TON Newsletter - 13 Jan, 2021

Welcome to Tectonica Organising Network’s twice-monthly newsletter! We work hard to curate and create the best content out there on progressive digital organising and share it with you, along with some updates on upcoming events and trainings, what we’ve been up to, and even a bit about what’s going on on the other side.

Dear Tectonica Organising Network,

We noticed an interesting phenomenon last time we sent a correction email: it had much higher open rates than our normal email newsletters.

This is not an outlier. People love to open correction emails it seems. Maybe it's our looky-loo nature trying to rubberneck a digital organising error. Or is it more than morbid curiosity and an envious desire to see others fail that creates that quick click? We suspect it could also be, in part, that we don’t have enough good examples of errors to look at and learn from - the result of our culture devaluing vulnerability among other reasons. (Certainly our recent report showed clearly there wasn’t enough communication in general between progressive campaigns in terms of both what is working and what isn’t.)

Failure, mistake, errors - are a fundamental part of learning to be successful. And while failures can also be emotionally difficult, damaging, or in the worst case deadly - when treated with the right mindset, they usually are the source of that something better. Here in the early part of 2021 we have no shortage of hard times and from a political perspective - and otherwise - failures. Let's be fair - progressive have not been winning much in these past years.

2020 itself feels a bit like a year most of us would prefer to just write off and forget. It was on so many levels a failure of policy, public health, and communities to contain a raging disease which has killed nearly 2 million people, destroyed economies across the planet, and devastated lives. With Brexit coming to a culmination a couple of weeks ago with a deal that no one could truly say left anyone better off, the EU and Britain are both filled with a bitter taste over a divorce that probably never should have happened.

Particularly for those of us from the US (but others too) the violent events of this past week as the US capitol was taken - under the command of a sitting president - by seditious and traitorous rioters to stop a session to confirm our duly elected president - have been a deep kick to the gut. It is the playing out of the nightmare scenario we on the progressive side of things have been screaming about since Donald Trump descended an escalator and started his 2016 campaign with a speech of populist vitriol and hate. Seeing individuals carrying symbols of extremist racism and hate - from confederate flags to t-shirts calling for genocide - take one of the oldest acting seats of democracy has been overwhelming for those of us who have dedicated much of our lives to the exact opposite values: tolerance, democracy, rule of law, etc… I’m sure many of us are looking forward to January 20th when we can finally say “so long, farewell”. Getting ‘back to business’ can seem challenging at such a moment.

It can be hard to stay hopeful in moments when we most need it. And at a moment when - even more than just hope - we are needed for some pretty heavily lifting. Even with Trump out of office there are still millions of people who voted for a leader with flair for fascism. We clearly have a lot of work to do to undo so many harms from this horrible period, heal our wounds, and make a better world. It can seem overwhelming considering how much energy we have had to put into resisting all that these last years have dropped on us. (I’m embarrassed to say how hard it was to find the focus to even write this intro). But our efforts must go on: lessons must be learned, new administrations must be encouraged to implement needed policies, we must firm up democracy in the U.S., Turkey, Hungary, Hong Kong, Tanzania and everywhere democracy is being challenged to withstand those who attack it, vaccines need to be distributed alongside educational campaigns to combat disinformation, the rights of essential workers who have taken the hardest toll must be won, the environment must be repaired to decrease the likelihood of future pandemics, and newsletters must go out!

It can be helpful to see that our moment is now and in it there is great hope to inspire us. The opportunity is here like it has never been before. If as a global society we are paying attention the lessons are before us like they have never been. The impact of staying home from voting on a rainy day in Britain is clear to all. No one is under the illusion that U.S. democracy cannot be challenged. The pandemic, if nothing else, has taught us that all our biggest challenges are global challenges that we must work together to solve.

In that light, we hope this special failure-themed newsletter offers some insights and tips on the way forward in such times: How to approach failure, the importance of - when and how to take risks, what to do when failure inevitably happens, and how we can maximize the benefit of learning from failure.

We’ll be continuing the discussion in our new TON community (on slack) which already has a good number of people joined - so if you aren’t there yet, be sure to join us.

Ned and the Team at Tectonica

What We’ve Been Up To

In Campaigning, Failure is the Key to Success

In our latest blog post, we look at the importance of learning from failure. Specifically, we discuss how campaigners can approach fear of failure, assess when to take risks, respond when failure happens, and learn from our errors. It’s a longer post, so for ease of reading, feel free to jump to whichever section may be most relevant to you and your work:

A Bit of a History Lesson

What if George Washington had given up after his first defeat? This section discusses how with the right mindset, failure can play an important role in later success.

