SocraticGadfly: Project Renewal vs my likely Sierra membership nonrenewal

April 06, 2008

Project Renewal vs my likely Sierra membership nonrenewal

Of course, per information I received on my election ballot for Sierra Club board of directors, maybe some Sierra top staff want that.

Anyway, what is Project Renewal? For Sierra members like me who aren’t activist members, in a nutshell, it’s a way for Sierra Club HQ staff, especially top executives, to constrain, if not kill off, volunteer activists by “chaining” them to paid staffers and constraining their efforts through circumscribed channels.

Already in November, Sierra HQ essentially killed a Sierra blog about Project Renewal and moved further comment/discussion to Sierra’s own bulletin boards. It’s an easy way to control discussion. And, a clear indicator the folks out in San Francisco did NOT like the feedback they were getting from the field already then.

If you want the details about the project (not at all discussed in Sierra, the club’s glossy bimonthly magazine), you have to go to a Sierra bulletin board and log in.

But, per the Virginia Chapter, here is an overview of Project Renewal. (PDF)
• Separation of policy deliberation from implementation by campaigns and activists. OCSC contends the functions of each were so different they called for separate bodies. Chapter leaders believe ExComs handle both functions just fine.
• Leadership of all national committees and campaigns would be by co-leaders, one volunteer and one staff member, with one held accountable for the committee’s results. This would centralize authority, especially with staff.
• National issue committees to be replaced with temporary task forces and advisors. After an outcry by volunteer leaders, committees were restored, but their placement and authority remains questionable.
• Establishment of an “Issues and Skills Network” that would be “self organizing and identifying.” While the idea has merit, this network has no clear way to connect with or be accountable to the rest of the Sierra Club.

This radical upset of existing club structure was strongly opposed by many national leaders. The Virginia Chapter passed a resolution at its November meeting objecting to the process and the elimination of issue committees. Rarely were members of the national conservation entities consulted by the OCSC as they made these changes. By the close of a comment period in January, 28 chapters of 64 nationally had weighed in and 26 were opposed to the changes.

Then, there’s this,
critical assessment of Project Renewal:
Unfortunately, it does some things just as well as the worst of the business world. It scrubs out the best in favor of the top-down business world’s worst. Like so many poorly led businesses, this organization’s leadership doesn’t know how the place really works.

Maybe Sierra Executive Director Carl Pope can learn management skills from Clorox, with all that greenwash money Clorox will provide.

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