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.

When Companies Campaign – part 2

This isn’t a new trend (indeed I’ve written about it before – something I only realised on completing this post)- but over the last few months I’ve stumbled more and more articles and examples of companies using campaign tactics and approaches – so it felt like it was time for a quick post! 

Here are four approaches to corporate campaigning I’ve spotted – can you add more or share other examples?  

1. Activist CEO – where corporate leaders decided to put their brand behind issues. This seems to have entered a new chapter in the last year, especially in the US where they’ve been active in supporting #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and most recently to challenge legislation that will make it harder to vote.

Look at the UK and you can see how Tim Martin, the CEO of Weatherspoons has put his pub chain at the front of campaigning on both Brexit (he was for it) and lockdown (he’s against it). 

As this article from the Economist points out normally companies  ‘put their faith in paid lobbyists and used industry groups like the Business Roundtable to campaign on their behalf. The lobbying concerned almost exclusively matters of direct concern to their bottom lines, such as taxes, regulations or immigration policies that might affect their employees’ but  that’s clearly changing.

This report from Phone2 Action argues that corporate activism is now a market expectation suggests that ‘more than three out of four consumers (79 percent) expect companies to engage on political and social issues’ so we can expect to see more of this in the coming years. 

2. Product based campaigning – I’ve written before about Apptivism – where app-based platforms like Uber use their technology to invite users to take action to challenge decision-makers who they perceive are preventing them and their customers from getting what they want, or in the US encouraging people to vote a particular way in referendums.

It seems to work well as an approach for ‘challenger’ brands like Uber which have got a strong or loyal customer base – I guess if you’re going with this approach you’ve got to confident that consumers will back your positions.

Another example is the photo below that my colleague spotted on the side of his Oatly carton – focused on challenging EU guidance on labeling on milk substitutes.

3. Community Organising this brilliant paper by Luke Yates at Manchester University provides an in-depth look at how Airbnb has used community organising approaches to build a network of Home Sharing Clubs to help to bring together specific members of their community to build power to influence local officials. The paper outlines how Airbnb explicitly uses community organising approaches, like one-to-ones to move members up the mobilisation curve.

It also explores how other companies, like Uber, Lyft and Lime are using the same techniques, creating effectively a whole industry of corporate grassroots lobbying which is able to draw in those who have party political or more traditional community organising experience, and then use those approaches for their corporate benefit. Feels like an approach we’ll see more of.

4. Activist Brands – some companies have always had activism is woven into their DNA, perhaps the most notable one is the clothing company, Patagonia, whose CEO talks about how ‘we used to be a company that supported activists, and now we are more of an activist company’, and its Patagonia Action Network has been active for 40+ years at distributing funding to support environmental activism, but also showcases activism in its stores and actively promotes its activist positions as central to its approach (see more on that in this great article).

Ice Cream brand Ben and Jerry’s would be another example, using its brand (and packaging) to support work on refugees – although it’s also been challenged to stop sales in illegal Israeli settlements and publicly oppose Israel’s occupation.

Cosmetic companies Lush and Body Shop would be other examples in the UK – with Lush for example featuring campaigns in their stores.

Campaigning and the Church

It’s been a few years since I worked for a charity directly linked to the church – but because I’ve worked for Christian Aid and Tearfund – and as I’ve always tried to be open that my Christian faith has always been an important part of my motivation as a campaigner – I often get drawn into conversations and discussions by those seeking to understand a little more about how to engage churches in their campaigning.

I’ve had a few of those over the last month, so thought it useful to write a few reflections – that are by necessity, broad, on churches and campaigning – which might be useful to others.

  1. Go behind the ‘church attendance is down’ headline – it is, and that’s not news, the reality is that overall church attendance has fallen dramatically over the last few decades, but behind that overall trend is a much more complicated picture. 

Attendance at some denominations (like Methodist or United Reformed Church) that have often put social justice at the heart of their mission, appears to be declining faster – with some predicting that some denominations will be very small in a few decades if rates of decline continue. 

However there are other pockets of the church where numbers attending are growing – see for example the growth of the Catholic Church in London as an example of this, which has seen growth as a result of immigration into the city, or the continued growth of pentecostal and evangelical churches in urban areas across the country (including some growth in attendance at Church of England services in London – see graph (which is a few years old)).

Resurrection? | The Economist

 

So the story is more complicated and nuanced than the headlines would have you understand, but often much of that growth is centered in more urban areas, and that’s having an impact on where churches can be engaged in campaigning.

2. Understand the structures you’re navigating – as with any institution, most churches are part of a formal national structure – understanding it will help you to navigate it, but it’s useful to be aware that the overall decline in church attendance is putting pressures on those structures.  

