Critical Mass in Networks Part I: Theory

Part I: GOAL

1.1 Vision: Critical Mass

‘Today’s organizational and societal challenges are too big to be addressed by heroic leaders alone. A more contemporary understanding of leadership as a shared process is needed. Collective leadership occurs when mobilized masses achieve exponential results through their connections. If leaders, organizations, partnerships, cross-sector alliances, NGOs, community-based organizations, and grassroots movements are going to leverage the potential they have for impact, then they must understand the power of informal networks.’ (Center for Creative Leadership, 2014).
Social organizations can reach a critical mass and grow into a powerful social movement. Critical mass is the explosive attraction of fans around an existing coalition of organizations. The associated openness and the large number of new participants can transform into an explosive movement that produces significant results. Picture 1 shows a power-law distribution, which is especially triggered in social systems where many people express their dissatisfaction about many causes (Shirky, C. 2003). Of course, success is no guarantee, without any form of leadership, chaos will arise with possible far-reaching disadvantages such as violence (what we see in many revolutions).
Pic 1: reaching critical mass (Theory of Disruptive Innovation, C. Christensen, 2006)

1.2 Identity and Resistance
‘Give people a common enemy, and you will give them a common identity. Deprive them of an enemy and you will deprive them of the crutch by which they know who they are.’ (Allison, J., 2010). Porta and Diana (2006)
explain this phenomena as ‘a positive ingroup identity versus an actively opposed outsiders’. Castells (2009) describes this more broadly as resistance identities, for example against the failure of democracy and the social
contract between capital and labor. Both which lost their relationship with people’s lives and values. This has led to resistance identities of people who ‘build their communes around the traditional values of God, nation,
the family and they secure the enclosures of their encampments with ethnic emblems and territorial defenses In other words they strengthen their ingroup identities.

A problem is that their are many groups opposing many topics. Because of that groups often have different identities between themselves and oppose each other. ‘Because of its strongly emotive and affective
components, as well as its controversial and constructed nature, it is difficult to associate identity with behavior of a strategic type. Identity develops and is renegotiated via various processes. These include conflicts between
auto- and hetero-definitions of reality; various forms of symbolic production, collective practices, and rituals.’ (Porta and Diani, 2006). In other words framing a coalition is very difficult.

Framing of the various identities included in a movement is build on trust among the principal participating actors which is necessary for communication, interaction, support and creating new opportunities (Porta and Diani, 2006). Than coalitions can be used to attract new actors by offering benefits than are more attractive than not participating. It is important to guard the cultural codes and symbols of the existing overall movement
as it is to incorporate new identity projects to profit from new values and codes (Castells, 2009).

‘The environmental costs of the current system have been clear for some time now. Now the social consequences are also becoming clearer. The gap between poor and rich has escalated to obscene size: most
people see their income fall and need to work more hours to cover their basic needs. Governments – many of them too poor to meet their obligations – nowadays focus on the wishes of international lenders instead of their
own citizens. People start to understand that something is fundamentally wrong and that small solutions are not the answer to the current system. A critical mass is ready for fundamental change: what they need is a clear
explanation of the cause of the crisis and solutions that are useful. Big picture activism’ is needed to create the critical mass. This means that awareness is more than just theoretical analysis: every day we can point to new
inspirational examples of local projects. We can show that everywhere people build different connections to others and nature, with immediate spiritual, psychological and practical benefits’ (Helena Norberg-Hodge, H.,

1.3 Mission
Every entity is a network (group structure) network that changes, forms and deforms to adapt to surrounding structures (the environment). Complexity theory learns us that group formation is a result of ‘emergence’: structures that spontaneously form from smaller entities that adapt to the environment. Over time networks tend to look like a spiral e.g. dna, networks of people, evolution, galaxies, see pic 2 (Lissack, M, 2002 ).

The spiral is not just a form, but a very important fractal which we encounter everywhere in life. A fractal is a constantly repeating pattern appearing the same on each scale. Ideal spirals are based on the Golden ratio and the Fibonacci numbers. Most spirals in real life are far from perfect; still that is probbly what we should aim for, to accomplish maximum results.
It is important to recognize that the course of a social movement looks like a (network-shaped) spiral over time. It starts with a joint thematic focus by a small core of organizations, which extends to an ever-increasing coalition and if this leads to critical mass, the open phase of countless organizations and participants joining, follows. Then we speak of a social movement. Ruhri and Katzmair (2007) call this the three main network phases: focus, mass and openness. In general, as high levels of focus, mass and openness are favorable for achieving results (Rulke and Galaskiewicz, 2000).

Go to part II: practice and roles