Getting Over Our Instincts - Growth Mindset

This section goes a little deeper into “growth mindset” theory, what the political world can learn from other sectors, and why a fear of failure in progressive campaigning stalls our organising work.

Building Advocacy Movements is Messy Work

The 80-20 rule in allowing for failure and the importance of setting metrics for a campaign to truly measure success (and failure!).

How To Assess Risking Failure: Risk Management Tool

We know it’s important to not be too afraid to take some risks, but how do we calculate whether certain campaign activities are worth the risk? In this section, we share a specific tool based on the PM2 (Project Management Methodology) of the European Commission, set as a standard for project management across the European Union and discuss its methodology.

How to Plan for the Possibility of Failure in an Electoral Candidate Campaign

This section discusses how electoral candidates who think of long-term possibilities beyond just the campaign for political office are more likely to fare better.

How to Respond to a Big BooBoo

The question is not if a mistake will be made, but when. This section discusses why it’s critical to have a rapid response team ready to quickly and competently respond to errors that happen in your campaign.

Maximising the Power of Failure

This section provides some tips on how to make the most out of failure when it happens, including measuring if you are failing along the way, preparing ahead to minimise the impact of failure, and testing and creating a safe place to fail.

We Need to Share More Failures

We think that learning from each other’s failures is a great way to push our movements forward. We encourage everyone to sign up to TON’s new Slack channel where we encourage organisers to share missteps and errors that we can learn from as a community.

Breaking with the Failure theme of the newsletter: Kayse Jama becomes Oregon State Senator!

While we looked on in horror as democracy was violently threatened on Capitol Hill, we find hope in the choice of our incredible client Kayse Jama for Oregon State Senate.

From a Somalian refugee with few privileges to a State Senator in under two decades, Jama is a community leader and fierce advocate for the powerless, who deeply understands the importance of civic and cultural ties in building safe, stable, and successful lives. We can’t wait to see all the good trouble he will get up to in the State Senate. Congratulations from the entire Tectonica team on this historic victory!

Join the discussion on Slack!

The TON community is now an active community on Slack where you can connect, network, share, and support other people working in the progressive digital organising space. We’re looking forward to seeing what learning you want to share with folks and what you are going to learn from them.


Featured Digital Organising Tools

Technology cannot exist without failure. Faced with the impossibility of anticipating all possible scenarios when we innovate, there is no choice but to rely on errors as a tool that can take us to the next level.

The tragic-comic love story between technology and failure would provide hundreds of volumes in a possible "Encyclopedia of Error." From pioneers testing their fatal (non)flying machines, printers failing us before homework’s due to the counting app’s unfortunate fail last year in the Iowa caucuses.

To master technology, the first thing you need is to lose is your fear of breaking things. That’s why, in the world of technology development, there is a highly advanced culture of error and control of its impact. "Debugging process", "QA", "sandbox", "development environment", "beta phase", etc. are everyday terms and examples of this fact.

In this regard, we would love for organisations working for progressive change to incorporate this awareness of the need to manage and exploit error when deploying their digital organising strategies. Some practices that we sometimes miss, and that seem like actual examples of this are:

  • Have a rapid response system for a crisis—pre-established protocols for the team, response templates, pre-configurations, workflows, etc.
  • Establish an intricate culture of analysis and iteration. It is critical to measure our actions’ performance to be aware of our mistakes, and more importantly, our successes. And with this, the practice of data-driven decisions has developed. Many tools can help us with this: it is a booming market and any platform we use always offers us useful metrics. To name a few, Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, NationBuilder Insights, Google Data Studio, etc. could be some must-have options in our tech stack.
  • Do tests before launching anything. Not only will testing help you avoid mistakes and check that everything is fine, but it’s also a part of refining what works best, such as carrying out A / B tests. It is highly advisable even to have a small network of trusted testers.
  • Use intentional error as an asset. In the same way that you can test an app by sending overload and stress tests, there are some exciting aspects to provoking intentional errors in controlled environments to generate change or evolution. In all cases, always conduct adequate risk management.

Featured Digital Organising Resources

6 New Year’s Marketing Resolutions for Nonprofits

With 2020 radically changing the way nonprofits strategize digital communications, it’s never been a better time to set your organisation’s communication goals for 2021 and beyond. Check out these 6 recommendations from the Tapp Network that will help you make the most out of your marketing efforts in the new normal.

