In Praise of…..Avaaz

You’ve certainly made it as a campaign movement when you get a feature in the Guardian….so congratulations should go to Avaaz who featured in the paper last week. Launched in 2007, in the last months alone they’ve had some notable successes on pressuring the government over BSkyB and Murdoch in the UK, corruption in India, stopping the Grand Prix in Bahrain and blocking a mega-dam in Brazil.
So here, to steal another idea from my paper of choice, is my ‘In Praise of….Avaaz’.
It’s a truly global movement – Over 9 millions members in 193 countries around the world. Together having taken tens of millions of actions and it’s a movement that’s rapidly growing in India, Brazil and South Africa.  Plus they’re solely funded by their members.
It’s all about the metrics – The Guardian describes how Avaaz rigorously tests its campaign before launching them to most of their members.
“Campaign ideas are submitted by Avaaz’s members in the first instance. But once an idea is settled on, it still has to pass a rigorous selection procedure. First, a tester email is sent to a random selection of 10,000 members in a particular country. Any “tester” that doesn’t encourage at least 10% to open it is generally discarded.
Test emails that pass this threshold then need to ensure around a 40% conversion rate. Here, they’re testing the email’s contents. If the email’s going to fly, at least two in five of those who opened it need to go the extra mile: to click through to Avaaz’s website.
A campaign with promise will encourage more than 80% of those people to sign the petition. Emails that achieve this ratio – around 6% of the original audience – will then be rolled out to Avaaz’s entire membership in the relevant country.”
They’re not afraid to say it was ‘them that won it’ – I’ve observed that some campaigns exhibit a certain amount of modesty when they win a campaign.
Messages to supports are prefaced with ‘you helped to’ or ‘had an impact on’ as campaigns are careful not to ignore the other factors that can lead to campaign success. That’s not the case with Avaaz take for example from the April Reportback on two recent campaign successes.
“Just days ago, two things were different – questioning the global “war on drugs” was a huge taboo in government circles, and Formula 1 was set to hold their Grand Prix in Bahrain despite a brutal government crackdown on peaceful democracy protesters. Then our community got involved. Within 72 hours, more than 1 million of us joined these two campaigns, and we won!
Formula 1 has, under intense pressure, reversed its decision to race in Bahrain and the UN Secretary-General has agreed to establish a new task force on drugs, with world leaders beginning an historic new debate on regulation and decrimalisation. People power works, and we are seeing it more and more all over the world. Here are two stories of how …
They know what they do well – It’s easy to criticise Avaaz for simply focusing on e-actions and not looking at building a grassroots movement, but that’s in party because they’re clear of the role they play explaining on their website.
“We focus on tipping-point moments of crisis and opportunity. 
In the life of an issue or a cause, a moment sometimes arises when a decision must be made, and a massive, public outcry can suddenly make all the difference. Getting to that point can take years of painstaking work, usually behind the scenes, by dedicated people focusing on nothing else.
But when the moment does come, and the sunlight of public attention floods in, the most crucial decisions go one way or another depending on leaders’ perceptions of the political consequences of each option. It is in these brief windows of tremendous crisis and opportunity that the Avaaz community often makes its mark”
They’re supporting those on the front-line– By raising the money from 300,000 members of the Avaaz community to help work with those leading democracy movements in Syria, Yemen, Libya and more to get them equipment, connections to the world’s media and communications advice to help tell another story of what was happening when governments tried to clam down on internet access.
For more on Avaaz check out this profile of its founder Ricken Patel in the Times or a video of Ricken talking about the movement at a recent Guardian conference.
What would you add to the list? Does the Avaaz model have any drawbacks? What’s its greatest strength (and weakness)?

Campaign Totals – FCO

Total number of actions received between May 1st 2010 and May 1st 2011: 32,731
Unfortunately the FCO was unable to break this down into the format in which they received campaign correspondence.
Biggest campaign: Gaza Flotilla – 17,496
Breakdown by topic and organisation:
[googleapps domain=”spreadsheets” dir=”spreadsheet/pub” query=”hl=en_US&hl=en_US&key=0ArsF-z0r3hFfdERGUEpjX1ZNUHh2VW84ajBUMlQxSHc&single=true&gid=0&output=html&widget=true” width=”300″ height=”200″ /] If anyone is able to suggest the organisations behind these actions please leave a comment below.
To view the breakdown spreadsheet in google docs click here. Information taken from Freedom of Information request returned on 27 May 2011 and is taken from a list of information provided by Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
More about the ‘Campaigns Total’ project here. Be first to get the information from other departments by subscribing to the site using the box on the right, adding https://thoughtfulcampaigner.org/ to your RSS feed or following me on twitter (@mrtombaker)

Summer Reading….

