Top tips for blogging

This week marks four years since I really got into writing this blog regularly, and from time to time I get other campaigners asking me for advice about starting a blog.
So if you’ve made it a resolution for 2019 to start a blog, here is some advice on what I’ve found helpful over the last 48 months.

  1. Be realistic about how often you’re going to post – When I first started I tried to write two or three times a week but frankly it became too much. So select a rhythm that works for you, and try to stick to it. I aim to write about twice a month. That sometimes means I end up writing two blogs, and then having to save one for later in the month, but write when you’ve got an idea to ensure it remains fun.
  2. Write about what interests you – I started writing a blog because I wanted to share what I was reading about campaigning to colleagues, but since then I’ve tried to focus on what I’m seeing, learning and thinking about campaigning, It’s a mix of what I’m doing, what I’m seeing around me and what I’m learning. I’m realistic that there isn’t a huge audience for what I write, but that’s fine with me as writing is a way that I find it useful to collect my thoughts in one place.
  3. Apply the Minimal Viable Product principle to your posts – I often start out a post by writing a few ideas down and build it out from there – I find lists a useful way of ordering my thinking hence the number of listicles I write! I generally have two or three posts that I’m working on at any time, and I’ve decided it’s better to write something and publish than ensure it’s perfect (it probably shows!). I’ve found having a space in my work notebook and Google Doc to scribble down my ideas/thoughts is helpful, and that Ommwriter is brilliant when I need some distraction-free time to finish a post.
  4. Turn other things you write into posts – Draw on what you’re doing for content – lots of my posts start off as notes from an event I’ve been to, an idea I’ve been looking to develop or an email offering some advice or reflections to a colleague (that’s how this post started). If you’re reading a good book why not write about what it’s got you thinking, seen a campaign that inspires you share it with others. Duncan Green has some suggestions here.
  5. Choose the platform that works for you – there are loads of great platforms that you can use for blogging. I’ve really enjoyed how Pete Moorey is using Medium, a platform that looks like it’s super simple to set up, while others use which is the free equivalent of which this blog is hosted on. Personally, I’d get going with blogging before you put too much time into setting up your own website.
  6. Don’t forget to share what you’re writing – it can feel uncomfortable but if you want people to read your posts then you need to tell them you’ve written them, so make sure you’re active sharing on social media – which probably means more than just a single tweet, also consider setting up an email list to share your latest posts with people – I’ve moved to TinyLetter this year.

I’d love to see more and more campaigners take up blogging and write about what they are thinking, learning or doing – if anyone is thinking of starting and wants any more tips or thoughts, then please do get in touch.
Photo Credit used under Creative Commons – Alpha Stock Images –

