad concerns that keep them engaged over time and provide them with
a sense of belonging and community that justifies formalizing these
institutions and staffing them with full-time professionals.

In contrast, issue-specific grassroots organizations tend to be more
ephemeral in nature, gaining and losing their draw as problems rise
and fall in urgency. This kind of grassroots activity tends to lend
itself to volunteer-driven, looser-knit organizational structures.
Much of the movement's over-investment in institutional overhead at
the local level is a result of erecting permanent institutions around
this kind of grassroots activity rather than keeping it informal and
volunteer driven or rolling into the more permanent values based
community organizations.


Sidebar -- Example:

Northern Plains Resource Council helps Montana citizens organize on a
broad span of issues affecting the farming and ranching communities of
Montana. To quote from its website: "make no mistake about it;
Northern Plains Resource Council is its members. North Plains is
built around them and depends on the."


People-centric Environmental Brands

Branding is receiving growing attention in the environmental community
today. While many groups stand to benefit from branding techniques,
building large-scale brands to reach out to broad segments of the
public is expensive and difficult. The environmental movement needs to
be very careful about these investments.

Today, broadly recognized environmental brands are almost exclusively
the domain of large national and international groups like World
Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and Sierra Club. These groups
spend heavily on mass marketing, membership promotion, and donor
cultivation and have broken through the noise to build brands that are
recognizable by broad segments of the public. This approach has worked
reasonably well at a national scale where expensive marketing programs
and brand building can be amortized over large audiences. Strong
environmental brands are noticeably missing at the local level, making
it difficult to mobilize large constituent bases on the local issues
that most affect the places people live.

Assuming for a moment that strong local environmental brands are
possible, how big could one get? Even ignoring the larger 85% of
sympathetic citizens and just concentrating on the connected citizens
segment, a strong People-centric environmental brand in a metropolitan
area like Seattle should in theory be able to focus the political
clout of some 400,000 people (16% of Seattle's population of 2.5
million). Contrast this with the largest environmental groups in the
city, whose membership tops out at less than 8,000 people. The
potential political clout of Seattle's connected citizens is split
into hundreds of tiny constituent bases, isolated from each other by
organizational boundaries.[8] Unifying these local bases into active,
integrated political forces is one of the most important challenges
facing the environmental movement today and People Organizations
represent its best chance for doing this.

People Organizations as Environmental Intermediaries:

Intermediary organizations place clearly defined audiences at the
center of everything they do. They focus on building relationships
with these audiences, listening to their needs and translating those
needs into services. Intermediaries play a special role in connecting
audiences with a range of suppliers who can meet their needs. Rather
than build these goods and services themselves, they specialize in
listening to what customers need and solving their needs through a
variety of sources. We run into examples of local intermediaries in a
variety of contexts every day: realtors (Windermere in Seattle),
bookstores (Powell's Books in Portland), travel agents (Doug Fox
Travel in Seattle), radio stations (KING FM in Seattle) and newspapers
(The Oregonian in Portland).

The environmental movement is nearly devoid of this kind of
intermediary which help citizens make sense of its bewildering
cacophony of voices. Environmental reporters in mainstream media
outlets fill part of this void, but their lack of focus and the
constraints of profitability make them fall far short of what is
possible and needed.


Sidebar -- Example: Grist Magazine is an online news and editorial
service aimed squarely at the budding next generation of 18-34 year
old environmentalists. Its tagline, "doom and gloom with a sense of
humor" highlights its unique and keenly insightful approach to serving
this audience.


A local People Organization might fulfill this role as environmental
intermediary by starting off as a publisher, or "infomediary" -- an
organization focused on interpreting the most interesting, most
relevant news from the broad range of environmental issues affecting a
specific community. As an intermediary, this environmental publisher
would concentrate on listening to the needs and interests of its
audience and make heavy use of outside sources such as local Solution
groups for their stories.

