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The snowflake model of community engagement

Community engagement strategies

The snowflake model of community organizing leadership gained popularity during Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential runs. It describes a way of setting up and empowering local grassroots organizers within a larger organization or campaign.

The snowflake model was first written about by Marshall Ganz but is arguably a description of distributed organizing that has been ongoing for decades. Essentially, it is no more complex than each local chapter of an organization which is self-organizing with its own leader and degree of autonomy. The local chapters are all similar in this sense and they relate to a regional head office or national head office. The visuals explain how each local chapter collects around a divisional or head office in a way that is similar to a snowflake.

Snowflake model of distributed organizing

Benefits of snowflake model

Why would organizations do this? Wouldn’t it be better to retain direct control of people? Well, there are a number of benefits to the snowflake model:

1. Local organizers know their area better and have better relationships in the community - take advantage of that.

2. It is not possible to manage large distributed teams directly from a logistical or performance standpoint.

3. Grassroots teams want autonomy in what they do, they may not want to have to set everything up themselves or figure out all the details but they do want to have control over the way things run in their area.

4. Chapter management means learning from each other, especially if the head office has the data to compare and contrast performance.

Distributed organizing for political parties

Every national political party operates this way whether they like it or not as elections are always fought at a local level. Every large advocacy or non-profit organization eventually comes up against this need to create an organizational structure like this as their organization grows. The difficulty up until now has always been unlocking the potential of grassroots teams and making sure there is the right level of control and the right level of autonomy. This tension can be resolved with technology.

Ecanvasser’s community software, designed for political parties, advocacy groups, and non-profits has the snowflake model built into the tech so autonomy and control can sit happily together. For each local chapter, there is a community database, team management, outreach tools, and analytics. But for head office, there is a central dashboard with access to local chapters and the ability to compare and contrast what is happening and what is effective. Global controls exist for head office to feed down things like outreach models, surveys, and push notifications but without interfering too much with local ways of doing things.

Snowflake model of engagement

The snowflake model of community engagement is a powerful tool for large organizations and will continue to be a guiding principle for democratic and civic organizations into the future.

If you would like to learn more about Leader and how it can bring the snowflake model to your organization please book a call below.

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