The following post was written by my Media, Activism and Participatory Politics research team, including Alexandra Margolin, Yomna Ali, and Ritesh Mehta.
In February, the Media, Activism and Participatory Politics (MAPP) team at USC organized a series of conversations on Scaffolding & Sustaining Participatory Politics in partnership with Connected Learning. It had been a year since our last webinar series (see “Storytelling and Digital-Age Civics: First Sessions As Seen from the MAPP Situation Room”) and it felt like an ideal time to check back in with many of the activists that MAPP has partnered with in the past to tackle the often elusive concept of “success.”
This time around we also introduced a new component to the conversation: the twitter chat. Twitter has always been a part of MAPP’s webinar conversations, with members of the MAPP research team live-tweeting highlights from our webinar conversations. However, rather than operating as a back channel we decided to bring these twitter conversations to the forefront. One week after each of our two webinars, we hosted up a follow-up conversation on twitter using the hashtag #byanymedia to highlight questions and themes that emerged from the previous webinar conversation.
This post highlights some of the key thoughts and themes from the first webinar conversation and twitter chat from the series (see Webinar 1 Speakers here). The full webinar recording is embedded below, but if you don’t have time to watch it in its entirety we have also included some highlights.
We wanted to kick off the series by raising the question of what does success look like in participatory politics? As an individual or organization, how do you define what your successes are and how do you determine if you have been successful? Some highlights include:
- Harry Potter Alliance co-founder Paul DeGeorge discusses the success of the Occupy Movement at 5:48. Maybe Occupy “did not effect change at that moment, but I am hoping to see implants of those seeds of change, and you see grass roots levels are starting to pop at local levels.”
- Longtime immigration rights activist and Miguel Contreras Foundation Director of Programs Ilse Escobar highlights the power of narrative and the agency that comes with communities of color knowing their histories at 9:30. To Ilse, the bottom line was to be realistic about who will be included and who will be left out, and helping immigrants understand the reality of their situation.
- Zachary Cáceres, entrepreneur and current Executive Director of the Startup Cities Institute and MPC Creative Learning Community at Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala City, discusses connecting with your intended audience (starting at 13:40) through “targeted media outreach. We were trying to figure out how to translate certain ideas that were very abstract very theoretical into language that people would understand” while still stay true to their own mission.
- The participants discuss the role of learning with some differences in perspective. Is learning an end in itself, or a means to reach a specific goal? See their responses 16 minutes into the broadcast.
- Sometimes successes can be clearly demarcated. Host Henry Jenkins asks Paul about the recent successful conclusion of an HPA campaign. See Paul’s answer at 22:10.
- However, not all successes are so clearly measurable. As Zachary mentions it is easy to fall into the trap of traditional methods of measuring success which are not truly indicative of behavioral change. He suggests that this “comes with the territory of nonprofits.” See the clip at 25:40.
- Once you reach an endpoint, what comes next? According to Paul (at 50 minutes): “We continue to learn from what we do. We continue to be ambitious in our thinking. But moderate that ambition from what we’ve learned from our past campaigns. . . What is the best fit for us going forward, not necessarily what other people want us to do.”
- How do you move beyond numbers to measure #civics success? What metrics do *you* use?
- Diana Lee (@MsDianaLee) : “Some successes are less quantifiable, but that doesn’t make them less important . . Things like belonging to, building & contributing to a community, and self-efficacy, hard to measure but vitally important.”
- How do you show that minor/singular successes (campaign, events, etc.) are part of a larger success story?
- Alexandra Margolin (@msmixedmargolin): “Narrative and framing [are] huge in demonstrating success or needs.”
- Raffi Sarkissian (@rSark): “First the ‘larger success story’ should already [be] visible as larger goals of organization/activist, i.e. mission statement . . . [so] you can build on an ongoing narrative of the movement and its ‘movement’”
- Knowing your community’s history can give you power/language to act. How do you use history in your work?
- Samantha Close (@ButNoCigar): “Making sure your action ties back to things important to your community–not only to pundits or funders”
- Alexandra Margolin (@msmixedmargolin): “Working in communities of color, knowing your history is imperative to grasp the context in which you are working in. . . Knowing the histories of your community/those around you, allows you to understand structures of power.”
- Diana Lee (@MsDianaLee): “My work centers on people’s everyday lived experiences. “’Know history, know self. No history, no self.’”
- Civic Paths (@civicpaths): “Many, multilingual & diverse are the voices of time’s passage. We can make them converse w/ each and other & w/the present.”
- Civics/social justice work is never done. After achieving your goal(s), how do you start setting new ones?
- Civic Paths (@civicpaths): “Sometimes it’s not about goals. It’s about staying with the aftermath. Re-presenting & appropriating for future history. . . ‘The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those who follow.’ – [Finding Forrester] (2000)”
- Samantha Close (@ButNoCigar): “See what worked tactically and what new problems it can be applied to #byanymedia that are important to you”
- Raffi Sarkissian (@rSark): “I think reevaluation at every step of the process is a good practice. Successes [shouldn’t be] taken 4 granted nor overestimated”
- Samantha Close (@ButNoCigar): “That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”
Look out for the next installment on this topic as we shift our focus from conceptualizing success to tackling the more concrete steps of achieving set goals.