A year and a half before the historic US Supreme Court ruling ended discrimination in civil marriage rights for same-sex couples, foundations and nonprofit leaders of the LGBTQ movement came together to address a concern: While many activists anticipated the legal victory, many also worried that the larger movement for LGBTQ equality would lose momentum in the wake of a win—potentially leaving important issues unaddressed.
These leaders did not want to take a top-down approach and issue an agenda for the next phase of the movement. Instead, they wanted to explore concerns on the minds of everyday LGBTQ people. Rather than conducting a traditional survey that asked people to respond to a predetermined set of issues, the leaders envisioned an open-ended conversation. They would share insights and ideas from this conversation with individuals and organizations working to address the needs of LGBTQ people, who could use the information to inform their work. Importantly, the conversation would aim to reflect the diversity of the community by engaging people from all walks of life, all across the country.
The Our Tomorrow campaign might well be the first example of “crowdsourcing” the future of a social movement. Originating in the high tech industry, crowdsourcing refers to “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than traditional employees or suppliers,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition. The campaign was supported by the Arcus Foundation, Ford Foundation, Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund; Johnson Family Foundation and The Palette Fund.
The conversation ran from May to September 2015, engaging participants through an interactive website, social media platforms, and events across the country. Funders provided grants to partner organizations to host conversations within their communities, where people wrote down their hopes, fears, and ideas in workbooks. The Washington DC-based campaign team entered every answer into a database.
Catalyzing a conversation about a movement or issue empowers people whose lives are touched by the cause. It generates ideas and delivers deep insights to inform program design, communications strategies and more. Our Tomorrow ultimately collected 14,509 hopes, fears, and ideas from 5,663 individuals in all 50 states—including a significant number from often overlooked and underrepresented groups. It's more efficient to conduct a survey in which people check boxes in response to a pre-determined list of issues; while that approach can confirm hypotheses, it doesn't generate new ideas. An open-ended conversation is eye-opening.
The conversation ultimately covered 52 topics, such as acceptance, aging, workplace, and youth. People described their hopes for a stronger, more inclusive movement committed to tackling a broad range of issues—including marriage equality, transgender rights, economic insecurity, educational programming, human services, and homelessness. Despite the news media’s focus on growing acceptance of LGBTQ people in America, many participants expressed fears of losing ground in terms of their treatment under the law and in everyday life.
The results represent one of the largest and broadest data sets ever created about the concerns of LGBTQ people. Many nonprofit organizations cannot afford in-depth research on the constituencies they serve. This innovative technique puts useful insights at the fingertips of funders, nonprofits and individuals interested in meeting the needs of this community. Digging through the data, they can potentially unearth new ideas for shaping the future of the movement.