Movement as Network

This is a paper I published in 2004 called “Movement as Network: Connecting People and Organizations in the Environmental Movement.” Below is a synopsis of its core ideas. You can download the full paper in PDF format.

Movement as Network: The environmental movement is not just some vague concept, but an actual entity. It is a network, made up of very real interconnections between people and organizations; a networked whole that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Fragmentation of the Movement: Today’s environmental organizations are so disconnected that they are barely recognizable as a movement – particularly by those within the movement itself. Some of this fragmentation is due to the broad diversity of environmental issues and the large number of places in which they occur. But a frustratingly large portion of the fragmentation is institutional. It stems from a lack of diversity in organizational models, which leads to competition for resources and resistance to building the kind of collaborations and value-added networks prevalent in newer industries within the private sector.

Fragmentation of Power: To engage on environmental issues in and around the places they live, citizens must choose from among a dizzying array of issue-specific organizations. While a small number of citizens do have a particular affinity for specific issues, most are frustrated by the movement’s failure to address their more holistic understanding and concerns around the environment. Citizens who do join the environmental movement are scattered across hundreds of tiny membership bases within issue-specific organizations. Their political clout is fragmented, thus critically weakening their political and economic power at the local and regional level.

Differentiated Roles in the Network: Movement as Network uses three prototypical organizational models as an analytical framework and prescription for addressing this fragmentation:

  • People Organizations serve as an interface between the environmental movement and various segments of society. They define themselves by the specific audiences they serve – and not by specific issues. In fact, they move from issue to issue, serving these audiences by “aggregating” issue-specific information and engagement opportunities supplied by Solution Organizations. People Organizations are largely missing at the local and regional environmental movement today, yet are essential to reaching new and broader audiences.
  • Solution Organizations define themselves by the issues they focus on and by the solutions they use to address these issues. Examples include land trusts, agency-specific watchdogs, and water policy experts. These organizations are critical to keeping long-term attention on specific problems, yet the large number of potential solutions and places in which they are needed is one of the key sources of the movement’s fragmentation.
  • Resource Organizations define themselves by the particular expertise or resources they bring to the rest of the network. Examples include foundations (which supply money) and capacity builders (which supply some particular expertise).

A Connected Network: These different types of organizations can be combined to form powerful new network clusters for the environmental movement:

  • People Organizations and Solution Organizations have the potential to form powerful new networks, where solutions are aggregated for specific audiences, much like retailers aggregate products for specific customer segments. These networks might start with news aggregation, with a People Organization pulling together and interpreting the most salient environmental happenings in a particular city or state. The organization would specialize in understanding what matters most to its audiences while pulling most, if not all, of its issue-specific expertise from Solution Organizations in its network. This collaboration could eventually lead to the aggregation of civic engagement opportunities, shifting fluidly from one campaign to another based on opportunity and audience interest.
  • Solution-Coordinating Networks help organizations with different solutions collaborate and target their different approaches on a particular issue. Forest campaigns, for example, might connect one group’s legal strategies with others’ public outreach and land acquisition work in a coordinated push for protection in a particular area. These types of solution networks typically take the form of short-term collaborations and account for the bulk of multi-organization campaigns in the environmental movement today.
  • Solution-Sharing Networks share knowledge and resources related to a particular solution to environmental problems. These networks tend to be geographically dispersed to minimize competition over resources. In some cases, the network is hub-like with the bulk of the expertise and innovation occurring in one centralized location. In others, the network is more peer-like with expertise shared in a more distributed fashion across organizations.
  • Resource Organizations are already pulling together loose outsourcing networks in which they supply needed expertise and resources to a variety of environmental organizations. ONE/Northwest works within this type of network, building skills and resources that can be distributed cost effectively through the Pacific Northwest environmental movement. Resource Organizations play a critical role in knitting the movement as a network. These organizations also need to be better networked to one another in order to provide clients with holistic and integrated services.

Network Building: The kinds of shifts in organizational behavior outlined in Movement as Network will not be easy. Entrenched ways of thinking and the sheer scale of the changes will lead many to conclude it is unrealistic and cannot be done. And yet, deep down inside we know that something is not right. We see that despite all its advances over the past quarter century, environmental protection is still dangerously dependent on short-term shifts in the political and economic climate. True and lasting environmental protection depends upon building a society that thrives in harmony with the natural world and this level of impact requires integrating environmental concerns into the fabric of society at a much deeper level than exists today. Working harder doesn’t get us there by itself. We need new models and new approaches. ONE/Northwest’s work over the next decade is focused on building the infrastructure, tools and strategies necessary to bring these new approaches into reality.


  1. Lots of interesting ideas and work on your site. In particular the network ideas and biology caught my attention. I’ve been sketching out ideas in a draft discussion paper that might be of interest – it’s WAY too long as it stands as a kind of tinkers bench, it gives me some focus in a wide and sprawling space that is highly dynamic.

    You can see it here at Google Docs saved as a tinyurl:

    I look forward to learning more as I follow you on Twitter.


  2. Good guide for groups like ours to implement!     

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