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Organizational frameworks

Templates for shaping your organisation
7 min read
Last update: Nov 8, 2023

In this guide, we help you set up your activist group by taking inspiration from 'organizational frameworks'. These movement structures will help you work together more effectively.

Article quality: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3/5)

What is an organisational framework?

Most activist groups start off small. As long as you are with 8 people or so, you can kinda just wing it, and still work effectively together.

However, as your movement grows, you will likely find it becomes harder to make good decisions quickly. You might lose track of who is responsible for certain tasks. Misunderstandings will make processes take much longer than necessary. You will start making mistakes over and over, without learning from them. And all of this will hurt your most dedicated volunteers and/or employees, who might even quit out of frustration. When the stakes are high, which they almost always are in activism, you cannot afford to 'just wing it'

To work effectively, you will need to set up certain structures:

  • 🙌 Roles and teams

  • 💬 Internal communication protocols

  • 🗳️ Decision-making procedures

  • 🎓 Reflection & learning practices

These structures will transform your group from a collection of individuals to a cohesive collective working together smoothly. These are complex things to figure out. Do not try to reinvent the wheel. You can learn from generations of change-makers who have come up with organisational frameworks in the context of activism.

There is not one framework that is 'the best'. You will need to find a framework that closest resembles what you need. Then, you will likely need to make adaptations to adapt the framework to your context.

The framework you choose will impact your organisation in many ways. For example:

  • Are you making the right decisions?

  • Are your volunteers/employees coming to their full potential?

  • Are you able to learn from your mistakes?

  • Are you able to quickly adapt to changing circumstances?

  • Are you able to innovate?

  • Are you able to scale up?

✊🏾 Dare to innovate! In many cases, these organisational frameworks have been developed by privileged white straight cis men with a well paid job in the Global North. Often, these frameworks have been developed in the context of for-profit companies, for the purpose of most efficiently exploiting people & planet to make more money faster.

That does not mean we cannot learn anything from them: we are happy to use their own weapons against them. However, it does mean that we need to make it work for us. For example, make sure to pay extra attention to the following:

  • How do we make sure we do not burn out?

  • How do we create a diverse, inclusive & intersectional movement?

Choosing the right framework

Key considerations

The framework you choose should depend on a few key considerations:

  • Your mission: What exactly is your activist group working towards? Your mission will help define the structure your organization will need. For example, a group focused on policy change might benefit from a 'big organizing' model, while a group that wants to empower individuals might prefer the 'distributed organizing' framework.

  • Your values: Your values should be reflected in your organizational framework – this includes your team’s work style, decision-making process, and the culture you want to foster.

  • Your resources: This includes both people and finances. A 'big organizing' model might necessitate more resources, whether that's in the form of a large volunteer team or significant funding. On the other hand, 'distributed organizing' or 'network organizing' can be more cost-effective and less resource-intensive, as they involve shared responsibilities and self-management.

  • Scalability: What are your plans for growth? If your goal is to expand your movement, you'll want a framework that can scale with you. Frameworks like 'collective impact' and 'holacracy' have built-in possibilities for scalability and growth.

  • Communication and coordination: Depending on the complexity of your goals and the size of your team, you may require a framework that places extra emphasis on communication and coordination. For instance, the 'big organizing' model involves clear protocols for centralized communication while 'distributed organizing' encourages widespread communication across smaller, self-organizing groups.

Learn from other movements

A good way to choose a framework is by looking at movements you like. Are they making impact? They are probably doing something right. Even if they do not have a name for the way they have structured their organisation.

Some movements and organisations claim to use a certain framework. In reality though, they might actually not follow the procedures they have put on paper. They might be:

  • effective, in spite of the lacking framework they use (by ignoring what's written down on paper)

  • ineffective, because they have not properly implemented a good framework

Types of frameworks

The most successful movements learn from movements before them. Not every movement is the same. Choose a way of organizing that fits your group:

  • 🗺 Distributed organizing: A decentralized approach that emphasizes empowering individuals and small groups to take initiative and create change. It is more grassroots in nature and relies on self-organization and communication.

