Here at CivicActions, we have been geeking out on the “Plausible Promise, Tools and Bargain Framework” that Clay Shirky brought to our attention in Here Comes Everybody. Shirky argues that every successful social movement has a version of this system contained within it. Here is a brief overview of the Plausible Promise, Tools and Bargain framework.

The Plausible Promise is the personal value that individuals get from joining a movement. In interviews with organizational leaders, their first response to the question: “what is your Plausible Promise?” was to immediately restate the goal of their movement. This is connected to, but not actually the Plausible Promise itself. The Plausible Promise refers more specifically to what individual benefit and meaning will be derived from working towards a larger goal. The Plausible Promise for Wikipedia, for example, is the personal satisfaction and meaning users receive for contributing.

The Tools must reflect the Plausible Promise. Taking the example of Wikipedia again, its technology, which is simple and easy to use, matches the Wikipedia promise. Other times, the tools may not fit the promise at all. If Wikipedia was laborious and difficult to access, then its promise of being an open and easily accessible system would be defeated. The key is fitting the Tools to the Plausible Promise.

The Bargain governs the social fabric of the community. Shirky argues that Wikipedia provides a system of “guarding the guardians.” In order for such an open platform to be successful, all participants need to help insure that the site stays accurate and neutral. The Bargain maintains that everyone plays a role in preserving Wikipedia’s informational integrity.

The Plausible Promise, Tools and Bargain model is a great model for examining how an organization relates to technology. Technologies are Tools and, according to Shirky’s argument, need to fit the Plausible Promise. Faced with constant innovations in technology, groups and individuals can feel overwhelmed by “keeping up” with the latest, while forgetting the original promise for users. Shifting the organizational focus back to establishing what the Plausible Promise is creates a more focused conversation on what Tools should be deployed.