Digital campaigns and Movement building - what happened @ WOC 2010

WOC photo by Phillip Djwa

An open letter to 2010 Web of Change attendees:

Thank you for joining us in September at the 10th Web of Change. We deeply value the time and investment you made to attend. As anchors of the conference -- the people who produced it -- we want to share with you our reflections about this unique year, and get your thoughts on where we are going from here.

At the conference, and afterward on the listserv, we’ve talked a lot about innovation, taking risks and challenging each other and our sector to be better. In that same spirit, WOC 2010 was very much an innovation, and we get that not all of it worked as we had anticipated. This is what we want to explore with you.


Web of Change happened this year because 7 passionate people stepped up to the plate to form this year’s new anchor team. After 9 years, Jason Mogus was done holding the centre of the gathering and felt the institution needed to shift forms. As a result, we moved from a largely central organizing model to a fully distributed volunteer effort of 10 people. 

Doing this had many advantages. The team strengthened and evolved the foundations of Web of Change -- expanding fundraising and communications, creating the new host model, attracting professional facilitators and developing the groundbreaking New Networks Fund which got us on the radar of major funders. Everything went up a notch, a big one, and we rode into Web of Change on a high.

You and 100 other passengers set sail with us that day on a 3 hour tour. A 3 hour tour...

Nasty weather!We all know what happened next. The weather got pretty rough. Ships got tossed. And, for some of you -- especially those expecting a nice, sunny, digital campaign conference -- the Minnow was nearly lost! And yet, at the same time, we felt something quite incredible happening, something new and powerful.

We have had many conversations with participants, hosts and among the anchor team and have challenged ourselves to look at what worked and what didn’t. Here’s our analysis:

Our distributed leadership team lacked a shared vision.

The new volunteer team set out to improve and expand upon past years, but we did not establish a clear shared vision for 2010. This became a challenge by late summer when it was evident so much new energy had entered the system and shifted its direction (see next point below). We also did not properly clarify the role the anchors would play in shaping our content, nor what we would contribute on-site.

This led the gathering to feel less social tech/digital strategy and more social change/movement building oriented. The focus shifted from tangible skill-sharing to grappling with big challenges and ideas. The balance of activities shifted towards dialogue, inquiry and facilitated process. There were fewer Canadians in the room and up front than in years past. And content leadership from the Anchors (thought leaders in digital campaign strategy) was mostly absent from the agenda.

We want to tackle the Big Challenges.

Our agenda has always been very participant driven. Not only in the open space we structure the final day around, but in the actual design of the sessions. This year, a team of new “hosts” -- community leaders from a number of disciplines nominated by our anchors -- were invited to share their biggest challenges. We asked them for the idea in the centre of their desks, and we built the agenda around those ideas.

It turned out what came back were the big hairy topics. How to succeed at failing. Connecting advocacy to change. Why race and ethnicity matter online. Transforming the narrative around immigration in the US. Leaders in our field aren’t messing around -- they are asking the hard system-wide questions that need to be considered if we are to create the big change we seek.

But the anchors did not circle back and re-visit the impact of this new energy. As a result some participants felt a big expectation gap, as we did not harmonize the new focus with the invitation or our communications materials, which were both largely based on the promise and focus of years past. These were both clear mistakes (clear in hindsight that is!).

How did the “engineered collisions” work for you?

For some of you 2010 really worked. For others it didn’t. And we’re sure there are many of you all the way along the spectrum. One long-time participant reminded us Web of Change was always about “engineered collisions” -- techies and organizers, enviros and social justice’ers, Americans and Canadians. Although the agenda team set out to deepen this intention by intersecting communities and creating a level playing field for us to grapple with the challenges of our sector, the intensity with which it happened (along with the stormy weather and power-outage!) was kind of a surprise for most of us.

What will Web of Change become next? The marriage of both.

Web of Change’s roots are grounded in digital strategy. It’s a damn exciting space, and we’re not going to lose sight of that in the future. We were also deeply inspired by the movement building challenges presented and the networks we brought together. That led to transformation -- of ideas, worldviews and people -- and that’s coming back as well.

The future of Web of Change will bring a balance of big thinking and tangible digital campaigns. It will focus on movement-building grounded in how digital is contributing to and leading it. It will provide more skill-sharing and ways to connect, on a practical level, with your amazing peers. It will create more intersections and cross-movement organizing because, if this year taught us nothing else, “it takes many movements” to create the change we wish to see. And, we’ll be adding more resources and capacity for the event itself, so we can continue to make Web of Change better each year.

It seems that bridging worlds and holding this paradox is what the world is asking of us, to grow to the next level of leadership. The anchors are up for the task, as are the hosts, sponsors and funders we’ve checked in with. We sincerely hope you are too!

It is our greatest hope that you will continue to be a part of this community. And if you’re moved to share your thoughts and ideas on how we can best integrate these two streams in our future work, we’d love to hear from you.

Thank you.

Jason Mogus, Jodie Tonita, Michael Silberman, Alia McKee, Gibran Rivera, David Averill, Julia Watson, Nicholas Klassen, Sam Dorman, Karen Uffellman, your 2010 Anchor team. 

Platinum Sponsors Salesforce Foundation Hollyhock

Gold Sponsors

Salsa Labs

Silver Sponsors

Care2 Wire Media Blue State Digital Agentic Firefly Partners Beaconfire

Bronze Sponsors

Advomatic Crowdtangle JacksonRiver Engaging Networks Sea Change Strategies ActionSprout Fission Strategy Organizer

supporting sponsors

Gott Advertising Center for Community Change