On ‘Open Source Campaigning’

8:45 pm - June 26th 2008

by Robert Sharp    

      Share on Tumblr

Yesterday at the Blog Nation Event, Dan Hardie gave an account of his experiences running his Iraqi Interpreters campaign. He mentioned my post on Open Source Campaigning, but said he thought that ‘open source’ wasn’t an appropriate label, because you need a heirarchy and a leader to run an effective campaign.

To clarify, I’m not sure that the ideas of ‘leadership’ and ‘open source’ are mutually exclusive. Open Source coding projects tend to have a core team of dedicated developers, but individual tasks to code are farmed out to volunteers. Likewise with Jay Rosen’s ‘open source journalism’ – an editor or lead journalist still writes up the piece, but dozens or hundreds of other journalists are able to perform the many discrete pieces of research required.

So it is with Open Source Campaigning. You still need someone like Dan to lead the campaign and make strategic decisions, but the leg-work can be decimated if the lobbying or writing to individual MPs is shared throughout the network.

Cross-posted at my own place, obviously.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  

About the author
Robert Sharp designed the Liberal Conspiracy site. He is Head of Campaigns at English PEN, a blogger, and a founder of digital design company Fifty Nine Productions. For more of this sort of thing, visit Rob's eponymous blog or follow him on Twitter @robertsharp59. All posts here are written in a personal capacity, obviously.
· Other posts by

Story Filed Under: Blog ,Iraqi-employees

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Reader comments

*and* Dan did an awesome job.

I like what you’re saying. Could be very interesting..

Fascinating stuff and yes I agree it doesn’t have to be either/or. I’m quite drawn to the anarchic underpinnings of open source campaigning or politics, the idea that you can’t have a leader is a nonsense. You just can’t have a permanent one.

It works well when one person takes the lead on one project but acts as a foot soldier on another, that way everyone’s talents get used and we don’t end up with an Iain Dale type trying to sit on top of everything and essentially making the whole thing go stale over time…

3. douglas clark



Which is what I enjoy about group blogs. A single opinion, or voice, becomes repetitive and boring after a while. Whereas a group blog is less likely to do so. I think. It is also true that certain voices take a natural lead on certain issues, Unity on 24 weeks, here, for instance.

I’d defy anyone who read his posts and ‘took in’ half of what he said to be any less better informed that 99% of the opposition.

And it is a democratic good to have both a pro and anti David Davies strap line.

Careful Douglas, you’ll feel the wrath of Kate soon!

oooo Lee, you are a naughty boy…

actually, not entirely sure you’re referring to me, bu tha’ts ego for you, so am going to assume that you are, and pick up a few points anyway that pertain to this discussion about group work and single voices…

I admit I might have gone a little over the top with my rant on Unity’s contribution to the 24 weeks’ debate on Wednesday night, but Lee – the point I was really trying to make pertained to the way the boy bloggers congratulated each other so heartily AFTER the event and didn’t acknowledge us girls in the same way. Even the Devil of the Kitchen turned up here to tell Unity what a great guy he was. And he IS a great guy – certainly in the blogging/journalism sense, and certainly on that topic. It was just that my massive ego was bruised a little.

And that doesn’t matter a damn. The point I was trying to make at the blog nation event is that it is very easy for women to feel slighted and sidelined, and I was trying to give an example of a time when I had felt like that. If you remember, we were talking about the reasons why women bloggers can feel sidelined, and that’s why I mentioned that instance. I may well not have felt justified in feeling that way, but the point I was trying to make was that I did.

But let’s try and take something positive from this. At least I admit I’m a galloping egomaniac. Some women are. Some people on the Left are. And that’s where there can be a tension between ego and shared space and ideas in blogging.

But there doesn’t have to be. Egomaniacs can still be committed to the idea of freedom of speech and the power of the collective. We’re just in love with the sound of our own voices. Does that really matter? Does that really mean you get an Iain Dale-type situation where, as someone as said above, you get one person trying to sit on top of everything? Of course not. Collective blogging doesn’t allow for that. Or maybe it does…? I guess that if you wanted, you could argue that the people who post most often on this site are trying to dominate the conversation just because they post most often on this site. I don’t happen to believe that, but it would be possible to make that argument if you wanted.

I thought Laurie Penny made the best point on the topic at Blog Nation when she said that women welcomed male support and contribution on subjects like abortion, but didn’t necessarily want men to bollock in and lead on those subjects. There is a certain courtesy there that some people transgress. On the topic of 24 weeks, I do think Unity transgressed. I think he was right to do so and came out with some absolutely brilliant work, but it still got on my nerves. I wouldn’t not have wanted him not to have done what he did – I’m just saying that it got on my nerves. There’s a certain sense of ownership there on topics like abortion. Is it right that women feel that sense of ownership? Dunno. Logically, I think no, but emotionally, I think yes.

I feel that I’m committing that sort of trespass when I interview and write about black people and their issues – that I’m wandering into an area that I have no right to be in, or comment on, really. I still do it, but I’m aware that I’m trespassing.

