• The Art of Activism: A #ComNet14 Preview



    Have you ever tried explaining your work to somebody, but when you do, their eyes glaze over and they suddenly spot someone they need to say hi to?

    Those of us involved in social change, especially those who have been in the field for many years, can get bogged down in the day-to-day details of work, like the precise wording of a policy document, or the insider politics around a hot-button issue. We focus on figuring out what’s realistically possible given the present circumstances, but lose touch with the “impossible” visions of a better world that originally inspired us. And we wonder why we’re always preaching to the choir.

    How do we tap into these “impossible” dreams? How do we make them visible for others to see and buy into?

    In order to change the world we live in, we need to be able to imagine the world we desire. In order to get others to join us, we need to be able to share our visions and dreams. Sometimes we forget that we didn’t get into this field because we read a research report or white paper. Something happened that made us feel anger, outrage, or a sense of possibility.

    How do we tap into these “impossible” dreams? How do we make them visible for others to see and buy into? Stephen Duncombe and Steve Lambert of the Center for Artistic Activism and I will be talking about just that at our breakout session, Making the Impossible Possible – the Art of Activism, at COMMUNICATION MATTERS, the  Communication Network’s 2014 Conference.

    You’ll hear about new tactics and strategies that activists around the world are using to mobilize people, or make them sit up and take notice. For example, take the work of architect Alfredo Jaar. Jaar designed and built an art gallery in Skoghall, Sweden, and had it opened with great fanfare by the mayor, only to burn it down 24 hours later – all to inspire the residents of this company town to come together and organize to do something for themselves. Or the gay men in Kenya, who, tired of experiencing discrimination and poor treatment at a local health facility, turned up on a weekend to clean the clinic and thus transform the doctors’ and nurses’ view of them.

    PicMonkey Collage

    You’ll also get to do a brainstorming exercise where you will get to reconnect with the impossible, ‘Utopian’ visions that once inspired you, and then start to figure out how to make those dreams come true.

    Brett Davidson is director of the Health Media Initiative, at the Open Society Foundations. Prior to joining the Open Society Foundations, Davidson worked as a radio journalist and producer in South Africa, and as a media consultant assisting nongovernmental organizations to develop advocacy strategies. Follow him on Twitter @brettdav

  • Know Your Audience: A #ComNet14 Preview




    • Polling can reveal when a narrative will work and when it won’t.
    • With public opinion, intensity matters just as much as numbers.
    • Polling can help you find a story that will draw the audience in.

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  • Webinar: Open Data for the Social Sector (Replay)



    • Open Data is empowering.
    • Sharing data publicly helps organizations make better-informed decisions and build on top of existing information.
    • Open Data fosters cooperation and opportunity and can prompt others to offer new approaches to problems you’re trying to solve.

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  • Using Data to Power Social Change



    • Reliable data, research and expert analysis have the power to improve and even save lives. 
    • Philanthropies can provide credible knowledge to inform public policies. 
    • Stories can help bring data to life and help policymakers connect with an issue. 

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  • “Failure [is] the gap between where we are and where we want to go.” A Conversation with Sarah Lewis


    Sarah Lewis is the author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery. Lewis is a faculty member of the Yale University School of Art, has served on President Barack Obama’s Arts Policy Committee, and been selected for Oprah’s Power List. The Communications Network spoke to her about the difference between success and mastery, how a near-win can be a good thing in the long run, and why grit matters more than talent and IQ. A lightly edited transcript follows. 

    The Communications Network: Your book is an interesting mixture of topics: creativity, mastery, and failure. What inspired you?

    Sarah Lewis: The book is about the unusual, improbable foundations that undergird our most iconic achievements, whether that’s an achievement in entrepreneurial realms or invention or creativity.

    I approached this book as a curator. I used to work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Modern. I’m also a cultural historian.

    Over time, I would start to see these kind of back-turn paintings in artist studios, things that they didn’t want to show me, but I knew were integral for the work that they did want to show me, that would then go on to have a platform at MoMA, etcetera. I started to wonder if that idea of this back-turn painting being critical for masterful work wasn’t applicable beyond a creative realm of endeavor, whether I thought that it was true for entrepreneurial feats as well.

    Over time, I would just look at a set of different examples. The book looks at an atlas of about 150, but, when I began to write, I knew, at the time, that Martin Luther King got Cs in oratory class, for example, went on to become our most prestigious orator in the century.

    I knew that Fred Astaire’s screen test said in 1930s, “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little,” and he went on to revolutionize his genre.

    These stories populate the book, but, really, they were just known to me because I’ve been just organically interested in this notion that some of our most inventive achievements have come from places that we don’t expect.

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