Community organising action research

How can social and environmental justice campaigns mobilise, support and strengthen grassroots community organising? When education, collaboration and policy advocacy fail, it’s time for a different approach: one that builds power at the grassroots community level and invigorates direct and participatory forms of democracy.

Our Community Organising approach and resource collection have grown out of action research including extensive training work, seeking to support organisers and activists to be more effective in their efforts to engage, mobilise and sustain active citizenship.

This action research project seeks to support facilitators and educators to develop the skills and confidence to take these ideas and tools into their communities and social change organisations.

Working with social movements, we’ve observed a pressing need for community organisers to better understand processes and tools that can help:

  • Clarify the role of community organising and what makes it different from other approaches to social change
  • Community and relationship mapping
  • Build and maintain effective alliances and coalitions
  • Techniques for interacting with powerholders and allies
  • Develop situational and problem analysis
  • Engage, mobilise and sustain grassroots activists

Project rationale: We believe that effective social change movements in western democracies are more powerful when they have community organising capacity: tapping into community concerns that are widely and deeply felt; cultivating community leadership and holding elected representatives and corporations to account. But these skills and understandings are often under-developed in many progressive social movements that have grown to rely primarily on advocacy and mobilising.

The Community Organising action research project is is one of tCA’s three long-term action research projects, along with our Climate Action and Campaign Strategy action research projects.

action research cycle

Action research includes a simple cycle with three steps:

Reflection: We began by reflecting on our own experience and researching to collect resources: case studies of effective organising mobilisation and networking, training tools and resources, links to other organisations that offer these kinds of resources. This part of the project involved web-based research, targeted contact and informal interviews, an invitation to our mail list to contribute ideas for the project, and Sam’s 2008 research in other parts of the world.

Planning: The project has involved developing partnerships with organisations who share our interest in community organising; and extensive curriculum and resource development.

As with our Campaign Strategy Project, we’re keen to work closely with other training organisations that have developed training resources and gained experience facilitating workshops on the proposed topics. Working this way with Training for Change allowed us to learn from their experience, adapt training resources they’d developed and trialled, and benefit from the mentoring of experienced activist educators. We plan to partner with interested NGO who will participate in each stage of the cycle.

Action:  In late 2007, we led our first community organising workshop in Perth. Since then, we’ve been engaged to lead workshops throughout Australia, in Aotearoa (New Zealand), throughout Asia and in other locations. Each workshop provides another opportunity to trial new curriculum, learn what works and revise our ideas and resources.

Reflection: We evaluate the project throughout to inform the next phases of planning and ongoing development.