I’m also ranting, now. I think the Left needs to acknowledge that there is such a thing as rampant ego in its ranks, and that blogging can reflect that. I think it deludes itself when it tries to argue otherwise. I also think that everyone has some ego – people are still delighted when their blogs are mentioned in the mainstream press, for example (another point I raised on Wednesday).

I shouldn’t have made the joke should I? 😉 You were just very animated and passionate about it at the talk, thought I’d reference it 🙂

7. douglas clark


Sorry if i stepped on your toes! My point was merely that Unity must have done an enormous amount of research at a very high level to write the posts he did. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if Unity was a she. I don’t see why it should matter to you that he is a he. It’s the issue that counts after all.

I don’t think that anyone really has a ‘turf’ that they ought to protect though. If you take that to it’s logical conclusion we should only write about ourselves.

…as you can see, I have a GREAT sense of humour about myself…

Sorry for the rant. Just thought I came across as too anti-Unity & anti-men at the event and didn’t get my core point across, so took the opportunity presented above…

time to shut up now. going to lie down with a cool cloth on my forehead…


…and I’m back.

Yep – Douglas, I think that in theory, you’re right in saying that it shouldn’t matter that Unity is a he. I absolutely agree with that in theory. It’s just that it DOES matter somehow. I can’t quite get my head around why it matters – something to do with a sense that abortion is ours, because pregnancy is ours, and the agenda should be set by us…? I need to think about it a little more. Perhaps it has to do with my own general sense that men have too much say in the rest of the political agenda and that I am compelled to live my life to a narrative that I haven’t set and that women seem to be getting further and further away from setting… dunno. Perhaps I’m just a galloping paranoid. Will give it more thought.

I do tread carefully when interviewing and writing about people from different racial groups, though, and usually end up making a complete arse of myself as result. I still do it though, because I think it’s important to get as many stories as possible out there. I can hear the apology in my own tone when I do that though:


do people get territorial because they tend to be more introspective? or, do people get more introspective because they are more territorial? Or is it because there is a group dynamic at work on certain issues which is self-affirming and reinforces their ‘ownership’ rights?

When it comes down to it I think whether people are more accepting of contributions wherever they may originate is to do with whether they have a more open and liberal attitude, however it remains another issue completely whether any one individual or group is able to accurately and fully evaluate the merits of said contributions.

Personally I think rants are a more honest way of commenting which get help closer to the heart of matters, so long as they aren’t so long that it becomes easy to get distracted.

This may surprise a few people, but I actually agree with Kate that ownership of this debate does matter, but more importantly it matters that women actively take ownership of these debates even if it sometimes means a little of friction at the outset while boundaries are sorted out.

I’ve been at this game for quite a long time and one of the things that has saddened and frustrated me over the years has been the extent to which parts of the feminist movement have developed something of a bunker mentality when to comes to engaging in constructive debate and building alliances and coalitions on important issues.

Much as often happens when the Trots ship up and try to insinuate their way into a campaign, what starts out promisingly as a chance to work together towards a common goal can very quickly descend into a welter of ridiculous infighting over questions of ideological purity after which people either walk away out of sheer frustration or get the hump and take their ball home because someone else won’t quite except the ‘perfection’ of their position.

I knew right at the outset what I could bring to the table in this debate, which wasn’t leadership in any conventional sense, but rather that I could, and did, take on some of the responsibility for the ‘R&D’ elements of the campaign, which I looked at, personally, as lining up the bullets for others to fire. What I was also confident of, having done quite a bit of the research before we started debating the issue here. was that there was a significant weight of evidence that would support the key arguments and that we could fight this not just on questions of ideology and rights but on hard facts and detail.

What I couldn’t be certain of, at the outset, was exactly how Kate and others would respond to that and whether they would see that as useful, and usable, back-up for their own arguments or as an unwelcome challenge to their position.

In that sense, what I needed to know before committing more time to this issue was whether Kate and others would actively take ownership of the issue and stand their ground when pushed, as they certainly would be by opponents, or whether, as some feminists have taken to, they might simply start making noises about the need for a ‘safe space’ and beat a hasty retreat if the going got tough. And I’m not suggesting here that there aren’t times when women need a safe space to thrash out issues without interference, merely that there are times when calls for a safe space are misused as a way of avoiding tough debates and hard questions much as parts of the hard left are prone to doing the same thing by retreating into banal quotation contests of the ‘Well Lenin said…. ah, but didn’t Gramsci argue that… well, yes, but then Trotsky pointed out that…’ variety.

As far as I’m concerned, Kate did entirely the right thing by firing back, all of which proved to me that she’d got the stomach for the fight and could be relied on to fight her corner against all-comers, which is what I was hoping for.

I’ve been in far too many pitched battles and flame wars to take anything said on the internet personally, least of all Kate’s comments (no offence) and whether she realises or not, by taking things head-on she earned my personal respect as someone I can work with and rely on to give leadership to a campaign such as this one, and the same goes for Cath, Laura, Jess, Jennie and others, and that’s not because of any kind of male/female dynamic but simply because they’ve shown what I consider an admirable strength of character throughout.

