Working Together: group exercise to bring out discussions around dynamics

DSCF4302.JPGA few months ago I dusted off an old group dynamics exercise that I’d almost forgotten about – the Tinkertoy game. I first came across it in the hallowed pages of the (now out of print) Resource Manual for a Living Revolution. Somewhere in the intervening 20 years it had slipped off my radar. I’m very happy it’s now firmly back on the radar again.

Not even knowing what Tinkertoys were, I immediately translated it into Lego (other plastic block-based construction toys are available).

The game works on lots of levels and is perfect to help groups and facilitators diagnose some of the core issues in a group. It focuses on roles, communication, and the tension between getting the job done and how it gets done….

I used it again the other week, and here’s how….

  • Make yourself a Lego model. The more complex you make it the longer the challenge will take. I kept mine relatively simple.
  • Give every small group (not teams – any  competition should be of their making, not yours) all the blocks they need to build the model, plus a few more for good measure.
  • Place the model where it can’t easily be seen by the group – inside a small cardboard box, or behind a screen, for example. Create an intermediary station (table and chairs?) between the groups and the model.
  • Introduce the roles and the rules of the game…. each group needs to build an exact replica of a small Lego model in the time given. However the people building the replica, the builders, aren’t ever going to see the original model themselves. They’ll be relying on the lookers to be the eyes of the group. But the lookers can’t communicate directly with the builders. They will meet with the messengers at the intermediary station, share their knowledge and impressions of the model, and the messengers will then talk to the builders. The lookers can come no closer than the intermediary station. These conversations can be just that – back and forth, structured or unstructured as people prefer. Then there’s the answerers. Answerers can go anywhere and interact with anyone, but on strict terms. They can only respond to direct questions, and then only with 2 possible responses “yes that’s right” and “no that’s not right”.
  • The minimum size for the group is therefore 4, but you can have multiple builders and can throw in an observer or two to help with debriefing later.
  • Give the group some time to meet and plan – I gave them 10 minutes.
  • Then get them building. I gave them just 20 minutes on this most recent occasion.
  • After 20 minutes I invited the groups to take another 10 minutes to meet. They were barred from talking about the model itself, but encouraged to talk about anything else that would help them improve the way they worked together.
  • I gave them 10 more minutes to finish the job, which both groups did, having used their 10 minute interval well.
  • Then debrief according to the issues that arose or the purpose of the training.

Try it sometime…..



Stealing the Future

StealingtheFuture_m_webUtopian and dystopian writings often have a great appeal to those of us who consider ourselves to be working towards a better world. If that chimes with you, then you might want to know about Stealing the Future, written by a good friend of Rhizome, Max Hertzberg. In Max’s own words:

There are quite a few novels describing utopian societies, particularly in the science fiction genre (Ursula K. Le Guin‘s The Dispossessed, Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Mars Trilogy), but it’s rare to come across a book that doesn’t just attempt to describe a utopia set up in a new environment (new planet, new continent, ‘uninhabited’ island etc) but actually attempts to chart the progress of a society like ours to one with more utopian properties. Stealing the Future is an attempt to close that gap – an attempt to describe that phase of hard work, hope and (seemingly?) insurmountable challenges. It’s a thought experiment: how could the East Germany of 1989 go from Communist dictatorship to something much more equitable, much fairer and more just than we even dare dream is possible?

The book’s supported and enhanced by a whole load of related articles on the website. It’ll be launched at the Anarchist Bookfair next month. Happy reading!


Call it democracy

Just been listening to this as I have on and off for the last 26 years, thought you might like to as well. Lyrics below as well as a few comments from The Cockburn Project website. Back in the day it was a song about “the third world”. Nowadays could apply much closer to home…

Padded with power here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor

Who rob life of its quality
Who render rage a necessity
By turning countries into labour camps
Modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom

Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament —
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called “developed” nations’
Idolatry of ideology

North South East West
Kill the best and buy the rest
It’s just spend a buck to make a buck
You don’t really give a flying fuck
About the people in misery

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there’s one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

See the paid-off local bottom feeders
Passing themselves off as leaders
Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
Open for business like a cheap bordello

And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy

See the loaded eyes of the children too
Trying to make the best of it the way kids do
One day you’re going to rise from your habitual feast
To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast
They call the revolution

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there’s one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

And from Bruce Cockburn……

1990: “Through a growing familiarity with the Nicaraguan revolution, a recognition of North-South relations began to take shape. Nicaragua, the Philippines, Chile, virtually all of Latin America really, Indonesia, emerging African countries… Wherever you look you find the same financial interests at work. Working to get rich without controls, at the expense of the poor. When the poor complain, out come the troops, and then the arms companies get rich too.”

