The author of this book, Hahrie Han, is a political scientist who gave a riveting, heartfelt, and compelling keynote address at last year’s Carnegie Summit (which I wrote about here). I finally got around to opening the book, which I had out from the library since last spring, in order to get more details.
Over the course of two years, she investigated two civic associations. One thing I liked best about her methods was that she spent a year learning about them and drawing on quantitative data and ethnographic fieldnotes, then returned the next year with small trials to see if her theories played out.
Her goal was to find out why some chapters had high-engagement from their members and others didn’t. She goes to great lengths (which I won’t here) to articulate what she means by high-engagement and how she paired the comparisons.
Ultimately, she describes three different “models of engagement”: lone wolves, mobilizers, and organizers. L0w-engagement sites combined lone wolves and mobilizers, whereas high-engagement combined mobilizers and organizers. Lone wolves are just what they are called: they have individuals who are “star volunteers,” who work alone, power themselves, and do great things, alone. Their focus is on the issue, not the organization. Mobilizers get more people involved. They capitalize on the interest people already have on an issue and get them to show up. For example, this might mean really long email lists that go out with information, which may or may not pay off in terms of people taking action. Finally, organizers focus on developing leadership and capacity. They invest in volunteers by giving them opportunities and support for leadership.
Particularly relevant in the context of civic organizations, a healthy democracy requires that people have a voice. Having the opportunity and knowing how is part of this. How organizations get people to come out and vote, protest, and lead is critical. “By bringing people together for collective activity, associations teach people the basic skills of democratic citizenship while advocating for their members’ interests in the public arena … Through the ways in which they reach and engage people, these associations can become engines of activism that propel people to higher levels of involvement” (p.28).
Reflections: While this book is outside of my field, it was instructive in terms of the methods and formulation of an argument. I’m not sure whether some of these concepts (lone wolves, mobilizers, organizers) will apply directly to my research, but that is why I write about them here, in commonplace book in the commons.