Some campaigns lessons to close out 2022

For the last few months, I’ve had a growing pile of books by my desk, all of which have sparked a half-written blog post in my head, but as the year comes to an end I’ve decided that’s unlikely to happen, and so to put them into one blog with some of the key learnings I’m taking away from them.

Prisms of the People, authored by Hahrie Han, Elizabeth McKenna, and Michelle Oyakawa, is a cracking read which came out at the end of 2021. Much of what I find helpful is how it’s been super helpful in sharpening my thinking and approach to how we understand power. Linked to the book being published was this really useful paper and these 4 principles which I’ve been trying to reflect on during the year;

  1. Power is dynamic – too often we think about power as static, that an organisation or movement has it or doesn’t have it, but it’s so much more complex than that. It’s about the interactional relationship between (at least) two political actors.
  2. Resources do not equal power – sure it can help, but just because you have a big mailing list doesn’t mean you have power. Simply amassing one resource will not automatically lead to power. Movement building is the work of the process
  3. There is a difference between potential power – the resources organisations need to be ready to exert power in the world when the opportunity comes, and the exercise of power – the actual things your organisation does to exert its power in the world (win elections, pass policies, turnout activists).
  4. Power is like an iceberg – after Steven Lukes it has at least 3 faces (visible, hidden, and invisable). You can only see the tip of the iceberg (the visible power) but much of it remains submerged underwater (‘hidden’ power). Too often as activists, we just think about the visible power, but ignore the other faces of power.

Reflecting more on power, I also enjoyed Power for All by Julie Battilana and Tiziana Casciaro, it’s a wide-ranging, but very accessible read that acts as a primer to how power can be harnessed to make positive changes in our lives, work, and societies – I found the chapter on power in movements really interesting, and especially the research by Julie on how every successful social movement requires three distinct leadership roles: the agitator, the innovator, and the orchestrator.

As the authors write in this paper, a movement needs those threes roles to work together with the;

  • Agitator stirring the pot by articulating and publicising grievances, rallying an otherwise diverse group of people around a mutual desire for change
  • the Innovator developing solution to address the grievances – and helping to justify those alternatives in appealing ways to engage individuals, groups, and organizations to support them
  • finally the Orchestrator spreads the solution created by the innovator, thinking how best to reach and work with people both within and outside the movement.

    The chapter also picks up on the need that most changes come about through the long and hard work of movement building, something that isn’t necessarily glamorous or that gets much attention but is required for sustained action.

On that theme, Gal Beckerman’s book, The Quiet Before, is a really interesting and thorough look at the important work of how ideas and movements are incubated and grow often initially unnoticed.

Drawing on a range of examples from across the world and history Beckerman draws out on the importance of that quiet and unnoticed work that happens in the incubation stage of a movement before, reflecting on the challenge that our social media-driven culture means that we often move immediately to the ‘trigger’ without the work of building a shared movement identity which means it can be hard to sustain beyond an initial moment of outrage.

Tracing movements like Chartists in the 1800s to the democracy movement in Russia to Black Lives Matter, Beckerman looks at how the pre-digital forms that often required individuals to spend time writing down and honing messages, discussing and debating ideas, refining ideas and arguments, and building a sense of shared identity.

And while we can’t go back to that– as we end the year with the future of Twitter looking uncertain, there is a truth in examples from the book on in the importance of that slower work of building our networks for change, and appropriate response to this challenge from Bill Mckibben that ‘we’ve almost certainly relied too much on Twitter ….posting has become a substitute for other kinds of action…it’s given us less incentive to build out real and substantial networks’.

It was David Karf’s post on rethinking political innovation, that pointed me in the direction of The Innovation Delusion by Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell – not everything in the book was relevant, but its central message that we’ve become obsessed with labeling everything as innovation and always looking for new when actually we should also be focusing more of our work and efforts on maintenance.

I know how much I can be drawn to celebrating or searching for the ‘new’ when it’s as important to focus on maintaining what is already there. The book offers a useful set of principles for a maintenance mindset – that it can sustain success as when done well it can ensure longevity and sustainability, that doing so depends on culture and management – a good challenge that we need to celebrate those heroes who as much as we praise those who we see as innovators, and maintenance requires constant care (and time put aside for that).

Books that give an insight into what really happens inside the institutions, and Jess PhilipsThe Life of an MP, is funny, and a contemporary example of just that. It’s a truthful, and engaging look at how MPs have to juggle their constituency and casework, with a push for progress on other interests they have or causes they support.

Of course, the way every MP works is different, but Philips does an excellent job at presenting honestly the reality of that balance and providing some useful tips and advice to any campaigner. Lots of books about contemporary politics can be interesting reads, but they are about what’s happened and how what, this is a little different as it’s much more about what’s happening on a daily basis for an MP.