5 campaigns that I've learnt from in 2018…

Today’s my last day in the office, and I can’t wait for the Christmas break to come, but as another year of campaigning comes to an end I wanted to add to some of the great blogs already written – see this from Pete Moorey on some campaigns from the UK, and this masterpiece from MobLab on lessons from around the world – with 5 campaigns that I’m taking learning from this year.
1 – March for our Lives – for me, one of the themes of 2018 is that it’s been a year when young peoples have been at the forefront of some amazing campaigning. From the tragedy of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida has come the most inspiring, strategic and amazing movements.
Hundreds of columns have been written about the campaign (this is the best summary for NGOs), but there is so much that all campaigners can learn – from the importance of having a super sharp theory of change focusing on those politicians who are funded by the NRA to engaging with real authenticity on social media, and much more as you can see from this Vice News film. Perhaps as importantly there is a lesson for large NGOs that sometimes it’s time to get out of the way – stepping back and providing support quietly behind the scenes so other voices can be heard.
2 – Repeal the 8th – another year, another crushing referendum victory in Ireland, this time. Once campaigners across the Irish Sea show us how to run smart and savvy campaigns with messaging and narratives discipline at it’s heart. As this article by Fintan O’Toole suggests we could all learn from be honest, talk to everyone and tell personal stories.
The campaign echoes so many similar lessons that the campaign for marriage equality in Ireland used back in 2015 – I keep coming back to the lesson about the importance of finding a message that worked for the key ‘middle million’ in the Yes Equality referendum campaign and sticking to it as an example of why message discipline works. Oh and Irish campaigners also got their government to divest from fossil fuels this year.
3 – A People’s Vote – I’ve been fairly critical of the lack of a clear theory of change for some of the campaigns, and while I still can’t work out why they’re sending me so many emails + the obsession with the EU flag, I’ve been really impressed with the way that the ‘Remain’ campaign has sharpened its approach this year.
The relentless focus on local activation is part of that – as is some really impressive content to help you engage in your community, exactly what’s needed if the campaign wants to be successful. The next few weeks are going to be turbulent in UK politics, but kudos to Best for Britain for putting the option firmly on the political agenda, and a lesson for all campaigners about continually reviewing your theory of change and approach.
4 – Gilet Jaunes – Not a campaign that has inspired, but I think there are some interesting lessons coming out of the success of the ‘Yellow Vests’ movement in France to push the Macron government into cuts on fuel duty and a rise in the minimum wage. How has a movement without any visible leadership has achieved so much? It’s an example of a campaign that is harnessing new power to win change – much of it incubated by regional groups on Facebook which were then amplified by the change in algorithms to focus on local content, and providing very easy ways to get involved – exactly the peer driven & made by many characteristics of new power campaigns.
5 – Organise – One of the untold stories of 2019 has been the rise in organising in companies that haven’t traditionally seen it  – from the tech industry where employees at Google have walked out over sexual harassment allegations and helped to get them to drop a censored search engine for the Chinese market, to McDonalds where Unions have supported workers to go on strike over wages.
Organise is a platform providing the tools to help workers campaign for better rights, using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and other tools to help reach workers to join together. For me the platform has lots of lessons for campaigners about how you can engage an audience who might be hesitant to take action, use surveys to get tips for campaigns based on the experiences of members and bring people collectively to give them confidence to take action – there is lots more in the approach to unpack in this episode of Reasons To Be Cheerful.
So that’s 5 campaigns from me that have inspired in 2018 – what would you add to the list.
Main image from Lorie Shaull used under Creative Commons.

More book recommendations for campaigners

If you’re a campaigner looking for some books to add to your Christmas list here of some of the recommendations of the best books that I’ve enjoyed in the second half of 2018 – and as I start I want to acknowledge that as putting this list together I’ve read too many books written by men.
I’d also suggest that you have a look over at this list that I put together in the summer – if I was doing a top 10 books of the year I’d definitely be adding New Power and Twitter vs Tear Gas onto the list.

  1. How To Read A Protest – using two protests that happened over four decades apart, LA Kauffman looks at what the March on Washington in 196? and the Women’s March in 2017, can teach us about the role of demonstrations and protest in causing change. As campaigners we should be looking to learn from history – this short but inspiring read does just that.
  2. The Fixer – Bradley Tusk is the political strategists behind the campaigns start-ups like Uber have run. I’ve written before about some of the interesting approaches they take to converting app users into apptivists, and in this book which is part autobiography, part political playbook he unpacks the approach that many corporates take to winning change. You might not agree with the changes they’re pushing for but if you want to learn how they do it this book takes you inside.
  3. Death of the Gods – there is a blog post I need to write about the new sources of hidden power that are increasingly influencing the campaign landscape (think about the power of the group that set the Facebook moderation policy or the influence of thinktanks linked to 55 Tufton Street). Carl Miller does a great job at exploring the new actors in the global power grab. In many ways it doesn’t make for comfortable reading but it helps to think about where power might sit in years to come. It’s a great build on The People vs Tech.
  4. Don’t Trust, Don’t Fear, Don’t Beg – this is a true story that reads like a thriller, as Ben Stewart tells the inside story of the Greenpeace Arctic 30. It’s a page-turner about the campaign to secure the release of the campaigners, a sobering reminder of the sacrifice that the group of the activist was willing to take to highlight the risks of drilling for oil in the Arctic circle and the suppression of dissent in Russia.
  5. Re: Imagining Change – drawing on the lessons the experts at the Centre for Story-based Strategy have learned from 20 years of building campaigns that win change narrative, it’s a really practical read with lots of great advice about how to frame your campaign to win – and let’s be honest most campaigners don’t spend enough time thinking about the role of shifting or re-framing a narrative to win change.
  6. All Out War – sure, everyone is tired of talking and reading about Brexit, but Tim Shipman has the inside story of the 2016 referendum campaign, and it’s an account that I do think all campaigners should plan to read. There are lots of lessons in it for on message discipline matters, using narrative over numbers, trying new tactics and getting out of your bubble to understand your audience.
  7. Engines of Liberty – another book from across the pond, but David Cole is the legal director of the ACLU (an organisation that has been getting lots of kudos this year for its approach to defending the US constitution while Donald Trump is President), the book takes a deep dive of three successful movements in the US over the last 30 years, and looks at the role of citizen activism to influence change. There is a heavy focus on how campaigns can use legal means to win change, but also lots of smart advice about how to avoid campaigning pitfalls.


