Is the Bounce Rate of OWS “Too Damn High?”

January 5, 2012; Technology Operations Group | Recently, a techie’s posting on constituent relationship management software turned into “Three Complaints about OWS.” According to the author, Charles Lenchner, “CRM’s are used to manage bounce rates, ladders of engagement, and activist filters.” In thinking about CRMs, he drifted into applying some CRM concepts to Occupy Wall Street, and found himself stymied by Occupy’s “lack of organization.” Specifically, he identifies the barriers that deter interested people from finding a way of connecting to the movement and an inadequate ladder of engagement “that attracts too few of the right kind of people.”

With respect to his concern that “the bounce rate is too damn high,” Lenchner pointed out that Occupy systems to engage newcomers were less than effective, remarking that “some of the email addresses float[ing] around as a primary point of contact were left unchecked, accumulating more than 11,000 unanswered emails.” “Newcomers,” he said, “would show up for working group meetings, add their name to a list passed around for future contact, and never hear from anyone again.” In other words, “the ‘user experience’ for many of the activists drawn into the movement wasn’t very positive.”

His Occupy bounce rate conclusion? “At the peak of OWS popularity, thousands of well-meaning citizens reached out to us and then walked away, disappointed. Most of them will not be back.”

Lenchner’s fundamental critique is about Occupy’s organization, or lack thereof. His call for a functional Occupy “ladder of engagement” to replace the “crappy one” that currently exists may be stymied by Occupy’s resistance to organization. The Occupy structure has, in his words, “constructed an activist filter better at attracting certain kinds of people while driving others away.” To stick with Occupy, one has to be “someone very committed, with a lot of self-confidence, and a willingness to relish the absence of structure and institutions.” One personality type in the Occupy mix he calls “the disruptive outsider . . . folks with a high tolerance for chaos, interpersonal conflict, unproductive meetings, and the narcissism of small differences. . . . In large numbers (a handful at a time), the disruptive insider drives away people with higher and more normative standards of activism—or public behavior.”

What does he recommend? A formal ladder of engagement, including “welcome protocols for newcomers” and “respected community agreement on acceptable behavior”; “metrics and leading indicators that help us measure our progress”; and attention to the institutional elements of OWS: the general assembly, working groups, etc.

As this author recalls, we used to call the power blocs that resulted from decision making without guiding principles “the tyranny of structurelessness,” and the response was often to overcorrect—by imposing all kinds of structures and rules and directives from an increasingly central point. OWS can avoid such extremes, though with some protocols that everyone abides by—maybe akin to an AA model. Welcoming, engaging and linking through a set of simple agreements that everyone knows intimately.—Ruth McCambridge