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In 2005, Rick Falvinge of Sweden launched a new political party, the Swedish Pirate Party, on a platform to reform copyright and patent laws. It's now the third largest party in Sweden, it won two European Parliament seats in 2009, and it inspired the International Pirate Party movement with representation in over 60 countries. The rise of the party has been remarkably fast. In Swarmwise: The Tactical Manual to Changing the World, Falvinge describes how he did it with a unique, decentralized organizing architecture that leverages the power of technology and the crowd to spread ideas and work across diverse groups of people. 

Falvinge defines a swarm as: “a decentralized, collaborative effort of volunteers that looks like a hierarchical, traditional organization from the outside. It is built by a small core of people that construct a scaffolding of go-to people, enabling a large number of volunteers to cooperate on a common goal in quantities of people not possible before the net was available.”

The key is decentralization. The founder must set the vision and goal and then release control of messaging and branding, delegate as much authority as possible, and embrace the fact that the only way to lead is to inspire.

A swarm has a shared direction, values and method. Informal leadership is strong, and focuses on everyone’s contributions. The main benefits to swarm organization are:

  • Speed of operation
  • Next-to-nothing operating cost
  • Large number of devoted volunteers
  • Open and inviting to anyone
  • No recruitment process
  • Multiple solutions tried in parallel
  • Transparent by default

Step One: Find an idea to change the world that people can get excited about.

This is critical. The idea must be a game-changer- so exciting, revolutionary and provocative that it will sell itself. Your idea must have four key attributes to be worthy:

  • Tangible: You must have concrete goals with specifics on when this goal should happen, where it will happen, and how it will happen. In the case of the Swedish Pirate Party, the goal was to elect an open-information platform candidate to the European Parliament in the next election. Period.
  • Credible: You must present the goals as realistic and doable.  The key is to strike a balance between a change-the-world idea and pure fantasy.
  • Inclusive: There must be a role and room for participation for everyone, and everyone must see not only how they will personally benefit form the idea but also ho they can be a part of making it happen.
  • Epic: The idea must be a big one, capable of changing how things are done on a broad scale, and people must see the scope of the idea’s impact when it is presented.

Step Two: Do the Math

You need to figure out, at the outset, the size of your audience and the percentage of those people you need on board to make the idea happen.  The specifics of the math will vary for each situation, but in general

% Convert = # People Needed to Succeed/ #Stakeholders

In the case of the Swedish Pirate Party’s goal of winning a seat in the European Parliament:

¼= 225,000 votes needed/ 1 million file-sharing stakeholders

Therefore, the Swedish Pirate party needed to convert 1 in 4 people to their way of thinking.

Step Three: Launch the idea.

The idea is then launched. The stake must be out in the ground, rough and unpolished though it may be.  If the idea is worthy (see Step One), thousands will gravitate to it; it will spread like a virus.  In the case of the Swedish Pirate Party, Falvinge posted a website with a manifesto and immediately had hundreds of people engaged- the makings of a swarm. It’s like magic!

Step Four: Build the Swarm Scaffolding

In the first several days, the scaffolding for the swarm must be constructed methodically as follows:

  • Divide the swarm into discussion forums by a maximum of thirty geographically based subdivisions with 7-30 members, up to 150, per subgroup. The units of organization can be set using a wiki, web form, etherpad, or traditional forum.
  • Instruct each subgroup to introduce themselves to one another and select a leader. Refrain from giving instructions on leader selection- the ability to self organize is key ot the success of the swarm.
  • Contact leaders in person to get to know then
  • Consider creating a transparent subgroup for group leaders to facilitate communication and coordination.  This may take place in an open forum.

In the first four weeks, each subgroup must set and accomplish their first task, meet informally, and welcome newcomers as they arrive.  A concierge role is likely to ne needed.

