Getting action on climate change

Jonathan Powell’s in his excellent book, The New Machiavelli, shares a great example of how a tactic worked to get action on climate change  from the UK goverment.
In June 2006, Gordon organised a session with Al Gore and a screening of his climate change film in Number 11 and was terribly upset when no minister would come because it clashed with a meeting of the Cabinet environment committee.
We changed the time of the meeting, and the ministers all came to the screening and then went straight on to their postponed meeting. In a fit of post-film euphoria, they agreed to raise the target for the cut in carbon emissions from the 4 million tons we had been contemplating to 10.5 million tons.

Best advocacy videos

This is lazy summer blog posting, but I’ve been meaning for ages (about 6 months) to share a link to this blog post by my friend Nick, who had a go at listing some of the best advocacy campaign ads. In the end he settled on;

Robin Hood Tax – The Banker
TH!NK campaign – kill your speed or live with it
Plane Stupid – Polar Bears
At the time I commented that I thought that the Make Poverty History ‘Click Ad’ should get an honourable mention in dispatches – http://www.makepovertyhistory.org/video/

In some ways it was one of the first ‘big’ advocacy campaign videos that was trying to reach and engage new audiences by bringing together big name celebs. The concept was simple but powerful, and it was repeated around the world.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFfIIW_xQq4&w=420&h=315]
If it’d come along a few years later, when more people we’re creating films rather than simply viewing things online (you’d never need to post a link to a 56K dial up video today) it would have spawn lots of imitations. Amazing how much digital media has changed the way we campaign in just 5 years.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kRJ2-vZS34&w=420&h=315] I’d also include ‘Time to Collect’ which was produced by Christian Aid, during the Jubilee 2000 campaign. It was banned from being shown at the time for ‘being too political’. At the time of course, the row meant more people heard about it than would have seen it, a nice tactic for a cash-strapped NGO.
And now I’d also add in a mention of the Nestle KitKat Palm Oil ad (which didn’t exist back when the original post was written.
What do you think?

'Your Freedom' and better campaigning

The new coalition government seems to have gone a little crazy when it comes to website consultations. In the last few weeks we’ve had them announce ‘Spending Challenge‘ and ‘Your Freedom‘, with no doubt more to come in future weeks.
They’d say its all part of their new agenda of engaging with the public and moving away from a top-down approach, although the cynic in me says that it’s a good PR opportunity. No doubt time will tell if they provide good opportunities for campaigners, or if they’re just a diversion to provide some semblance of consultation but ultimately to ignore what people are saying.
However one process that campaigners should be interested in is ‘Your Freedom’ where the government is asking for what laws and regulations they should get rid of. High up on my list would be parts of the Serious and Organised Crime Policing Act (SOCPA for short).
Much has been written about the restrictions placed on campaigning by SOCPA, the need to give 6 days  notice to register to protest in Westminster, the arbitaroty 1 mile limit around Parliament and the way that its systematically made it harder to protest.Comedian Mark Thomas has shown the absurdity of much of the law, but the ‘Your Freedom’ consultation provides another way to reduce much of its impact.
Looking at the draft legislation, it repeals some of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005 including the restriction of protests close to parliament. It also restricts CCTV use to investigation of serious crimes, repeals the 2005 Terrorism Act and restores the definition of a public assembly to 20 people rather than 2.
However, the draft does not as yet provide protection against the myriad other laws used to restrict campaigning – such as the Public Order Act (1986) which can be used to move the site of a protest, trespass laws used against people collecting petitions in shopping centres, harassment legislation that which bans “seeking to persuade someone not to do something that he is entitled or required to do” and terrorism legislation of 2006 which categorises non violent activists who damage property as terrorists.
The recent NCVO ‘Future Trends in Campaigning‘ publication highlighted the ‘marginalisation of dissent’ as a emerging trend for campaigners to address , so engaging with this consultation (whatever you think of its method) and also supporting the work of groups like BOND and NCVO in engaging on this should be hight up on the ‘to do’ list for campaigners to remove some these absurd laws to prevent this trend coming true.
Going forward it’ll be interesting to monitor the opportunities that the consultations provide to actually influence government policy. Campaigners should be watching to see how many of the most popular suggestiosn get acted upon, or just  to see if it goes the same way as the Downing Street petition site which attracted some really pointless suggestions. As campaigners, they’re going to present both challengs and opportunities. New ways of inviting campaigners to use their voice, but formats that can be difficult to engage in (the Spending Challenge doesn’t have an option to let people say what they think should be kept for example) and are untested in terms of impact on government policy.

