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Go With the Flaw #5 – Funding Activist Tech

by Ivan March

GetCourageNow is a non-profit providing secure, free, open source, self-organizing software for Climate, Democracy, and Social Justice campaigns using nonviolent civil resistance strategies.

Mobilising at scale is the mantra of GetCourageNow, whereby the existing global digital infrastructure is used to move sufficiently large portions of humanity to do far more morally courageous acts in service to social cohesion and environmental regeneration.

Popular campaign volunteer recruitment platforms such as Mobilize.us, Facebook, OutreachCircle, EveryAction, and Swing Left are effective at recruiting people for easy actions like registering to vote, joining a phone bank or showing up at a small protest.

However, none of them focus on recruiting and committing large numbers of volunteers for tactics that involve serious risk of time or loss of work (e.g. a strike) – actions that take courage.

Activist Volunteer Enrolment Solution Matrix
x The platform includes this feature
X Mobilize.us offers users many roles, but not roles supporting those taking big risks
* This will be offered by individual campaigns
** We are currently planning a beta test focused on improving user experience
+ Functional mobile user experience
++ Excellent mobile user experience
#          In roadmap for next iteration after beta test of MVP.

When we granted funding to GetCourageNow, last year, they were still in the beta-phase of testing the software and app platform that was still being built and tweaked, but there was proof of concept. They still had some funding gaps to close, and their main task at the time was to find two social movements, ideally one with an environmental objective and one with a social, pro-democratic spin, to pilot the platform with. With these 3 to-dos, we were aware that this was a risky grant, with significant remaining what-ifs, but we believed in the idea and the founder’s passion and in pushing the boundaries around what is possible when effectively harnessing digital architecture for grassroots movement building.

However, now a year later, fundraising has proved more difficult for the team than expected or hoped for, thus leaving the completion of the app in production-stagnation, it proved harder to gain an allied movement partner that would divulge some time and effort to sustain an effective collaboration and some issues with team dynamics caused production delays, flagging team morale and brought about serious time and energy depletion.

Since the purpose of our GoWithTheFlaw stories is to de-stigmatise failure, humanise errors, and celebrate learning journeys which are riddled with challenges, we asked Gary Krane for a summary of key lessons learned so that other digital activists can benefit from the GetCourageNow journey, and funders who are hesitant to fund riskier digital activist projects are not dissuaded but briefed on what to look for and support.

1.Ask to see the data or metrics from a simple yet statistically promising alpha type test or ‘paper computer’. This does not require costly coding or recruitment of engineers and can be completed within a shorter timeline.  A “paper computer” is basically the key pages or steps of the proposed app being laid out in a sequence of hard copy pages that are presented to a statistically significant sized group of the relevant demographic. Alternatively there are ways to present a simplified version of the tool during a virtual video conference of at least 50-100 people (*eg potential campaign volunteers the campaign wishes to recruit).

2. Make sure the chief engineer has been vetted carefully (e.g. by following up with their referees) by the Project Director or Exec Director of the project.

3. Ensure that the team has a tech savvy project manager (one who has prior programmer experience) to support and maintain tech and business related deadlines and agile testing, at least monthly. This will help to prevent total reliance on the CTO to manage development and timelines, which can result in delays and unnecessarily extending delivery dates.

4. If possible, secure enough funding to recruit two key engineers to reduce reliance on the knowledge of a single person, ensure honesty, account for engineer drop out, and speed up the process. 

5. Demand to see a well thought out FAQ, containing at least 6 or 7 tough questions. Or require applicants to fill out one you provide. If it is for a project relevant to mobilising or organising, the GetCourageNow FAQ is a useful guideline.

6. Give extra points to a project which has also recruited a senior level Tech Adviser willing to inspect the code at least monthly to verify if it is clean  and also sufficiently well documented (in case someone else needs to take over, this is a handy, preemptive succession strategy).

There are always many more lessons to be learned, and new wave activism is a field that is constantly changing, evolving, and shape-shifting depending on global circumstances. One goal the GetCourageNow team set for themselves is honing and advancing the craft of grassroots movement-building, and through such expositions of mistakes, slip-ups, unforeseen issues and surmountable and insurmountable challenges this goal has definitely been achieved. Keep learning, keep failing, keep sharing, keep being courageous.

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