If this People Organization does a good job of listening to its
audience's needs, it will likely find that being of service to them
does not stop with aggregating and interpreting environmental news. If
it truly understands the values and lifestyles of its audience, it
will uncover all kinds of unmet service needs that fall within its
environmental mission. Examples include organizing outdoor recreation
activities (hiking, biking, and kayaking outings), providing avenues
for people to exercise civic responsibilities (voters guides, online
advocacy campaigns), offering new types of consumer services
(information on healthy eating choices and energy conservation,
connections and discounts with green businesses), and providing
education opportunities (nature walks, lectures). The People group
does not have to build and operate these services itself. Just as they
source subject matter expertise from local Solution groups for news
stories, they can also outsource specific service opportunities like
organizing nature walks and other education opportunities, running
targeted campaigns, or managing volunteer beach cleanups. This is the
concept of the solution distributing network, and through it, People
Organizations play the role of intermediary, or broker, in connecting
local audiences with Solution partners in order to offer the broad
range of services needed to appeal to larger segments of sympathetic

This type of collaboration between People Organizations and Solution
Organizations improves the environmental movement's ability to respond
flexibly and powerfully to change. Over the last decade, environmental
organizations have become steeped in the importance of strategic
planning. Many of the movement's leading organizations are as
effective as they are because they have invested in long-term
strategic plans to guide their activities over three-to-five year
planning horizons. Strategic planning is particularly important to
Solution Organizations because of the time needed to develop their
knowledge and expertise and because progress on many environmental
issues requires time and steady focus. While the increased use of
long-term strategic planning has been positive for the environmental
movement, it has also reduced its flexibility and responsiveness to
change. People Organizations offer an interesting solution to this
dilemma. These organizations succeed by understanding the shifting
interests of their audiences and what issues are most likely to
capture the excitement and energy at any given point in time. They
move from issue to issue, highlighting one solution or another at
various time in the form of campaigns timed by audience interest,
politics, and other opportunistic factors. By distributing the
solutions of Solution Organizations in solution distributing networks
this way, People Organizations enables [sic] the network to focus
resources on building expertise around specific issues solutions while
remaining and flexible to responsive to change and opportunity.

One of the most difficult aspects of running a large People-centric
environmental brand stems from defining its mission. For these
organizations, it will be very easy to confuse the means of being of
service to their audience with the ends of protecting the environment.
Serving larger, more mainstream audiences frequently makes
organizations more conservative in outlook and approach. For the
purposes of the Movement as Network model, however, these
organizations are first and foremost social change institutions.
Whether they bring about this change by aggregating political power
like MoveOn or focus on broader types of personal behavioral change,
the services they provide to their audiences are always clearly
understood a means to these social change ends.

Resource Organizations

Resource Organizations develop and distribute resources and
specialized expertise needed by the rest of the movement. These
organizations are some of the easiest to identify today because they
map directly to the movement's capacity builders, consultants and
foundations. Though small in number, these organizations play a
critical role in ensuring a healthy and effective movement.

One of the key conclusions of the Movement as Network model is that
organizations need to concentrate on what they do best and outsource
the rest. This concept is particularly important to Resource
Organizations, for they are most often the providers of this
outsourcing activity, in the form of technology support, media
consulting, fundraising assistance, as well as marketing and campaign
advice. This expertise takes time and money to develop. There is a
subset of Resource Organizations known collectively as "capacity
builders" that specialize transferring their particular area of
expertise to other organizations. The Movement as Network model
suggests that duplicating these investments across thousands of small
organizations is a bad use of network resources and runs counter to
the outsourcing model that has been used so effectively by the private
sector. Capacity builders need to reassess the universal applicability
of the "teach them to fish" emphasis on training and in-house capacity
building. There are times when organizations just need to buy the
fish. Capacity builders need to help organizations focus on what they
do best so they can outsource the rest.

Diversifying funding models

The Movement as Network model suggests some new strategies for funders
in investing their financial resources into the movement over time. An
important part of funding social change organizations is assessing the
core competencies of prospective grantees and determining whether
their organizational strategies and structures are capable of
fulfilling their mission. In a world of finite financial resources, it
is also entails determining whether the organization has a sustainable
financial model.

What is financially sustainable for one type of organization may not
be for others. Resource Organizations have the potential to earn
significant portions of their income from the services they provide to
the network. People Organizations invest heavily in outreach
activities that build the kinds of large constituent bases capable of
supporting sustainable individual donor programs. They may also earn
income from services provided to members. Solution groups for the most
part lack fee-for-service income, and in many cases focus on issues
that are too narrow to draw anything but a niche major donor base. For
this reason, Solution Organizations are likely to remain dependent
upon long-term foundation support. From the perspective of the
Movement as Network model, this may not be a bad outcome.