Well said, Unity, Very well said. Total respect to you, and much appreciated.

If it’s any help – this week, others in my offline life have observed that I might be galloping towards menopause, and that they think that is starting to show (as it were).

They seemed a bit scared, as well they might be. I mean – clearly, I’m going to get WORSE.

But anyway – keep on at Nadine. Probably sounds better coming from you, anyway. I get terribly shrill on the topic anyway, and then the whole thing sort of comes off like a showerfight – you know, kind of compelling, but not that… classy.

Women taking ownership of the debate, of course, involves them being given the opportunity to and not being drowned out by huge long pseudo-academic texts…

Sorry. Still prickling over the fact that while we seem to have grasped that the “there are only right wing blogs” is false, we are still saying that women don’t blog.

Just because Sunny and Iain Dale and other “big name” bloggers don’t READ female blogs does not mean they are not out there…

Re the OP – I’ve been involved in open source development for years. One of the startling things I have found is that while I have been working collectively with people (personally unknown to me) across the globe on a project, in own own free time, I am sometimes astounded how far apart we can be politically and socially. The collective open source aspect, and to me hugely ‘socialist’ aspect for want of a better word, is contributed to by Christian fundamentalists and lefties and an incredible range of views.

Does this make the open source collectivism transcendent?

Perhaps we need to define open source?

That first line should have open source SOFTWARE development….

Where’s the comments editor…

Hi all
I’m interested in the conversation between Unity and Kate here, so going to skip the whole open-source track that Robert first started us on.

Kate, I think you are right that leadership of campaigns matters. You expressed uncertainty about why, so I’ll offer two reasons why I think so to hear what you and others think:

1. Credibility: having lived experience with an issue means you have credibility in the eyes of others that your knowledge about that experience is coming from an authoritative place. That doesn’t mean others can’t have relevant knowledge, only that the type of knowledge will be different and may not have the same credibility as someone who’s lived it. Book learning vs life learning if you will. (That’s not to say that personal experience is the only or most correct knowledge, only that it affects credibility.)

2. Principle: on a feminist issue, which on at least some level will be about how problematic it is that men dominate women, being seen to be ensuring that men aren’t dominating demonstrates a cohesive politics. It shows that one’s ‘walking the talk’ and that the organizing tactics are reflecting the political analysis that underlines the cause.

Unity, I’m interested in much of what you have said, and would like to challenge you on some of it.

I knew right at the outset what I could bring to the table in this debate

I think this is really great. One of the most important tasks for allies in my opinion is to know what added value one can bring that supports a cause, and doesn’t take it over.

What I couldn’t be certain of, at the outset, was exactly how Kate and others would respond to that and whether they would see that as useful, and usable, back-up for their own arguments or as an unwelcome challenge to their position.

I love this bit too. I like that you were self-reflexive about what you were about to get involved in and how, and recognized that it might cause tension. Did you speak to ‘Kate and others’ about your concerns ‘at the outset’ to establish protocols, campaign roles, etc?

In that sense, what I needed to know before committing more time to this issue was whether Kate and others would actively take ownership of the issue and stand their ground when pushed

I’m less fond of this bit. If you had chatted with ‘Kate and others’ about your concerns as per previous comments, then you would have been organizing together, in solidarity, and in knowledge of who was doing what for how long in what capacity, etc. Instead, it sounds like you were waiting, off to the side, to reserve judgment on how ‘Kate and others’ acted, and were testing them a bit instead of just asking them openly and directly and collaborating about tactics.

Kate did entirely the right thing by firing back, all of which proved to me that she’d got the stomach for the fight and could be relied on to fight her corner against all-comers, which is what I was hoping for.

Again, sounds like you were waiting to test Kate, and she passed your test, and now you are able to commend her. Kate seems not to mind, but I’m not a fan of this.

I get that you’ve had some previous experiences which suggest to you that ‘feminists’ beat hasty retreats when challenged, but that’s a limitation of your experience and doesn’t reflect reality. Remember how we got that right to vote, a ban on rape in marriage, all women shortlists, etc.? Those were heavy-going victories, as was the first Abortion Act, and there are plenty of feminists that are prepared to take on the battles (you’ve used rather a lot of war metaphors so I’m reflecting it back, but there are other ways of having the conversation by the by).

Can I suggest that in future, if we’re/you’re coordinating a campaign, via LC or elsewhere, that you be upfront about your concerns (if you weren’t this time; if you were, sorry to misjudge), and we/you talk tactics, time and capacity availability, and roles etc before hand?

Oh dear, really sorry that was so long, didn’t realize. Sunny, can you get that preview function action happening?!

Don’t worry Zohra. We don’t pay by the word here, nor are we paying for paper.

Although it does seem odd, compared to Kate’s and Unity’s brief comments above.

Oh, wait…

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Reflections on Creating Community Online | The Wardman Wire

    […] bears on the continuing conversation about campaigning coalitions of bloggers at Liberal Conspiracy, here and also […]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.