Circles of commitment, ladders of engagement

July 8, 2014 | By: James Whelan

Bill and Col in the gallery

[Emma Wasson reflects:]

The Wilderness Society is using an adaptation of the ‘Circles of Commitment’ framework adapted from Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Church” to develop a conceptual framework to measure the activity and engagement of individuals in our organisation.

The Wilderness Society speak of ‘Circles of Engagement’ (rather than ‘Circles of Commitment’). We found that people attach too much emotive value to the word ‘commitment’, and feel that we need to value people who only give a few hours a year because they are time poor but are committed nonetheless. This may be true, but in reality it’s the action and dedication of time and skills that actually count most.

  • We changed the category ‘Crowd’ to ‘Connected’ as we thought this better reflected the activity of the people outlined below.
  • We changed the category ‘Committed’ to ‘Collaborators’ for the reasons outlined above about the value-laden nature of the word ‘commitment’.
  • We have made this framework as simple as possible, as we have to be able to measure this or it defies the purpose of the exercise. We may need to refine the framework based on the capacity of our data systems to effectively track participation in events.

At each level described, with the metrics we propose, we can discern who the ‘warmest’ people are to target to bring into the next level towards the core (e.g. how many events or training they attend).

Our current thinking is that to add a further dimension to this framework, we can create ‘ladders’ between each of the circles, which define the tactics and approaches we use to move people towards the core. This framework compliments the ‘snowflake’ model –  how we organise volunteer teams and transfer capacity from staff to our leading volunteers.

In other words we utilise a hybrid ‘Circles of Commitment’, ‘Ladders of Engagement’ and the ‘Snowflake’ model of organising. By setting a movement building target of 100,000 people, we’re committing to building a movement of 100,000 people who are Contributors, Collaborators and Core.

5 levels of commitmentI used the Circles of Engagement framework to evaluate the movement building outcomes of a recent event I organised called the People’s Battle for Nature Photography Exhibition. This framework allowed me to consider all the people involved in putting on this event and how they fitted into the circles of engagement, who stood out and who to bring further towards the core. For example, the gallery owner was a contributor who offered the gallery hire at a discounted rate. He also donated some time to gallery sitting and later expressed an interest to volunteer more with the Wilderness Society due to the positive response he received from the exhibition. This revealed a higher level of engagement toward further collaboration in the future.  I found this a useful framework to add metrics to my work, record details and work out the movement building impact of community organising to define how my work is contributing to the 100,000 target.

Emma Wasson

About the Author

James Whelan

James Whelan

James is co-founder of the Change Agency and director of our Community Organising Fellowship.

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