Over the last decade, Solution Organizations have been taught to
follow a standard organizational development playbook, encouraging
them to diversify their funding base away from heavy foundation
dependency by building individual donor bases. Doing so adds
considerable administrative overhead to these small organizations as
they add development staff and communication processes for finding and
maintaining relationships with large constituent bases. In many cases,
the pressure to build large membership bases out of issues that are
not naturally conducive to garnering broad public interest and support
has led organizations dangerously off mission. Foundations need to
help remove this pressure and allow these organizations to "rightsize"
themselves, by stripping out this administrative overhead and
concentrating on what they do best and what is most needed by the rest
of the network.

For foundations, such a strategy marks a significant change from
currently perceived best practices. Foundations understandably like to
diversify risk in grantee portfolios and encouraging their financial
diversification is one means of doing this. There is also probably not
enough foundation funding available to carry the full financial burden
of supporting the wide range of Solution groups in the field today.
While stripping administrative overhead from these organizations will
enable them to do more with less, many hard decisions will need to be
made in choosing between organizations based on the importance of
their mission, their strategies, organizational structure and how they
fit with other organizations in the network.

It is also important to note that this type of strategy shift can not
be adopted overnight. Resource Organizations need time to help
transition their budgets increasingly to fee-for-service models and
People Organizations will need time to build up the large constituent
bases, development processes and services to meet their financial
needs. There will always be exceptions too, but the Movement as
Network model suggests that the critical role played by Solution
Organizations within the network is the one that is most needy of
support from the foundation community.

The Movement as Network model also suggests that funders need to
invest far more resources in facilitating connections between
organizations in the network that is the environmental movement. While
many foundations have strived to increase collaboration between their
grantees over the years, far too little work has been done to
facilitate new and better relationships between the individual people
who work in these organizations. Fostering these stronger social ties
is important work that requires new investments in communications
capacity, information sharing and opportunities to mix together in

Closing Thoughts

The Movement as Network framework represents a new way of thinking
about large social movements. It starts with the premise that these
movements are not just collections of individuals and organizations.
It suggests that something more than the sum of individual parts
emerges out of the interconnections between people and organizations.
The vast web of relationships connecting these entities forms a
network, and when viewed with a network perspective, interesting
patterns emerge.

The Movement as Network model suggests that the key to strengthening
the environmental movement is building more and stronger connections
between its participants. Stronger ties between organizations come
through focusing on core competencies and unique roles as a means of
removing competitive barriers and building lasting patterns of
collaboration between organizations. Building more and stronger ties
to people is the heart of any social movement. It comes from
understanding the differing needs of various segments of society and
building services that attract and commit them to the course of sustai
nabi lity.

The kinds of shifts in organizational behavior this paper proposes
will not be easy. Entrenched ways of thinking and the sheer scale of
the changes will lead many to conclude it is unrealistic and cannot be
done. And yet, deep down inside we know that something is not right.
We see that despite all its advances over the past quarter century,
environmental protection is still dangerously dependent on short-term
shifts in the political and economic climate. True and lasting
environmental protection depends upon building a society that thrives
in harmony with the natural world and this level of impact requires
integrating environmental concerns into the fabric of society at a
much, much deeper level than exists today. Working harder doesn't get
us there by itself. We need new models and new approaches.

The Movement as Network model was inspired by recent developments in
network theory and complexity theory. This paper is an initial attempt
to tease out some of the lessons from these new sciences and apply
them to a network of interrelated environmental missions. It and the website are intended as a conversation
starter; a catalyst for additional thinking and work by others in the

Complexity theory teaches us that extraordinarily complex and
wonderful accomplishments can emerge through the connected-yet-
independent actions of individual parts, just as a beautiful symphony
emerges from the synchronous playing of violins, flutes, horns, and
percussion. Network theory teaches us that weaving tighter connections
between the organizations and people in a network raises the
effectiveness of each individual node while raising the collective
effectiveness and value of the entire network. In this sense, the
Movement as Network model should inspire us, for it reminds all of us
working on individual aspects of environmental protection that we
belong to something greater and far more powerful than we could ever
amount to by ourselves.

Continuing the discussion...

