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A network that learns from itself

January 23 2012 | Strategy, Chapters, Campaigns, Activism, Culture Shifting, DIY Activism, Modern Activism,

In 1991 Surfrider Foundation made a strategic decision which changed the face of coastal conservation; the decision was made to embrace the chapter business model. That decison pushed representation and power into the hands of locals in coastal regions and enabled the network to grow and flourish into what exists today.

Today we have more than 80 domestic chapters, more than 30 high school and college clubs and representation in more than 18 countries.

We have never planted a chapter, our growth has been entirely organic.

What is next for the Surfrider network is to become a network that increasingly learns from itself.

The most powerful, the most relevant, the most potent networks are those that learn from themselves. I could prove that statement by pointing to technology companies and their self-learning algorithms... but think of the opposite of that statement. A network which does not passionatly embrace sharing and learning is a dying (perhaps dead) network, it is a network where everyone is reinventing the same wheel  and repeating the same mistakes as others.

The idea of prioritizing learning within our network isn't a new idea. I wrote about it a few months ago with the post the most important thing we can do is share and people could easily point to our regional conferences as perfect representatives of what I'm talking about here.

Think about our network for a second. Surfrider Foundation is as large as I noted above and we are, literally, fighting the same fights... all over the globe.

We are fighting for clean water throughout the United States, we did more than 9,000 water quality tests last year. More that that, we're fighting for clean water all over the planet. The same could be said for beach and wave access. The same could be said for preserving coastal ecosystems, etc.

The real question becomes HOW are we going to maximize learning within our network in the months ahead.

I'll point to two examples.

First, we announced Quad. Quad is our high school and college program. We started this effort last year and still see it as an early-stage, growth program. This year we're applying more resources to this demographic as we know it has massive potential to yield a large, postive impact to our mission of coastal conservation. If you're in high school or college this year could be your year to connect to coastal conservation in a way that is... yours.

Second, in December of 2010 we started researching the ways people take actions related to our mission. We have collected thirteen months of this data, from super-lightweight actions such as, opening our e-newsletter to heavyweight actions such as, making public comments. Much of this data spans our network of chapters in North America. This year we will transform this data into meaningful, actionable, learnable information. When a single chapter does something exceptional, every other chapter should understand not only that something happened but they will be able to learn from it  and in the end make their chapter better, faster and stronger. Our chapter network has netted more than 170 coastal victories since 2006 but the simple truth is that the best win for the coasts is a fight that never has to be fought to begin with... thus our constant emphasis on making every part of our network stronger and more formidable.

The Surfrider Foundation network will increasingly be centered on understanding and learning from itself and we will become that for a single reason... because everyone gets connected to the Surfrider belief that it's up to us to preserve and enjoy our oceans, waves and beaches.

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