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What I learned at Campaign Bootcamp…

Last week was one I won’t forget in a long, long time. Together with a group of wonderful friends, I helped to organise and run the first every Campaign Bootcamp (the video below shows a little of what we got up to).

It was a dream that took almost a year to bring together, and is one of the main reasons that this blog has been so quiet in the last 6 months!

The idea was simple, take 30 of the most talented and energetic emerging campaigners committed to building a more just, fair and sustainable country from across the UK and give them a week of training from some of the very best in the campaigning business, but also allow them to put those skills into practice in real-time.

We had so much fun, and I’m incredibly excited about what we’ve started, but being at Bootcamp also taught me some invaluable lessons that I think might be useful for other campaigners to reflect upon.

1 – Let’s talk about power. It’s all too easy to dive right into learning about exciting new tactics. But we devoted the first day to understanding power and how change happens. It’s an issues I know that is a critical part of any training you might do with those involved in community organising, but something that I know I’ve been guilty of rushing over when I’ve run campaigns training before. Ensuring every campaign has a clear and robust theory of change is critical, but something we perhaps incorrectly leave to those who are more senior or have greater experience.

2 – Practice makes perfect. One of the central components of Bootcamp was running a scenario which participants had to run a campaign on. In real-time they we’re expected to write emails, build websites and consider how they should adapt their strategy to changes in the scenario.

Some might see it as a giant game, but last week I saw it as an invaluable way of learning how campaigners react and respond under pressure. I saw it teach valuable lessons, and would encourage any campaigns team to put time aside to learn from the experience and ‘stress test’ there systems and structures before a real campaigning example does.

3 – Being deliberate about building community. Nothing builds a sense of community like going away together for a week. Now that might not always be possible but the value of eating, learning and relaxing together, rather than all packing up at 6pm each day and heading our separate ways built a real sense of community. As a team we were also deliberate about wanting to ensure we had a cohort of participants from across different campaigning communities together. It stuck me of how often campaigning happens in silos here in the UK.

4 – We need to teach the habits of highly effective campaigners. It would have been easy to fill the programme for the 6-days with learning on strategy and tactics, but as a team we wanted to put aside time to ensure that those attending left with habits to ensure they’re brilliant campaigners in 20 years rather than burnt-out ones. We didn’t always get the balance right (11am finishes anyone!) but I think everyone walked away with ideas and strategies to keep running the campaigning race for years to come.

5 – Everyone needs to learn code. For an afternoon, it felt like being back at school again, everyone in rows like in a classroom, laptops out and a teacher at the front as we followed exercises to help us learn HTML. It’s easy for many campaigners to assume that someone more technical can worry about the code, but with the web and email being key tools for our campaigning, having a basic understanding of HTML is a key skill to learn. I’d recommend Code Academy as a good place to start. It turns out that many of the problems can easily be solved with just a little expertise!

6 – Our sector is a hugely generous one. Throughout the week I was overwhelmed with the generosity we saw from existing campaigners. From sharing time as trainers and coaches, to donating money to joining our seed list and providing feedback on the emails that participants sent we experienced extreme generosity from others. It was something quite phenomenal and very special. Thank you to everyone who supported us in so many different ways.

I know that I won’t be able to recreate that Bootcamp feeling again any time soon, but the lessons that I learnt along with the amazing energy that the participants I hope will stay with me for a long time.

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