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Genesis of a self-organised collaborative European petition

by Melanchthon Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 at 10:41:32 AM EST

This diary has been written based on a discussion with UnEstranAvecVueSurMer, Afew and Redstar.

It is meant to present and discuss the genesis of the petition, the collective work that led to it, the self-organised process that took place and some lessons we can draw from it,

First, let's remind the timeline of the petition's genesis and set up:

Everything starts with the first rumours about a possible Blair candidacy for the post of President of the Council of the EU.


In a comment in the October 12, 2007 open thread, Melanchthon suggests to launch a European petition.

The idea comes back several times during exchanges, especially after Nicolas Sarkozy made public his will to promote Tony Blair's candidacy for the post. Melanchthon then announces he is planning to write a diary. Some time later Migeru and Someone kindly remind him he has to write the diary and finally, on Thursday, January 31, 2008 Melanchthon posts a diary titled Petition against a Blair presidency of the EU, starting with the following paragraph:

I think we all share the same opinion: the nomination of Tony Blair as president of the European Union would be a disaster for Europe as well as for the rest of the world. We have mentioned the idea of a Europe-wide petition against it. You will find hereunder the text I've drafted (in French).

The diary proposes also several steps to be taken about drafting, translation, hosting and dissemination of the petition.

An hour later, the first translation to English is posted by Someone in the comment section. In the meantime, a dozen contributors discuss the arguments that should be used: should use a poll? should we point to the illegality of the war against Iraq? Is it a EU-only petition? Do we mention the conflicts of interest between his appointments as an 'adviser', notably at JP Morgan?

Two hours later, a Spanish translation is posted by Migeru. After an hour and some more discussion, a new English version of the petition is published with, thanks to DoDo and Afew, a reference to the so-called 'red lines' set up by Blair during the Lisbon negotiations with the intent of blocking any progress in social issues and tax harmonization, as well as common defence and foreign policy.

While the wording of the petition is discussed on ET, the translation process goes on: by the evening of the January 31, a German translation is provided by Turambar. On February 1, a Dutch version is provided by Nanne and a Hungarian one by DoDo. On February 2, findmeaDoorIntoSummer provides a Portuguese version and JakeS one in Danish, then an Italian version is published by deGondi n February 3. So, at the end of the week-end, we have the petition translated in 9 languages and more to come.

Early on Monday, February 4, a new diary is posted on ET: Phase 2: Petition against a Tony Blair presidency with the final version of the petition in English and in the following hours, the other versions are revised to match the final wording. After a short discussion about the domain name, Colman (Ireland) secures two domain names, including stopblair.eu by 1.00 pm.

By 5.00 pm, through phone calls and SMS from Jérôme, we learn that the Brussels correspondent of the Financial Times has heard about the petition and is planning to publish something about it on the FT website on Tuesday morning. At the same time, Colman tells us the version 0.0 of the site is ready and we are able to send the address (www.stopblair.eu) to Jérôme.  As son as 10.00 pm, the info with a link is published on the FT site , and LondonYank posts a diary about it on ET and Daily Kos.

We decide to speed up process in order to have an up and running petition site (at least the English version on Tuesday morning. Linca works on the code, Loefing works on the page design and Melanchthon sets up a petition on an existing petition site (Gopetition), with the help of Colman, Migeru and DoDo. At 2.00 am on Tuesday, the petition page is set up on the Gopetition site and the design proposed by Loefing is approved by the ET users still awake. Linca works all night long to set up the StopBlair page. On Tuesday, February 5 at 7.30 am, the English page is operational and by 8.00 am, the French one, too. At 8.00, Afew posts a front-page story an ET: Stop Blair!. asking the translators to help set up the various language pages. The German page is operational at 8.50 am,

A Greek version is provided by Talos at 1.00 pm. The Hungarian page is up at 1.10 pm and the Greek page is up at 1.30. During the afternoon, the Spanish and Portuguese versions are operational, as well as the Dutch one.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Daily Telegraph publishes a paper on its site with the link, boosting the number of signatures. Diaries about the petition are posted on Daily Kos, BooMan Tribune and Docudharma. In the evening, a Catalan version is provided by Kcurie.