Summer is here and I’m hopeful of a few ‘quieter’ weeks which will allow me to leave the office at 5 and spend some time reading in the evening (it won’t happen but I can dream).
But what should campaigners be reading this summer?
I asked friends on twitter for some recommendations and here is my crowd-sourced list of what they suggested.
1. Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath. It’s been around for a few years but it’s still one of the best books about how to make your communications more effective. I’ve read it twice and I was delighted that it was suggested by @JessDay.
2. Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine. Clearly good as it was suggested by both @JessDay and @rossb82.
3. Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World by Tina Rosenberg. Suggested by @CasperTK the book explore the power of groups to motivate positive changes.
4. The Common Cause Handbook by PIRC. A really helpful look at the role that values and frames, which is something that every campaigner should be considering. Suggested by @martinhall81 and @GlenTarman.
If you enjoy Common Cause, you might also find Finding Frames: New ways to engage the UK public in global poverty by Andrew Darnton & Martin Kirk (suggested by@sullyserena) which looks at frames and values from the perspective of international development sector of interest.
5. Fool’s Gold by Gillian Tett. For an insight into what caused the financial crisis that is still impacting the political and economic landscape many of our campaigns operate in. Suggested by @timsowula.
6. The Social Animal by David Brooks. A really interesting look at the wealth of scientific research about the mind and the impact it has on the decisions we make. One to read while considering the implications for our activism. Suggested by me.
Updated on 23/7 with a few more recommendations….
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit which charts the rise of a non violent movement united around campaign struggles in the 1980s and 90s. Recommended by @lucypearceox who also had some other excellent suggestions.
How to Win Campaigns by Chris Rose which has just had a new edition published and is possibly the best ‘how to’ guide on campaigning in the UK. Recommended by @hughmouser
In the Tiger’s Mouth: An Empowerment Guide for Social Action by Katrina Sheils by Katrina Shields which is described by a reviewer on amazon as ‘Filled with useful, helpful ideas and activities on planning, envisioning, sustainability, avoiding burnout, and more’. Recommend by @NCVOForesight
Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. Recommended by @emmataggart who says ‘provokes thought about how to use online tools (there’s more to it than sending an email!)’.
Saved: How an English Village Fought for Its Future… and Won by David Hewson. A case study in how an English village fought for survival and won. Recommended by @LABatSMK
Waging Nonviolent Struggle by Gene Sharp. A classic and part inspiration for the Arab Spring, useful for all campaigners. Recommended by @paulhilder who also suggested his own excellent ‘Contentious citizens: Civil society’s role in campaigning for social change’ which is a really good overview of progressive campaigns in recent times and some useful reflections for the future.
MP Keith Simpson also has a list of recommendations for politicians for the summer. Some that might be of interest include Everyday Life in British Government by R. A. W. Rhodes and The Cameron-Clegg Government: Coalition Politics in an Age of Austerity edited by Simon Lee.
What would you recommend?

Evaluating Advocacy – Craft or Science?

“Advocacy requires an approach and a way of thinking about success, failure, progress, and best practices that is very different from the way we approach traditional philanthropic projects such as delivering services or modeling social innovations. It is more subtle and uncertain, less linear, and because it is fundamentally about politics, depends on the outcomes of fights in which good ideas and sound evidence don’t always prevail”
This is the central premise of a brilliant paper, The Elusive Craft of Evaluating Advocacy, by two academics from the US, Steven Teles and Mark Schmitt.
Although the primary audience of the document is grant giving foundations, the paper has some interesting reflections on the way that we look to evaluate our advocacy built around the concept that evaluating advocacy is perhaps more of a craft than a science.
The paper introduces 9 words or concepts that we might want to bring into our campaigning vocabulary when considering crafting our advocacy evaluations.
1. ‘abeyance’ – The value of keeping the fires burning on an issue even when little visible progress is being made. Critical given situations can often change quickly and without warning.
2. ‘strategic capacity’ – The idea that we should be less interested in evaluating a linear logic model, but instead look at the capacity of an organisation to read the external environment, understand the opposition and implementing the appropriate adaption.
Later in the paper, the authors suggest that ‘What really distinguishes one group from another, however, is what cannot be captured in a logic model—the nimbleness and creativity an organization will display when faced with unexpected moves by its rivals or the decaying effectiveness of its key tools’.
3. ‘spillover’ – a sense that campaigns can often operate devoid of consideration of other unrelated issues, but success elsewhere can often change the political opportunities for our campaigns if they fit a broader narrative set by a government.
4. ‘declining effacy’ – Over time some tactics grow old or ineffective, so organisations need to respond to this decline. The recognition that the ‘no campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy‘ means that campaigns need to continue to reassess and change their tactics.
5. ‘disruptive innovators’ – A strategy or organisational form that does not follow known strategies and the importance of not immediately dismissing new tactics that don’t work, but instead recognising that it can take time for innovators to find the most effective application.
6. ‘spread betting’ – In the paper this is the notion that funders should invest in a portfolio of opportunities, and that funders should have an organisational culture that can accept some failure, as long as they are balanced with notable successes. I’m sure the same principles should apply to organisations.
7. ‘policy durability’ – The need to see if a policy change actually sticks or creates a platform for further change. Build on the sense that advocacy requires long time horizons and doesn’t end when a piece of legislation is passed.
8 – ‘unit of analysis’ – A suggestion that rather than evaluating advocacy (that is the activities) the focus should be on a different unit of analysis, evaluating advocates, and their long-term adaptability, strategic capacity and influence.
9. ‘movement public goods’ – we should asses the value that organisations add to others, do they contribute to broader movement building efforts.

