Winning Big was the best conference I’ve been to in a long time – it brought together a really interesting and diverse mix of campaigners working across party politics, unions, NGOs and pressure groups to ask what we could learn from the big organising approach that has been successful in recent years.
Huge kudos to the organisers Eva, Tom and Anna for bringing such an excellent day together, and the team who facilitated the sessions.
If you couldn’t make it along, I know that the team behind the day are looking to make some of the sessions available as recordings (follow them on Twitter to find out more), do look at the #WinningBig hashtag (and look beyond the Trump tweets!), and I shared a few of my key learnings from the opening session here, and fellow blogger Alice Fuller shared some thoughts here.
Walking away at the end of the day I had a whole range of thoughts and questions – lots of conversations started to follow up, but I also wanted to share five thoughts about what next.
1 – Get better a sharing across our silos – I’ve written before that there are too many silos between NGO and political party campaigners, and that’s to the detriment of both communities. So it was refreshing to be in a room full of presentations and ideas from across.
I was struck that many of those who are leading these amazing, innovative and disruptive campaign are doing it in there spare time alongside other roles often inside charities – they have feet in both camps. It struck me that as you go up in an organisation keeping a foot in both camps becomes harder – perhaps there are good reasons for this, especially when charities are under pressure not to be partisan.
But how do we as senior leaders keep ourselves closer to the edge, so we can support and learn from the innovative approaches, and create the space to champion the lessons into our work?
2 – We need to build more of an evidence base of what works (and doesn’t work) – I’ve walked away with pages of ideas of what works, and doesn’t work, but how can we create more spaces to share across campaigns in a way that gives those involved confidence that it’s being shared with those who share similar aims.
I mentioned in one session the Analyst Institute in the US, which aims to be a clearinghouse for research and best practice in political campaigns. I wonder if we need to have a conversation about creating something similar here in the UK?
We can’t just replicate it as we don’t have the same number of academics working on this or the same number of political consultants, but building a culture where we can rigorously test and share in confidence could be really useful. Some of that happens within political parties, but relatively little, and yesterday convinced me that it needs to happen outside party political silos.
3 – Celebrate what we’re starting – Working for a big NGO sometimes walking away from a conference on big organising can be a little depressing – you leave full of great ideas but knowing you have to wrestle with the challenges of embedding them into an organisation that by necessity has structure and process, as I’ve written before it’s not easy.
But yesterday made me think differently – so many of the projects and approaches that were shared had started with the principle of ‘what if’ accepting that failure was OK. So I’m going to go back into work tomorrow looking to celebrate the little things that we’re already looking to do, and look for the next steps that we can take to build this into our approach. And I’d love to find a space to have conversations to celebrate + share the little steps as well as the big leaps.
4 – Let’s not forget the fundamentals – There is a risk that the story of what works is written whoever wins – so after 2015 General Election the story became about how the Conservatives were using Facebook so successfully, and thus that was what we all need to do. So why we should excitedly embrace the principles of big organising – in doing so we need to be careful we don’t overlook the fundamentals that are still required.
The approaches that helped to mobilise people to get out doorknocking in marginal seats in the General Election still required people to organise effective and well-run canvassing sessions. Big organising campaigns are still going to need narratives and messages that inspire and engage large enough numbers of people to engage.
5 – Trust – time and time again in the presentations I heard the word ‘trust’ come up. That all the evidence suggests that when you invite people to take on roles in a big organising approach and trust them with the responsibility they respond to it positively. So a personal challenge I’m taking from the day is how I can do more to give more responsibility away.
I’m looking forward to the conversation continuing.