On Wednesday February 6 in the morning, a Swedish version is posted by NordicStorm. It is operational together with the Italian and Danish pages in the afternoon. A new diary is posted by Edwin on ET at 7.10 am: The first 1597 names:.

The petition is mentioned in the Belgian and the Dutch media and picked up by several websites and blogs.

On Wednesday evening, a Romanian version is provided by Deni and the page is up.  Jérôme is invited by the BBC to face Dennis MacShane on Thursday.

On Thursday, a new diary is posted by DoDo: Stop Blair! in more languages. The BBC mentions our petition, as well as Chilean and Ecuadorian paper (through a Spanish agency). A Lithuanian version is provided by das monde. An Esperanto version is up, too. The Economist blog mentions the petition (dismissively). The AFP makes a communiqué. It is mentioned in "La Stampa" as well as by the Czech and Croatian media.

A Facebook group is created. Almanax posts a new diary: Stop Blair - Make the Media Aware! about dissemination of the petition through the media.

On February 8, Jérôme posts a diary: StopBlair media coverage regrouping all the references to the media. A diary: Stop Blair! - the lamest of rebuttals from the WSJE by Cyrille, comments the reaction of the WSJ.

On Sunday, February 10, a Polish version is added, as well as a Slovakian one, a Basque one and a Scottish Gaelic one. In the diary: McShane 'promotes' Blair candidacy in FT a LTE is collectively drafted in answer to a McShane paper in the FT. The LTE is published on February 13: ET in FT: Many will agree that Europe does not deserve Blair.

On February 12, Stop Blair viral - Update #4 discusses the way to disseminate information about the petition through networks. And Newropeans supports the petition 'No to Tony Blair as President of the European Union' brings the support of Newropeans.

On February 13, an analysis of the first 15000 sinatures in the diary: Stop Blair! The first 15002 signatures by Migeru.

During this period, several diaries addressed related issues:
A Presidential European: Uffe Ellemann-Jensen by Redstar.
The bigger picture by Migeru.
Why Blair might make a good President of the EU Council... by Franck Schnittger.
Breaking: Merkel endorses Juncker! by DoDo.

Some reflections

We have been discussing how to make ET a place for action as well as reflection and debate. We already have written LTEs and articles. Should we consider this petition as a new way for ET to participate in the public debate? In my opinion, beyond opposing Tony Blair's candidacy, this petition is also a way to contribute to the emergence of a European public sphere. How can we develop this approach?

A self-organising project

The process has started spontaneously and no role had been defined previous to the project. In fact, the "self-organisation" process started when we learnt about the FT imminent publication. No "project manager" has been nominated nor was it necessary. The main tasks have been defined and discussed in the first diary and in the course of the project. Then some ET users proposed to take charge of them spontaneously, according to their skills and availability. Coordination took place first through online open debate in ET diaries, which made possible for new participants to join the process. Once the process was started, coordination on "technical" issues took place in parallel through intensive e-mail exchange (more than 600 e-mails!) between members of the spontaneous "core-team" (which was progressively expanded to new members). We also used SMS and phone calls when key contributors were not reachable online.

Most of the decisions have been made collectively and only in two or three cases it has been necessary for one person to make the final decision (final version of the petition text, modifications after the launch, removal of certain signatures...). In these cases, the users involved in the process asked me to make the decision because, as the original author of the first text, I had some "legitimacy". It could however have been somebody else.

The success of this project has been made possible by the remarkable diversity of skills of ET users. A great number of users have contributed either to discuss the text, to design and set up the petition site and pages, to translate the petitions so quickly in so many languages, to disseminate information about it or to answer the media.