Campaign Totals – DCMS

Despite a number of requests, the Department of Culture, Media and Support (DCMS) was unable to provide a breakdown of the campaigns actions it received between May 1st 2010 and May 1st 2011.
They said;
The list of cases you received was drawn from a category of correspondence logged in as ‘fast-track’ cases on our correspondence tracking database. ‘Fast-track’ cases are those where a standardised response can be sent by the DCMS correspondence officer. A large number of these cases form part of public campaigns (which is why it is possible to reply with similar responses once standard lines are available).  In order to draw up the list below, officials took a judgement on which fast-track cases could be said to form part of an organised campaign, and this would generally be clear from similar or identical incoming items of correspondence.
I’ve gone back to DCMS for more information, but below is a list of the campaign
Breakdown by topic:
[googleapps domain=”spreadsheets” dir=”spreadsheet/pub” query=”hl=en_US&hl=en_US&key=0ArsF-z0r3hFfdEhWd0tpZGJqMTh3bFVEQW5Velh1ZWc&output=html&widget=true” width=”500″ height=”300″ /] To view the breakdown spreadsheet in google docs click here. Information taken from Freedom of Information request returned on 4 July 2011 and is taken from a list of information provided by Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
The response went onto explain that ‘we do not notify our minister each time a new campaign is received; instead we give them weekly summaries of the main topics in recent public correspondence and Parliamentary questions (PQs)’
A copy of this for the week of 19 November 2010 is below.
[scribd id=60279993 key=key-1hwnkiyhusmkmwvd7kqz mode=list] More about the ‘Campaigns Total’ project here. Be first to get the information from other departments by subscribing to the site using the box on the right, adding https://thoughtfulcampaigner.org/ to your RSS feed or following me on twitter (@mrtombaker)

Five for Friday…15th July

Here is my semi-regular round up of interesting articles on campaigning and advocacy….
1. Harmit Kambo reminds us that ‘one of the most important challenges to injustice is to simply ‘bear witness’ to it’
2. Untangling the Web has an interesting interview with Karina Brisby, Head of Interactive Campaigns at Oxfam. While NCVO asks how charities will use technology in 5 years time.
3. Campaigning and influencing must always be at the top of the agenda argues Brian Lamb. While research by NCVO reports the views of trustees about how involved in campaigning charities should get.
4. Gavin Thomson has an interesting reflection on the value of different email address (does anyone have any data on this?). The Manifesto Club worry that the opportunity to use the humble leaflet as a campaign tool is being lost.
5. The On Think Tanks blog asks if those involved in developing policy in think tanks (and NGOs) can learn anything from the intelligence services!
What else have you read that you’d add?
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How campaigning dealt a blow to the Murdoch empire

The last few days have been fascinating for any watcher of UK politics, media or campaigning. Pages and pages have already been written about what’s happened with News of the World and BSkyB.
I’m certain more will come in the next few days and weeks, indeed the story seems to change by the day. But it looks to me as though three distinct campaign asks have been running in the last week;

  1. For an advertising boycott of The News of the World (which helped to contribute to its closure).
  2. For News Corporation (the parent company run by Rupert Murdoch) not to be able to continue with his takeover of BSkyB (which lead to it News Corporation withdrawing its offer)
  3. For a public inquiry into the phone hacking.