My final book is Producing Politics by Daniel Laurison, it’s a sociological look at what happens inside US political campaigns and the reality that most decisions are made by a small group of individuals who move from one campaign to another. Given the site of study is the US political system which is very different from the UK, not all of it is relevant (although it’s an interesting read if like me you are a bit obsessed with US politics) but a few reflections from the book stood out for me and I think do translate more widely. 

The observation that much of what happens within campaigns isn’t driven by data and evidence but by ‘follow handed down by one campaign to the next’, that campaigns should be sites where there is lots of engagement with the public but too much time is spent with others who share – a challenge to get out more, and that too little time is spent building deep and meaningful engagement despite the evidence that it can have the most transformative impact on the outcomes all resonated with me.

How to – organise a campaign stunt

It’s been a while since I organised a campaign stunt, but after putting 100s of shoes out in Trafalgar Square to highlight the ongoing hunger crisis in East Africa.

Following it I did a bit of a learning session with my team on running great campaign stunts, and wanted to share some of my lessons here – it’s very much from the perspective of making these happen within charities, but hopefully it’s useful.

Campaign stunts can be really varied – but being really clear on what you’re looking to achieve from the activity is critical to good planning.

Are you looking for media coverage, to generate content to share on social media, to engage a political targets (like getting MPs to come out and join you), to bear witness to an issue that’s happening, or to engage the public.

Whatever you decide to do, simplicity is the key – introducing too many elements into a stunt can often make an image. So come up with a simple idea that you’re looking to deliver.

When you’ve decided on what you’re looking to do it’s time to start to think about the location for your stunt.

Most public spaces require you to get permission to formally use them – that can be from the local authority or the landowner, although increasingly many public spaces are privately owned and that makes doing some activities harder.

Sometimes you might decide that your stunt is going to be small or happen quickly so you’ll decide not to ask for permission, or asking for permission will prevent it from happening so you can plan to go ahead without it, but that’ll be an organisational decision.

If you’re looking for your event to happen in and around Parliament then you’ve got a few options, most of which need to have permission requested 14 days in advance – Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square are both under auspice of the Greater London Authority, Victoria Tower Gardens (the space south of Parliament) is under the Royal Parks (who are often hard to work with) and there are various spaces on the Parliament estate which you can also look to hold an stunt on.

It’s certainly my experience that given the level of security around Parliament its hard to do much without permission, but it’s often easier when you move away from higher profile locations – almost all spaces have conditions on what you can and can’t do, including when you can do something. Generally they like stunts to happen at quieter times of the day – so expect an early start!

If you’re looking for props for your stunt I’d recommend getting in touch with a theatre set designer – they’re excellent at turning your vision into something that can be used – remember they have to build props that are durable but can get on and off stage quickly.

However it’s often it’s a case of needing to get out and source the materials you need – for example recently needing 2000 pairs of shoes for a stunt required getting on the phone to second-hand clothing wholesalers – basically Google is your friend.

Do think about the sustainability of your materials and what you’re going to do with them after the stunt – including where your going to store them. Invariably organisational finance process can slow down getting props commissioned or items– so if you think you’ll be likely to do this perhaps start to source a supplier ahead of time

While a picture can tell a thousand words, having some banners or signs at your stunt can be helpful. Generally I’ve got these printed by a local printer who can turn things around within 24 hours or so (at Save the Children we use ABC Imaging as they’re close to our office).

If you’re looking for banners think about the size and material you want to make from them – explore material banners which are better for the environment or make your own from sheets. Signs can be held by participants – and often best if printed on foamboard as they are a little more rigid and have better waterproof qualities. Most of the time I’ve found a printer will take a high-res pdf version to print, but check requirements.

As part of your planning you’ll want to think about the staff that you’ll need at your stunt – they probably fall into 3 groups;

  • Those needed to make the stunt happen who will be focused on logistics and delivery of the stunt. Appoint someone as the stunt lead but don’t ask them to take on any other role. Make sure you’ve thought about the number of people you’ll need to put up or out any props that you’re using, or how you’ll steward a space – less of a challenge if it’s early in the morning.
  • Those capturing the stunt – this should include any spokespeople you’ll need for the media interview, or capturing social media content. If you’re looking to get media coverage don’t assume that papers will send their own photographer, so look to book your own so you can share the photos with your press release.
  • Those supporting others who are involved – if you’ve got young people, or celebrities (which can be helpful in getting media coverage), or politicians coming along you’ll probably want some people who are explicitly linked to working with them.

Ahead of the event, put some time in to brief everyone on what’s going to happen and their role on the day, plus what to do if something goes wrong.

Approach planning the stunt as you would any stunt – exploring putting together a project plan (or whatever tool you find most useful for planning), put in some regular check-ins with key colleagues that are working with you on it, set a budget, and once it’s all over do a quick learning review or evaluation

Every charity will approach this differently, so follow your internal guidance, but expect to put together a risk assessment for your stunt – it’s something that’ll be needed for some authorities to give you permission to use a specific space, but also a useful way to test what you need to be thinking about.

