Eroding the power from within: activist communication (2)

In the article I posted a few days ago I talked about Dutch police people, who between 2013 and 2016 stood up and formed a movement to reclaim their own profession, judgement and space to do their work properly. In a hierarchy growing fiercer by the day.

This movement of emancipating professionals, as we called them, naturally wanted to spread the word and communicate with the people in- and outside the movement. This called for a different kind of communication than the classic, top down corporate communication, we discovered. We called it ‘activist communication’. On October 28, I will give a workshop on activist communication at the Berlin Change Days, based on my experience at – among others – the Dutch National Police.

In this blog post I will go deeper into activist communication and the driving principles. In the next post – my last in this series – I will describe in more detail what activist communication at the police looked like.

REAL LIFE GETS IN THE WAY Emancipation is per definition slow. There is a big difference between the emancipation of professionals reclaiming their profession on the one side and change as it takes place in a classic reorganisation on the other, such as the reorganisation of the Dutch National Police. In a reorganisation, everything is designed on a drawing table, carefully thought out and planned, in the fear that otherwise it might nog happen that way. The irony is that because of that it often doesn’t happen that way. The change has been thought out in theory, on paper, and more often than not by people who are far away from the reality of policing, nursing, teaching or whatever. And by not the professionals who work in that reality every day. So, in many reorganisations, real life gets in the way. That is one of the reasons why the reorganisation of the Dutch National Police is so troublesome.

With the emancipation of the professional, change is already there. The will to change is in the people. Some are already changing, others not yet. It’s a spontaneous process. We call this ‘emergent’. What needs to happen, happens. You can’t force it. Emancipating is what you do when you’re ready for it. It is therefore a slow process.

KISSING THE FUTURE AWAKE Being part of the police movement, we discovered that this slow emancipation movement needs another communication. A different style, a different approach and different methods. Activist communication does the following:

  • It stands between and is co-created with the innovators and change agents
  • It harvests stories from the undercurrent (the rebels, the innovators, the change agents; basically, everybody with an itchy paradigm)
  • It gives words to new concepts
  • It spreads valuable ideas
  • It keeps the dialogue alive

With the goal to kiss the future awake.

BUT WHAT ELSE DIFFERENTIATES ACTIVIST COMMUNICATION from the classical internal and external communication? Here are eight driving principles:

  1. Activist communication focuses on what wants to happen, instead of what must happen. It is oriented toward stimulating things, not forcing them.
  2. It is not an omniscient communication, that preaches vision, mission and company values, and has all the answers. But a communication that wants to discover the future and the road ahead, together with the participants. Because we don’t have all the answers.
  3. That means activist communication doesn’t act from within command and control or corporate communication, but it stands between the innovators, the curious, the snoopmice, the innovators and the change agents. Everybody who is in the process of emancipation and wants to discover a better future.
  4. It is therefore the communication of the undercurrent, not of the mainstream.
  5. It is communication from the consciousness that everybody makes their own personal journey, but in good company.
  6. Activist communication is based on what we call Rhineland values: professionality, trust and connection. Because we want to build our future on these values.
  7. Thinking and doing. There is no separation between thinkers and do-ers. Everybody does the thinking, everybody does the doing.
  8. Activist communication speaks to intuition. Rationally, we may be aware we need to make a change. But actually, coming into action is apparently something completely different. It seems like we have to speak to other parts of the brain. Activist communication therefore makes use of a great diversity of (work) forms and artistic concepts.
  9. It is a communication that experiments freely and eagerly.


  1. Communication specialists and participants are equal. There is an important role for the participants; in the creative and storytelling process. Again, everybody is a thinker and a do-er. Activist communication gives everybody a voice and everybody a role in spreading ideas and stories.
  2. Journalism is an important base: story catching. Because stories are the vehicle to spread ideas.
  3. Impact and the experience are important. Only the classical forms of communication aren’t enough. Therefore, we work more with artists than communication specialists.
  4. Impact is important. Making the message sticky.
  5. We make up new words. Cause if you want to change the current order, you sometimes need words other than those of the current order.
  6. Our message may be confronting.
  7. Serious and playful. We are having fun with a serious undertone.
  8. We work super cross medial. We make use of all media, all creative work forms. Especially the physical and the virtual go together excellently. We strive for instance to make the physical artistic concepts go viral on social media.

My workshop on activist communication will take place on October 28 at the Berlin Change Days. See the whole programme of the BCD. You can still join!