Although they have separate aims lead by different organisations, at times it’s been hard to distinguish from the campaigns, as much of the messaging seems to be ‘Stop Murdoch’. For me at least 5 distinct groupings have emerged, from what I can tell their hasn’t been huge amounts of central coordination, although they’ve clearly fed off each other and sometimes shared campaign tools.
It’s interesting to reflect if any of these groups alone would have been able to achieve their campaign aims. Would, for example the demand to stop News Corporation take full control of BSkyB have happened without the campaign which lead to the boycott of The News of the World (NOTW) being successful?
So who was involved?
Twitter – Not the site itself, but a number of users who kicked off the idea last Monday about targeting the valuable advertising revenue that was central to the News of the World profitability. Their role has been well chronicled by Rory Cellan-Jones over at the BBC, but it’s also worth reading the account of Melissa Harrison who was one of those who instigated the idea of a boycott on Monday 4th July.
It was Harrison and others who developed online tool at http://www.pint.org.uk/notw.html(now taken down) which allowed users to generate a pre-prepared tweet which went something along the lines of ‘“Dear @TheCooperative, will you be reconsidering your advertising spend with #notw given that we now know they hacked Milly Dowler’s phone?”. I’m sure that the presence of this site really help to accelerate the number of tweets that were being sent. 
We Are Social have done a fascinating breakdown of tweets sent about NOTW last week and calculate that ‘on the 5th and 6th July, over 25% of conversations on Twitter mentioning NOTW keywords also mentioned one of the targeted brands‘. Brands such The Co-operative, Sky, WH Smith and Virgin Media all received over 10,000 tweets about the NOTW advertiser boycott. The Guardian also has a nice visualisation of the way that twitter has been used during the last week.
Mumsnet – The site was one the first to promote the pre-prepared tweet tool on pint.org.uk, but was also one of the first to publicly reject money from Rupert Murdoch by ending a campaign that had been promoting Sky (another part of the Murdoch empire) after complaints from users of the site.
They were characterised by some as ‘comfortable middle-class mothers of MumsNet sitting down to their fair-trade tea and organic shortbread biscuits‘ but I think their involvement was critical early in the campaign providing momentum and evidence of an appetite for rejecting money from companies associated with Rupert Murdoch.
Progressive bloggers – Collaborating together sites like Liberal Conspiracy and Political Scrapbook where quick off the mark in encouraging their readers to get involved in the campaign to potential advertisers that they should boycott (although the numbers directed to the pint.org.uk site are much lower that other sources), but perhaps more importantly they also had the capacity to run the definitive list of advertisers and if they were planning to boycott the paper or not, helping to fuel the media narrative that advertisers were deserting the paper.
The press (especially the Guardian) – It was the work of Guardian journalist Nick Davies who brought the story to light, but beyond that it was others at the Guardian, like Roy Greenslade, who encouraged action by providing a list of what people could do on his blog. The Guardian website pushed almost 10,000 people to the pint.org.uk twitter action tool.  Certainly the Guardian has lived up to its campaigning reputation this week.
Hacked Off – The campaign for a public inquiry into phone hacking was only launched last Wednesday, but has quickly become the group that has been at the centre of mobilising high-profile individuals to get involved in the campaign. Many of those who have are individuals who have been directly affected, included Hugh Grant who appeared on Question Time and the parents of Milly Dowler, who met with Nick Clegg on Tuesday.
Supported by the Media Standards Trust, this is perhaps the closest group in the campaign so far that resembles a more traditional NGO approach to campaigning, with more focus on policy processes, media photo calls and meeting with government.
38 Degrees and Avaaz – The online campaigning movement 38 Degrees has been running a campaign for over a year to call for the proposed takeover of BSkyB to be sent to the Competition Commission. 
As their campaign timeline shows they were well positions to make the most of the opportunity presented by the release of the revelations about Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked to invite people to join this broader campaign about corporate control of the media. It was so successful that the site crashed due to the volume of people trying to take action.
Both Avaaz, who ran a petition alongside 38 Degrees which got over 300,000 names to demand a public enquiry into the scandal and 38 Degrees were able to bring their campaigning tools to help individuals to send a message to individual MPs as well as representatives of the government.
Their huge e-mails lists (it’s estimated that 38 Degrees has over 750,000 people on its) built on the back of previous campaigns, helped to get the message out and sustaining it over the week, combined with some great ‘pop-up protests’ around Westminster. These groups certainly brought an element of strategic focus to the campaign.
What other actors were involved? Was it just online tribes who closed The News of the World? 