You might find that you need to demonstrate that you have public liability insurance – which would cover your organisation if something went wrong (which is unlikely), and you’ll want to make sure you’ve got contact details of any suppliers you’re going to need on the day – one of my learnings is if you’ve got to get props on site, make sure your courier or van driver knows exactly where to drop them.

It’s very unlikely anything will go wrong, but I always find it’s useful to run a quick ‘what will we do if’ exercise to think about any key things that might be challenge you occur on the day and what you’ll do – for example what happens if its raining, or someone does turn up, and to take with me to any stunt a bag of ‘just in case’ materials like Gaffa Tape, cable ties, marker pens, etc.

Finally, there are loads of people who can help, from professional event planners who can take on lots of the planning and logistics, to other campaigners who’d always be happy to offer some advice based on what they’ve done.

In praise of network weavers

Successful movements don’t just occur – they often emerge thanks to patience and the ongoing work of individuals and organisations to bring them together.

It’s the quiet and behind-the-scenes work of network weavers (sometimes referred to in documents as ‘movement builders’ or ‘field builders’) that helps to create a critical mass for change.

As IPPR found in their study last year of what works when it comes to making change – that in many successful movements it’s thanks to the work of individuals and organisations who make sure everyone’s activities ‘add up to more than the sum of its part’ – work that is often in everyone’s interest but no-one’s immediate remit.

While in this report from the US foundation, Bridgespan Group (see above for the 4 Superpowers they identify), they highlight the importance and unique role that some who is at a nerve center of a coordinated approach who is able to work in partnership and at the service of a myriad of actors devoted to solving a given problem or cause.

Almost by design, these individuals can go overlooked, but without them many of our causes, but what are the key characteristics of effective network weavers;

  1. They have a deep understanding of the issue and the ecosystem around it. They look to have a birds-eye view of what’s happening, and who’s involved. They understand those who are deeply involved in the work on this issue alone, and other who are working across a breadth of issues who can be drawn in. They find opportunities to bring those working at a local and national level, and with those working in adjacent issues.  

  2. An organisers mindset – they use the tools of organising to build the ecosystem or field that’s working on an issue. They look to actively build connections, build trust and confidence through 1:1s, and bring people to the table. This work is often in the background without fanfare.

    Like organisers, they’re consistently assessing is what’s happening, adapting their point of view, and working out how to take advantage of a moment. It’s not a passive convening role, but an active but quiet leadership knowing when to push for action or when to encourage reflection.

  3. Hold trusting relationships built through humility and openness, accepting when they get things wrong as well as right. They’re able to look to bridge the divides that often occur in movements, looking to find ground between those who are reformists and rebels.

  4. Share tools and knowledge – they offer those involved in the work the tools that are needed to help to deliver change, and if they can’t they go and find them. They’re open to sharing the knowledge and insight they have – on social media, in newsletters, and in meetings. They don’t see the value in hoarding it within a small group but in making it available to those who need it.

  5. They know when to step in – I’ve written about this before in coalitions, that every coalition needs someone who will step in to make things happen, from minutes of meetings to moving forward a vital action. It’s the same with network weavers, they know when to step in to help move forward a project or initiative, and also when to encourage something to come to an end.

Timeless tips for any campaigner

They say that you shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover”, well in the case of ‘101 Ways to Win An Election‘by Mark Pack and Edward Maxfield it’s advice I’d give about the title.

This isn’t just a book about how to win the election – although it’s full of that from two experienced political campaigners if you’re looking for it – but it’s also got some great tips for anyone about how to win campaigns.

Some of the early chapters on strategy and messaging have some brilliant lessons that all campaigners would do well to remember.

Reading it was a refresher into some simple and timeless truths for all campaigners. Here are my top 10;