For example, many vicars in the Church of England have multiple congregations or churches that they’re now responsible for. As attendance numbers have fallen, and the resulting impact on budgets – remember churches are mostly reliant on individuals contributions from congregation members, fundraising, and sometimes income that comes from investments or property – so bringing groups of churches together has been a viable financial approach. 

Just keeping the local church going is a rewarding, but often exhausting, vocation for those in local church leadership. It does mean that there isn’t an interest in campaigning or social justic causes, it’s just that the reality of local ministry with its many competing demands. That was before the impact of COVID, and the fact that many congregations haven’t been able to gather in person for much of the last 12 month which no doubt    

3. Don’t assume that just because you’ve got someone at the top involved means it’ll be a success – different churches have different relationships with authority and hierarch – indeed much of church history and the emergence of new denominations is arguably about difference over that, and like any organisation understanding it will help you to navigate it. 

Too often I’ve found colleagues who think that getting a Bishop (a senior role in both the Church of England and Catholic Church) onboard is enough – only to be disappointed. It certainly helps, but it probably doesn’t unlock as much as you might like. Also, be aware that churches often work on long timetables. Want them to get involved in your cause – plan months ahead if you can, and check the church calendar as well – your plan for a really important event on the Easter weekend is probably not going to get a fair consideration! 

4. Churches are about the communities they serve – I don’t have any data for it (although I suspect some readers of this blog would be able to point me towards it), but my hunch would be that during periods where levels of poverty and inequality in the UK are rising, then you’ll see a corresponding increase in the churches setting up projects and activities in the communities that they serve. 

In many communities, local churches (along with other faith groups) are a key player in organising the local food bank, debt advice service, shelter for the homeless, or the local refugee welcome group. Churches are about the community they serve  – but again it can mean the ‘bandwidth’ to connect on other topics or issues can be reduced, or approaches need to be made that connect with what is happening in a community.

5. Don’t be scared of evangelicals– most evangelical churches in the UK aren’t anything like what you might see on TV coming from America. Indeed, I’d argue that one of the stories of the last few decades is how much the evangelical ‘wing’ of the church has rediscovered its interest in social justice and the need for engagement in politics – I say rediscover because many social reformers identified as evangelicals, but that’s a whole theological PhD!

Go into most evangelical churches and you’ll find a commitment to action on the climate, fair trade, poverty, and other issues. You might find you don’t agree on everything – but good campaigning is often about building a coalition that is broader. Approach ready for a conversation to find the common ground, while accepting that there is something that your not going to agree on.

6. Churches like to work together – look around for the existing relationships, they might be through charities or organisations that have a long connection working on an issue – many of the campaigning organisations that we see around us have roots in churches, for example, the Children Society or Trussel Trust were both founded with links to the church.

With each other, often through local platforms like Churches Together groups which have often take a role at organising local election hustings (but like many other bodies in the church struggling to find volunteers), and with other faith groups – through interfaith platforms.

Working through those relationships and partnerships is important so approaching your work with that same emphasis on working together is a important place to start. 

7. The church is made up of people – so like any other charity or organisation, it can experience many of the same challenges and opportunities that other charities and voluntary organisations face. Congregational giving will often be squeezed if the overall economy is shrinking and individuals feel they’ve got to save, and like many charities finding volunteers to replace those who are choosing to step back or retire as they get older is a challenge that many churches also face.

Oh, and don’t expect everyone to hold the same view or opinion – indeed in many churches, you’ll find that the very opposite, a community of individuals united by the same faith, but politely disagreeing on much else.

Using Freedom of Information as a campaign tool

I’m running a session later today at the Campaign Bootcamp Communities of Resistance conference on using Freedom of Information (FoI) as a campaigning tool.

This post is a summary of the session, with links to a few useful resources. The slides from the session are below and can be viewed here.

While Whitehall has grown more hostile to FoI requests – Tony Blair famously said it was one of the biggest mistakes he had from his time in government – if used effectively it can still be a useful tool for campaigners.

As a reminder, Freedom of Information isn’t a tool you need to be a legal expert to use, it’s designed to be used to everyone, which means;

  1. You can use it to ask for any recorded information held by or on behalf of any authority.
  2. Applies to all public authorities – national and local. The list of who you can make a request to is really comprehensive.
  3. You need to make a request in writing, but sites like https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/ can really help.
  4. Requests are free to make – but there are limits on how much time any authority has to spend in its response to you.
  5. You don’t have to explain why you’re making a request.
  6. You should get an answer in 20 days – but the reality is that the time scale is longer.
  7. You can specify the format you want to get the information in.
  8. There are some grounds when your request might be turned down.