The Movement as Network model raises a number of questions worthy of
deeper analysis than is feasible in this paper. The website will hopefully serve as a catalyst
for further exploration of many of the issues raised by the model.
This site will not only include additional background and references
to additional sources of information, but will be a place for others
to contribute their ideas to the dialog. Some of the issues to be
explored on the site include:

* Strategy within the network: Is it true that organizations should
pick only one organizational strategy, or can an organization succeed
by combining a Solution Organization strategy with a People
Organization strategy?

* Funding the network: The model suggests that not all environmental
organizations are well suited to individual donor programs and that
foundations are likely to be their primary source of funding. What are
the implications of this and is it really feasible in today's tight
funding climate?

* Marketing the network: Building strong brands of any type is
difficult at the local and regional level. Is a powerful local
environmental brand really feasible? What strategies and approaches
are most likely to succeed? How many of these kinds of brands are
feasible within a particular city or state? More generally, what are
the best ways to reach new audiences?

* Organizing in the network: How well do power maps work in
determining organizing strategies?

* Serving the network: Knowing when to outsource expertise or build it
in-house is not a science. Under what circumstances is a particular
expertise best kept in house? When is "capacity building" appropriate
and when is it best to simply outsource a particular need?

* Connecting the network: Are personal ties really the best way to
build institutional connections within the network? What are the best
avenues for building these ties? What kinds of investments do they
require? How might social networking software and other technologies
help facilitate these connections?

* Collaborating in the network: Are solution sharing, solution
coordinating and solution distributing networks feasible? Under what
circumstances? Can these networks be extended beyond the environmental
movement to include partnerships with organizations in other social


Gideon Rosenblatt is executive director of ONE/Northwest
(, a Seattle-based nonprofit that uses technology to
connect and engage people and organizations in order to protect the
environment of the Pacific Northwest.

ONE/Northwest has just completed a strategic plan to guide its work
over the next five years that draws heavily from conclusions of the
Movement as Network model.

Before joining ONE/Northwest, Gideon held a variety of senior
management positions in marketing and product development over the
course of ten years at Microsoft. While there he pioneered some of the
company's earliest work on the Internet and founded CarPoint, one of
Microsoft's most successful consumer businesses. He received his MBA
in marketing from the Wharton School in 1991 after spending several
years doing business consulting work in China. Gideon is a partner in
Seattle Social Venture Partners where he is active in strengthening
ties between Seattle-area venture philanthropists and the region's
environmental community. He and his wife, CJ, live in Seattle with
their two sons, who were the primary motivation behind Gideon's
decision to leave the business world and focus his energies on
ensuring a healthy natural world for future generations. Gideon can be
reached by email at

[1] "Many-headed."

[2] There are over 1,300 organizations listed in ONE/Northwest's
Northwest Conservation Directory (which includes Alaska, British
Columbia, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon) and recent IRS Form
990 tax data suggests these numbers may be closer to between 2,000 and

[3] It is worth noting that the "Wise Use" movement has made an
explicit strategy of alienating the public from the environmental
movement by helping to foment an environmental backlash in the 1990s.
In a 1991 Arnold told the New York Times, "We created a sector of
public opinion that didn't used to exist. No one was aware that
environmentalism was a problem until we came along."

[4] For an interesting high-tech version of this approach see Martin
Kearns' 2003 whitepaper, "Network Centric Advocacy: Applying the
Principles of Network Centric Action for Environmental and Progressive

[5] For an interesting look at the role different actors play at
different stages in the lifecycle of a social movement, see: "Doing
Democracy" by Bill Moyer, with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley and
Steven Soifer. New Society Publishing (August 2001). ISBN: 0865714185.

[6] For a similar model applied to commercial firms see: Net Worth:
Shaping Markets When Customers Make the Rules. By John Hagel III and
Marc Singer. Harvard Business School Press; (March 1999). ISBN:

[7] April 2000 Gallup poll. 83% agreed with 'broadest goals of the
environmental movement' while 16% were 'active participants'. "The
Grassroots of a Green Revolution: Polling America on the Environment"
by Deborah Lynn Guber. Page 3. MIT Press; (January 2003). ISBN:

[8] A ONE/Northwest survey of 123 conservation groups across Alaska,
Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho in September 2002 found that the
average (mean) constituent base of these organizations was around
2,400 while the median was only 1,000.