  1. Have a strategy that is written down – create a strategy by making choices, about what you’re going to do – and also what you’re not going to do as well. Write it down. Ensure it has a purpose – the change you are looking to achieve, and a plan to achieve it. Ensure that your plan is plausible and that you can trace how that sequence of events could happen.
  2. Remember most of the time your audience isn’t paying any attention to what you’re talking about – your audience lives busy lives, and they’re often largely disconnected from the issues that you’re passionate about. You only have a brief moment to intrude on their lives and make your point to them. Ensure that you have a simple and emotionally compelling message.
  3. Avoid being a missionary or a martyr – A missionary is someone so full of campaigning zeal they fail to see how far their own priorities are from those they’re looking to engage, while a martyr is someone who believes the electorate is wholly wrong for not holding their own position. Sometimes we can be guilty of falling into either trap.
  4. Remember most of the time your audience isn’t paying any attention to what you’re talking about – normal people don’t spend most of their time thinking about politics. The repetition of your message is OK. Appeal to the emotional as well as rational mind. Detailed evidence-based slide decks will only get you so far.
  5. You don’t win people over to your cause by attacking them – so look to build common ground, and always give someone a path of retreat to look good if they change their mind.
  6. Be flexible – remember the old adage that “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy“. Always be ready to adjust your plans.
  7. Build a team – however efficient and effective you are, you only have 24 hours in a day. Teams mean more people getting more work done, and different perspectives to help to make better decisions.
  8. Remember you are not your audience – firstly, they do not pay as much attention to politics as you (are you spotting this as a theme!). Invest resources in developing an understanding of what they think and why.
  9. Follow media coverage of what’s happening around you – your campaign doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but when you’re busy it can be easy to stop paying attention to what else is happening. Monitoring the media can help you spot new opportunities or avoid avoidable challenges.
  10. Borrow from other fields – look at how other successful campaigners campaign, but don’t stop there. Learn, adapt – and succeed from reviewing what others do.

What is your target seat strategy?

With the recent local elections out of the way, and thoughts turning to a potential General Election in the next 2+ years, I’m sure many campaigners are looking at their target constituency list and reflecting if they’ve got the right seats and MPs on them.

Putting together a target seat list is more of an art than a science, but when you have limited resources putting in some thought to the approach that you’re going to take and the rationale for it can help.

So where do you start, below I’ve listed a number of different approaches that you think about taking for your list;

  • Political Lifecycle – there is often a temptation to focus on those already holding the key political positions that you’re looking to influence. That can be important, but with Ministers changing regularly, and often by virtue of their ministerial role being less active in their constituencies, I’m not sure that just focusing on ministers is the best approach to take. Not least because it can take time to build your presence in a constituency and you can quickly find that work wasted when a reshuffle happens.

    But looking at other ‘life’ stages for an MP could be useful, for example;
    • Reflecting on those that are likely to get promoted in future reshuffles – perhaps by looking at who’s in junior minister and Parliamentary Private Secretary roles – they’re often the roles future Ministers take.
    • Building a base of support in the seats of MPs who are on key Select Committees or APPGs.
    • An approach that looks at those MPs who just got elected at the last election – based on an assumption that newer MPs might have more incentive to be seen to be active in their constituency as they look to establish themselves, or perhaps still working out what they want to prioritise as an MP.
    • You could play a long game by building power in those seats where an MP might be likely to retire at the next election, so you’ve got a base to influence new incumbent MPs.

  • Swing Seats – a very traditional approach to a key seat list, and ahead of the next general election I’m sure many campaigners will be looking at list of Red Wall and Blue Wall seats to see where to target.

    There is a strong political rationale for this – the views of constituencies in these seats will have an outsized influence in the next election and will see a disproportioned number of focus groups and media ‘vox-pops’ happen as a result, but the challenge can be to ensure that you’re able to build enough power to feel like your able to get cut through in what is likely to be a busy and noisy environment.

  • Political tribes – it’s easy from the outside to treat political parties like homogenous blocs, and while there are of course many things that unite MPs looking beyond party affiliation to the specific political tribe or grouping that they’re in can be helpful – this is a helpful, if slightly irreverent, look at some of the tribes in the Conservative Party (here is another). Membership of some grouping might indicate a greater propensity to support your issue or cause.

  • Local connections – given the importance of rooting your local campaigning in relevant local issues, you could build a list based on local connections – for example, if you’re campaigning on a specific environmental issue selecting constituencies that are home to relevant habitats or similar. It’d provide great opportunities to connect MPs to projects and volunteers.

  • Engage-ability – for supporters, there is nothing more demoralising that being asked to engage your local MP knowing that their MP won’t. The reality is that some MPs just aren’t as interested in their constituents as others so building a list, perhaps cut from criteria but with one eye on if the MP will engage can be a useful approach.

  • Personal background, interest or issues – if you’ve already got a list of MPs who are allies you could focus on building a base of support behind them, but beware that in doing so while it might help to strengthen your relationship with existing MPs it’s unlikely to build you any new or additional supporters.

What criteria do you use to select your target list of MPs?

The Engagement – 10 lessons from the US campaign for same-sex marriage

The Engagement is Sasha Isssenberg’s (author of the Victory Lab which is another must-read) latest book, and it’s the authoritative book on the campaign for same-sex marriage in the USA,

An absorbing if long read that wonderfully intertwines the stories of those involved in the campaign, with the lessons and reflections on what did and didn’t work for the campaign.

It’s a great contribution to a lot of other useful writing on the campaign (I’d also recommend this) and I’d really recommend a watch of some of the online discussions that Sasha did as part of the promotion of the book, or a read of this.

As I read the book I noted down a few of the lessons that I think are applicable to all movements – most from the winning side, and one from those who opposed it.  

