Opening up the black box: citizen group strategies for engaging grassroots activism in the twenty-first century

Abstract

Trajectories of activism within citizen groups are a function not only of whether people are willing and able to get involved, but also whether the structure of opportunities offered by a group is appealing to the people the group seeks to engage. A full understanding of activism over time within citizen groups thus depends on knowing not only whether and how people participate, but also what opportunities were offered to them and how those opportunities were nested in a broader strategy. This multifaceted view is particularly important given changing modes of engagement in the twenty-first century, yet obtaining the appropriate data is challenging. This paper draws on unique, mixed-method organizational data that simultaneously provide a longitudinal view of trajectories of activism of over 3000 activists within one major environmental organization in the USA and of the kinds of strategies the organization was using to cultivate that activism. We find that most people do not participate in more than one activity over the time in which we have data. Among those that do, more people persist in offline activism than online activism, despite ongoing attempts by the organization to cultivate both.

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Correspondence to Hahrie Han.

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Han, H., Sparks, A.C. & Towery, N.D. Opening up the black box: citizen group strategies for engaging grassroots activism in the twenty-first century. Int Groups Adv 6, 22–43 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41309-017-0010-4

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Keywords

  • interest groups
  • grassroots activism
  • social movements
  • organizational strategy
  • digital activism (or, online and offline activism)
  • environmental activism