2000: “That song is fifteen years old and it shows. The words are outdated. Back in 1985, they needed the notion of ‘democracy’ to justify what they were doing. Now they don’t even use that as an excuse.”

No Right Turn – resources to resist the far right


Our community development friends Sostenga have created some free session plans and resources to support community development responses to far right groups mobilising in our communities. They’re asking folk to share and contribute.

Here’s what they say:

“The emergence of the EDL (English Defence League) and various splinter groups in the last few years, and their antagonising marches in communities they perceive as un-British adds new importance to us tackling the far right and their politics of hate. While none of the national voluntary sector organisations seem willing to take on this work we think it is important to share tools and resources that can help community development workers and activists do something proactive. These resources are quite basic, and we see them as a starting point. Building on work started in Yorkshire & Humberside in 2010, they are currently being developed in Brighton as a response to the now annual March for England that will be descending once again on April 27th. The aim is to create talking points and engage people around these issues. We would love to hear about and share through the No Right Turn website other similar projects.”


Let us (and them!) know how you use the resources, how effective they are, and what innovations you make.

games for activists and non-activists

Inspired in large part by Augusto Boal’s Games for Actors and Non-Actors and Improv practice, we proposed a games workshop to Co-operatives UK for their Big Fun Pod at last week’s International Co-op Conference. Rather than writing a reflective piece, I’m just going to describe what we did and provide some pointers for readers who want to explore the field of games. If you want to use these, think about how you might debrief the exercises. For example, “What did you observe about your desire to lead/to follow/to withdraw etc?”.

Intro – Wander around the space and say hello to everyone, without touching them. Continue wandering, but this time say hello non-verbally. Continue wandering, but this time shake hands with someone. Before you let go of their hand, you have to have held someone else’s before you release your first hand.

Control and co-operation – wander around the room and follow the instructions of the games ‘leader’. Instructions start with ‘stop’, ‘go’, ‘forwards’,’backwards’,’up’, ‘down’. Let this play out for a while, then pause and say that now everyone is to do the opposite of the command. Continue for a while and then shift the energy by saying some new commands – shapes, letters and numbers. People get into the shapes, letters and numbers.

Co-existence – in pairs, one A and one B. A starts by putting their hand about a foot in front of B’s face. B follows the (gentle) movements of A.

Swap over. Then say – “Now you have to mirror each other, there is no leader and there is no follower.” Then pairs join together and mirror each other.

Group work – put enough pieces of paper on the floor so that everyone can just stand on it. Stand on one yourself and say, “The rules of this game are that you must be in touch with the paper, but not the floor”. Everyone gets up and stands on the paper. Then take half of the paper away and repeat the exercise. Gradually diminish the paper. If the groups talks about the problem and searches for solutions which observe the rule, they’ll solve the problem.

If they don’t, there will be some mayhem.

Circle time – in a circle play Bippety Bippety Bop. One person in the middle. They point to someone and either say, “bop” or “bippety, bippety bop”. If they say “bop” the person pointed at has to stay silent; if they say “bop”, they’re in the middle. If the person in the middle points at someone and says, “bippety, bippety bop”, the the person pointed at has to say “bop” before they have finished saying,”bippety, bippety bop”.

You can add other games into it. For example, we added ‘James Brown’. If you say ‘James Brown’ to someone, then before you count to ten, they have to wiggle and sing, “I feel good”, whilst the person to their left and right does a small dance. Any player who does the wrong action or fails to do the action by the time you’ve counted to ten, is then in the middle.

Remaining in a circle, on person stands in the middle. The rest all agree a sound and keep vocalising it. The person in the middle moves around and within the circle. As they get nearer to someone the sound increases; and decreases as they move away from someone. Someone else moves to the middle when a different sound evolves. (Note – this means you have to tell the circle to evolve the sound).