  1. Set out a clear plan for victory – advocates came together on multiple times to set out their shared strategy and playbook. The book makes it clear they didn’t always agree on the approach, but nevertheless spent time developing collective plans together and understood the role that different actors were going to play.
    Together they set out a ’10-10-10-20′ strategy looking at how the approaches in different States and the tactics and resources needed. I was struck by the sense of farsighted the movement had been.
  2. If you’re not getting anywhere with political processes, build pressure from outside politics – advocates for a time focused on corporates to try to recognise the rights of their gay staff to access healthcare for their partners and other rights to grow pressure from other routes on political decision-makers.
  3. Build a funding infrastructure committed to the 4 ‘multis’ – multi-year, multi-state, multi-partner and multi-methodology. I hope many movement funder will read the book – it’s a reminder that if we just aim to fund a slice of what we think is needed we will probably fail.
  4. Learn from past issues and campaigns – advocates spent time learning from the success or failures of others movements in the US such as abortion rights activists. We need to be students of what others have done, so we can learn and apply what might work for us.
  5. Recognise the importance of divergent tactics“there are many methodologies for social change and we really need them all pulled together in partnership and working to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts”. That can be uncomfortable when working in movements, but we shouldn’t forget it’s importance for our collective impact.
  6. Obsess about what works – advocates established the Movement Advancement Project to assess the effectiveness of what approaches were working and not – and help funders to surge behind those that were.
  7. Focus on messaging as well as operations – ensure you’re clear on who your audience is, and continuously develop your messaging. “no matter how many people you train and deploy to go canvassing, if you can’t figure out your message, you are dead in the water”
  8. Try new approaches – that helped the movement develop it’s ‘deep canvassing’ approach which focused on interactions that where seeking to change the views of voters as opposed to simply focus on identifying new and existing voters. 
  9. And one lesson from the opponents – trendspotting – opponents of equal marriage had a well resourced campaign, but also benefitted from a network of individuals within their network who effectively acted as trend-spotters. Looking for up-and-coming issues ready to make the jump from niche policy interest to mass concern.

10. Ask tough questions – finally, reading the book reminded me of this excellent article on questions proponents were forced to ask themselves and honestly answer, which seem vital to any successful

What all campaigners can learn from The Canary Craftivists

I’ve written before about the work of Sarah Corbett and the Craftivist Collective – I really admire the commitment to principles of gentle protest and the level of thoughtfulness that’s goes into the approach. In my view, while it’s easily dismissed by some it’s a unique but vital form of campaigning.

The movement’s most recent campaign, Canary Craftivists, appeared on my social media timeline throughout 2021, and I think it was one of the most interesting and original pieces of activism that I’ve seen for a while.

One of the benefits of being a patron of the Craftivist Collective (and I’d really recommend becoming a patron, for £10 per month you are supporting this important campaigning ) is that I recently got sent a copy of the #CanaryCraftivists Manual – which is a beautifully curated guide on how to run the campaign. Even if you’re not into crafting I’d really encourage getting hold of a copy as it brilliantly unpacks the Craftivist approach.

As Sarah explains the idea behind the approach was two-fold for “participants 1) organise a small gathering of craftivists as a ‘flock’ to hold a stitch-in by a loved local landmark and invite the local press to cover it and 2) handcraft a life-size canary and a personal letter for their local politician or other local powerholders urging them to do more and faster for the environment“.

During 2021, the reach of the campaign was really impressive, especially when you consider that it’s driven by a one-person team at the center of the Craftivist network – with 99 flocks came together across the UK, securing lots of local media coverage, seeing canaries sent to almost 200 MPs and achieving stacks of reach on social media.

And I think there are lessons that all campaigners can learn from the success of Canary Craftivists, here are just a few;

  1. Take time to find a tribe (or flock) – it’s easy to focus on finding individuals that are interested in the same issue or cause as you and mobilise them for action -that’s important. But what Sarah has done with Craftivism is take an alternative approach, find those with another interest (craft) and then invite them to get involved in acvitism – in a way that appeals to their existing interests, and it totally designed to help individuals to .

    As Micah Sifry wrote in his newsletter last week – we know individuals are more likely to get involved in activism for a cause when the following 3 conditions are achieved “First, they have to experience a direct, personal contact, through their social networks, to a movement organization. Second, they need to be at a moment in their lives where they are open to a personal change. This is what sociologist Douglas McAdam called “biographical availability.” And third, they have to actually participate in some form of initial activism—a rally, protest, meeting, counseling session or the like—which they enjoy and decide to continue doing”. It strikes me that the model of Canary Craftivism certainly achieves 1 and 3.

  2. Really think about the visuals and the asthetic – if your wondering about why a canary – the campaign took inspiration from yellow canaries because they are small and sensitive little birds yet in the past they quietly helped warn miners of dangerous pollutants such as carbon monoxide with miners. In the same way, the Canary Craftivists hope that their little canaries and local demonstrations will gently warn and help remind their politicians and governments about the urgent dangers of global warming.