There is lots more on how to make requests in this guide from the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

And looking around there are lots of ways that campaigning organisations are using Freedom of Information. Here is a helpful typology of approaches, although I’m sure I’m missing some – so please do add in the comments below;

Opposition ResearchFind out what your opponent is doing – it could be to identify who they’re meeting with, access records of relevant meetings or documents. See this from Greenpeace.
Policy ReportCollect information from a range of targets/institutions to create a data set that you can use in a policy report, for example see here.
Media StoryCreate a headline figure for your press release to support your campaign aims – can also use a refusal to provide a FoI to make a media story. See this from my colleagues at Save the Children.
Fact CheckerBuild evidence to challenge or refute arguments that are regularly used against your campaign – for example here on a story on low traffic neighbourhoods.
Campaign EvaluationUnderstand how your target has responded to your campaign – to identify how many actions received, or how they decided to respond to your requests. 
IntrigueTo get answers to questions that intrigue you – who knows what you might discover.

If you’re looking to make a request I’d strongly recommend using whatdotheyknow.com, but here are some useful tips for making your request.

  1. Check first – if the information has been previously released under Freedom of Information publication scheme.
  2. Be concise – remember you can be turned down if you ask for too much information.
  3. Be clear – don’t use acronyms or jargon – the official responding might not be an expert.
  4. Be focused – provide details of date ranges or specific departments/individuals you’re interested in.

Finally, if you’re looking for more resources I’d recommend;

Organising during Lockdown – some reflections from the last year

It’s about a year since we all went into lockdown here in the UK – an anniversary that coincides with about the same period of time we’ve been putting organising at the heart of our campaigning approach at Save the Children UK. 

As I wrote last January, the addition of organising alongside campaigning in our organogram was about a deliberate intention to move ourselves as Save the Children to focus much more on building the power of others in our campaigning approach – than simply focusing on mobilisation that perhaps we’d most comfortably focused on for much of the last decade. 

And no sooner that we got started, many of the plans and intentions that we had for our organising work had to adapt – as it was clearly not going to be possible that a vision of getting out and about to meet with those who wanted to connect with our cause, or traveling up and down the country to build leaders, all had to move online.

So as we’ve come to the end of a year of lockdown – it’s been a useful moment to take a step back and reflect on our organising journey over the last 12 months, and ask what I’ve learned from that.

So what’s worked and not worked? 

1. It’s put organising as the first thing on the list – We started last year with a couple of organising programmes going, but we now have so much more- a new programme now piloting working with students, some amazing work with parent campaigners – building on the brilliant Mums on a Mission community – which is at the heart of our work on UK child poverty, exploring work with diaspora communities after a number of years of ad-hoc work, and a more active network of Campaign Champions – our core organising role for those who want to stand with us for child rights that at any point in my time at Save the Children.

It feels like the decision to put organising at the heart of our work, has I think helped to remind us that this is core to the campaigning we’re looking to do – something to think about first, not something to add on. 

2. It’s transformed our engagement – driven by lockdown, but going digitial has totally changed who from our networks has been able to get involved. Before lockdown, despite recognising it, we were frankly too London centric.

Training days would typically happen near our London offices, but by moving everything to digital has removed that overnight – and as we’ve all grown more used to catching up with friends and family on digital platforms- so attendance at many of our online sessions has ballooned. 

But that’s not been without challenges, for some of those we’ve been working with, especially through our parent’s campaigning programme, access to digital devices or data has been a barrier, and we’ve not been as quick as we can be to resolve that. 

3. We’ve seen the community grow and leaders develop –  If the heart of what we’re trying to do is ‘build power’ through the leadership of others, then across the year I’ve seen lots of that starting to happen – individuals want to step up and take on responsibility.

But it’s also interesting that when I talk with colleagues I think that people still find the idea of being a ‘leader’ as something that fits a little uncomfortably, that they’re excited to be invited to step up to do the work and to given space to develop, but not sure about the label we put on that. 

4. It’s (obviously) been tough to do none of this ‘in person’ – sure we’ve seen lots of benefits from being able to digital, but there is still something that’s lost from not being able to have a chat over a cup of tea in the fringes of a meeting, or being able to celebrate with a high-5 or simillar.

The future might be more online, but it’s not going to be able to replace the fact that growing leaders is about connecting in person. 

5. It’s allowed decision-makers to decide who they want to meet with – we’ve had some amazing doors open for us in the last 12 months, with more people getting involved and taking to Zoom to meet with their MPs or directly with officials, but the big change has been that it’s further allowed decision makers to be the gatekeeper on who they do and don’t meet with – and that depends on both the interest in the topic or often just how organised their office is.