The remarkable efficiency and smoothness of this group work were also made possible by the fact that, thanks to months (sometimes years) of participation in this community, we have developed a common "ET culture" and a willingness to contribute to a common action.

Possible improvements

Given the necessity we had to react very quickly, we made use of the simplest tools we had: diaries and e-mails. For future projects, it would probably be useful to use more efficient collaborative tools which, if I remember correctly, are available.

For example, it was sometimes difficult to track the contributions of different users, because several diaries related to the StopBlair petition were run in parallel. Also, no mailing list was established: we mainly used the "answer to all" button, but with different lists, which resulted in some "team members" not getting all the e-mails (and some getting several times the same e-mail!).

I also think that new tools like Someone's new translation tool will make it even easier to work together.

This self-organising approach has been very effective when we were under pressure to set up the site and launch the petition. It is however less effective for the follow-up of the petition and its promotion and dissemination in the long term. It has not been helped by the fact that I have a lot of troubles with my ISP and also because I'm quite busy at the moment.

I think it would be useful for future ET projects that we discuss these issues.

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I know poemless is missing the "StopBlair frenzy"...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sun Mar 2nd, 2008 at 04:38:43 PM EST
You're not thinking of duplicate diaries to fill the recommended list for when she looks again are you?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sun Mar 2nd, 2008 at 04:49:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was invited on Wednesday evening to talk on BBC radio on Thursday morning, which I did for two programmes, one domestic, and one for BBC World. Then later on Thursday afternoon, BBC TV contacted me again to interview me for their evening news.

So the petition was mentioned on 3 different channels, with BBC TV being the one with the largest audience.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 2nd, 2008 at 05:47:04 PM EST
In spite of my objections to some aspects of your general  'editorial policy', you make an excellent representative of ET in the media on a wide range of subjects. (Though this may not be true for every subject in the future).

Your key profile attributes are French * Energy * Banker (probably in reverse order) for media gravitas. Plus you have a media track record now, which is always a positive for program researchers desperately seeking reliable informed comment in a short time.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 at 06:13:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Given that all @eurotrib.com email addresses arrive to me, I got more than my fair share of media exposure and was almost the only ETer to be quoted in the media.

That may require some thought on how to correct, unless people think this is appropriate to let me have all the glory?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Mar 2nd, 2008 at 05:48:49 PM EST
You could have "editors@eurotrib.com" (or whatever the primary contact address is) forward to all the front pagers.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sun Mar 2nd, 2008 at 10:00:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He could also have <username>@eurotrib.com forward to individual FPers and etg@eurotrib.com forward to all of us. But we are still not running ET on our own server, which is the problem.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 at 07:46:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Y'all did a great job on this project, but the associated comments show that the weakness arises in sustainability.

I repeat my proposal: I will subscribe $100 per month toward building an actual organization. Will anyone else do likewise?

If this were to happen on a sufficient scale, I still think that Migeru should be the first paid organizer/coordinator (initially, organizer; eventually, a coordinator). This is based on apparent interest, availability, expertise, and judgment.

My wife and I are eliminating broadcast television service this coming August. Why? Because everything that we need that might come from that source arrives in a better and more diverse and, yet, more focussed form via the internet. Might sound like we're 'behind the times', but the recognition of the relative roles of broadcast MSM vs. the internet is pertinent to this discussion. Let's be part of the process of overthrowing the MSM's influence.

paul spencer

by paul spencer (spencerinthegorge AT yahoo DOT com) on Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 at 04:30:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's the first job offer I get in 6 months...

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 06:44:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, did you get the Russian version?
by Sargon on Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 at 07:31:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, thanks.

