Activist Network Renamed Grassroots Network -- Going Once, Going Twice

Community News & Views

Activist Network Renamed Grassroots Network -- Going Once, Going Twice

Thursday, October 17, 2013 | Comments (9)



Since we have a new website named Grassroots Network, it’s probably no surprise that the Activist Network has been renamed. Here’s how and why that happened, and what it means moving forward.

Below is the abbreviated version in three slides. See if full size here.

Here's the more detailed version: 

Toward the end of 2012, the board’s Mission Strategy Committee, chaired by director Chris Warshaw, began a review of the goals and strategy of the Activist Network, what has worked and what hasn’t, with the aim of reinventing it to better serve the grassroots.

That process let to a set of resolutions on the Activist Network that the board passed in May 2013. One resolution was to rebrand the Activist Network and narrow/clarify its goals. Around the same time, work began on a long-awaited new web platform.

One obvious reason for the rebranding was that the Activist Network website was flawed and frustrating, and so the name Activist Network did not inspire confidence. In addition, while many users and visitors self-identified as “activists,” we also learned during the assessment that the term “activist” is off-putting for some people who might want to get involved.

A month after the board passed the resolutions, we convened a Rebranding Team, led by Creative Director Peter Walbridge, and including Kirstin Dohrer, Lane Boldman, Tim Guilfoile, Leslie March, John Barry, and Bob Bingaman.

We started by clarifying the target audience —

  • Club activists (volunteers and staff)
  • potential volunteers, leaders, participants.
  • potential funders
  • people who care passionately about the issues
  • people who want to contribute to a better world

The next step was brainstorming, which we did as a team first, and then opened up to the Activist Network community. We generated more than 150 words, phrases. Some examples: Cat Herders, Swarm, Nest, Incubator, and Leftovers Network.

Then, through a series of straw polls and discussions, we narrowed it to five contenders — Grassroots Lab, Action Cafe, Community Garden, Grassroots Network, and Grand Central — which we put into an online survey. While that survey was not binding in any way, it did show that 63 percent, almost two of every three respondents, chose Grassroots Network as its top choice. The other two top candidates, Action Cafe and Grassroots Lab, got 16 and 14 percent respectively for top rank.

At the same time as this renaming process was going on, we were mapping out, developing, and designing the new website, and because we didn’t have a name, we went with Grassroots Network as the working name.

Now it may seem that the whole exercise was a waste, because we ended up with the draft name, but the process did confirm that default name and help us clarify our audience and our goals. (There’s something to like about Action Cafe and Grassroots Lab, so one idea that we may move forward with is create places within the Grassroots Network called Action Cafe and Grassroots Lab. Action Cafe could be a place to collect actions from all over the network — if you want to do something now, you go to Action Cafe and you might find an alert from the Marine Team or a letter-to-the-editor from Borderlands. Grassroots Lab would be devoted to experimentation as well as metrics and evaluation. That way we incorporate the positives of these other names instead of rejecting them.)

When we set out on this journey, one of the concerns we hoped to address was the fact that the Activist Network referred to both the  Club entity that was home to the national and regional teams with approved charges as well as website, which was open to those teams as well as any campaign, chapter, group, or project that wanted to set up shop there.

We didn’t solve that problem. Here’s our suggestion:

  • Grassroots Network refers to the website.
  • Grassroots Action Teams refers to the “official” teams with approved charges.
  • Grassroots Network Support Team refers to the team (formerly known as the Activist Network Support Team)  that oversees and coordinates the teams and the website.

While renaming this website/community Grassroots Network is not exactly akin to federal rulemaking, before we truly finalize the name and/or print t-shirts, we want to open this up to public comment for 30 days. The idea is not to reopen this and start over, unless there’s a firestorm of opposition, or some reason we haven’t thought of to scrap the name.

(It’s true that there is a Grassroots Network out there on the web already, but it’s the Sierra Club Grassroots Network, which would be the full name. The web address is

Please add your comment below. 