Gone have been many of the more informal spaces that you can use, or the formal mechanisms like pitching up in Westminster to ‘green card’ your MP. In the long run I’m not sure this healthy for how we engage with our decision makers – as I suspect they won’t be enthusiastic about returning to how it used to be.

The same for media, now little happens in the studio, it’s much easier to get a leader you’ve been working with to share what they’re doing as opposed to someone from our organisation who can easily get to a ISDN line. 

6. You can’t stop telling the story – often, in conversation, one of my team will share the most amazing story of what one of our volunteer leaders has done, but it’s been really interesting how hard it’s been to translate that into indicators to share with the rest of the organisation – it’s amazing how strong the muscle memory is, pulling you in the ‘comfortable’ direction of what you’ve always done.

I’ve learned this year, that you can’t just make the pivot and then hope that everyone will behind what you’re doing. You’ve got to keep finding the stories of leaders, sharing those stories, putting them into context for others, reminding everyone why you’re doing this and explaining how this approach. Building power takes time, and often we can be impatient for quick results. 

Who knows what the next 12 months are going to hold – hopefully, we’ll soon be able to get out and about again, building an organising approach that allows us to mix the benefits we’ve seen from lockdown, but bringing in-person relationships back into the heart of what we’re doing. I’ll report back next March with some more reflections.

How do we measure if we're having an impact?

NoteI wrote this post on the excellent report when it first came out in March 2020, but posting it got delayed by lockdown, and since then sadly MobLab has had to close down – but although the context for some of our campaigning has changed, the themes in it feel as important as ever.

The team at Mobilisation Lab has done a huge service to the campaigning community, by bringing together the ‘Measuring People Power in 2020’ report that has surveyed 500+ changemakers to look at the metrics that they’re using in their campaigning, and it’s an important read for any campaign leader.

(full disclosure – I was involved in the advisory group for the report)

It’s full of takeaways but for me, one that it’s got me thinking about is how it’s time for us to drop the vanity metrics and really push into finding measures that capture the depth of our work.

We’ve known for years the limits of vanity metrics – which look at list size or page views – and focus on the breadth of activity happening, but can often have little bearing on the depth of our advocacy or the impact it’s happening,

But the report finds that most of us are still using them, with 91% of respondents saying they use them, and importantly for leaders, that as senior management we might be perpetuating this by suggesting an ongoing interest in focusing on them.

The report finds that others perceive there is only a moderate or small amount of support for measuring people power from senior leaders.

So if we’re to change that, we’ll need to be part of leading it. 

Now I know from my own personal experience, leading campaigning and organising work at Save the Children UK that’s it’s easy to get enthralled with vanity metrics – they’re easy to report on, stand up against similar figures that are presented by other colleagues and make you feel good when explaining them to the CEO – who doesn’t want to be able to report that the number of campaigners you’ve had sign your latest petition. 

But they’re limiting the story that we can tell about what it takes to create change and prevent us from doing the hard work that’s needed to find new measures of people power – of course, I’d love to be able to say that the report has found a single unifying metric that we can all use to explain the impact of our campaigning but we don’t have that.

So where do we go next?

‘The holy grail of people power is a measurement that captures (a) the breadth of a campaign or organization’s reach, (b) the depth of sustained supporter engagement and leadership, and (c) the impact these factors have on achieving the mission’.

https://mobilisationlab.org/resources/measuring-people-power/

Well helpfully the report has some thoughts about what we can do differently, and how we might be able to start to search for people power metrics that help to reflect the ‘The holy grail of people power is a measurement that captures (a) the breadth of a campaign or organization’s reach, (b) the depth of sustained supporter engagement and leadership, and (c) the impact these factors have on achieving the mission’.

1. We need to talk about power in our measurement – the focus of our work as campaigners is about change, a good day is when the work you’re doing comes together to win change, but how many of our metrics reflect this. Are they rooted in an understanding of power as something that is dynamic, that changes, and that needs to reflect the theories of change that we’re using? Are we adapting our measures to how our campaigns are seeing how change will happen?  

2. Look outside our organisations to learn from others – the report highlights how some organisation are experimenting with different approach to measuring people power, focusing more on the depth and impact of their movements, for example Friends of the Earth in the Netherlands on how they’ve moved to focus on measuring the leadership capacity within their movement.

Or some interesting literature coming out of academia looking at the evidence for the approaches that work – the report is full of useful snippets of insight from academics, for example, this work that finds that volume of contact might not be the most important way of influencing decision-makers, but the quality of contacts is. 

