Characteristics of Effective Collective Action



This section describes a set of collective action characteristics for you to tailor as necessary to your specific effort. These characteristics are intended to instill a positive and powerful process structure, increase the likelihood of success in meeting goals, and help reduce or eliminate common collective action risks, such as divergent expectations among participants.


Create Clarity

Collective action engagements move you into a realm where knowledge, experience, lexicon, needs, interests, and perspectives can vary greatly and can quickly lead to miscommunication about or misinterpretation of your goals or intentions. This drives a need to establish clarity among all participants regarding the scope, goals, roles, decision processes, and time and resource commitments of the engagement. Ensuring that all parties involved clearly understand and agree to these expectations up front is critical for a successful process. Formalizing the expectations in some manner drives further clarity and enables the convener or neutral facilitator, if needed, to fall back on them if concerns arise during the engagement. The degree of formality will differ depending on the level of engagement, with informative and consultative engagements typically requiring substantially less formality than collaborative or integrative ones. You can use a variety of mechanisms to establish clarity, including explicitly worded expectations taking the form of ground rules; or a group charter, memorandum of understanding, or—in the case of integrative engagements—a legal contract.


Support Interaction and Responsiveness

Effective, engaged dialogue among participants requires careful cultivation and attention to process-related details. By creating forums in which the engaged parties can interact comfortably, the convener will continue to build a sense of candid information sharing and trust with the participants. At the outset of your effort, you should explore with participants their preferred modes of ongoing communication and interaction. Ongoing communication must be tailored to the avenues through which participants are accustomed to receiving information, and this likely will vary by participant types. Included in communications considerations are cultural and language needs that may require producing materials in response to specific participant differences. Group interactions can be sensitive to time and venue, with certain participants more or less available depending on the time of day and more or less comfortable with the setting for meetings. Particularly early in the collective action, you must be very sensitive to the potential need for a neutral ground in selecting venues for meetings. Finally, at the outset of the engagement, you should anticipate the need to provide education and background information to ensure that all collective action participants are on the same page in terms of their knowledge of the issues. This will help to create a common knowledge base from which to work.


Establish Transparency and Accountability

Transparency and accountability should work in support of effective interaction and responsiveness. Transparency focuses on making collective action activities easily known to all directly engaged parties and general community members, as well as making the information used and produced by collective action participants available in a timely manner. Typically, collective actions that will involve a series of ongoing meetings will establish a communications plan to guide activities in support of transparency. Methods typically include notifications, updates, reports, question forums, and social media or other online approaches. If community members are related to or have an interest in the collective action, they should also have the opportunity to obtain information about the process through education forums and other public events. A final element is the inclusion of a structured grievance mechanism. Typically needed only for more engaged forms of collective action, the mechanism provides an agreed-upon process for collective action participants and outside parties to make known their concerns. A structured process helps to avoid anecdotal and secondhand criticisms, which could undermine the credibility of the collective action, as well as its ability to function effectively while providing a straightforward avenue to acknowledge and address concerns.


Build in an Ability to Adapt

Collective actions rarely evolve as anticipated. New information, changes in perspectives, the introduction of new challenges, changes in the composition of participation, or changes in the surrounding institutional and political context will likely require alterations to objectives, process approach, or timing. Additionally, informative or consultative collective actions can cause participants to recognize opportunities for deeper levels of engagement, inspiring the participants to move from very independent approaches to challenges and solutions to a greater degree of joint action. Establish expectations for the need for flexibility at the outset of your process, and collective action participants will be better equipped to adapt as the need arises.

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