April 05, 2012

Greenpeace Experiments With Technology Team Structure

Greenpeace has never acted much like other nonprofits. As Michael Silberman, a global director with the environmental protection group, put it in a session at the Nonprofit Technology Conference on Wednesday, "Greenpeace is a big institution but not as staid as other big institutions."

Mr. Silberman leads an effort at Greenpeace called Mobilization Lab. His small team—three to four full-time staff members by the end of the year, including a data analyst—has two goals: to educate employees on the smartest ways to use multimedia to get supporters involved and to create a culture of experimentation and testing.

That approach to innovation differs from the common practice of hiring a social-media manager or online expert to handle communications on the Internet. The problem with those roles, Jason Mogus, chief executive of the consulting firm Communicopia, told the conference is that the people in charge of innovation often lack support from top executives and operate separately from people carrying out the organization's mission.

Mr. Mogus says that isolation, or the "silo" mentality, forces online workers to react to what is happening rather than taking steps early to get followers involved. Getting social-media managers involved early and seeking their ideas, he says, helps ensure the success of campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

At Greenpeace, which is trying to avoid the problems Mr. Mogus cited, Mobilization Lab will not displace the regular online-communications teams but will supplement the work those people do. Mobilization has the support of the organization's top executives, says Mr. Silberman, and has already been promised three years of operating money.

"What we're doing is organizational change," says Mr. Silberman. "We could hire a lot of experts, but that's not changing an organization."

Send an e-mail to Derek Lieu.