What's the Right Offline Event for Your Organization's Online Community?

JoeSolomon's picture

This month's Net2 Think Tank question is: How do real-world (offline) events fit into social media conversations and campaigns?

My thinking: Social media conversations and online campaigns create whole new models for bringing together & powering the progressive movement. Although at core: People coming together in the real-world are key to fueling how we organize for change. We need real world events to be a central part of our online organizing. We need offline events to meet each other, bond eye-to-eye, and forge the collaborations that will make our social networks stronger, better connected, and ultimately transformative.

So - a major question is: How can your online community also support events in the real world? What kind of offline events are the best fit for your community? And what real world event models can you learn from or partner with? Well, let's look at five different event types and see if one or more of 'em sparks some ideas for your community!

1. Is your community all about the socializing? Then check out...

Green Drinks

"Every month people who work in the environmental field meet up at informal sessions known as Green Drinks. We have a lively mixture of people from NGOs, academia, government and business...These events are very simple and unstructured, but many people have found employment, made friends, developed new ideas, done deals and had moments of serendipity."

I've attended Green Drinks in Vancouver & Seattle and think this event format is wonderful for socializing - if that's your cup of tea (or rather glass of wine!) Creating a space for socializing and networking is key for those "moments of serendipity" - and this model is great for those who are outgoing and excel at meeting new people.

Whatever your cause -- How would you help your online community socialize in the real world? Would Change.org's community benefit from "Change Drinks?" What about Care2 - "Care Drinks?" DonorsChoose.org - "EduDrinks"?

2. Is your community focused on accomplishing a shared agenda? Then check out ...


350.org Actions

"We're coordinating a distributed day of events for 24 October 2009, uniting the world around a common call to action--and we're asking you to help. You don't need to have ever done anything like this before--you'll have lots of support through 350.org. And if you're stuck for action ideas, just click here. We'll soon be unveiling a full set of tools to let you manage your local event and build a strong local climate group in the lead-up to 24 October."

The 350.org model enables any individual or organization around the world to create and promote events ("actions") - with a call to action for a fair global climate treaty. The framework is super flexible - as just about any kind of action can be proposed and organized. Since all actions are focused on a shared agenda, and will occur on the same day, their cumulative affect is well-positioned to have a much bigger impact in gaining attention and raising awareness.

350.org Actions are a great example of coordinated events with a shared agenda. These may work best for an online network focused on getting legislation passed - such as certain Sunlight Foundation projects, the Genocide Intervention Network, and the Energy Action Coalition.

3. Does your community focus on networking with learning & sharing? Then check out...

Net Tuesdays

"Every month, the NetSquared community comes together offline at Net Tuesday events to mix, swap stories and ideas, build new relationships, and collaborate. These gatherings provide a chance for all those interested in the intersection of social technologies and social change, whether you're part of a nonprofit organization or a for-profit organization, a funder or a consultant, a developer or an entrepreneur."

I am a proud member of the NetSquared community and have helped organize Net Tuesday events in Vancouver & Seattle. Events can take various shapes and sizes: usually with a socializing/networking element + presentations, group discussions, strategy sessions, or sometimes even games - whatever is a good fit for the community. By meeting in the real world - Net Tuesdays bring the frequent online "social media for change" conversations together for a more intimate, interactive, and hands-on experience.

In addition to helping communities come together around social technologies and social change, Net Tuesdays also represent a flexible way to marry network weaving with community learning and sharing. Online communities which focus on learning & sharing and social networking (like BloggersUnite, Knowmore, & WiserEarth) might benefit from learning more about how Net Tuesdays work.

4. Does your community address local issues? Then check out...

ChangeCamps (+ SeedCamps, HeroCamps, GreenCamps, EcoCamps, SocialChangeCamps & more)

"ChangeCamp is an event format, an open community and a set of tools and ideas designed to give citizens and governments the ability to work collaboratively in new ways to make change and to better address real-world challenges in our communities."

ChangeCamps are currently a Canadian phenomenon started by Mark Kuznicki and others. In theory, though, ChangeCamps could be organized anywhere. So far, ChangeCamps are full-day events with a focus on bringing together communities to address local issues. There's also a strong technology element although the last Vancouver Change Camp proved that you could have sessions on "social networking" co-exist with sessions on "social housing." By using the open-space/BarCamp model - participants are invited to create the agenda together to share their experiences & expertise, build solutions together, and explore ways to collaborate.

This model might be ideal for online communities focused on local issues. Like Vancouver's ChangeEverything.ca and Romina Oliverio's Youth Campaigners in Toronto. You could also extend ChangeCamps with regular events, like Social Innovation Camp does with monthly meetups.

Does your community focus on collaboration and/or on collaborative projects? Then check out...

Photo by ittybittiesforyou
Climate Change Collaboration Initiative

"Our vision is to connect the Not-for-Profit (NFP) sector organizations that have similar mandates, in order to enable them to gain the critical mass that is necessary to bring about the desired social change objectives. To this end there are three primary objectives; to identify a single project around which a group of NFP's with similar missions can collaborate, support the initiative with an appropriate technology platform or set of tools, provide sufficient funding to hire a full time Collaboration Facilitator for the group. This model can be deployed amongst subsets of NFP's that should have overlap in their missions; fighting climate change, alleviating poverty in the developing world, etc."

This model is quite new and is being spearheaded by Suresh Fernando in Vancouver BC, Canada. While it remains untested - it has the potential to create a space for collaboration, foster alliances, and allow for sharing knowledge and resources. It also seems designed to work with any issue-focused community (not just climate change). The Collaboration Initiative could also give birth to projects that take advantage of new tools and technologies which in turn could draw on the Net Tuesday & ChangeCamp models to help your community identify and create relevant solutions.

Online communities focused on collaborative projects (like Amazee) might benefit the most from this event model. Meta-social networks (like WiserEarth) and online coalitions (like Science Commons) might benefit a lot too!

Crime Fighting Team Photo by ittiebittiesforyou.


What event model is the best fit for your online community?

Since every online community is different - you'll likely have the best sense of what kind of real world events are a most-good fit. It could be a re-mix or mashup of the palette of event models above - or entirely new kinds of events! Please share your ideas in the comments!

Here are some additional questions to consider for your organization's offline event strategy:

  1. How would you blend the best elements of the event models described above with your ideas for creating a framework for bringing together your community in the real world?
  2. How do you frame events so various organization representatives within your sector feel welcome to attend and participant?
  3. What role does a support team and/or a Community Builder share in ensuring the success of local events and helping local communities connect to be bigger than the sum-of-their-parts?
  4. How do you use social media and web tools to connect different events together for shared resources, learning, and experiences?

Note: There are lots of other social change event models too!: Eco Tuesdays, Social Actions Lunches, 501 TechClubs, WebofChange, M4Changes, NetworkingforaCause, OpenEverything, Environmental Meetups, 1Sky Local Events, TransparencyCamps, Transition Towns, and more!

Also: This post was adopted from research done for WiserEarth.org - reviewing real wold events for their global web-connected community of environmental and social change makers. Join the WiserEarth convo on the WiserEarth Blog!