Category Archives: Motivations to participate

Motivations to participate in social movement organisations, and how they shift

Element Descriptor

People participate in social movements, at differing levels of intensity and lengths of time, for a variety of motives – the Cause, the desire to use skills, make friends, feel recognised, keep despair at bay, “etc”. Understanding their motivations and providing – as far as possible – for them, is key for keeping them involved for the long haul. And without long-haul involvement, we are toast. Not understanding motivations will virtually guarantee repeated ‘up like a rocket, down like a stick’ patterns…

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
You can spot people who fit into one or two of the ‘basic’ categories after chatting to them for a while, seeing how they interact with others. You are able to understand what will motivate and demotivate them (and yourself)You can quickly spot how people, mostly like you, fit into the various categories of motivation, and how these motivations might shift (wax and wane) over time, and the triggers for further or lessened involvement might occur (and, gasp, be interrupted).You are able to categorise – and explain the gaps in the categories and uncertainties- the motivations of people in your group and others, with compassion and wit, explaining the likely courses their involvement will take, and offering ways that this engagement can become something more sustainable and sustaining. Without coming off as a prick.From someone’s shoe size and someone else’s haircut you can diagnose the personal activist trajectories of all the people in a meeting, where they have ‘come from’, where they are now, where things are heading for them, and the causes, consequences and possible interrupters of the various de-motivators and abeyance-mongers that will afflict them in the coming months

Element Overview Essay

This is a draft. If something doesn’t make sense, or you see typos, or if you have further ideas, please email us on contact@activecitizenshiptoolkit.net

So the first thing we need to do is get outside of our own heads and not assume that everyone else is exactly like “us” and so may have different motivations. 

For some of us, it will be being able to look ourselves in the mirror. Some of us are projecting 20 years into the future, and worrying about what our kids will say to us. Some of us don’t have kids. Other people will be doing it because of strongly held political or religious – not that the two are necessarily separate – convictions. And it’s just become part of their identity, part of who they are. Part of what they do to find meaning. Those people are not terribly numerous other people, what their different modes. Crucially, one person can have different motives for getting involved in different stages of their life. And even within a set period motivations can shift. 

Also, you do get people who – I remember one person, who was incredibly, obviously, instrumentalist. They wanted to have a “sustainability thing” on their CV and  got involved with this achingly, reformist NGO, and even it couldn’t cope and told him to piss off. Those sorts of obvious “users” are fairly infrequent, fairly easy to spot, but you know, maybe they can shift once the scales fall from their eyes. Yeah, good luck with that. 

You have other people who just want to stop something. Initially, it’s all about stopping a development on a patch of land that they care about, one that has emotional biographical resonance for them. And from that they get more and more drawn into the bigger and bigger issues as they start to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit, and how merely winning a planning application is pointless. Resisting planning applications is often pointless when the entire game is rigged against you. 

Other people, and this is probably a lot of them are drawn in because friends are involved. And then they decide to get involved to just hang out with their friends and have a good time. 

Other people are lonely. And that’s fine. 

Other people are looking for thrills and adventure and seeing themselves in the newspaper and seeing themselves may be reflected in the approving eyes of other people.

And then of course, you’ve got people who are doing it because they’re paid to do it as spies, either full time with the police or corporate or part time or people who have been blackmailed into doing it. “We want you to get involved in Group X, otherwise we’re going to bring charges against you for those drugs you were selling or for that thing that you did.” This is probably far more common than we’d like to admit. Okay, so those last ones were some bad reasons for getting involved in a social movement organisation!

The general point is this; different individuals will have different motives. The motives don’t necessarily stay the same. It may be that what brings them to a social movement is not what keeps them. And this is crucial, because you come looking for excitement, adrenaline, attention in the media, a sense of yourself as righteous. You’re only gonna get six months or a year of that, because the media will get bored of your group’s tactics, your group will start to fracture anyway. And you’ll be left high and dry. 

So if turning this round, you are someone who’s interested as much in retaining members into social movement organisations as recruiting them. I would argue that your three main ways of retaining people. And clearly we could talk about this as a separate element. 

And number one, there’s a really good, healthy friendship network.

Number two, that the group is just continuing functioning and continues being useful. 

And number three, that the individuals are learning lots of new skills and lots of new knowledge in a more explicit more or less explicit way. 

So that’s precisely where the Active Citizenship Toolkit comes in. That you can ask individuals to become better at things they’re already okay at, or to learn new skills all together. And I think most humans, like learning new stuff, as distinct from cramming their heads full of facts from the National Curriculum and then squeezing the sponge out. On the appointed day in an exam, that’s not education that’s training. 

So I think that a lot of people do want to learn new skills. And that’s really the gamble here with the Toolkit is that people will be attracted to social movements for a bunch of reasons. But they will stay, at least some, and how the groups that use the toolkit because there are opportunities to get better at stuff..

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