Taking from the best 2018 US midterm tactics and approach

It’s a week or so since the mid-term elections, and political enthusiast like me can get all excited at the best tech, tactics and approaches – here is a good list. Of course, there is a world of difference between a multi-million dollar race to elect a new Senator and many of the single issue campaigns that most readers of this blog are working on.
But as I’ve written before they can provide a useful place to spot a bunch of campaigning tactics and approaches that might make their way across the Atlantic.
Here are 5 that have got me interested;
Peer-to-peer text messaging – Not new to the mid-term elections, as it was something that was talked about a lot after Bernie Sanders primary run in 2015, but the mid-terms have seen lots more campaign use platforms like Relay and Hustle, and while the law about permissions and sending text messages is different in the US (and at the same time the WhatsApp usage is lower), I still think there is something in how we engage with text that could mean its an underused tool. Potentially as much for engaging volunteers as supporters. Ted Fikes in his excellent Bright Idea email (sign up if you’ve not already) points to these findings from M+R, a US agency who used SMS heavily in the campaign to get volunteers involved.
Connecting activists – MobilizeAmerica is described as ‘akin to the restaurant-reservation service OpenTable, but for shoe-leather politics: A candidate can post an event for knocking on doors, and interested supporters can snag a spot‘ during the election it was used by more than 400 campaigns and groups, and by Thursday, they had rounded up more than 254,000 volunteers who had visited, called or texted about 19 million voters. As you’d expect from something that’s funded by a bunch of tech startups it’s got a great user experience which was then made available to lots of candidates. It’s a really great reminder that if you can make it really easy for volunteers to find out how to get involved, and you’ve got the right issue then you can expect to get lots of people involved, plus the importance of sharing tech that is going to work.
Facebook might have a big budget, but this use of Facebook adverts is really smart – get 2,500 voters to record films on their phones, cut them as Facebook adverts, and then push those that are most effective. I really the way that they’ve thought about hyper-targeting, and also finding messengers who are going to relate with their target audience, and then being really data lead about it. Lots that campaigning organisations, especially where we’re looking to build support in a specific constituency, could learn from this.
Building infrastructure – go back to 9th November 2016, the day after Trump won a bunch of people started to think about 2018, building infrastructure in the background that helped to secure wins. Two to mention – Run for Something actively encouraging people, especially those who’ve been historically underrepresented in politics, from standing for election – and then giving them loads of support, and Higher Ground Labs effectively acting as a venture capital fund come incubator to invest in smart tactics, platforms, and tech to help win. There is a lesson here for me in the importance of collectively doing the work to think about the wider infrastructure a movement needs rather than just leaving that to a specific campaign or political party.
Debriefing – there is a whole circuit of debriefing and learning events happening this week – this is a good list of them and many of them are open as webinars. It’s a great principle to see people committed to sharing the lessons of what worked (and didn’t work) openly with others with the hope they’ll pick up the best practice or avoid the mistakes that have been made. Something for campaigning organisations to replicate in the UK after the next general election perhaps?
Oh, and if you’ll indulge me for a moment. It’s really worth digging into some of the approaches the Beto O’Rourke campaign in Texas who got within 3% of winning took, including real and refreshing approach to transparency on outlining with his campaign plan online and a detailed statewide map of field organising goals and progress.