The Audacity of Taking Risks: an interview with Lori Coleman from Demcast

Despite a desire to bring positive change into the world, many of us often feel timid about jumping into organising large-scale systems changing projects because we feel we don’t have enough experience or structural support. That’s one of the things that most inspires us about Lori Coleman and DemCast. Ned recently sat down with Lori, co-founder and Director of Digital Strategy at DemCast to talk to her about what inspired her to create the DemCast despite having zero background in professional politics. Ned and Lori also discuss DemCast's immense impact on political races across the U.S., the audacity of taking risks, and learning from failure. Read excerpts from their interview here.

Upcoming Trainings & Events

Behind the scenes of Sunrise’s volunteer-led phone bank program: Learn the volunteer management practices that powered 5.4 million dials, January 15 3:00 pm EST, Zoom

When the Sunrise Movement created teams of volunteers last March for their phone bank program, they relied on time-tested research to build in 6 proven conditions that can be designed into a team to ensure great teamwork. In this webinar, they’ll be sharing how they did it to help you design effective teams, too. RSVP for the call here.

Leading Change Network (LCN) Europe: Public Narrative Training, February 13-14, Online

This training by LCN Europe will teach you how to craft your public narrative, starting with your “story of self”, connect your story to that of your community to motivate commitment to a shared purpose and engage others in a call to action, and increase your capacity to lead others using the public narrative framework, communicating stories that inspire mindful action. Applications are open to both individuals and organisations (teams of 5 participants). Apply here.

Becker Digital Social Media Deep Dive, February 22-25, Online

This 4 day training is for people who have experience managing social media for a union/organization/campaign and will focus on how do to manage social media strategically including the role of social media within larger digital and organisational strategy, how to maximise reach and engagement on the different major social media platforms, advanced social media advertising strategies, and more. Register for the training here.

What We're Reading

On Failure:

The Hottest Campaign Ads on Twitter Didn’t Really Work: Study, 9 December 2020, Daily Beast

Inside the implosion of the $35 million startup meant to fix the Democratic Party, 15 December 2020, Vox

Because of an Editing Error: Blunders, gaffes and terrible math skills, written in permanent ink, 3 January 2021, NY Times

My 10 Biggest Mistakes As BrewDog's CEO, 26th November 2020, James Watt, Linkedin blog

The Usual News Round-up:

Phone Calls, Texts and Tinder — Georgia Campaigns Court Young Voters, 4 January 2021, NY Times

WhatsApp Has Shared Your Data With Facebook for Years, Actually, 8 January 2020, Wired

Twitter bans accounts for Trump campaign, digital director, 9 January 2021, The Hill

The Art of the Lie? The Bigger the Better, 10 January 2021, NY Times

Scoop: Facebook freezing political spending after Capitol attack, by Ashley Gold, 12 January 2021, Axios

On democracy and leadership, 12 January 2021, NationBuilder


Trump supporters organized the Capitol riot online, 9 January 2021, The Hill



We reviewed Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die back in August 2019, but after witnessing the attempted coup in the United States on January 6, we felt it was a good time to encourage folks who haven’t had a chance to read it yet to pick it up.

How Democracies Die

“The drift into authoritarianism doesn’t always set off alarm bells. Citizens are often slow to realize that their democracy is being dismantled even as it happens before their eyes.”

Tectonica’s Take:

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt provide excellent historical analysis on the breakdown of democracies around the world and warn that the U.S. may be on the road to authoritarianism. The death of democracy is now rarely a cataclysmic event--instead it’s a slow chipping away at our democratic systems, by elected leaders, allowing them to subtly subvert the democratic process until they’ve consolidated power.


Barcelona (Remote possible): Front End Developer for Movement Building Technologies, Tectonica

Apply now!

Global location, Digital Marketing Manager, openDemocracy

Apply now!

Announcing New TON Lead, Weronika:

Hello TON!

Stella here 😊. I wanted to let you all know that I will be leaving my position as Tectonica’s Organising Network and Partnerships Manager. It’s been an honour to have met and worked with so many inspiring organisers in this role, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute to Tectonica’s inimitable work using digital organising to fight for a more progressive and inclusive world.

I’m happy to announce that the fabulous Weronika Paszewska will be taking over the role. Weronika is a veteran leader of civil society and grassroots organisations with expertise in campaigning and civic engagement, and I’m excited to see how she continues to grow and strengthen this incredible community. While it is with sadness that I leave this position, it feels great to know that TON will be in such great hands with Weronika. Please welcome her!