    And it’s that level of thinking and detail that marks out this approach – sure, perhaps a canary doesn’t immediately make you think about climate and the environment, but spend a little time and it’s excellent connection, whatsmore it makes for great images and content that individuals want to share with others on social media.

    I know I’m guilty of not spending enough time thinking about how decisions about design and visuals impact my campaign approaches, but in a world where great images and visual content can stand out, there is something in this for all campaigners.

  1. Obsessively focus on the local – The campaign encouraging small gatherings (or flocks) to come together to meet and craft in loved and recognisable locations – using those gatherings both as an opportunity to generate local media coverage for the campaign – an important route to reaching local MPs – the target, but also the opportunity to connect with others in the local community who shared the same interests.

    As campaigners, we can often thinking about building up to a central moment or gathering, but the local flock approach clearly really worked – drawing in many who might have rejected getting involved with other forms of activism, and developing a model that was perfect for our socially distanced times.

Plan for your engagement with decision makers to be both memorable and thoughtful – each individual was encouraged to take the time to handstich and name a canary and send it to their local MP.

We know that every day MPs will receive hundreds of pieces of correspondence, from email, to letters to phone calls so the canarys really got noticed. The feedback from MP suggested that the carefully and thoughtfully stitched canary complete with letter will cause them to pause and not just respond with a pre-written response.

In few campaigns that I seen have seen such a stream of such considered correspondence from MPs and their staff who have recieved their canaries as exampled below – as another MP wrote ‘my whole team were awed by the kindness and the effort that you put in‘.

It’s evidence for a hunch that I think most campaigners hold – that MPs are more likely to engage for longer with something that has taken time for the sender to put together with thought – a reminder that with a bit of careful thought you can come up with a campaign idea that really makes a lasting impression.

If you want to support more amazing activism from the Craftivist Collective you can find out more about becoming a patron here.

The Road Ahead for Campaigners

The annual NCVO Road Ahead report is a great resource – packed full of insight and predictions about the trends, drivers challenges, and opportunities that are going to shape the next year might look like for charities – it’s basically a ready-made PEST analysis for the charity sector.

The 2022 edition was launched earlier this week (this is a great summary from the report’s author Alex), and I thought I’d pull out 7 key trends that I think are particularly important for campaigners and change-makers, but I’d 100% encourage a read of the whole report as its packed full of useful insight, examples and case studies.

  1. A period of political stability – the authors might be regretting writing this given the political drama of the last 72 hours! But after the snap elections in 2017 and 2019, most predicted that we could be entering a a period of relative political stability, with an election most likely in 2024 (or 2023).

    It means campaigners should be starting to think now about how they plan their influencing activity – as I wrote ahead of the 2015 election, decisions about elections are made month or years in advance so start to plan now and not when the election is called. But I guess whatever happens with the Prime Minister in the next few weeks, shows the importance of being able to plan ahead, but also adapt to changing circumstances.

  2. The continuation of a culture war – or at the very least some who want to continue it, with the authors predicting that ‘Politicians are likely to continue to seek dividing lines where they feel there is political advantage in doing so, so we should expect that culture wars will be a part of our political environment in the years ahead‘. Although the polling suggest that the public is more split on the topic that the politicans might want, but as Bobby Duffy has written ‘the huge surge in media coverage of culture wars – in 2015, there were only 21 articles in mainstream UK newspapers that discussed a “culture war” in the UK – in 2020, there were 534’ shows that topic isn’t going away.

  3. Devolution – the continued growth in the profile and role of Metro Mayors (remembering that 41% of the UK population now have a Metro Mayors) and the continued promince of the devolved adminstrations that has come about beause of the pandemic (this is a great thread by Andy Glyde from CRUK about the important for national charities in how they approach devolution and how they should be influencing the devolved governments). As the report says ‘charities that aren’t considering the local and regional landscape, and the decision-makers within it, are likely to be missing opportunities to further their cause.’

  4. Restrictions in the space for campaigning – timely this week with the defeat in the Lords of part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, but expect some of the elements of that which seek to, amoungst other things, introduces new powers allowing police to decide where, when and how people can protest and increases penalties for those breaching police conditions on protest.

    It’s been great to see so many organisations come out against the Bill, but whatever your campaigning approach standing and challenging the Bill which the report says will limit what is ‘a fundamental tool for democratic expression and social transformation’ is going to be vital as it passes back to the House of Commons.

    Likewise the Elections Bill might not sound relevant to many campaigners, but as this briefing from Friends of the Earth notes it again has clauses that should concern all those involved in social change.