Fran Caffee's picture
Fran Caffee commented at Friday, October 18, 2013

I think we need to take action on the re-naming as soon as possible.  I like the 4 suggestions above with Clayton's suggestion change if the Support Team is for both the website as well as the Teams.  

   What is the status of Teams that establish a website but do not seek funding and so will not have an approved charge?  Or should all Teams have a charge?

I would hate to see us populated with numerous Teams with one member, the one who established the site.

John Barry's picture
John Barry commented at Friday, October 18, 2013

I like the idea of Grassroots Activists Support Team. Let's see what others think. As for Fran's concern about one-person team, what we may need is some clear criteria for continuing to be visible on this site. I don't want to spell out the criteria here, but let's say that a one-person team with no additional members gets deleted after three months. We make some cutoff for membership and activity, so we don't have that empty storefront look. 

Bob Morris's picture
Bob Morris commented at Monday, October 28, 2013

Grassroots Network...great name. Better than Activist Network, which I invented and loved but which scared people off. I'd name the Support Team the Grassroots Network Support Team. Keep it simple and accurate. I'd call all the other teams, regardless of type, history, etc. "Teams". Keep it egalitarian. Other than that, I'd let people call their teams whatever pleases them. That's a grassroots approach.

Good Luck.

Bob Morris's picture
Bob Morris commented at Monday, October 28, 2013

Re. one person teams. John Muir was a one person team for quite a bit. Rachel Carson, likewise. Many of those we honor with awards are so honored for being one person teams. I would avoid rules that exclude people and encourage rules that welcome them. I've yet to hear any harm come from including one person teams.

On the other hand, I would have two classifications for teams: active and inactive. A team will be listed as active if there is any activity in a three month period and listed as inactive if there isn't. There shouldn't be any different treatment of the inactive teams, the label is just to let people know that the team isn't active and to encourge the teams to be active.

Anne Fuller's picture
Anne Fuller commented at Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I do see a conflict when we offer the platform to both "official" teams who are authorized to speak for the Club itself and to emerging new groups.  Not being aware of all the current arguments or recent episodes, I would just like to say that I do think it is important to keep the distinction.  In my view of the WWW, having this network be where Sierra Club members are vocal seems sensible.  So I think the Teams (recognized within the Club) should be kept.  

Doug Jose's picture
Doug Jose commented at Saturday, December 7, 2013

I think there needs to be a way to distinguish between "official" teams and unofficial ones.

Maybe "Chartered" Teams vs. "Skunkworks" Teams.

"Grassroots" really implies bottom-up, user-driven team (Skunkworks).

Maybe the top-level name should be Workgroup Collaboration, with National Teams, Chapter Teams, Group Teams, and Grassroots teams (user-driven ones not bounded by organizational structures).

The main focus, however, should be providing a solution rich in useful features. From what I see, the new site is less useful than the old one. Why does the club keep trying to develop custom applications when there are many great off-the-shelf solutions available? The club does not know how to (and cannot afford to) develop and support applications using a "platform" like Drupal. I hope the club is not building and maintaining its own Drupal IT infrastructure; that could be done far more cost-effectively by 3rd-party IT suppliers. Sierra Club should focus its in-house resources on application solutions! Are we keeping the IT geeks and laying-off the application folks?

Ron Bedard's picture
Ron Bedard commented at Monday, December 9, 2013

Please consider adding "Sierra" to the name.  I have 75 current active web sites requiring user names, passwords, etc., and having to remember "Grassroots" for Sierra Club is getting to be a strain on my system.  With Sierra in the name, I won't have to search my database for it.

Curtis Morris's picture
Curtis Morris commented at Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Cisco meraki networking products that Axonex deploy are built from the ground up for Cloud management. They ship with integrated hardware, software, and Cloud services – e.g., centralised management, layer 7 device and application visibility, real-time Web-based diagnostics, monitoring, reporting, and much more.