There aren’t a lot of website tools for organizations in Canada looking to create effective online petitions, build their email lists or put supporters in touch with their Members of Parliament. Make Poverty History Canada has helped develop open source software to do exactly these tasks, and wants to share it with other organizations for free.
So Make Poverty History sponsored a workshop for activists to learn more about the tools on Saturday at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto. A Hackathon was organized for the Sunday, where open source software developers gathered to work with the code to improve it, learning and sharing with each other in the process.
Here’s a few key learnings from the weekend
Workshop for Online Organizers
1. The power of these tools is that they put Canadians in touch with their elected representatives.
These tools are useful for creating online petitions, allowing people to send messages (email or fax) to specific decision makers – members of federal, provincial or municipal legislatures, or corporate targets – and growing an organizations email list. There is only one commercial option with that kind of functionality in Canada, and it’s not free.
2. This kind of online engagement is the first rung on a ladder of engagement.
These tools are only useful if they are part of a larger plan to engage with your supporters in a campaign. They are often the very beginning of a relationship with your supporters, and you need to keep them engaged in meaningful ways to bring about the change they (and you) want to see.
People are justifiably dismissive of “slacktivism“: the low-effort feel-good online “engagement” that has no follow up actions to take.The world doesn’t need more slacktivism.
These tools, if used properly, give you an email list of people who are interested in bringing about the same kind change you want to see. How you ask them to work with you (and each other) to bring about that change is the whole challenge of online organizing.
3. This software is “Free” as in puppies, not as in beer.
What do I mean by that? You still need resources to adopt these tools. You won’t pay a dime to anyone for the software, but you will still need to have someone your org trusts to install, troubleshoot and maintain these Drupal tools. By introducing these tools to the wider Drupal community, I hope to have more people who fit that bill in the months to come.
On the Sunday, a half dozen experienced Drupal developers gathered in the same space – and a few more joined us online - to learn about the code and make some improvements to how it works. This is the magic of open source software, and the community that supports it: there’s a real commitment to sharing with and learning from each other.
We had six priority upgrades to the code, and each developer tackled one of these improvements. We shared ideas, methods and code, and the results are online here for anyone to download and work with. Many of the changes will make it into the final code, available from Drupal.org here.
And for those who recognized that perhaps the biggest televised event in Canada in 2010 was happening at the same time, I am happy to report that we didn’t miss the game.