Then change the circle rules to be about movements and evolve them.

Attraction/distraction – Get everyone wandering around the room. Say that this time they’re like magnets. As they get within a foot of someone they are magnetically repelled. Let it play out, then swap to – once they get within a foot of someone they are attracted and stuck to them. See what happens. Then get people wandering again and ask them to be equidistant, see what happens and how long it takes for the group to settle. Then say, “Choose two people with your eyes, without letting them know. One is A and one is B. Now get as close to A and as far away from B as possible. You have ten seconds.” It’s fun.

Other games – we played some variations of these too, but you can find more in –

Games for Actors and Non-Actors by Augusto Boal

Improv by Keith Johnstone

And on the Organizing for Power website

And a host of other resources accessible via goggling.

Securing our civil liberties

The UK government has plans to extend its powers over email surveillance. According to Big Brother Watch:

In an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance as China and Iran, police and intelligence officers are to be handed powers to monitor people’s messages online.

Now plenty of other, better informed folk than I will blog about yet another erosion of our civil liberties justified on the grounds of terrorism. I wanted to remind you that activism friendly tech services such as Riseup exist and offer ways to protect your privacy – not because you have something to hide, but because it’s your right. 

Not using their services yet? Now’s the time (but donate for what you use). Here at Rhizome we use Riseup’s Crabgrass “a software libre web application designed for social networking, group collaboration and network organizing… Crabgrass currently consists of a suite of group collaboration tools, such as private wikis, task lists, file repository, and decision-making tools”. And I suspect we’ll be trying out their new etherpad next time we have a document we need to collectively edit.

Not sure what all the fuss is about? Riseup say this about electronic security:

The increasing importance of information and communication has brought with it another phenomenon: the rise of a surveillance society. You can think of surveillance as an attempt by the powerful to maintain their dominance by asserting control over communication.

Nation states have responded to new communications technology by pursuing an infrastructure that can easily be re-purposed for total social control. Unlike earlier communication eras, the nature of current technology requires that our information is either secure in a way that frustrates governments, or is totally insecure in a way that makes possible the widespread and detailed monitoring of an entire populous.

Corporations have discovered that the gathering and analysis of massive amounts of personal data is necessary if they want to remain competitive in an information-rich world. In particular, nearly all advertising is shifting toward surveillance-based tracking of our personal behavior.

In this context, secure communication has become vitally important.

  • State surveillance has a long history of resulting in the repression of social movements.
  • Even indirectly, rampant surveillance has a chilling effect on social movements.
  • Corporate surveillance is just as serious as state surveillance. Not only can the massive amounts of data kept on internet users be easily re-purposed for direct state repression, but corporations are now on the verge of obtaining unprecedented power over consumers.

When people start to learn about the rise in surveillance they start to feel overwhelmed. Some decide that it is impossible to be secure, so they resign themselves to live under perpetual surveillance or to forsake all forms of digital communication. At Riseup, we believe there is a third way: our goal is to make a high degree of security easy and accessible for everyone.

Much of the fight against surveillance takes place through the legal system and we applaud those who work in this arena. In contrast, Riseup’s focus is on technology. When laws are unjust, we believe that a new technical reality is necessary in order to alter the legal and political possibilities.

taken from

Strategic direct action – new guide

Tools for Change have uploaded a new Ruckus Society guide to strategic direct action.

An initial glance says it looks promising –  accessible, well formatted and coherent with case studies to boot.


Beautiful Trouble

I’ve been sent quite a few links to the Waging Nonviolence blog of late (thanks – you know who you are), and whilst meandering through saw a link to Beautiful Trouble – a new toolkit in book and accompanying website format. Looks like it could be worth a read… If we get to it soon, we’ll review it here. If you get there first, tell us what you think

Counterpower – an interview with Tim Gee

Last year saw the publication of Tim Gee’s book Counterpower: Making Change Happen. We asked him to share his thoughts on the blog and here they are:

Why write the book now? Does the timing reflect your observations about the state of the social movements right now?
I began researching the book a few days after the 2009 G20 Protests in London, and the conclusion was written in response to the debates that followed the TUC march and associated protests in March 2011. Its publication almost exactly corresponded with the occupation of St Pauls. None of that was planned, but it reflects what the movement – and I as part of it – was doing.