Why I'll be pleased to see the end of the No10 petition site

Third Sector PR is reporting on twitter that the No10 petition site might be a casualty of the new administration. The site, was set up in 2006, and is perhaps best remember for the million plus people who signed a petition about road tax. The creators MySociety suggest that over 5 million unique e-mail addresses have used the site since its inception, but  I’d be pleased to see the end of the site.
Why?
One. Because I think it’s encouraged lazy campaigning. I’ve only once been involved in trying to encourage people to sign a No10 petition (and despite a huge effort we got about 2,000 names), but it seems that often it was an easy way to tick the ‘we’ve done something to target No10 box’. Good campaigning needs to be about thinking about the most effective target and then the most innovate way of reaching them. To think creatively about how you could get the issue to the attention of the right people within government. For some campaigning NGOs the petition site seemed to put a stop to that.
While I can understand the argument that when it was launched in 2006 it was a way of enabling and empowering anyone to raise an issue of concern, the sheer volume of petitions suggests that only those with a mechanism for broadcasting their idea succeeded. Campaigning has moved on and I think the recent examples of spontaneous, decentralised campaigns on twitter show that there are other tools for doing this.
I don’t think that many (any) policies were changed thanks to the petition site, and too many of them seemed to be a reaction to what was in the Daily Mail (close the Mega Mosque, save the Red Arrows funding, etc) on a particular day.
Two. Because I think it led to lazy engagement from the government with civil society. I understand that their were some guidelines about when No10 would respond to a petition, i.e. if it got over a certain number of actions, but placing numerical limits that are required to be met before enabling a response are very arbitrary. It felt that too often the site was a place for people with concerns to directed to and then forgotten.
My hope is that any review of the petition site leads to a better solution for how No10 will engage with e-campaigns.  A proper e-mail address for the PM would help those with embedded campaign tools, while  No10 thinking about how it’ll engage with campaigns that appear on a range of platforms (like twitter) would show that they’re following trends in the way people want to communicate with their government.

Gurkha justice

Joanna Lumley has been successful in her campaign to guarantee that all former Ghurkha solders are allowed the right to settle in the UK if they wish. Its a campaign that has seen the government make a dramatic U-turn and for days dominated the news headlines. But what are some of the elements that made the campaign a success.
The right person to front the campaign – Lumley has also proven herself to be an effective political operator holding impromptu press conferences and using her profile to secure meetings with politicians from all parties to drive the case. As this profile in the Observer explained it was not only asking the actress who most people recognised and liked helped to give a face to the campaign,  but also the personal link that Lumley had with the issue. Her father was a major in the Army who lead a troop of Ghurkha solders, and it meant that she was able to speak from a position of integrity, and appeared to be prepared to invest a huge amount of her personal capital in leading the campaign rather than simply providing a face for a media opportunity before moving onto her next engagement.
Framing the issue correctly – At the heart of this campaign this was a immigration issue, normally something that plays badly with most of the media, but the campaign framed the arguments in clear moral terms, these people had fought for our country with honour. The right thing, the British thing to do was to let those who wanted to come to the UK, the Ghurka Justice website talks ‘a debt of honour’. The campaign picked great examples of heroic soldiers and meant that the press found it hard to do anything but ‘back the boys’. It wrong footed the government who thought that the immigration argument would prevail by proving that a stronger narrative existed.
Involvement of national newspapers -Both The Sun and The Mirror ran a petition in support of the campaign. Collecting tens of thousands of names and demonstrating broad public support for the issue, and showed that while newspapers might be loosing influence when they back an issue they make it hard for the government to ignore.
Building slowly – Although it’s made headlines in the last few weeks, this is a campaign that has been working hard in parliament for over a year building support, both amongst the opposition parties who got the issue to be debated in parliament, but also amongst backbench Labour MPs. Much of this work has happened quietly, but it meant that when the issue came to be debated many had considered the arguments and were prepared to vote against the whip.
Good timing – Undoubtedly luck has played a part in this campaign. The issue was debated at a bad time for the government that had been rocked after a number of potential defeats and PR disasters. It meant the opposition parties saw they could further wound the government and show that they had a better sense of what the mood of the country was.

