Six trees, collaborative tech and people power

How a campaign in Auckland gave people tools to craft winning organizing strategies

Ryan Mearns, a Campaign Director at New Zealand’s ActionStation, shares his experience with a fast-growing community campaign to save six heritage Pohutukawa trees in Auckland. Like many campaigns that rapidly grow online through email and social media, the Powhutukawa campaign struggled to give interested people meaningful ways to get involved on the ground. Mearns used collaborative tech, in this case Loomio, to help scale engagement.

At New Zealand’s ActionStation, where I work as a campaign director, we’re grappling with how to transfer the scalability of our online campaigns into the everyday world where people live. After all, most problems are solved on the ground and that’s where relationships with members and supporters become most powerful.

Pohutukawa trees in Auckland

A view of two of Auckland’s threatened Pohutukawa trees. Public interest in protecting the trees grew faster than organiser’s ability to channel interest into action. Photo courtesy Save the Western Springs Pohutukawas.

It’s a common problem: how do campaigns and organisations with limited human and financial resources empower people, especially when the people are anxious to act.

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, founder and executive director at SumOfUs, recently spoke at Progress about the role of technology in movement growth. Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, Stinebrickner-Kauffman noted, are leading the way in offline organising as they use new technology to help build their movements. She observed that movement progression is often tied to technological innovation.

Here in Auckland, local residents have started a campaign to save six 80-year old native trees from road expansion. Their efforts presented a great opportunity to view Stinebrickner-Kauffman’s ideas on connecting online organising technology to offline mobilisation through the lens of a fast-moving campaign that captured broad public attention.

The Fast-Growing Campaign Problem

Early efforts to protect Auckland’s Pohutukawa trees was led by a half dozen people. They navigated the standard Council process by responding to planning documents. The Council process failed to account for the importance of the trees to the local community. Concerned citizens saw the need to make the trees a larger political issue.

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