Public Management

Distributed leadership in the Jasmine revolution

March 27, 2014 | 2 min read

The Jasmine revolution took place around the turn of the year of 2010 and 2011 in Tunisia. The provocation was the suicide burning of an illegal street vendor. Using a cellphone, a bystander took a picture of the suicide burning and distributed it via the Internet. The photograph activated Internet users in Tunisia to take part in local protests that developed into demonstrations. Reza Esmaili – teacher and manager at the Hogeschool of Amsterdam – wondered who or what had leadership of the revolution. The significance of the Internet in the Jasmine revolution gave him the idea to use the Tipping Point-model of Gladwell in his study.

Image: © Nationale Beeldbank

Gladwell designed his model in 2001 following an analysis of the distribution of messages as innovations (fax and gsm), ideas and types of behavior. He discovered 3 patterns:

  1. The law of the individuals: a small group of people can get a message across to a large mass provided that the group consists of mutually connected experts, linkers and sellers (figure 1).
  2. The strength of the context: elements in the context can strengthen and accelerate the distribution of messages.
  3. The impressionable factor: small elements in a message may make these more appealing and easier to remember.

Figure 1. The Tipping Point-model according to Gladwell from 2001

According to Esmaili, the comparison of the course of the Jasmine revolution with the Tipping Point model showed that the suicide burning on the part of the illegal street vendor marked the moment at which a gradually increasing dissatisfaction changed to protests. The three patterns can be recognized in the course of the protests and the subsequent mass demonstrations:

  1. 1. Following the suicide burning, a small group of people conveyed the idea of protesting to a large mass. In this group, experts (prominent union members and lawyers and Internet activists), linkers (Internet users) and sellers (local union members and lawyers and Internet users) were in contact with one another via the Internet.
  2. The Jasmine revolution took place within a context of elements that had a strengthening effect on the protests, such as the living- and political circumstances and the availability of mobile telephones and the Internet.
  3. This involved a recurrence of the calls via the social media to organize protests, and a diversity of messages from the sellers by means of adding new elements to existing messages.

And so Esmaili came to discover that the Jasmine revolution was characterized by distributed leadership (the experts, the linkers and the sellers) and that distributed leadership can, subject to certain conditions (the strength of the context) determine the direction of social change partly due to impressionable factors as an appealing message in many varieties.

Esmaili concludes the theme Cahnge with his article on the Jasmine revolution. In the next part, Sophia Viet starts off the theme Trust by examining the meaning of trust and why trust is a theme in the political debate on the relationship municipality - citizen.

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