Organizational memory is the accumulated body of data, information, and knowledge created in the course of an organization’s existence. Okay, now that we are done with the usual boring definition, let’s take a look at what it actually means in practice and what benefits it can provide your political organization. Because yes, the future is always bright, the present is here and now and ‘carpe diem’, but for both there is one thing ultimately essential. The past.
But how can you make the past one of your biggest assets? Let’s quickly take a look at it in this article.
First of all let’s take a look at an obstacle that many political parties face in our ever-changing world, especially in Europe. As politics have also become a place of rather rapid shifts and changes, many parties find themselves without a collective past, as they might have been just recently started or founded, and not have the luxury of decades or hundreds of years of experience, as for example their American counterparts. Nevertheless, having a collective past doesn’t necessarily have to mean that this collective past can only exist as a collective. Strange as it may seem, individuals and their individual pasts and experiences can also make up together a collective one, even if these previous events have not happened and have been experienced as a collective at the time. This is especially true to Eastern Europe’s political parties where even the oldest of the oldest parties are usually ca. 30 years old. This obstacle of a lack of collective memory and history can be overcome by actively seeking out opportunities to share experiences and previous lessons learnt with one another, and as a group. This could be done in a format of platforms based on similar interests within the party, preferably focused on actual policy topics (i.e. energy, environmental protection, housing, transportation, finance etc.). Through these groups, your party members can create huge “data banks” and shared skill sets based on common interests that can be later turned into active policy making.
However, once you do start to have collective memories and a shared history, you should take the time to celebrate these milestones and create a culture of reflection, but also a celebration of past achievements and important events. This can be the first successful campaign, or the election of your first representative, or even the date your party was registered officially. Anniversaries are important, and not just in personal relationships, but also in communities as well. By cherishing these previous events, you are also able to create a culture of gratefulness, which can be later turned into creative positive energies that can help your party greatly, to keep spirits and morale high through thick and thin.
Another step that you could take to create and foster a positive culture of organizational memory is to create a sort of “elders council” within your party. These can be – especially at the beginning – like-minded external thinkers and thought leaders that are willing to share their experiences and knowledge with your group. Later on, however, it is also a great way to keep ex-members close to your party, people that might not be wanting to stay in the front lines of everyday political struggles and battles, but would still be happy to support you and your organization in other ways. And believe me, one thing politicians do love is someone caressing their ego; and what better way to do that than appointing them into an advisory board of sorts, that helps your organization. You must be careful though that these advisory boards do remain advisory in nature, and not operational. Also another thing to consider that you might want to create these positions only with minimal compensation so that they cannot be seen as simple ‘parachute destinations’ for those who are not able to keep up with the everyday hurdles of politics. Not only because that might create a bad external image, but also because overpaid positions could be damaging internally as well. But if done right, they can provide you and your party with huge benefits and political know-how.
Tapping into organizational memory and maximizing its benefits can be a very powerful tool for your political organization, but make sure you do it right and you only use it as a tool not as an escape. But by understanding their own history and learning from past victories and defeats, parties can position themselves to achieve even greater results today, tomorrow, and for many 4 years to come.