Tell us about Counterpower – what’s your core thesis?
The power of any regime rests three main things –ideas (the ability to persuade us of their right to rule), economics (the ability to extract land, labour and capital from us) and physical coercion (the ability to punish us if we do not obey). If a movement can seriously challenge those facets of power, then elites will give away whatever concessions that they have to in order to maintain their rule – and so campaigns are won. If the movement is strong enough it can topple regimes altogether – hence the argument that a successful campaign is an unfinished revolution. The ability to remove the power of elites is our Counterpower.

What’s the most important message you’d like current or future campaigns to take away from the book?
I’d like to burst the myth that policy-making is a process whereby wise elites find the best solution for the most people. On the whole government policy is a reflection of the balance of power in society. Therefore for real social change we need to change the power balance. Simply designing good ideas and communicating them isn’t enough.

It’s relatively easy to analyse movements in hindsight, but did you get a sense through your research that the most successful ones planned their strategies and actually had an analysis at the time, or were they subject to wider events, to fortune?
Almost all of them had strategies and analysis, but it was often things not in the strategy that made all the difference. Take Indian Independence for example: Gandhi’s strategies have been much celebrated since, and were indeed central to bringing down the colonial regime. But India won its independence nearly 20 years after the Salt March. The last straw had been the mutinies in the army and navy in 1946, which were actually condemned by the Indian National Congress, as well as the Muslim League.

Many movements have grown in strength because of specific key events. Do you think that successful movements create these trigger events or just exploit the ones that happen anyway?
Trigger events are times when mass change can happen, because societies often need to be disorganised before they can be reorganised. But what direction that change takes is up to the agency of different forces in society and the actions and planning of the movement beforehand. This is reflected in the different changes that took place around the First World War. In Britain it was a trigger event for the extension of the franchise to women. In Germany and in Russia it was a trigger event for the downfall of the Kaiser and the Tsar respectively. But such events do not only lead to the redistribution of power. As Naomi Klein shows in The Shock Doctrine, the neoliberal right has in recent times been quite adept at using such moments to further consolidate power with the few.

Sometimes though, movements can create those moments, albeit on a smaller scale. As Martin Luther King put it in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail ‘We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive’. That can certainly be seen in some of the key events of the anti apartheid struggle. For example, following the nonviolent Defiance Campaign in South Africa in 1952 the ANC increased its membership fivefold, even though the uprising was crushed in the short term.

What role can the kind of support that we at Rhizome, and many other folk around the world, play?
The work of trainers and facilitators in social movements is often unsung in the official histories, and many names have been forgotten – probably at least in part because of a natural instinct of such people to push others to the fore. Nevertheless the pioneering work of the likes of Paulo Freire, Saul Alinsky, Bill Moyer, George Lakey, Gene Sharp (and his colleagues) and James Lawson is worthwhile reading for any movement tactician, and is reflected on in Counterpower. All of them have been central to analysing the dynamics of power, identifying ways that it can be dissipated, then supporting people to have the confidence and skills to do so.

Do you think there are key moments where that support can best be concentrated?
The book lays out a four stage model of movements – Consciousness, Coordination, Confrontation and Consolidation. Ultimately I think you need different kinds of support at different times. So conscientisation along the Frierian model is most useful at the first stage, community organising at the second stage, direct action at the third stage and then dealing with fall-out at the fourth.

Many of the successful revolutionary movements you cite in Counterpower have overcome significant repression. Do you think that there needs to be a high level of explicit repression before a revolution can take place?

Movements are born because of repression – usually in covert economic form. In general movements are overtly repressed only when they have started being successful. Therefore resilience to repression will be a factor of many successful campaigns.

In Waging Nonviolent Struggle Gene Sharp talks about the use of Political Ju Jitsu – that is, causing the attacker to lose balance as a result of their own forward thrust. There are plenty of examples of repressive responses by governments backfiring against them – for example the police response to the Reform protests of the 1860s was what led to the resignation of the Home Secretary and then the passing of the second Reform Act in 1867. But the long struggle for the vote in Britain also shows that government repression can delay reform for years on end – as in the case of the 1794 treason trials, the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, and the brutal response to the Chartists and others in the general strike of 1842.

