Adrienne Lever didn’t bring much experience to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. “I graduated from Berkeley, got in my car and drove to a campaign office,” Lever says of her 23-year-old self. “I just worked as a volunteer until they hired me.” She ended up as a regional director for field programs in seven states, and learned lessons she now uses to help community leaders around the world who want to bring about change.

One of the defining lessons of the 2008 Obama campaign was the effectiveness of the snowflake model of organizing. First articulated by longtime organizer and Harvard professor Marshall Ganz, the snowflake model replaces a single leader in a network with interconnected leaders, each responsible for an aspect of a campaign.

For the president’s 2008 campaign, this meant field teams at the community level engaged in different activities, such as distributing bumper stickers, collecting addresses at events, canvassing door to door, reporting to hubs at the state level that were targeting advertising, or analyzing voter-turnout data by district.

“Leadership,” Ganz wrote, “is the practice of accepting responsibility to enable others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty.” In this model, Ganz says, leadership is a practice and not a position.

In the example below, the dark blue figures represent regional organizers who each interact with two green figures (representing community coordinators), who each interact with five community members (light blue).

An illustration of the snowflake model of community organizing, in which a single leader is replaced with interconnected leaders. (State Dept./Doug Thompson)

This is just one organizational example of a snowflake model. As with actual snowflakes, the possibilities of effective organizational models are limitless.

“People — and not just around election cycles — have been able to find power in building numbers by talking to people one person at a time,” Lever said. “By working on changing one heart and mind, you build an exponential power base, and that’s how you change your environment and your world, ultimately.”