I had some trouble with the cyrillic character set, but I think we have it sorted out. It should be up shortly.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 at 07:38:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You should also have a Bulgarian version in your in-tray

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 at 10:52:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I put up the link to it below the ET site logo in advance.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Mar 4th, 2008 at 06:00:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Bulgarian version is incomplete. Working on the Russian version now.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 6th, 2008 at 06:43:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I thinks its been an amazing project given the timescales and a tribute to all concerned - and 24,000 signatures isn't half bad.  But originally I heard a target of 1 Million signatures being mentioned, and a hostile media could actually claim the 24K figure represents a tiny level of opposition within Europe as a whole.

We need to think about more ways of keeping that number ticking upwards even in the absence of renewed media speculation linking Blair to the job.  How well has our viral marketing strategy worked, how do we get to people who are only marginally interested in politics and for whom its isn't really a current live issue?

In other words we need new marketing angles and new PR campaigns.  E.g. how about inviting French people embarrassed by Sarkozy to vote against Blair based on the Mandelson/Blair deal to help Sarkozy get elected, or Irish people opposed to rendition flights, even eurosceptic brits with a visceral dislike of Blair - i.e. different campaigns for different markets.

Self-organising groups are brilliant in quick response situations, but how sustainable is the effort in the long term?

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Mar 2nd, 2008 at 08:13:29 PM EST
I believe the online placement of the petition, presented in 6? languages, is practical, core "marketing" strategy. The internet is the poor man's broadcast medium after all providing scale economies, coupled to volunteer labor, that cannot be duplicated by other method. What's not to love?

The petition's appeal has proven itself and benefits from promotion by ET's editor/publisher in other broadcast media. You want more signatures, given an unstated time constraint. What is that time constraint? Where are the signatures?

Driving traffic further to the petition doesn't require  custom refinements but multi-channel extension into offline venues. That means ET agents (FPers or other) volunteering (a) to accept broadcast opportunities (b) to create events sponsored by or in cooperation with local (film? klatch? partisan? health?) organizations (c) to paper local establishments (d) to recruit additional mirror sites (e) to disrupt conventional ad placement and (f) to mime ... just kidding! Sort of. But surely there are ET residents and associates with a gift for um tactical theater?

Forgive for suggesting, the model developing here is sustainable insofar as any one and more is willing to be creative, fly from the comfort zone. It is anonymity that is unsustainable.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Mon Mar 3rd, 2008 at 01:28:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You want more signatures, given an unstated time constraint. What is that time constraint? Where are the signatures?
The Treaty of Lisbon is expected to come into force before 2009, and the plan is for the first Council President to take office on January 1, 2009. The details of the job are to be defined by the Council. There is apparently a push by Sarkozy to have the job description approved at the June Council Summit. Whether the President would be selected then or in September is an open question.

The Treaty of Lisbon will also introduce provisions on citizen petitions and legislative initiatives with a requirement of one million signatures from a number of member states.

ET would score a major, major, coup if we managed to deliver 1M signatures to the Council before the appointment is actually made.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Mar 4th, 2008 at 06:01:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
how about a logo?

for the stop blair it could be a cartoon of his cheesy grin with a big 'stop traffic' sign superimposed over it. a bit lame, surely some visually attuned mind here could come up with something better.

the simple logo there is already has no pizzazz, imo.

this is such a visual culture, the brain wakes up much more to an image than to text. perhaps a papier-mache model, photographed to give a logo might work, i see mammoth puppets all the time in street protests, blair's mug would lend itself admirably to this approach, methinks.

whatever the next initiative may be, i think early adopting of a visual approach would get more attention, attract more tv, and provide another talking point to glue to the message.

any new initiatives being planned yet, or are we giving a chance for the stop blair one to get more traction or run itself out first?

great diary... my compliments to all who gave so much, 600 emails....the mind boggles!

for a trial flight of an internet activism 'machine', this was extremely encouraging. i'd love to see an 'energise europe' campaign plotted, crafted, discussed and propagated from here.

maybe it sorta already is!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Mar 4th, 2008 at 10:05:47 AM EST
We have a logo, unfortunately its creator disowned it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Mar 4th, 2008 at 05:53:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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