  • 🐳 Big organizing: Big organizing involves a centralized team that works together in a coordinated effort to achieve a goal. Often used by political parties and larger nonprofits.

  • 🏡 Community organising: Community organising centres around the local community. This model focuses on improving local life by mobilizing individuals to act on issues that concern them most. It is usually quite small-scale and does not address larger institutional injustices.

List of frameworks

Do not reinvent the wheel: other movements have tried out many different ways of organising. Use the following frameworks to get inspired:

Frameworks developed by activists


  • Self-Organising System by Extinction Rebellion: based on Holacracy

  • 'Hub structure' by The Sunrise Movement: The Sunrise Movement employs a model of decentralized authority called the 'Hub Structure.' Hubs, generally geographic-groupings, have a substantial amount of autonomy, yet are interconnected and contribute to the movement’s overall strategy.

  • Collective Impact Forum


The following concepts are not enough to form an entire organisational framework on their own, but they can be important foundational aspects:

⚠️ The following two examples were written by AI. They need to be fact-checked, but we included it nevertheless because it has the potential to provide more diverse perspectives on organisational frameworks:

  • Landless Workers' Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra) in Brazil: MST operates with a horizontal framework where members are encouraged to participate directly in decision-making processes. It is divided into small, self-managed collective cells ensuring equality, solidarity and combative grassroots productions.

  • Zapatistas Movement in Mexico: The Zapatistas have developed an autonomous governance model often referred to as Good Government Boards (Junta de Buen Gobierno). These models prioritize direct participation, direct democracy, and decision making by consensus.

Organisational frameworks from business sector


  • Holacracy: This is a method of decentralized management in which decision making is distributed throughout autonomous, self-organizing teams rather than in a centralized leadership structure. It is a system built on transparency, accountability, and inclusivity.

  • Scrum: A process pioneered in the tech world, it breaks down tasks into manageable chunks with clear goals and timeframes. This approach involves regular "sprints" of work, followed by reviews and planning for the next phase. It is a flexible and efficient way of managing a project, but requires strong team coordination and communication.

  • Sociocracy: Under this framework, hierarchical decision-making is replaced by an egalitarian “circle organization”. It emphasizes consensus and group decision-making, with all members having an equal say.


Adapting your chosen framework

After you have chosen a framework, it's important to adapt it to your unique needs. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Try it out small: Try implementing the chosen framework on a small scale first. Monitor how well it functions and gather feedback on its effectiveness.

  2. Adjust & scale up: Based on the feedback, adjust the framework. This might involve modifying how roles are distributed, how communications are handled, or how decisions are made.

  3. Review regularly: Regularly review your progress and reflect on whether this framework is helping you achieve your group's goals. This can be as simple as asking team members for their feedback or as complex as measuring key performance indicators (KPIs).

  4. Share your learnings: Other activists can benefit from your reflections too! share your learnings on Activist Handbook.


Organizational frameworks are indispensable tools that help movement builders align their team, marshal their resources, and magnify their impact. But remember that these frameworks are just tools. While they can guide your structure and strategy, they should always be adapted and reshaped according to your unique needs, goals, and values. Above all, don’t be afraid to innovate and find new ways to create positive change. Make sure to check out our recommended external resources for more information.

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Evaluation criteria

If you have something you would like to our list of organisational frameworks, make sure it checks the following boxes:

  • ✅ The framework has a name

  • ✅ The framework is clearly documented

  • ✅ The framework has been tried & tested (preferably by activists)

If it does not check all these boxes, that is fine! You can come up with a name yourself, you can describe what the framework entails, and you can try it out yourself in your own activist group. Feel free to add something to Activist Handbook that is not 'finished': we can develop a new framework together!

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*According to Semrush

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