“Have you organized a diverse and distributed group of people and moved them to action?”

Code for America asked me a few questions. I thought I’d blog them.

What’s your experience working in or with government?

  • My first public sector job was in my junior high school’s stationery store.
  • I had a high school internship with the State of California’s Wilmington oil field engineering team.
  • I slung books for the Long Beach public library.
  • I directed traffic for the City of Long Beach’s convention center.
  • I issued and maintained gear in the physics lab at Cal State Long Beach.
  • I managed a team for the Naval Supply System Center in Oakland as a GS-8 civilian operations research analyst, assuring fissile material and toilet paper continued to flow to the fleet through new logistics systems. At 19.
  • I was a business development analyst for Bechtel National, successfully finding, researching and drafting responses for billion dollar chemical and civil engineering project requests-for-proposal including the removal of nuclear waste from Soviet-era Siberian missile silos.

Can you communicate?

I’ve been a communicator and storyteller.

  • Sang in my high school musical, competed on the school speech team, published poetry.
  • First civic op-ed published in a major newspaper as a college freshman.
  • Designed the U.S. Navy’s community relations program for a major base closing while still in school.
  • Sold computers, managed sales people, developed curriculum for b2b salespeople (in case you are interested in persuasive communication).
  • Started blogging in 1998 and was one of the metabloggers who defined social media through the mid-2000s.
  • I’ve spoken at academic and tech industry conferences.
  • Writer and Managing Editor of a Skype-focused group blog from 2005-2011.
  • Slideshare featured several of my presentations on their front page.
  • Quora named me a Top Writer for 2013 and 2014 and published my work in Forbes.

Can you organize?

I’ve been an advocate for privacy and personal data rights.

  • I was a director of the DataPortability Project where we defined the basic right to take your data with you and persuaded some of the largest Internet firms (Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and others) as a core practice.
  • I was a director for the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium where we helped small firms and NGOs build personal control over personal data into their apps and business models through collaboration, publishing, and strategy services.
  • I served on Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center citizen committee with colleagues from the ACLU, EFF and Oakland Privacy Working Group, for 18 months, designing a privacy architecture civic technology.

How about Code for America brigade life?

I’ve been a member of the OpenOakland brigade for years. Along the way:

  • I’ve coached teams and been a member of several
  • I’m a member of the Executive Team, co-leading the Marketing Director role
  • I ended a thriving project and partnership when it didn’t meet our values
  • I led CityCamp sessions
  • I co-wrote the job descriptions for the OpenOakland leadership team
  • I instituted many of our core practices including:
    • a rework of our hack night process,
    • a focus on optimizing the volunteer experience,
    • more use of email and social media to engage our publics,
    • project “stand up” status blogging, and
    • proposed product portfolio metrics and annual strategic objectives.

I co-created OpenCalifornia (now the California Civic Laboratory). CCL’s an alliance of local brigades to work on common applications and problems, especially those where we have more impact together. We’re pioneering ways for brigades to collaborate remotely between hack nights and to blend distance and in-person work. Our first product, the multicity Open Disclosure California, goes live this fall.

Have you organized a diverse and/or distributed group of people and moved them to action?

The long story: My East Bay Kerry organizing experience.

What we did:

  • 18 months before the 2004 presidential election, ten of us met in a Berkeley café to organize East Bay Kerry. With no money, no official sanction, and a simple organization design and free online tools, we grew (between 30-35% each month) to 5000 full time volunteers from Alameda and Contra Costa counties for the month before election day. That’s more than 3.7 million person hours over the campaign (1 million person-hours in that last month).
  • We made one million phone calls to swing states.
  • We set up professional service bureaus of lawyers, geeks, media relations pros, technologists, and creatives supporting field offices in swing states.
  • We hosted debates and stump speeches. We trained and operated a speakers bureau.
  • Despite not being a recognized “political club,” we elected many delegates to the national convention.
  • We sent swarms of people to get out the vote in Reno and in other swing territories.
  • We registered and turned out more Democratic voters in our two counties than in the history of California and the party.

How? Some of our hacks:

  • We pioneered using the then-new Meetup.com to recruit and organize events each week.
  • We designed an intake experience (often in cafés) where people told their stories of why they wanted change in America, connecting them to each other and reaffirming their sense of purpose. We:
    • Oriented them to the organization so they had a sense of how they fit in
    • Put everyone to work right away so they’d feel a sense of accomplishment and proof that this was a way to get things done
    • Connected them with a team so they belonged and would have people to connect with as the campaign continued.
  • When teams got too big, they split up, keeping each team personal and nimble.
  • We adopted medicine’s “watch one / do one / teach one” practice for moving people rapidly from newbies to leadership.
  • We used blogs, mailing lists, and drupal sites to communicate.
  • We tried to be gracious to volunteers for other candidates, inviting them to meet with us before and after the primary election, successfully bringing other cadres and communities into ours without quashing their spirit and ambition.

We learned:

  • The Edge. Decentralized authority can work at scale.
  • Faith. Commonality of purpose is a prerequisite. It lets volunteers sacrifice their time and egos to work together.
  • Every volunteer matters. The volunteer is “the customer.”  Design everything so it gives the volunteer satisfaction and enjoyment and they’ll come back for more and bring their friends.
  • Hide the Administrivia. Some volunteers thrive on admin work; sequester it so everyone else can enjoy their work. This is a special case of…
  • Tailor work to the person. Exploit their skills, talents, and enthusiasms. This means intake is often about helping them find where they can be of service.
  • Steal from work culture. We helped our volunteers solve our campaign problems using what they brought with them and the ways they already knew to get things done.
  • Scale needs a managed social graph. We limited cross-talk so teams could focus. We set up “ambassadors” to manage communication between our organization and the many others.
  • Not every volunteer matters. We walked away from people without Internet access and mobile phones: our connective glue. We walked away from people who wanted to backseat debate public policy instead of trying to help our candidate win the election.
  • Seek Forgiveness. Bold action affirms every volunteer’s power to initiate. New teams, new projects, new approaches were tried at the edge. Successes were spread within the organization and to others.
  • Keep processes and communication channels simple. Every time we tried something complex, it broke down.
  • Onboarding. Intake was our strongest tool. It was a rite of passage. It modeled their next steps. It showed how to be a friendly, warm, inclusive leader. It introduced them to new friends and comrades. It turned them from potential volunteers into productive contributors and future evangelists.

I’m ready for something even more challenging.

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