  5. Pressure on household finances – I think this economic driver is likely to be one of the political challenge of the year. It’s most pronounced now with the rise in fuel prices, and the latest figures on the cost of living (inflation), and as such its going to dominate the media and political agenda, as well as being a cause of concern for many in society.

    Savvy campaigners are going to need to think about how they can adjust their messaging and approach to adapt to this issue which is likely to repeatedly dominate politics.

  6. Changing volunteering patterns – the report finds that during the pandemic ‘those over 16 years old who volunteered at least once a month for a formal organisation fell to 17% from 23% in 2019/20, and those who volunteered at least once a year decreased to 30% from 37%’ but at the same time as Relationships Foundation has found we’ve seen new forms of community volunteering emerge during the pandemic, with 9 million people stepping forward to help.

    As we potentially return to some sense of normal how these volunteering trends unravel will be fascinating to follow for any campaigning charity that relies on volunteers to lead much of it local campaigning activity. At the same time, as the report finds the changing face of work, could present new opportunities with more people working flexibily or from home changing how they can engage.

  7. Increase in regulation of social media – the report suggest that ‘governments are starting to take the regulation of social media platforms more seriously. There are concerns about how platforms push and curate news to users and how this can spread fake news and malicious content with alarming speed’.

    While changes might not immeditely impact campaigners given the important role that social media can play for charities in desiminating messages, changes to how platforms operate can have significant consequences. Those campaigns that have a distributed approach to how they share their campaign content are more likely to be able to ride out any change (forced or planned) to the algorthms.

A brief typology of corporate campaigning

I’ve been thinking a little about different models and approaches to campaigning towards companies and corporate targets over the last few months, and as part of that came up with this short typology.

It’s not complete, so I’d welcome additions in the comments below to add to it, and h/t to my colleagues Andrew and Rachael who contributed to this;

  • Consumer pressure – When a consumers or customers are encouraged to take action directly to a company to account for their actions. Lots and lots of examples of this – some focusing on getting consumers of a specific brand to take action, others focused on mobilising those concerned about an issue. The Tearfund’s ‘This is a Rubbish Campaign‘ is an example of this – I love the idea of getting supporters to send their single-use plastic bottles back to Coca Cola. Lots of the campaigning that platform Sum of Us have traditionally done would be another example.
  • Adbusting – use of art to subvert a well-known brand to highlight the hypocracy of their actions. I’ve seen lots of this happening in the climate space at the moment (see photo at top of article) trying to put the spotlight on the greenwashing of so many travel firms around climate.
  • ‘Social license’ campaigns – when the focus is on getting institutions (often in the cultural, academic or sporting space) to walk away from bad corporates and remove the . For example BP or not BP –which has put pressure the Royal Shakespear Company and the British Museum to drop BP as a sponsor, or the focus on removing gambling brands from football shirts.
  • Campaign partnerships – when a corporate uses its platform to ask consumers to take to engage the public on an issue – this can be on a wider issue (see Ben and Jerry’s on refugees) or on a specific benefit to the brand (see Uber and City Hall in London). Lots more on this as a theme here.
  • Ratings and rankings – A well used approach – publishing lists of corporates and their performance based on a set of criteria. The aim being that corporates will want to be driven to move up the rankings or stay at the top – see this from a Australian charity, Baptist World Aid on clothing companies, or this from Oxfam and their Behind the Brands campaign on food companies.
  • Shareholder pressure – buying shares and using them to push for change at AGMs/through resolutions. Share Action are absolutely brilliant at doing this and have a track record of success over many years.
  • Direct action – preventing the operations of a corporate by actively disrupting their supply chain/distribution network.
  • Product boycott – a boycott of a specific product or service, see the Nestle boycott that started in 1977 for it’s aggressive marketing of baby foods around the world in breach of international marketing standards and continues today. Also buycotts (h/t Pete Moorey) using consumer buying power to shift markets – for example the Which? Big Switch in 2021 on energy.
  • Advertiser pressue – targeting those who advertise in media outlets (papers, blogs, etc) or online, and encouraging supporters to ask advertisers to remove their adverts from those outlets or sites. This is an approach so Stop Funding Hate have used effectively in recent years. Closely linked to ‘social licence’ campaigns.
  • Employee pressure – Directly working with employees to put pressure on their bosses to change policies. See Amazon employees on climate and more here. Also working through unions to put pressure on their employers – see this with Civil Servants opposing the current Home Secretary on Channel crossings.
  • Leverage – When you campaign against decision maker A in order to target company B. Examples are usually economic boycotts like divestment campaigns, ‘banks: don’t finance fossil fuels’ etc. But there’s other types that aren’t really captured in that. For example, in the past Unite the Union got the Conservatives to threaten BA with a Heathrow landing slot review if they didn’t roll back their fire-and-rehire plans, and it’s a tactic their new General Secretary, Sharon Graham, wants to do more of (see below)

And some great examples being shared on social media to grow this list;

