What happens when you get twenty leaders from some of the world’s most impressive NGOs and campaigning organizations* together to explore the intersection of online mobilisation, in-person (or offline) activism, and real-world change?

We just had a chance to find out. In collaboration with Anastasia Khoo and her colleagues at the Human Rights Campaign, we recently organized an intimate roundtable discussion to share collective experiences, challenges, and the new opportunities we’re seeing with online-to-offline mobilisation.

It was the first of what we’re calling a “Spark Summit” — small, informal half-day gatherings of practitioners who come together to step back and “talk shop” in ways that don’t otherwise take place online, over email, or at large conferences. This event was framed as an off-the-record conversation to encourage honest sharing, so this post will only summarize our big takeaways from the event without attributing any names, orgs, or specifics.

The day began with three short presentations to give the group a taste of three different mobilisation models in action. Afterwards, participants broke up into smaller discussion groups to workshop specific topics. These discussion topics ranged from understanding the transition process from mobilizing to movement building to developing strategy for the upcoming Presidential election to sharing best practices and failures on new digital tools. The insights gleaned from the final report back and group discussion at the end was a testament to both the expertise of the group and the still evolving nature of our work.

As the day continued, it seemed that the conversation was less about listing best practices and narrowing the list of what works (which our organisations are typically focused on), but rather asking the right questions.

Organisations ranging from online start-ups to established, global institutions struggled together with the questions below, among others. We hope these questions will also support your own work and challenge your team to improve and grow.

  1. How do we create a reflective feedback loop with supporters which is both institutionalized and evolving? This question surfaced a range in practices among the large, established organisations and the small, fast-moving organisations who empower supporters to inform or lead decision-making in a wide variety of ways.
  2. In order to grow our movements (and for the upcoming U.S. presidential election), it’s critical that we connect with and engage new audiences. When reaching new audiences, how do we establish shared values with them while keeping loyal to our organisation’s founding principles?
  3. Everyone is so focused on online-to-offline mobilisation; but what about offline-to-online mobilisation? In some countries (i.e. India), it might be equally important to bring people online to mobilize action. What is the significance of offline-to-online mobilisation and should our organisations address it?
  4. As new digital tools emerge, how should our organisations proceed with testing and integrating them into our mobilisation efforts? When is it right to take the risk and switch to a new platform and when should you stick with what you know works?
  5. Are we investing in campaign-driven mobilisation opportunities (short-term) or movement building (long-term)? This probing question led to an honest, reflective discussion in which individuals revealed internal organisational flaws and challenges. These challenges included: arrogance, fear of failure, short-sightedness, and lack of initiative, to name a few…

Although the questions related to meaningful online-to-offline mobilisation are complex, it was an extremely useful exercise to have a frank discussion identifying them and comparing organizational attitudes and approaches.

Participants in the conversation had the unique opportunity of time in which they were able to reflect on their mobilisation strategy and learn from others. The event was not only fruitful for the information generated, but even more so for the relationships developed. Those at the July Spark Summit are part of a larger community of practice and growing network of mobilisation leaders which will surely generate more questions and answers.

Interested in Spark Summits? Sad you missed the first one? Don’t worry – the Mobilisation Lab is planning to co-host three more Spark Summits as well as support associated Spark Teams for Greenpeace staff! The next Spark Summit will be in Amsterdam on the topic of volunteer networking platforms in late August. For more information, contact moblab@greenpeace.org.

*Thanks to our colleagues from the following organisations for participating and making this conversation possible: Alliance for Climate Education, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL -CIO), Amnesty International, Avaaz, Change.org, ChangetoWin.org, Citizen Engagement Lab, Greenpeace, Human Rights Campaign, Invisible Children, Jhatkaa, New Organizing Institute, Resolve, SaveDarfur, The Engage Network, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)