3. Make it playful and fun – there is a brilliant quote in the report from Rachel Collinson who says ‘a measure is good if it is precise, practical and playful’. That resonates as it’s easy to see our conversations on measurement feel like a chore at the end of the process, but how as leaders do we ensure that we supporting the creation of measures that bring joy to the process, as well as reflection. How do we draw from others who are using behaviour insight to create ways of capturing information and using measures that are fun.

4. Celebrate what we’re already doing – I’m sure many organsiations have already moved beyond vanity metrics, but when the report says that one in five recipients aren’t aware of any promising people power metric – perhaps we’ve not good at sharing what we’re doing. We perhaps feel a little fragile about sharing until their perfect, but as leaders how do we share our ‘work in progress’.

For example, I’m working on a project at the moment that’s looking to build local campaigning infrastructure using a composite metric to measure group health, in another area of our work we’re looking more at how we can measure the number of ‘youth-led’ advocacy initiatives, and with our fundraising colleagues, we’re looking at a lifetime value metric that tries to properly quantify the contribution that our supporters make via their campaigning action. It might not feel groundbreaking, but perhaps helpful to talk about more.  

(If anyone’s interested and based in the UK I’d be up for convening a session where we all bring our current ‘works in progress’ then get in touch via Twitter)

So lots to think about, and the report helps to start of more of a conversation about how we talk about and measure what’s working and not working. 

US Election tactics and strategies – approaches that might work in the UK context.

So we’ve got President Biden in the White House and a Senate controlled by the Democrats – the US election is truly over.

But, if you’re a political campaigner in the UK, you might want to think about what this could mean for May 2021 – when the Westminster government seems set to continue to push forward with many elections in England (and possibly Wales and Scotland), despite the pandemic.

It’s easy to look at the Presidential campaigns and how they’re run, but dive down the ballot, and you’ll find a bunch of candidates and state parties doing interesting and innovative work that is perhaps easy to replicate.

And with elections happening in May, and probably in similar conditions to the US, where the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is going to force campaigners and candidates to adapt, it’s somewhere to learn from.

Here are a few to start from;

1. Stacey Abraham and her Georgia GOTV effort – Abraham’s who narrowly missed out on being elected Governor in 2018, has rightly been praised for building an election machine that helped to turn Georgia for the Democrats for the first time in over 30+ years, and then picked up two Senate seats earlier this month.

Her relentless efforts on driving voter registration and then GOTV across the state certainly flipped the state, indeed there was some suggestion her team was at the impromptu celebrations in Atlanta when President-elect Biden making sure everyone was registered, but it also showed the importance of investing in long-term plans to win.

If you want to find out more about Abraham’s this film is a good place to start, but the big lesson here is that if you want people to vote for you then they need to be registered – or have a look at her detailed game plan from 2019.


2. Beto O’Rourke and how he almost turned Texas blue – An similar story to Georgia, Beto who ran for Senate in 2018 has been running a commanding GOTV operation in the state. Those efforts saw him get some huge numbers turning up for his virtual phonebanks, which saw the campaign making over 2,000,000 calls on the day before the election – just thinking about organising that makes me come out in a cold sweat!

One of the keys seems to be bringing celebrity power to the phonebanks, so you can be dialing along with the stars. With lots of UK campaigns likely to be focused on phone banking in the coming months, it’s a good reminder that making hitting the dialler a fun community experience is going to be really important. If you’re interested, more on the campaign in Texas here.

3. Wisconsin State Democrats – another state which flipped back to the Democrats last week, and this short video is a good look at how the state party, led by former MoveOn.org campaign director, Ben Wikler, adapted to moving to a digital organising program in the middle of an election earlier in the year.

The big lesson I took from this film, and also following Ben on Twitter, is the importance of letting organisers use the channels that work for those that they’re looking to engage, that could be Facebook Live, Zoom or another platform. But it highlights the importance of distributed leadership with those who know their communities left to run the most appropriate strategy.

Another cool thing that I saw the Wisconsin party do was run these virtual reunion events which brought together the casts of shows like Princess Bride, which saw over 110,000 people donate to watch the cast reunite – campaigns need money, and in an age where many of the traditional approaches like fundraising dinners aren’t possible this looks smart (and fun) to me.

4. Ed Markey sees off a primary challenge – this isn’t about a victory in November, but back in the Primary season when the incumbent Senator for Massachusetts defeated Joe Kennedy III to secure the Democratic nomination. Markey has been an elected official for almost 40 years, but his long-standing support for climate action saw the Sunrise Movement support his campaign and it’s thousands of activists to help (and also produced this brilliant advert). More on the amazing operation of the Sunrise Movement here.