  • Recruitment pressure – suggested by Ben in the comments below. Targeting a company’s stand at a recruitment fair to say why they’d look embarrassing on your cv one day, or asking venues such as universities not to invite particular companies – a good recent example of that at work here for Shell.
  • Legal action – suggest by Pete and Claire on Twitter. Bringing cases through the courts to hold companies accountable for their actions. This example of using UK court to make UK registered tobacco companies accountable for their actions in Malawi.
  • Regulatory action – getting the government to create new frameworks to operate – a systematic way to make change as doesn’t require convincing each company in turn to change, and important when reputation is less connected to share value. (also suggested by Pete and Claire on Twitter)

So that’s 11 15 ideas, but I’d really welcome more – please do comment below and I’ll add to this over time 👇👇👇👇👇

How stunts can amplify your campaign message

Earlier this month, working with the Crack the Crises coalition, I was in Cornwall for the G7. 

Around Falmouth, where the G7 media center was located, at times it felt like you were at a festival of activism, with dozens of causes and campaigns looking to get coverage for their issues, and given the COVID restrictions more so than at previous G7 lots of these were through photo stunts (see a good collection here).

Across the weekend of the summit, as the Crack the Crises coalition, we organised for a blimp of Boris and Joe Biden to float in the Harbour, and for members of the coalition and the local community to hold a Vigil to remember the 3.7 million people globally who had lost their lives due to COVID.

So it got me thinking about the role of and use of stunts as a campaign approach.

Over the weekend of the summit I saw how what I’m calling the ‘summit stunt cycle’ can work itself ou. Given you can’t actually advocate directly to decision-makers at the G7, so much of the influencing that happens during a summit like the G7 through the media – those running the summit, in this case, the UK government, want to use the media to portray the summit as a success – ‘look we’ve got leaders to donate 1 bn vaccines’, while those of us on the outside want to suggest otherwise – ‘a huge disappointment and a missed opportunity‘.

And that’s where stunts can be really helpful.

They provide an opportunity to get the media interested in your message or perspective, by providing a hook for a photo or a conversation with a journalist, which can lead media interviews, which can lead to help set expectations for what ‘success’ from the summit would look like, causing your target to respond – hopefully by raising ambition – and so you get to go round the cycle again.

Perhaps the G7 is a unique summit, but the reality is that photo moments or stunts can be a useful tool for campaigners, so here are 5 top reflections on what makes a successful summit stunt;

1. Be informed by the official agenda – it’s very hard to drive a news cycle at a Summit as so much of it is dominated by what’s on the official agenda – so think about how your stunt can add to that. One organisation, Oxfam, has done this absolutely brilliantly for the last 15 years.

Since 2005, they’ve been taking their Big Heads of G7 leaders to summit after summit and serving up brilliant photo after brilliant photo. So this G7 the focus was going to be focused on vaccines and climate – so that’s what the Oxfam stunts were about. Perfectly providing a picture – and an alternative message – to what the government wanted the message to be.

2. A good stunt is simple – the adage that a ‘picture paints a thousand words’ is so true when it comes to stunts. It can be really easy to over think or overcomplicated – something that sounds great in a brainstorm but doesn’t translate into a stunt. And the reality is that if you build on the ‘summit stunt cycle’ you don’t want to overthink it.

How much did a giant blimp of Boris and Biden actually have to do with vaccines or climate? Not that much, but perhaps it didn’t matter – it said ‘these are the leaders that matter and we need them to do more than just turn up for it to be a successful meeting’

3. Plan to fill the quieter moments – There are hours of coverage at a summit that need to be filled by journalist and broadcasts, perhaps even more so in the days of live blogs and 24-hour news – and only so many photos of leaders on a beach, at a BBQ or around a table.

Don’t plan to do your stunt when it’ll be clashing with leaders press conferences, but do think about early in the morning, or in the evening, when the official agenda is quieter. 

We got the media out on a press boat at 8am and got lots of coverage for the blimp just because nothing else was happening at the Summit. The Vigil we held was at the end of the day and ran on many news channels over the whole night, as it was one of the last images from the summit that day.

4. Be adaptable – this is why I’m so in awe of the Big Heads because they can easily be reused to work for the moment. The dynamics of the summit can change across a weekend, so planning a stunt for the final day which can’t be easily adapted is risking the summit staying on track – having something more adaptable means as the summit goes on your can help to adjust your approach to feed into that summit stunt cycle.

But you also need to accept that not every stunt will get coverage– but as with much campaigning, it’s better to try and not succeed than not try and wish you had.

5. Work together – Good stunts work because they bring everyone together, you need media colleagues to get out and sell it in to the media, you need spokespeople who are preapred to do endless interviews to share the message, you need social media colleagues to push the idea out on your own channels, and you want to work with event experts to make – it’s a perfect example of when campaigners need to be the glue to hold it all.