7 challenges facing today's campaigner….

I got the opportunity to hang out with a bunch of other campaigners a few weeks ago to think about some of the challenges that large campaigning organisations are facing.

Walking into the day, I came up with my list of the 7 biggest challenges on my mind at the moment – I’d be interested in how they compare to what you’re seeing;

1. Where is the real ‘New Power’ – there is rightly interest in the principles of New Power that Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms have outlined in their book, and of course many of the movements that we’re seeing get traction at the moment are because they’re able to harness ‘new power’, but reading Carl Miller’s ‘The Death of the Gods‘ got me thinking about some new sources of power that are perhaps far less benevolent – criminal networks, hackers, fake news factories and government-run disinformation campaigns.

If power has three forms –  visible, hidden and invisible – do we need to be spending more time considering the invisible form of new power that are increasingly shaping much of the political landscape we’re campaigning in? Do we need to reconsider the targets that we’ve traditionally focused our campaigning towards are struggling to respond to, if so how do we approach campaigning towards these institutions?

2. Can we hold the center ground?  In a world where echo chambers exist is much of our campaigning actually further entrenching polarisation – it’s a theme that is brilliantly explored in this post by Ali Goldsworthy and Rob Blackie.

This is a really hard challenge – on one hand it’s the knowledge that many of the most successful changes have come about because they’ve been able to build coalitions that sit across apparent divides, but on the other, the knowledge that to generate action and activism, we need to focus on creating jeopardy and opponents in our messaging to ensure that a campaign stands out.

Throw that into a world of echo chambers where it can be harder and harder to mix with those who hold different opinions, so our views and approaches are never challenged so do we lose a sense of where the center ground even is?

3. Demonstrating value and impact – it’s easy to argue that it’s not possible to measure the impact of campaigning, that it’s more of an art than a science, but in a time when many organisations are having to consider how best to use the increasingly finite resources that they have how do we demonstrate the value and impact of campaigning to ensure it gets the resourcing that it’s required within an organisation, or provide space for projects to be piloted and grow slowly to demonstrate impact before going to ‘scale’.

4. Breaking out of our ‘cut and paste’ approach – I’ve got big ambition and ideas about what we might want to do differently in our campaigning, but as I’ve written about before moving to a new approach is often easy to say than do. I see how we can fall into the trap of ‘cutting and pasting’ from our previous campaigns, reusing the tactics that we know work, because implementing them is easier and safer than trying a new approach. How do we create the space to innovate with new ideas and approaches.

5. Building a leadership pipeline all the way to the top – I’m proud of how organisations like Campaign Bootcamp have rightly focused on growing the number of people who are able to access brilliant campaign training and put it to work to create – and after 14 camps it’s brilliant to see the community that has formed, but do we also need to focus at the other end of the leadership pipeline? To ensure that we have campaigners who are equipped to step into executive leadership positions across NGOs and other organisations. I’d argue that the number of senior leaders in the charity sector who come from a ‘campaigning’ background is still low. Is there more that needs to be done to equip campaigners to be lead organisations?

6. Are we actually guilty of astroturfing? – it’s easy to sit smugly thinking that we couldn’t be responsible for astroturfing – the concept in campaigning where the impression of widespread grassroots support for a policy, individual, or product, where little such support exists, and while no campaigning organisation would go out and deliberately take an astroturfing approach,  do we have the depth of support for our issues that we often claim?

7. Taking cybersecurity seriously – I’ll be honest that I’ve been fairly ambivalent about the importance of thinking about cyber-security as a campaigner, but with all the focus on GDPR in the last 12 months it’s made me think much more about the importance we need to attribute to it, but the challenge is how to develop approaches quickly enough to adapt to the latest trends and tools, but also ensure that we’re rightly taking the right steps to protect the data of our supporters.

Help! Where should I set up my petition?

