The Story Behind Cognitive Policy Works

You’ve probably noticed that Cognitive Policy Works isn’t a typical organization.  We have a social mission like a non-profit, yet operate as a small consulting business that provides valuable services to a broad range of clients.  And we’ve now initiated two high-impact projects for the progressive movement through innovative crowdfunding campaigns — the Progressive Strategy Handbook and a Crowdfunding Manual for Social Change.

Obviously we don’t fit into the usual categories!  So what exactly IS Cognitive Policy Works?  And how have we managed to push the boundaries so far in such a short period of time?  It is time to invite you behind the scenes and share our story.

In the Beginning

It all began with the revolutionary work of George Lakoff and the think tank he founded, the Rockridge Institute.  Rockridge was set up to deliver research and analysis based on frame semantics and cognitive linguistics to progressive organizations.  It’s mission was to help progressives frame the debate and set the course for American politics.

This mission was very difficult to fund and, to this day, does not have a proper place in the funding priorities of progressive donors.  So Rockridge closed it’s doors in April of 2008.  I was a Fellow there at the time and felt compelled to make it my personal mission to continue this absolutely vital and foundational work.

Cognitive Policy Works was created to fill the void left by the loss of Rockridge, with three vital differences weened from the lessons learned by the Institute’s collapse:

  1. Cognitive Policy Works would be a for-profit business that is not constrained by the limitations of 501(c)3 organizations;
  2. Cognitive Policy Works would focus on implementation and work with practitioners in the field to cultivate the next generation of “best practices” in political advocacy and engagement;
  3. Cognitive Policy Works would base it’s operations on the principles of open collaboration to empower a community of unexpected leaders to drive progressive social change.

These distinctions emerged through the observation that a non-profit is ill suited to engage directly in political activities and that the most important changes must take place where the rubber meets the road with high levels of engagement.

What We’ve Become

The vision I had for Cognitive Policy Works was that it would attract clients, offer uniquely valuable services to the movement, and grow into a company with a full staff of researchers, trainers, and strategists.  This vision never came to fruition.  Instead, we have operated as a very lean team with one full-time employee and a network of phenomenal experts available on a project by project basis.

Put concretely, Cognitive Policy Works has been the soulful expression of my dedication to our mission.  As the principal founder, I have worked tirelessly for three years to create opportunities for the former staff of Rockridge and a host of new talent.  This has scratched out a meager living for myself, receiving clients intermittently and getting to partner on occasional projects with Eric Haas and Sara Robinson — my co-authors on the Progressive Strategy Handbook.

I realized during our latest crowdfunding campaign that some members of our community had come to think of Cognitive Policy Works as a big, well-funded institution.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  While we are proud to say that we’ve served more than 30 clients over the last three years of our existence, this has never been an elite organization.

Taking It Forward

Now that you know what we are (and just as importantly, what we aren’t), you may be wondering what will become of Cognitive Policy Works.  I want you to rest assured that our mission will continue to exist as long as I have air in my lungs.  That said, I’ve realized that the best outcomes of this experiment in organizational change have emerged through innovative projects with individuals who share the same passion for a scientific approach to political and social change.  Highlights include:

  • The Common Cause Report that introduced a new approach to advocacy informed by research in social psychology and cognitive linguistics, where I partnered with Tom Crompton of WWF-UK;
  • The catalyzing effect of Seattle Innovators that inspired civic leadership in the Emerald City to embrace a bold vision of our urban future;
  • The unique collaborations surrounding the funding, editing, and expansion of the Progressive Strategy Handbook, which represents a novel partnership with the crowd itself;
  • And the opportune partnership with Suresh Fernando of Open Kollab on our latest project to create a Crowdfunding Manual for Social Change.

Every one of these endeavors represents the potential for like-minded people to come together and innovate for the betterment of humanity.  So I have made a decision about how Cognitive Policy Works will move forward.

From now on, I will present this company as a node in the vast network of activities that I participate in.  I am excited to announce the creation of a personal blog called Chaotic Ripple where I will seek collaborative partnerships to drive social change through high-impact projects.  When these projects emphasize behavioral change and political cognition, I will host them through the Cognitive Policy Works community so that you have an open invitation to learn from, share, and — yes — contribute to these efforts.

It has long been my belief that the only way to create lasting solutions to the most pressing problems we must face is to openly collaborate such that we each feel empowered to make a collective impact.  And so I look forward to working with you in the days ahead as we build a sustainable, just, prosperous, and democratic world for people everywhere.

So now you know the full story.  Cognitive Policy Works is a small business that has catalyzed big changes with a tiny budget.  It has not managed to become viable enough to hire staff and grow.  Yet, it has demonstrated how to make lasting contributions to the world in very turbulent times.

Thank you for being a part of it.

Cognitive Policy Works specializes in providing organizations and individuals with frame analysis, policy briefs, strategic advising, and training.