Kennedy School lecturer Marshall Ganz MPA 1993
is a people person. While an undergraduate at Harvard, he
volunteered for the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project and became
field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,
known as SNCC (pronounced snick). For years he
worked alongside Cesar Chavez, helping to grow the United
Farm Workers union and coordinate migrant laborers. He organized
voter registration drives, labor strikes, and lettuce boycotts.
So when former students from PAL 177, his Organizing:
People, Power, and Change class, started popping by
his office looking for advice or e-mailed questions they were
grappling with in their new jobs, he didnt mind. Learning
while doing what Ganz calls reflective practice
is something he wholeheartedly encourages.
It was turning into a whole lot of mentoring
relationships, he says, smiling.
But he also knew that it would be more valuable
for everyone if the graduates of his class many now
working out in the field as activists and community leaders
could mentor each other. It would allow learning that
was started in the classroom to continue long after graduation.
Ever the ultimate organizer, Ganz had one obvious
thought: theres got to be a better way to organize this.
That way turned out to be the Web.
My first idea was a straight e-mail list,
but the Web made more sense, he says. Instead
of me being the hub or the answer man,
I realized that a three-dimensional Web site would be more
like the class. We could learn from each other. I would just
serve as the facilitator.
With the help of the Kennedy Schools information
technology team and a small grant from the Provosts
Office, Ganz and Jennifer Fey, one of his students from the
Harvard Divinity School, created a Web site called the Peer
Learning Network (www.ksg.harvard.edu/organizing/).
Designed to serve as an online meeting space, the site was
launched in February 2002. Although its primarily geared
toward students and alums that have taken Ganzs class
nearly 500 by now anyone interested in organizing
would also find the site useful.
So many people get isolated doing this
kind of work. Then you lose the motivation and the learning,
Ganz says, explaining why its important to have a place
for organizers to stay in touch, bounce ideas off of each
other, or just get inspired.
The site gives them a community to contact
and explore. It helps them build on relationships.
The spotlight feature, for instance,
highlights a former student every couple of weeks with a short
profile, information on where the person works, and a real-life
question that the person wants to pose to the community. In
May, the spotlight was on Heather Harker MPA2 2000, a consultant
with a nonprofit in Boston. She was concerned about addressing
issues of diversity at her company. Would her efforts have
real value, she wondered, or just serve as a mouthpiece?
Users of the site logged in and shared ideas.
The profiles section offers an individual
page for each community member, complete with background and
contact information. Users can also click a button to set
up a real or virtual one-on-one meeting with those
who are profiled a feature that excites Ganz.
This section is about not being anonymous,
he says, noting that most of the profiles include photos.
In organizing, the first thing you learn is how to work
one-on-one with people. We think of organizing as big groups
but a lot is actually one-on-one relationships. Its
the opposite of anonymity.
Lisa Boes, a fourth-year doctoral student at
the Ed School who has been a teaching fellow in Ganzs
class for the past two years, finds the profiles section particularly
helpful when she teaches an undergraduate version of PAL 177
at Harvard College and Tufts University.
Im often helping students find resources
while they do their class projects, she says. The
profile page allows me to find current contact
information for people who are still doing community organizing
after the class ends. These people have an understanding of
what were trying to teach in the course and what the
expectations are. I also browse through the site with students
and help them see the kinds of projects that have been done
in their interest area. It helps them think creatively about
the possibilities for their own work.
What keeps the site interesting, says Ganz,
are the mixed experiences brought by the range of students
who have taken his course. Although the majority are women
(Organizing is most appealing to people struggling to
get more power, he says. Youre not as interested
if things are going well for you.), the class attracts
students from all over Harvard, including the Kennedy School,
Ed School, Divinity School, Harvard College, and the Law School.
Approximately 11 percent also live outside the United States
in 20 different countries.
The diversity is evident in the reflections
page, which includes poems by E. B. White and Marianne Williamson
and motivational quotes by Soren Kierkegaard and Alexis de
Tocqueville, including In democratic communities, knowledge
of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge;
on its progress depends that of all others a
favorite that Ganz refers to often.
Other features include a tools page,
which includes class notes and other organizing resources.
The careers section lists current organizing job
announcements, viewable by sector and location. And the discussion
chat room-like option, currently open only to community members
who have taken Ganzs class (although Ganz said they
may change this), is being revamped so that discussion threads
can be better grouped to make reading easier and more intuitive.
We keep trying to push the envelope,
Ganz says. The site is designed to be a lifelong learning
mechanism so that people can extend their reflective practice
beyond the class. The doing and the learning thats
where the real gain is, where the real leaning is.
People start with their own stories. If
people dont tell their own stories, it never gets relational,
he says. This site isnt a substitute for real
relationships. The exchange of information is very different
from forming relationships. But this site allows us to enhance
and amplify the community were building.
So what happens now when students drop by looking
I say, have you gone to the Web site?
Ganz says, then asks them to sit down. LH