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Justin Perkins 7 min read

Moving Ideas: A Higher Order Social Network

(Adapted from Person-to-Person-to-Person:  Harnessing the Political Power of Online Social Networks and User-Generated Content)

By Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D., Executive Director, Internet Advocacy Center , Editor, MovingIdeas.org

While most examples of social networks involve communities of individuals networking with each other, the Moving Ideas Network (www.MovingIdeas.org) is a social network of progressive non-profit organizations, many of which are themselves social networks of activists.  Like individual level social networks, Moving Ideas provides a platform for its members to share their ideas with other members through a variety of channels.  The difference is that the ideas and resources shared are the collective products of an organization and they are shared with other organizations, as well as individuals visiting the website.  And like some social networks, Moving Ideas provides opportunities for its members to connect online and offline.

Think of the Moving Ideas Network as a progressive hub of networks.  To some degree, each member organization is its own social network, albeit with varying social networking opportunities and tools for their individual members.  Moving Ideas is the hub that connects these networks to each other.  This allows member organizations to share intellectual capital—policy research and advocacy campaigns—with other members, as well as with the activists want to stay connected the progressive, non-profit community.

Why Hub of Networks?
In the long run, a hub of networks like Moving Ideas has the potential to create greater social capital among progressive non-profits, the leaders of progressive non-profits with each other, as well as linking activists and the leaders to each other.  Social capital may be the most powerful resource for the people to use in the pursuit of public interests.  Because the free market inevitably under-produces public goods, like clean air, and to some extent affordable housing, these policy interests must be championed by the people and executed by the government.  Rather than try to outspend the opposing private interests, the people can mobilize to act for change, in other words, to use their social capital.  This can take many forms.  The people can spend their social capital by demonstrating, writing letters to policymakers and editors, signing petitions, spreading the word to their friends and family, participating in boycotts and boycotts, and recruiting more activists.  

In the Sixties, E. E. Schattschneider wrote that the masses will always be underrepresented because they lack organization and financial capital.  Network technologies now place organizing tools in the hands of the masses, even if not everyone, addressing his concern for organization and finances in one swoop.  Where Putnam would say we were bowling alone, we are now bowling together in the ether with our friends and fellow activists.  Then we play soccer offline.   Then we organize email campaigns.  Then we email our friends and tell them they should do it to.  Thus, social capital is converted to political capital.

In this way, the hub can increase the synergy of progressive communities to transition from being a collection of separate organizations to a progressive movement; a movement that can more effectively affect social change than issue communities acting alone.

A hub of networks devoted to public interest issues can create interlocking memberships of activists that provide the vast amounts of social capital necessary to counteract the interlocking directorates and vast amounts of financial capital often used by private interest groups.  Regardless of how much progressive organizations collaborate, their members will share interests with many advocacy groups and are likely to be members of many of them.  By exposing these activists to many organizations pursuing progressive policy goals, Moving Ideas helps organizations recruit more activists, while sharing more intellectual capital with each other.

A network hub allows any organization’s activists, as well as staff, to connect with many organizations and activists with related and reinforcing agendas.  Out of this multi-layered network comes a deeper sense of connection among the broader advocacy community and more opportunities to generate local, as well as national actions.  Further, the deeper our cross-organizational connections, the more likely our collective of organizations and activists can transform into a social movement, which we must do if we want to elect progressive officials and who implement progressive policies that can effect real social change.

Alan Rosenblatt, a long time veteran in the field of Internet Politics.  He has published many articles and is a frequent lecturer on Internet politics. As the Executive Director of the Internet Advocacy Center, he brings more than fifteen years of experience in the field of digital politics.

Dr. Rosenblatt currently serves as Editor of the Moving Ideas Network, a contributing editor to Politics Online, a member of the Tools-Peer-Review Subcommittee at the New Organizing Institute, a member of the steering committee for the Progressive Communicators of DC (PCDC), a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Information Technology and Politics, a member of the Advisory Board for DemocraticGAIN, and Washington Bureau Chief for Media Bureau Networks.