As this podcast explores, he won thanks to the work his organising team did to ensure that field and digital was totally integrated, and if you want to deep dive into what that looks like there are loads more lessons in this playbook that the team have shared which could be applied to lots of local races. I’d also really recommend a read of this over on Labour Society of Campaigners site.

5. People’s Action and Deep Canvassing – lots of the talk about the election was about the role relational organising would play in the campaign – but the team at People’s Action focused on Deep Canvassing – candid, two-way conversations where canvassers ask voters to share their relevant, emotionally significant experiences and reflect on them aloud – and showed through a study that this approach was 102 times more effective than traditional electioneering efforts aimed at persuading people to change their vote.

Now as Mark Pack rightly pointed out to me on Twitter there are some questions about if you can scale this given the time it takes for the conversations, but in tight and local races, there could be some value in this approach. One to explore further?

Campaigns Resolutions for 2021

A busy end to the year to 2020, moving house, and lots (too much) happening at work meant that regular posting stopped sometime in September.

But it’s a new year, so with my usual optimism I’ve set myself a new goal to get into a regular rhythm writing blog posts.

So this first post for 2021 are some other resolutions that I’m making – lightly informed by the last 12 months.

1. ‘Don’t take a fact to a narrative fight’ – last year saw so many examples of how effective framing and use of narrative can make such a difference if you want to win – on so many issues our opponents just seem to be better at this.

The phrase, which comes from this excellent paper by Kathryn Perera and others written in 2019 about what we can learn from the anti-vax movement, I think brilliantly encapsulates what we all need to do as campaigners.

Tell stories, follow the evidence on framing, and stop trying to win simply by presenting more facts or using myth-busting (which is proven to often reinforce the existing myth you’re looking to bust).

If you’re looking for more on framing I’d highly recommend a listen to this podcast which excellently unpacks some of the key ideas. 

2. ‘There is no such thing as the general public’ – too often I hear campaigners talk about wanting to ‘engage the public’, but as I’ve written before, a focus on the general public is often a sign that a campaign hasn’t done it’s thinking and planning when it comes to identifying who is really able to help you deliver the change you’re campaigning for.

Focusing on which segment of the public is going to be most important to help you achieve your outcomes matters, and if you’ve got limited resources then being clear on the ’who’ matters.

That also doesn’t mean that you just focus on those in segments that support or already agree with you, that can be easy to do, but too often it leads to going around in a circle.

3. ‘Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves’ – the mantra of community organisers is something that I’ve come back to time and time again over the last 12 months.

During lock down, I’ve seen our community activists step up, innovate, adapt, come up with new ideas and approaches –  and there are countless other examples from other campaigns.

Our approach to organising might have had to change as we can’t meet in person, but the principles have remained. Ask people to step up and they will, ask them to play more of a leadership role and they will – step back so others can step forward. 

4. Be generous and travel with others – if we want to succeed we need to go with others. There is that phrase, ‘if you want to go fast go alone, want to go far go together’.

In the last 12 months that we’ve seen the value and importance of going together – it’s always been true, and it often takes longer, but it’s more needed than ever before, with the scale of the challenges that we face as campaigners, ensuring that we’re traveling with others and practicing movement generosity is key to change in 2021.

5. See the whole canvass – I’ve found the SMK Foundation ‘Social Change Grid’ a really useful tool to look at in 2020 (pdf here), and the reminder in it that change doesn’t just happen through one route. That the campaigns that have been most successful are those that draw from across the whole canvass (see here and here for two examples I visualised during the year).

I know how easy it can be to get caught up in the part of the grid that you feel most used to or comfortable with, but we need to challenge ourselves to see the whole grid, and SMK have provided a really useful tool to do that. Looking across the grid matters more than ever.

Innovation and trends from US Presidential election

The US Presidential election is less than 60 days away – and this post is (largely) a Trump-free zone.

As the most expensive campaign in the world, with over $1bn spent in the months leading to election day, it’s always an interesting place to spot campaign innovation, with each election bringing forward new ideas and approaches that often make their way into the wider campaigning landscape.

But this election will be different – with the spread of COVID-19 still high in the US, the campaigns have had to throw out their traditional playbook – out have gone the rallies, townhalls, and door-knocking that characterises a US election, and instead have come new approaches and tactics.

So with a few months to go here are a few things that I’ve spotted. 

1. Relational organising – as candidates can’t doorknock, campaigns are putting lots of focus on relational organising, put simply, encouraging people to use their existing networks, their friends and family to vote for a particular candidate.

That might not sound like anything especially groundbreaking, but the difference in this campaign has been the availability of apps to support this directly so it will help you to identify those contacts that are most important and help people see how your friends respond – closing the feedback loop.