Learning from the 'Countdown to Copenhagen' campaign

Evaluation might be the last step in the advocacy cycle, but from my experience it’s often the one that we’re quickest to overlook, moving onto the next campaign as opposed  to spending time reflecting on what’s happened.
It’s great to see Christian Aid make an evaluation of their ‘Countdown to Copenhagen’ campaign available online for others to learn from, as well as a management response to it.
It is an interesting (and short) read which gives an insight into the campaigning that the organisation did in the run up to the critical climate talks in December 2009.
It’s full of useful lessons for any campaign, and I hope it might encourage other agencies to make similar documents available. Here are the 5 things that I’m taking away;
1 – External moments need to be seen as commas in a campaign as opposed to full-stops. The evaluation makes a number of references for the need for the COP meeting in Copenhagen to be seen as a key moment in the ‘trajectory of the campaign‘ as opposed to the end of it. A good reminder that we can become too focused on an external moment and overlook the longer process of change that will be needed whatever the outcome of it.
2 – Involvement and participation of partners takes time. The report rightly recognises the way that the campaign looked to engage southern partners, saying ‘Christian Aid is clearly close to southern advocacy groups and networks and more ‘true’ to their approach and position than others‘ but also acknowledges the time that it can take to ensure effective participation from southern partners and allies which mean that time needs to be built-in to do this otherwise this engagement doesn’t become meaningful.
3 – Building in space for learning. It’s often the case in a busy campaign that it can be hard to feel that you have the space to think about what’s happening  in the external environment. The evaluation suggests that time needs to be protected to ‘allow for reflection to take place‘ and ensuring the tools are in place to capture progress and achievement. A good reminder for anyone who hasn’t taken the time to review where their campaign is at recently.
4 – Know your core audience – The evaluation asks why the campaign ‘under-utilised church constituencies‘. I don’t know the reasons this decision was taken, but it seems to me this might have been a missed opportunity for an organisation that draws its support primarily from churchgoers. For me, it’s a reminder of being sure of the core audiences that your organisation can reach.
5 – Seeing the global – The report has lots of praise for the work that Christian Aid did with allies in EU recognising that ‘Countdown to Copenhagen was a unique advocacy initiative at the European level in terms of both the scale and sustained nature of joint working amongst Aprodev’ and encouraging a broader focus looking towards the US and others. A lesson in the rapidly changing nature of global decision-making and the need to be much more proactive at looking beyond the UK in the alliances we build.
What have you learnt from this evaluation? Have you seen other organisations make evaluations available online?
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The F Word…

We’re always quick to celebrate a campaign success but what about a campaign failure?
While it’s probably not appropriate to be trumpeting our failures in emails to supporters, it’s right to make sure we’re making space in our organisations to learn in a constructive way from the not so good, but how many of us actually do this?
This post was prompted by some great tips from the New Organising Institute about dealing with failure in one of their daily e-mail. The tips included;
Create a culture of debriefing. Schedule time to debrief into everything, before work starts. After every event or project, evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and articulate key learnings together. Require short, written reflection on major projects, especially those that fall short.
Get back out there! Who wants to wallow in failure? Encourage those you coach to get out there and try again!
To that I’d add a couple of thoughts;
Tolerate failure. It sounds counter intuitive, but one of the most useful things I’ve taken from a seminar was the idea that if we attempt 5 things and only 2 work then we should celebrate those, rather than lament the 3 that don’t work.
Sometimes things we do won’t work but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try in the first place. This is especially true in the world of digital media where it’s much harder to pick up the website or tool that will take off. Many campaigning organisations have an institutional aversion to risk, and perhaps rightly so when resources are limited, but do we need to change the way we see things that don’t succeed?
Be honest about failure: When something doesn’t go right its often not something that we want to talk about, especially to others in our sector. But I think we should be encouraging campaigning organisations to share about what they’re finding isn’t working for them, as much as what is work.
The Admitting Failure website run by Engineers without Borders puts it like this “By hiding our failures, we are condemning ourselves to repeat them and we are stifling innovation. In doing so, we are condemning ourselves to continue under-performance in the development sector. Conversely, by admitting our failures – publicly sharing them not as shameful acts, but as important lessons – we contribute to a culture in development where failure is recognised as essential to success.”
What are you doing to learn from your campaign failures? How can we share them across our campaigns?
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Top posts for June 2011

It’s been really great June for the blog. A huge thanks to everyone who has visited, tweeted a link or posted a comment. Here are the five most read articles for the month.
1. May the Force be with Greenpeace
2. Campaign Totals – DFID
3. From Across the Pond – Leadership within an Advocacy Movement
4. How Oxfam let key activists know about its new campaign first
5. Campaigns Totals – DFID breakdown by action
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