Perhaps an organiser on a different continent in a different century could have advised campaigners of both the past and present. Before his assassination, the Black Panther organiser Fred Hampton came out with some prophetic words: ‘You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution’.

So we don’t need to live in an explicit dictatorship for injustice to become so unbearable that it leads to revolution? Is a “European Spring” a possibility?
I see a revolution as any process that redistributes power from the haves to the have-nots. In most European countries there is a dictatorship of corporate power. So I  think it’s worth a go…

Watch an interview with Tim courtesy of London Indymedia

Tim Gee is the author of ‘Counterpower: Making Change Happen’, New Internationalist, 2011

Nonviolent direct action and action consensus – training materials

Earlier this year we worked on some example training materials for Stop New Nuclear to use in preparation for their Fukushima anniversary blockade of Hinkley power station. There are trainings planned for Oxford, Leicester and Birmingham, and hopefully more in the pipeline.

It seemed a shame to use the materials for just one campaign, so we’ve uploaded them to our Resources page – an example agenda and pdfs of the various supporting materials. The trainings are: nonviolent direct action and consensus decision-making (quick decisions, and spokescouncils, in this case).

We don’t expect anyone to use them exactly as they are. For a start you’ll need to replace the nuclear power based examples with ones relevant to your campaign. But they give you a foundation on which you can add your own stamp, tailoring them to the time available and the group’s needs. If you use them and have any feedback, good, bad or indifferent, we’d receive it gratefully.

Consensus decision-making: guiding groups to good decisions

We talk a lot about consensus on this blog. Supporting groups to navigate the sometimes less than clear waters of consensus is a large part of our work. Over the last year or so I’ve spoken to several fellow consensus trainers about work we’ve done together from the 2005 G8 protests onwards. One of the reflections we’ve shared is that the emphasis seems to have fallen on consensus process as opposed to consensus as a state of mind, a set of values. That was not deliberate, but it seems quite clear that some groups that have tried to use consensus have done so in the absence of clear and shared co-operative values. At that point they’re off the edge of the map of good consensus, and there be dragons.

As part of our contribution to re-establishing balance, we’ve just uploaded two new consensus decision-making guides to our Resources page. We hope there’s a suitable focus on that state of mind.

One is an abridged version of two of our most popular blog posts on the history and evolution of consensus, with the information brought together in one place. The second is an introduction and overview of what consensus is, how it works, common misconceptions, alternatives for those that can’t commit to consensus and some places to go for further information. There’s a third guide in the pipeline, aimed at facilitators of consensus.

These guides will undoubtedly evolve. Your feedback is a part of that evolution. We’d love to hear from you – what’s not clear? what’s missing? We’d also love to include more case studies of when consensus works and doesn’t, so if you have experiences to share, please get in touch.


New Rhizome mediation guides

A little late for Christmas, here’s a gift from us to you. We’ve been busy over December and early January working with Stig – our designer of choice – on a range of  guides to all aspects of mediation. The first few are on our Resources page already. More to follow in the next week.

We hope they provide useful additional support to the mediation training that we offer. As always your comments and feedback would be very much appreciated. Contact us, or better still leave a comment on the blog

In the range are:

  • What is mediation
  • The Stages of Mediation
  • The Principles of Mediation
  • A State of Mind for Mediation
  • Active Listening in Mediation
  • Mediation Competencies
  • Mediation Reading List

We’ll also be overhauling our facilitation materials and adding a new Guide to Consensus Decision-Making. If there are other resources you’d find useful and that you think we can provide, tell us so.


Chris Corrigan’s life’s learning…

We’ve mentioned and linked to Chris Corrigan from time to time on this blog. He’s just uploaded a page he’s entitled A collection of Life’s Lessons with over 80 links:

For a while thought, I have kept a set of writings apart from this blog, titled “A Collection of Life’s Lessons.”  I’ve just spent the morning updating that list, and if you’d like to read the book that I’ll never write, go on over to that page and start reading about everything I’ve learned in 43 years, and all the best stuff I have documented in 10 years of blogging.