From time to time I get people asking which platform they should use to set up their campaign petition – it’s a fair request as a quick search will pull up a number of different options for a petition starter.
So which do you chose?
For me there are few questions to ask when deciding on which platform to use;
1. Does the platform let you communicate with those who’ve signed your petition? It’s great that people are signing, but as your campaign develops you might want to get in touch with them again – to ask them to take another action for you, or feedback on the success you’ve had.
2. What support can the platform provide you? Some of the sites you can choose to host your petition on are able to sometimes provide extra support to you – that could include help getting media coverage or meeting with the person you’re targetting with your campaign.
3. Can the platform help promote your campaign to others? Growing your petitions is going to be important, can the platform you’re hosting your petition on help with that, or will the only traffic to your petition be whatever you can generate?
4. Who owns the data from your petition? Some of the platforms are run by campaigning organisations so they might share other campaigns with them, others by companies looking to potentially sell data with others. Neither approach is right or wrong, but it can be helpful to make sure you’re happy with where you’re hosting your petition
5. Does the platform offer any other functionality? Are you just able to set up a petition to a single target, or are you able to engage multiple targets with your action – or let people select their local MP. That can make a big difference in your approach and effectiveness.
Based on this I’d recommend considering the following platforms;  as the worlds biggest petition site you’ll find petitions for almost everything on the site – which you might consider a downside as you’ll find petitions on the site for and against most topics. But being big comes with some advantages – they’ve developed some really cool tools to help get your petition started, some very smart was of pushing your petition to others if it’s gathering momentum and you can also explore how you can raise money to support your campaign as well.
Change is run as a B-corp, which is a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. and that means they’ve got a small staff team in the UK that can sometimes support petition starters – they have a real knack for getting great media coverage for some campaigns.
38 Degrees – alongside the member-led campaigns that 38 Degrees run, you can host your own petition on Campaigns By You ( You’ll get access to many of the same tools that the campaigner at the organisation use, and they’ve got a dedicated team to support those petitions that are growing – providing support and sometimes sharing them with a wider group of individuals from their list.
There are some limits on how often you can contact those who’ve signed up your petition – not a bad thing as people don’t want to be messaged too often, but the interface is really easy. A great site to approach if you’re campaign is about a local issue in the UK – I’ve seen some excellent campaigns win on Campaigns By You when targetting local authorities.
Care2 – the folk behind The Petition Site (full disclosure – I’ve worked with Care2 in the past in my professional work) is another social enterprise committed to helping build a community of change makers, with a more explicit focus on standing with ‘humanitarians, animal lovers, feminists, rabble-rousers, nature-buffs, creatives, the naturally curious, and people who really love to do the right thing’  and as a result of that, the petitions they select feel more curated than on
Care 2 is US-based, and you notice that on your first visit to, but they have a small team in the UK dedicated to supporting petition starters, again can provide many of the same resources as 38 Degrees and, plus access to a big network of people who are keen to sign your petition if it starts to grow. They’ve also got some ace tools and guides in their Activist University.
And I’d urge you to think carefully about using;
Parliament Petition Site the knowledge that getting 10,000 signatures will get a response from Government a goal to get you going can be enticing – but the site lacks much of the functionality of those I’ve recommended above, and it’s hard to build your movement if you’re not able to communicate with it.
Obviously, it’s also only possible to petition Parliament, so the focus is clearly limited – and once you get a response from Government it’s hard to do much, plus when your campaign is over there is no access to that data to move people on to another issue. I’d also caution against similar functions that many Councils have – just because they are ‘official’ it doesn’t always make them the most effective to use.
iPetition – I don’t know much about the company behind this site – Angle Three Associates – and there isn’t much to be found from a quick search of the US equivalent of Companies House. So I suspect, their main focus is collecting data which can be sold on. The site has some of the same functionality as the other sites I’ve recommended, but nothing close to the support you’ll get from them.
And finally, if you’re looking for some smart people writing about how to make the most of your petition, then I recommend a read of this.