Apps and tools like Outvote, Tuesday Company and Outreach Circle are making it easier for individuals to do that (this from Kasch Wilder is a brilliant list of all the tools available), and at a time when candidates can’t get out and about to undertake the normal doorstep, this is about ‘recruiting and training trusted messengers’ who can be used to get messages to individuals who might not see (or might ignore) – early evidence shows it 3x more effective at getting people to vote than traditional ‘cold calling’ efforts of campaigns.

It’s an approach that could gain traction in the UK, and it’ll be interesting to see if some of the tools get adapted to be used in our political context.  

2. User generated content  – perhaps it’s a result of the times we’re in, but user-generated content has featured in many of the campaigns, for example here are Republicans Voters against Trump who’s whole approach is about getting short films of former Trump supporters, filmed on smartphones talking about why they’re not supporting Trump this time, or in Iowa, eventual caucus winner, Pete Buttigieg, used endorsements from supporters in every county to cut these films.

And, if you tuned in to any of the Democratic conventions last week you’d have seen plenty of content with high production values, showing that still has an important role to play, but it was split up with lots of clips from web cameras and smartphones. In the age of lockdown, we’ve come much more accustomed to watching content that is user-generated as well.  

3. Branding – There are some fascinating reads from the 2016 campaign, about the thought that went into the logo and brands of Hilary Clinton, (and the critique that it reinforced the sense of being a centralised campaign, when her rival Bernie Sanders had a brand that was more open and adaptable), through to this on the Make America Great Again hat that, while ridicudled by many, was actually a piece of brilliant design.

This time around Hunter Schwarz at Yello has been doing an amazing job of chronicling the significance of the design approaches of the different campaigns – from the choice of color pallets to reflect the personalities of different candidates, to how campaigns are thinking about typefaces – it’s really fascinating.

I still love how Pete Butt has his own mood board on his website, but it matters because in an age where everyone can be a content creator, as a candidate you want to get your approach in the hands of as many as possible. It’ll be interesting to see how the Biden/Harris brand is reflected on at the end of the campaign. 

4. Humour – if you’ve not stumbled across the Lincoln Project, you should look at their approach. It’s a well-funded group of Republican supporters who are able to produce slick and quick videos with the aim of challenging Trump’s narrative. Much of their strategy seems to be less about persuading wavering Republican voters to ditch Trump, but actively ridicule the President in the hope it’ll get a response.

And it’s a strategy that’s working – their initial advert has a tiny ad spend, but crucially it was shown on Fox News at a time when Trump was on Twitter. Cue Trump tweeting about it, and millions more seeing the advert. This is an extreme example, but do campaigns spend enough time trying to cleverly provoke those they’re running against? 

Similarly, this campaign cycle has seen social media influencers and content creators brought directly on board to campaign teams to produce memes and other content that will reach younger voters – for example, failed Democratic candidate, Michael Bloomberg was reported to have been paying millions for influencers to share about him back in the primaries, and the Lincoln Project has teamed up with the same group of content creators for the general election.

5.  Winning takes years – I’ve been reading Upending American Politics – which explore citizen activism in the US from the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance, it’s an excellent collection of academic studies into why Trump won on over the last month – and the big takeaway for me is that he benefitted from a local Republican infrastructure in key states that had been deliberately built over years. It’s a theme that is echoed in this excellent piece by Pete Buttigieg Campaign Manager, Greta Carnes.

It’s easy to think that winning an election is about appearing a few months before polling day, but the evidence shows that the Republican Party has just been better at investing in and playing a long game. It’s a really good and important lesson for all campaigners (and those who manage campaign budgets) that results often don’t appear overnight, but are the product of smart, strategic and long-term investment towards a goal. It takes time and commitment to build to win. 

What's changed? The post lockdown landscape for campaigners

For most of the last few months I’ve found it hard to sit down and write for the blog – but a combination of so much changing with trying to juggle ‘lockdown living’, has meant it’s felt like every time I’ve had a thought or an idea to write down it’s quickly been surpassed.  

At the start of lockdown in March, I used a model of three phases for our thinking with my team;

  • Now – what was happening right then – the immediate response to the crisis.
  • Near – the following few months – how priorities would shift to focus predominantly on the impact of Covid-19.
  • Far – some point in the future where the focus would move to a wider set of priorities than just Coronavirus.

But as lockdown is lifted for many, and we’re seeing a reopening of shops and restaurants in the UK, it feels like we’re moving into that far territory – although the virus is still prevalent and the future remains uncertain – but with that, I’ve been pausing and starting a quick analysis of what’s changing and changed. 