Sections include:

  • Lessons about working with groups
  • Lessons about working in organisations
  • Lessons about working in communities
  • Lessons about learning
  • Lessons from indigenous North America and beyond
  • Lessons about life, the universe and everything

Let us know what you find in the collection – where it takes you, what you learn, how it changes your practice. We’ll try to do the same.

New possibilities… sharing, prioritising, communicating

In their 8 Tools for New Possibilities post, ISIC have pulled together 8 social media tools for connecting, hearing and organising people and their views.

I’ve had a quick look and can see some of them being valuable additions to the toolkits of networks and NGOs with networks of grassroots groups. I imagine that next time we’re asked to dialogue with a network on behalf of an NGO we might well explore these possibilities.

I particularly like to look of All Our Ideas, and open source tool that allows a community not only to vote on options, but also feed in new suggestions. Of course we haven’t tried it yet, but in principle….

As always we’d be interested to hear your thoughts, how you use the tools, what works for you and what doesn’t.

Facilitating occupation

In another recent post Chris Corrigan (see our previous post) has also collated a few links to support Occupy protests in facilitation.

Plan to Win have done the same in their #Occupy 101 post, with some specific tools for general assemblies of the kind being used at Occupy Wall Street.

The resources include a fantastic 8 minute video about consensus at Occupy Wall Street, which gives a passionate introduction to the process. I’m sure it’s not all perfect there (where is it?) but it’s a great reminder of the energy and joy that consensus can bring to a movement. I’ve embedded it below. Watch it!. 8 minutes well spent. But that’s not an excuse for not visiting Plan to Win’s site. The other resources are well worth checking out.

In the spirit of signposting resources, here are more links taken from our resources page (many more where these came from). All of these sites have invaluable materials on them on topics like facilitation, but also nonviolent action and strategy:

And of course there’s our own materials.

News release – test your knowledge

OK, so a quick caveat – the following is based on experience of using the media as activists. We’re not professional journalists (though we’ve taken the time to talk to a few). The answers are below. No fancy technology, just scroll down…..

On your marks, go!

The Questions

  1. Name at least 3 things it’s worth knowing about any news outlet in advance of sending them your press release
  2. How many key messages in a good news release? 
  3. How long should your news release be (in terms of sides of paper)? 
  4. How far should a journalist have to read before they understand what the story is about? 
  5. How many words in a good news release headline? 
  6. What should you say in the first paragraph?
  7. Name all the people in a newspaper who you might want to send your news release to? 
  8. What key qualities will help to get your story covered?
  9. After you’ve sent the release, how would you follow-up with your chosen media outlets?

The Answers

  1. their deadline for both pictures and copy (these are often different), how to contact them, their editorial policies/stance (after all no point wasting your time if their hostile to your cause), what’s current with them
  2. People often say 3 key messages. I’d say up to 3. 1 is great if you can manage it
  3. 1 side of A4 or less is the ideal. It’s probably OK for the main body of the news release to be on one side and any notes to the editor to run onto another (that’s things like the location of your event, the history of your campaign – stuff that’s useful for the journalist but isn’t essential to the story). It’s also worth thinking about email – can you fit enough of the main body of the text into the average size email window to hook the journalist in?
  4. The headline of your news release. Don’t forget your headline is to grab their attention and get them to read on. You’re not writing the headline that a newspaper or blogger will use. Let them do that themselves to suit their own style and audience.
  5. A few years ago I’d have said up to 8. With the rise of email, now you need to take into account how many word are visible in an email subject line, remembering that you probably need to start the subject with the words “NEWS RELEASE:”
  6. Essentially a summary of the whole story often referred to as the 5W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why – who’s taking action, what are they doing, where is it happening and when, and why (that’s your key messages)
  7. Any relevant journalists you have a personal relationship with, news editor, news desk, picture editor, picture desk, relevant correspondence (environment, economics, politics etc)
  8. Currency – its news value, relevance to their readers/viewers/listeners, interest – stands out from the norm
  9. Get on the phone, check the right people have got the release, that they understand it and have a chance to clarify any points and ask questions. Resend it if necessary. Be polite and outgoing, sell your story. And do this in order of priority – ring the most important news outlet first. Not sure which is most important? Ask yourself who can get your message to the people you most want to hear it more effectively than anyone else. 