Lessons in doing campaign strategy

We’ve just finished a process to sharpen some of our campaign strategies at work – so it’s got me thinking about some of the lessons that I’ve learned about what makes a good advocacy strategy process.
There are lots of articles written about what needs to go into a good campaign strategy and the approaches that you can use to do that, but I’m coming out of the process with the following reflections on ‘how’ to do strategy rather than what goes into it.
1 – It’s not a solo sport – sometimes in the busyness of doing, putting together the strategy can be the work that gets allocated to someone to go away and write alone. A good strategy is shaped and sharpened by having a range of voices and perspectives in the process – you have to resist the idea it can be written alone.
2 – It’s not an oral tradition – similar to the above, it can be tempting to feel that you don’t need to write down a strategy and instead pass it on in conversations and meeting, but there are two big pitfalls in taking that as an approach. Firstly writing it down gives you space to make clear your assumptions and get them challenged by others, and secondly because you can’t assume it’ll be passed on by others in the same way. A written down strategy can become a playbook for everyone to work from.
3 – It’s hard to facilitate the process and input as well – if you’re the penholder on a process (the person who needs to go away and write a draft based) then it’s hard to do that and at the same time run the process. Ask someone else to facilitate so you can fully participate and listen to the conversations as it evolves.
4 – Make sure you show your workings – the more senior you can go in your career, the more you can spot patterns and make decisions on tactics and approaches based on these. It the advocacy equivalent of the ’10,000-hour rule’, but not making clear why you’ve decided to do something – and by definition not do something else – doesn’t help others to learn, and makes it harder to challenge assumptions or question approaches.
5 – Start with the world you want to see – a strategy process needs to diverge at the start, but widening out can feel like you’ll never get to the end of the process – you have to resist that urge to converge too quickly. We’ve been looking at the theories of change outlined in the Pathways to Change document to help to challenge our thinking and assumptions about how change happens (I’ve written more about Pathways to Change here)
6 – Think about where the public is as much as where the policy is at – I’ve found that often in strategy processes that all of the energy goes into thinking about what the policy solution is – without considering where the public is, and what it’ll take to change that. Given the unique and challenging political times, we find ourselves in here in the UK, not asking how the public views your issue feels like it can lead to unachievable policy outcomes.
7 – You can’t shortcut the process – it can be tempting at the start of a process to move quickly to the later stages of a strategy process – the ‘fun’ part thinking about tactics and creative ideas, but spending time pushing into defining your problem statement, and doing the root cause analysis is the hard work that ensure. It’s like exercising for the first time when you’ve not done so for a while – it’s hard work to start with, but very satisfying at the end.