But all of the conversations and discussions that we have about what next needs to be done after some long, honest and uncomfortable conversations about racism and white privilege that has been brought to the spotlight by the brutal murder of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Some working in the charitable sector might be under a misguided view that because our work is to ‘do good’ it’s not something we have to consider, but as #CharitySoWhite has so powerfully shown white priviledge and racism is as prevelent in our work as any other profession or sector.

All of us need to commit to doing the work to address our own privilege, and how structures and approaches reinforce inequality in the charity sector and then keep coming back to, just because the news agenda might have moved on we need to keep coming back to it – and that’s certainly something that I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Beyond that if we were to draw a quick PEST (political, economic, social, and technological) analysis of what’s going on, what might be include.

Here are some thoughts;

Political

  • We’ve got a government that is going to use cultural and values to divide us – as this excellent piece outlines with the economy likely to get worse as a result of COVID-19, there will be a strategy that by those in Number 10 to focus on cultural issues – the ‘war on woke’ is a deliberate and calculated strategy designed to play to voters that the Conservatives need to win at the next election – informed by regular and extensive polling and focus groups. 
  • The rule of engagement with MPs have changed – MPs have seen their inboxes overflowing with more messages than every before – it was initially in response to Dominic Cummings and his decision to break his own lockdown rules, but has followed with a second peak caused by Black Lives Matter. My Society, the team behind They Work for You, reported that June was the busiest month ever for their site. And importantly the majority of the messages MPs are getting aren’t the pre-populated messages that come from campaigners, they’re constituents taking the time to write on their own. 
  • It’s a footballer who’s almost certainly secured the biggest policy U-turn from the government over the last 3 months. Marcus Rashford got the government to extend its free school meal provision through the school summer holidays, and it’s full of clues for campaigners at what could make the government move – excellently outlined in this article, although all campaigners should be wary of trying to use the same ‘formula’ twice. But it shows what’s possible.

Economic

  • An asymmetrical recovery –  Think back to late March, and there was a sense of surprise as many of the policy announcements that the government was making were previously thought to be impossible or improbable, but in the same way that the policy response to the lockdown was asymmetrical, with some gaining, but many others missing out or falling through the gaps, the same is likely to be true of the recovery. We’re about to enter into the deepest recession in a generation, and how to respond to the narrative that will be created about the inevitability of austerity will be critical for campaigners.  
  • Inequality and austerity – Coronavirus has brought into the light, the many inequalities and injustices that blight our society, from the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on ethnic minority communities, to low pay that essential workers receive, to the digital divide that means it’s impossible for many children to study remotely, to the rising use of Foodbanks – the growing inequality in our society has been brought into sharp focus, and public attitudes for action are moving as a result. It feels like that’s unlikely to quickly reverse, so what does that mean for campaigners?

Social

  • Public displays of activism – walk down many streets and you’ll see signs of ‘window activism’ – what started as rainbows has moved to statements about pay for care workers, or statements in support of Black Lives Matter. Certainly in my community, it feels like you seeing more political statements that at any time outside of an election.
    But beyond our windows, we’ve seen a move towards public art activism as US cities have painted statements in support of Black Lives Matter on key streets, while on social media, Instagram, has increasingly turned into the platform of choice for sharing campaigns. Campaigning has always been visual, but perhaps even more so now?
  • Protesting has adapted rather than stopped, with people taking part in socially distancing protests around May Day, in the US innovating by moving to car protests (not sure this will catch on in the UK – although it’s an approach that farmers have used), and in response to Black Lives Matter, locally organised events for those who don’t wish to travel to a central protest. How we protest might change, but the last few months have shown that it’s not going to go away. 

Technological

  • Corporates boycott social media – perhaps less noticed here, but in the US there has been a significant number of household brands publically committing to stop spending on advertising on Facebook until it takes action to ‘the end to their amplification of hate speech’. The decisions which have come about as corporates have considered their response to the Black Lives Matter movement is an interesting and important move that shows the potential power of corporate – it’s a theme explored more in this podcast. A similar situation is happening with companies like FedEx calling on the NFL to rename it’s Washington Redskins. 
  • Use the algorithms for good – who’d have thought that K-Pop stans (fans of Korean pop bands- don’t worry I had to look it up!) would have shown how to so effective in mobilising to flood the #AllLivesMatter hashtag, or the TikTok community in the US would score a famous win by registering for millions of tickets to Donald Trumps rally, but they did. In an age, it shows that not just having a social media presence, but understanding how to effectively using the algorithms that Twitter and Facebook use to identify premium content to share further. As an approach, it’s so smart.