Feel free to help us refine this quiz, by sharing your knowledge and experience!

There’s a couple of other ‘top tips’ that I sometimes share in media workshops when we’re discussing following up after sending a news release. They’re pretty obvious when you think about it, but people still seem to find them useful:

  1. Prioritise! I mentioned it above,  but it stands saying again – call the people who can deliver the most impact first and leave the rest until later. Remember that it’s not always obvious – some regional papers have a higher circulation than nationals, for example, so if it’s  numbers you want…. And don’t forget things like the trade press which may be a better way of getting your message direct to key people in corporations, industry, or government
  2. If your phone number is on the bottom fo the press release as the contact number use a second phone to call round news outlets and leave that phone entirely free for incoming calls. Busy journalists will only tolerate the engaged signal so many times before they move on to another story
  3. Update your list of media outlets as you ring round – there can be a high turnover of journalists as people move to different outlets or to different roles within their existing paper, or station. If you call to speak to Jo Bloggs, environment correspondent and are told they’re no longer in the job, find out where they went, and find out who replaced them and how best to contact the replacement. I learnt from bitter experience that my memory isn’t as good as I like to think, and my hastily scribbled notes aren’t as legible as they should be. So make neat corrections as you go. It takes a few seconds and saves loads of time later!

And finally don’t forget social media press releases to get your key messages into the blogosphere and beyond.

The Empowerment Manual

Whilst we’re plugging books, here’s news that Starhawk‘s latest book will be out soon. Once again she returns to look at group process in The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups. Starhawk’s previous work is required reading on consensus, and has been mentioned on this blog in that capacity, so expect good things.

She’s also put a bonus chapter of the book online for you to take a sneak peek: The Five-Fold Path of Productive Meetings which you can download as a pdf.

We’ll be doing our reading and letting you know what we think.

History of Nonviolence – Counterpower

We mention a few sources of case studies for nonviolent action and lo and behold we’re told about another.

Tim Gee, author and activist (and reader of our blog – thanks Tim) has written Counterpower: Making Change Happen, in which he covers case studies of successful movements from India’s Independence Movement to the Arab Spring.

Tim’s going on tour to talk about the book:

  • 8-9 October, Rebellious Media Conference Central London
  • 10 October, Big Green Bookshop, Haringey, 1 Brampton Park Road, Wood Green, London
  • 15 October, Brighton, Peace and Environment Centre 1pm
  • 16 October, Quaker Meeting House, Hastings, time TBC
  • 20 October, London, Stoke Newington Bookshop Stoke Newington High Street, N16 ONY. £3 (includes a glass of wine)
  • 22 October, Queen Mary’s University of London, 4pm. Tim Gee speaks as part of the annual Anarchist Bookfair
  • 23 October, Celebrate Resistance – the Counterpower Book Launch party!
  • 26 October, London Housmans Bookshop, Caledonian Road, N1 9DX £3 (Redeemable against any purchase)
  • 29 October, CAAT Conference Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London
  • 30 October, Edinburgh, Radical Bookfair Out of the Blue Drill Hall, Dalmeny Street, Edinburgh, EH6 8RG. The annual gathering of radical readers returns. The Scottish Launch of New Internationalist’s new book Counterpower: Making Change Happen by Tim Gee will take place in the afternoon of 30 October
  • 31 October, University Chaplaincy, Potterow, Edinburgh University, 7pm-9pm
  • 12-13 November, Shared Planet Oxford Town Hall
  • 16 November, Working Class Movement Library Salford, 2pm
  • 21 November, Leeds University Activism and Social Change MA, time TBC
  • 22 November, Bradford University, Peace Studies Lecture, 2pm
  • 24 November, Chapel Allerton Library/Radish Bookshop, Leeds, 7pm
  • 26 November, Leeds Summat Leeds University Union, 11am – 5pm
  • 29 November, People’s Bookshop, Durham, 7pm
  • 30 November, News from Nowhere, Liverpool, 7pm
  • 4 December, St Albans Quaker Meeting House, 12 noon
  • 5 December, Pogo Café, Hackney, London
  • 7 December, Westminster Quaker Meeting House, 7pm