What my friend Sam taught me…

My friend and former Tearfund colleague, Sam Barker passed away last month, after a short but brave battle with bowel cancer. You can read more about Sam in this obituary here
For the last few weeks, and at his funeral last Friday, I’ve been carrying around with many many thoughts about Sam; about what he taught me, about how he made me, and so many others he worked with, better advocates for change.
So I wanted to write some of that down as a small tribute to one of the very best people I’ve had the chance to work alongside to change the world, in the hope, it might help others.
Dear Sam,
I still remember properly meeting you for the first time, we sat in Portcullis House as we chatted about politics, what it was really like to work for an MP, and because it was a Friday it was definitely a ‘dress down’ day in Parliament!
You’d been kind enough to reply to a post I’d written suggesting we should all start to encourage our supporters to be ringing their MPs. There I was, the impatient campaigner, as you shared for me what it was really like working for an MP and how that perhaps encouraging everyone to start phoning wasn’t a very good idea!
Since your passing I’ve spent lots of time reflecting on everything that you taught me, and the things that I wish I’d said to you, so I hope you don’t mind that I’ve captured, and shared a few of them.
In many ways, the first encounter was so in keeping with my memories of you, always be generous with your time, advice and expertise. You didn’t need to take that time to meet with me; but you didn’t want to keep the insight and experience you had, you wanted to share it with others in the hope it would help me be a better advocate.
I remember at the first Bootcamp, you added yourself to the seed list and took the time to send really insightful feedback to that cohort, who used that to help them become better campaigners.  In the last few weeks, I’ve heard others share similar stories of their first meetings with you, and they all have that theme of generosity and kindness at the center of them. You taught should never to become too busy or self-absorbed not to take the time to offer thoughts and advice to others.
And I think it was that spirit, that meant you knew that change wasn’t going to happen without building a bigger tent, opening it up to welcome and include others. History is good at celebrating the figureheads of movements but isn’t always as quick as it should be at recognising the tent builders. Those who do the hard work of connecting people together, remembering that the most effective movements are the surprising coalitions. It’s so clear in the work you did across your career was about building a bigger tent in pursuit of a fair and just world.
The words of Jo Cox have come back to me on so many occasions in the last few weeks – that we have more in common. I don’t suspect we’ve ever voted for the same party at an election, you were a proud Conservative. I am, at times, an overly tribal member of the Labour Party (although perhaps less so at the moment), but those words that Jo shared “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us” keep coming back to me.
You taught me more than anyone else I’ve known that whatever the political tribe you choose to be part of, that it’s the job of changemakers to look to make common cause. You taught me over and over again to look beyond the political tribe; that there are individuals in all parties who are committed to addressing the big challenges – we might have different routes to get to the outcome, but we will achieve those quicker if we work together.
To wrestle with the question ‘are we really making a difference?’ – it’s so easy to get caught up in the doing, but I remember many of our conversations had that question at the heart of them, over coffee or beer, asking, pushing, probing if the work you were doing was making a difference – and if not what would be more strategic. What I really admired about you, was the way you didn’t shy away if that question came with a difficult answer and I hope you realise just how much of a difference you did make.
That this work needs to be fun –  there is a picture a colleague from Tearfund shared a few weeks ago, of you at the George Osborne event as part of the IF campaign – you appear to be in your element with your George mask in hand. It’s a reminder, that in the seriousness of the work of bringing an end of poverty, ushering in a greener and fairer economy and caring for creation: we need to have fun, to laugh, and to get stuck in with whatever is happening – even if it means an early start dressing up as George Osborne! I loved that about working with you, for all the seriousness of the work, you brought fun and laughter into the center of it.
But perhaps most importantly, you taught and challenged me to bring your whole self to the work of making change. As a Christian, it can be easy to hide that away in the campaigning arena – to avoid the difficult questions that can come with it. But you challenged me by your example, it was so clearly your Christian faith that brought you to the work that you did and that faith that shone through until the end. You showed me that we can’t leave our faith at the door of the office, but need to unashamedly acknowledge that it’s the guiding force and sustainer behind the work of bringing change to a broken world.
I could write more, and I’m sorry for not saying this to you in person, but thank you for everything you taught me. Like so many others I’m really going to miss you,
Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory,

When is a petition, a BIG petition?

A colleague asked recently – what I’d consider a ‘big’ petition number.
Putting aside the discussion about the role of petitions in campaigning and their effectiveness, plus the reality that a big petition is so dependent on the context that it’s being used as a tactic for – if you get 1,000 people in a village of 2,000 to call on the local parish council to take action on something then I’d argue that’s a ‘big’ petition.
But given the discussion was about influencing Westminster and Whitehall, I decided to dive into the data that’s available on the Parliament Petition site. It’s a site that I’ve had misgivings about in the past, but one thing in its favor is that it does make the information really easily accessible by allowing you to download it in a format that means you can manipulate the date.
The Parliament site already sets some suggestions of what it considers to be a significant petition – if you get 10,000 people to sign you’ll get a government response, and 100,000 could mean that the petition will be considered for a debate.
So working on an assumption that anything that gets over 10,000 must at least get on the radar of the relevant Secretary of State or Minister – because presumably, the response gets put in the ministerial red box, and if it’s 100,000 they need to attend the debate, so I decided to look at every petition that had got over 10,000 signatures since the start of the current Parliament – a total of 165 petitions when Parliament went into recess for the summer (the number is now at 174).
So what did I find out?
I’ve made the whole dataset available to download here. I went through each response to code them against the government department that was asked to respond as a way of identifying who they targetted.
1 – There is a very long tail – even when you’re looking at just those petitions that get over 10,000 signatures, it’s very much the case that you find a few petitions with very large numbers of signatories – there are 4 current petitions with over 200,000 signatures.