Actions of the fortnight

Actions that have arrived in my inbox over the last two weeks.
Action Aid – Stand alongside campaigners in India calling for mining in the Niyamgiri Hills to be halted. In the UK, you can support the campaign by sending an email via the Indian High Commissioner in London
CAFOD – Calling on mining companies to listen to communities in the Philippines.
Practical Action – Urge Gordon Brown to strengthen EU climate proposals.
RSPB – Urge the government to switch to green energy
WDM – Stop the EU’s Great Train Robbery

How many actions do DFID get each year?

Using the Freedom of Information Act, I’ve found out the following about the number of campaign actions that DFID get each year.
Total number of actions and delivery method
Year    Postcards             E-mails               Letters          Petition signatures    Total
2007    34,215 (38%)    31,514 (35%)    4503 (5%)    19,808 (22%)              90,040
2008    42,796(40%)    41, 683(38%)    4049(4%)    19,612 (18%)                 108,140

Breakdown by Topic (2008)
HIV and AIDS
45,583 (42%)
Debt 22,675 (21%)
Trade 20,811 (19%)
Water 8137 (8%)
Health issues (excluding HIV and AIDS).
2962 (3%)
Rainforests
2152 (2%)
Fulfil G8 promises 993 (1%)
Burma 988 (1%)
Various other development issues, where we received less than 750 items
3839 (3% )
Breakdown by Organisation (2008)
Stop AIDS Campaign
33, 229 (31%)
Jubilee Debt Campaign 20,371 (19%)
Trade Justice Movement 13,809 (13%)
Tearfund 12,171 (11%)
Traidcraft 5321 (5%)
World Development Movement (WDM) 5451 (5%)
Oxfam
2,001 (2%)
ActionAid 2138 (2%)
UNICEF 2678 (2%)
MICAH Challenge 1039 (1%)
World Vision 1097 (1%)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (Burma)
862 (1%)
Various other  organisations, where we received less than 750 items
7973 (7%)
Undoubtedly their is some double counting in the lists, but it still makes for interesting reading, and shows the relative mobilising strength of a number of the main campaigning organisations in the UK. Christian Aid are perhaps a surprise exception from the list, but looking at their website they focused almost exclusively on Climate Change in 2008.
It shows the fact that some coalitions are better at getting their members to run their actions. For example the 45,000 actions on HIV and AIDS of which about 25% didn’t come from Stop AIDS coalition, against the 22,000 on debt most of which came from the Jubilee Debt Campaign (although its shows the influence the campaign still has that they can mobilise that many supporters to take action).
Finally it raises the question how much did the different organisations make of the opportunities to use their postcards to influence policy. It’s all very well to have lots of postcards but they don’t do much to influence policy if they just end up in the DFID postroom. Looking at the list, I think Stop AIDS Campaign are one of the best examples of how to use their actions to maximum effect, holding a high-profile hand in the autumn with Ivan Lewis MP to hand over 14,000 actions on patent pools, and running a significant campaign earlier in the year around DFIDs new three year strategy on the issue.  Its a good lesson to remember that without an effective strategy to use the actions you’ve generated
I’ve made a number of other requests and I hope to be able to share them with readers of this blog in the coming months, along with further analysis.

Anatomy of an action #1 – One call for AU to attend G20

This is the first in what will be a regular series looking at some of the best and worst actions that arrive in my inbox.
One, the new name in the UK for DATA, the organisation set up by rock stars come campaigner Bob Geldof and Bono have been focusing over the last few months on the upcoming G20 meeting. Unlike other NGOs who have been focusing on the policy outcomes from the meeting, many as part of the Put People First platform, One have been calling for the AU to be invited to the meeting. They recently sent to me an email reporting a breakthrough in what they’ve been calling for.
Why I like this action;
1 – It reports on a victory. Gordon Brown has extended an invite to the meeting to the AU. The initial campaign ask has been achieved. Campaigning can be a unrewarding at times but this e-mail delivers good news, and implies it wouldn’t have happened without your actions.
2 – It builds on the victory, but doesn’t stop their, it wants you to do something else. Thank Gordon Brown and then from that it makes the next call, encouraging him to listen to what the AU delegation has to say. It asks you to do more, it doesn’t just leave you feeling warm inside.
3 – It frames it that your actions were part of a bigger strategy, and say that the campaign was working with Number 10, it makes you think that ONE is an effective advocacy outfit, with the ear of decision makers.
4 – It makes the same ask twice. The email is simple, with one ask repeated twice (in the middle and at the bottom of the text) rather than provide 3 or 4 options of what you could do.