In a recently released TED Talk, researcher and assistant professor Zeynep Tufekci brings up a number of themes I’ve commented on in the past; themes that are bound to re-emerge when Dr. Ken Coates‘ book #IdleNoMore: And the Remaking of Canada comes out next month (f/d: our research is cited in the book).

A particularly interesting element of her talk is that even though distributed systems and democratized media make amazingly effective amplifiers, they often struggle to bring about meaningful, lasting change. Essentially, they’re strong on awareness and mobilization, light on conversion and action.

Tufekci compares and contrasts the building of momentum through organic growth, hard work and in-person collaboration to what we’ve come to recognize as explosive, “viral” reach, simplified effort and slacktivism. To paraphrase her, many modern social change campaigns lack a central nervous system which sets goals and direction, coordinates activities, rolls up its sleeves to get things done, and develops and communicates clear messages. In many respects, the groundbreaking charm of democratized movements like Occupy and Idle No More was also, in many ways, their achilles heel.

Put another way, there’s something more results-oriented about turning soil, planting grass seed and tending the weeds that you can’t really get laying rolls of sod.

A truly effective campaign leaves no doubt what the campaigners are trying to achieve, how and what they expect from sympathizers, supporters and new recruits. They establish ladders of engagement and harness newfound support. They convert and activate. Without these, online activity becomes noise — another “trending” hashtag or topic that makes headlines until the next celebrity scandal.

Shared passion and ideology can only carry you so far. For an online movement to succeed, it needs a central nervous system.

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