It’s useful to look at the largest petitions that each department has received, as it gives an indication of what might be considered ‘big’, and for many departments – they’ll be the recipient of one very significant petition and lots which are closer to the initial 10,000 thresholds;

2 – Some departments receive lots more petitions than others – Officials at the Department of Health, Home Office and Department for the Environment have been kept busiest having to respond to the most petitions over the last 18 months, each dealing with over 25+ petitions, compared to just 1 for DFID, Northern Ireland Office, Minister for Equalities and Leader of the House (who had to respond to a petition about subsidised meals in the House of Commons). The average for a department is 6.

3 – Getting over 50,000 is a significant milestone – there are only 7 petitions in my dataset that are between 50,000 and 100,000, 22 which have gone beyond 100,000, and just 4 over 200,000 – so 20% get over 50,000. Of course, the challenge here is that officials and ministers are only obliged to respond when the petition hits 10,000 or 100,000, but if you’re looking for a sense of what’s a big petition then anything over 50,000 feels like it is.

4 – Looking for an average number? Then this really does differ by department, with the average number of signatures that get on to the radar of the relevant ministerial teams going from around 20,000 for departments like Transport or the MoD but up to closer to 75,000 for the Treasury and over 100,000 for BIS. The Department of Justice has the highest average of 115,000 but that’s based on just two petitions – one of which has got over 210,000 signatures.

If you’re looking for an average number across government then the mean average is 39,932 and the median average is just 18,189 – which shows the impact of the handful of very large petitions on the overall total.
5 – Other petition sites, of course, exist – this is just data from the Parliament site, and of course many petitions are set up with 38 Degrees or, as well as on agency-owned platforms, but a quick look at the petitions set up towards the FCO, a department I have a particular interest in for work, suggests that the numbers for actions on those platforms aren’t dissimilar to those on the Parliament site, but there are a few organisation petitions that are much more significant. (As an aside if anyone from or 38 Degrees wants to provide me with a similar data set I’m happy to add this in!)
So what makes a big petition? Well with lot’s caveats, but from the data, I‘d suggest that anything over 50,000 could be considered a big petition to the government. It’s a clear milestone that most petitions don’t get over and it’s a number that can’t easily be dismissed as an ‘average’ number, but I’d be interested in what other readers think.

Summer Viewing – 5 great campaigning films on Netflix

It’s the summer holidays, so I’m going to take some time off from blogging – normal service will return in early September – but if you’re looking for some campaign inspiration here are 5 great campaigning films on Netflix.

1 – Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower – a brilliant film following Joshua Wong, one of the organisers behind the Umbrella Revolution, that saw young people in Hong Kong mobilise when the Chinese Communist Party reneged on its promise of autonomy to the territory. It’s a brilliant portrait of courage, and an insight into a movement that hasn’t got as much coverage as others in the UK.
2 – The Square – another insider look at the Tahir Square revolution in Egypt. It rightly got lots of critical acclaim when it first came out, and while it’s a few years old it’s still a fascinating look inside a movement that gripped the world’s imagination back in 2011.

3 – The Final Year – a fascinating look inside the foreign policy work of the final year of the Obama White House. While it’s easy to warch this film and reminisce about a different political time, it’s also a really interesting look at how decisions get made inside a government, and the interactions with other governments, the media and political opposition. If you’re looking for something at the opposite end, then Mitt is a look inside the failed 2012 campaign of Mitt Romney, but again gives a great inside account of how political campaigns run.
4 – 13th – one of a number of excellent documentaries available on Netflix, 13th explores the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States, while Nobody Speaks looks at the role of the free press, along with many others in the documentary category.
5 – Reporting Trump’s First Year – The Fourth Estate – not on Netflix, but this excellent 4 part Storyville documentary which goes inside the New York Times newsroom is worth catching while it’s still available on the BBC iPlayer. It’s a great look at how political journalism operates and some of the challenges of breaking news in an era of Twitter. If it’s not available, I’d also recommend Page One – Inside the New York Times.