Step Five: Organize the Swarm

In the first six to eight weeks, a scaffolding of officers is built as the support structure for swarm development, organization and operation. Group dynamics theory dictates that no more than seven people can effectively work closely.  All local geographies should split off once the group exceeds seven. 

A coordinator group can oversee areas of contiguous geography until the total number of swarm members exceeds about 35 people, it must split off into another geography unit or risk blocking the growth of the swarm.

After about a month, a layer of officers can be inserted between the leaders and the local geographic groups to better facilitate communication, so that the leader communicates with five or six leaders, and each of them communicates with five or six leaders of local geographic groups.



In summary, keep formal working groups in the scaffolding to about seven people. When several groups are working together, try to keep the size at or below thirty. Pay close attention to when informal swarm groups approach 150 people in size. When that happens, take steps to break them up in smaller subgroups.

The idea is to function without central planning; each swarm unit is self-functioning, adhering to the overall goal but implementing tasks in it’s own way according to its own context.

There are three swarm activity levels:

  • Officers= people in the scaffolding, people who have taken on the formal responsibility of upholding the swarm.
  • Activists- the actual swarm, the people that make things happen on a huge scale passive supporters
  • Passive supporters- people who agree with the goals as such, but haven’t taken any action

And four functional leaders for each geography, in order of extroverted to introverted), each with a deputy:

  • Public Relations: Interacts with “oldmedia” i.e. newspapers, radio, etc.
  • Activism- Supports activism with practical details
  • Swarmcare- Welcomes new activists.
  • Information technology – Maintain web and social media infrastructure

Step Six: Set the Vision, Let the Swarm Disseminate the Message

The swarm leader sets the vision, but the local groups disseminate the message. The particulars may change according to the local audience, and only the local group will know how to best convey it.  Four classical methods are available for conveying the message: handing out flyers, placing posters, having tables at events, and staging rallies or street protests.

Set up a communications hub that “oldmedia” can latch onto, like a WordPress blog. Issue press releases on the website. The founder is the avatar of “oldmedia” representation. The founder should be present at all rallies and public events and be available for “oldmedia.”

The founder should write the op-eds.  Opportunities include op-eds about upcoming events the warm has an opinion on, responses to large news events, counter=points to published opinion pieces.

Step Seven: Lead the Swarm

The leader must be a leader and a visionary, not a project manager. The leader must inspire and set the organizational tone of decentralization.  It is important to identify key milestones and a timeline so that everyone sees progress happen, and can feel a sense of urgency.  Public measurement of success, or gamification, is an important method to motivate people.

The leader will progress form direct hand-holding, to explaining, to encouragement, to recognition.

The swarm is not a democracy.  It operates by consensus.  The goal is not to create losers but to have everyone buy in to the program. To resolve conflict, make a rule: no one gets to tell anyone else what to do.  If people don’t like it, they will leave and the swarm will correct itself.

There will be “mavericks” and “organizational astronauts” who will not buy into this management style. Do not capitulate to them.  Eventually, they will adapt or leave.

Step Eight: Grow and Mobilize

The swarm will grow form the edges.  Off –line relationships are key to making tis happen. People at the edges of the swarm need to have “heartbeat” meetings or messages once per week to maintain motivation.

Mass communications tools like texting are great for rapid mobilization.

It is important to look professional and be noticeable. Wear bright colors. Be professional, respectful, and make sure each member of the swarm feels values by constant recognition.

Step Nine: Don’t Shoot for the Moon: Aim Higher

As the swarm grows and succeeds, the founder must be aware of the weight of his or her words and actions.  The swarm can get lax, it is important to be constantly on-message and relentless about getting message out.

A successful swarm will be copied. Do not ignore them.  Lend as much energy as you can without sacrificing your own.


All versions of the book (including free ones, of course) are available at the bottom of this page.

Nina Ignaczak


Nina Ignaczak

Nina edits and publishes the Planet Detroit newsletter (planetdetroit.substack.com) and writes and edits stories about all aspects of people and place.