Jubilee 2000 – five enduring lessons for campaigners

For the last few weeks, I’ve been spending some of my time as a debt campaigner.

It’s been important work on a professional level, working with colleagues from across Save the Children and many beyond to push the World Bank and IMF to provide debt relief to the world’s poorest countries so they can spend it on their COVID-19 response (more on why and what needed to happen here).

On a personal level, it’s been enjoyable as it’s been a very short journey down memory lane, because the Jubilee 2000 campaign was the first campaign that I  was involved in.

But also because I know that so much of the campaign that I’ve been able to be involved in since have been able to build on the rich legacy of the Jubilee movement – without Jubilee 2000, you wouldn’t have had Make Poverty History in 2005, without that you’d not have had a campaign for 0.7% to be enshrined in law, and so on…..it’s the starting point for so much of the campaigning on international development that’s happened across the last 20+ years. 

Jubilee 2000 was a hugely successful campaign, seeing the world’s richest countries agreed to the cancellation of more than $100billion of debt owed by 35 of the poorest countries.

(As an aside, if anyone ever asks me if campaigning works I’ll take them to this school that I saw built in a rural community in Ghana that was built thanks to the money released through the campaign).

However, because the campaign happened 20 years ago, just before the age of everything being captured on YouTube, or perhaps because many of the leaders of the campaign have moved into other roles the campaign isn’t often discussed.

It should be, so here are my five quick lessons on what campaigners can still learn today from the original Jubilee 2000 campaign;

1. The best campaigns are powered by a simple idea – back in the 90s, Martin Dent, a retired lecturer in politics at the University of Keele, had the idea behind what would become the campaign. To use the biblical principle of Jubilee (the canceling of debts every 50 years) and call for the cancellation of third world debt by the year 2000.

A lot of strategies were built off that idea in the subsequent years as the policy work around the campaign was developed, but that simple, core idea was never lost. It was always going to be possible to say if the campaign had succeeded or not. It captured perfect what Purpose articulate in their theory of change for impact, with a clear target, goal, and impact.

2. Never underestimate the power of unusual alliances – throughout the campaign, you had unlikely or unexpected alliances coming together. Religious leaders, including the Pope, joining with Bono, Muhammad Ali, Youssou N’dour, economists, trade union leaders, healthcare workers, and many others coming together.

It was possible to put the campaign in a box, and that mattered as it made for unusual and unexpected partnerships, as this paper recalls the role that Bono played in convincing conservative US politicians. That unusual coalition, although I suspect at time fractious to hold together, was critical for the success of the campaign.

3. Don’t overlook the role of faith communities in helping to secure change – As a Christian, I’m biased in this, but it feels that the hundreds of thousands of members of churches and faith communities who came together to demonstrate to political leaders that they wanted to see action taken, for example, the 50,000+ who joined the human chain in Birmingham when the G7 met in 1998, was integral to the success of the campaign.

Drawing on communities of faith (and their traditions – in this case, the idea of a jubilee) can bring something powerful into any movement.

4. To achieve your change you (often) need allies in power – evaluators are undoubtedly divided on how much it was public campaigning that drove the decision to cancel the debt versus the political factors that led to it – and indeed that will always true in evaluating impact.

But as my boss Kirsty is always quick to remind me, campaigners can create the conditions for change, but it’s politicians who act to ensure that happens.

Undoubtedly the debt campaign needed the, then UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, to act as an advocate for it inside the G7 – he famously received a campaign action from his mother with a note to not “waste your money on a stamp to reply”, and as this film explores also the important role of leaders of some of those countries who were set to benefit from the relief package in pushing for action as well. 

5. Petitions can play a key role in your campaign – a staggering 24 million people across the world signed the Jubilee 2000 petition for debt cancellation – it was at the time a record-breaker and remains so. Something that is even more remarkable when you consider that it was gathered together in the days before digital campaigning.

The petition was used as a calling card for the movement, that behind it was support from so many, a reminder that a petition – if effectively used can help to demonstrate support for the change you’re calling for.

If you’re looking for more comprehensive document looking at learnings from the campaign – I’d strongly recommend reading Cutting The Diamond by Ann Pettifor who was one of the key leaders of the campaign.

Updated on 21st April to reflect helpful comment that it wasn’t economists that came up with the idea, but Martin Dent, a retired lecturer in politics at the University of Keele.

What does it mean to be movement generous?

“Think of any campaign success you’ve seen or been involved in. I would wager good money – that it wasn’t achieved by one actor alone: it was collective action that brought about change” 

I couldn’t agree more than with Nick Martlew in this excellent Mobilisation Lab post on what makes for effective collaboration in campaigning.

Like Nick, I have seen throughout my career that change happens when we come together and to achieve that we have to approach our work with a ‘movement generous’ mindset.

But what does being generous mean if you’re a campaigner working in a big charity or NGO, where a focus on brand profile and achieving KPIs can often disincentivise working with others?

I’ve come up with the following, but I’d love reflections from others;

1. Acknowledge and welcome the role everyone plays – this is a theme that comes out so clearly in Natasha Adam’s review of the ecology of effective social movements which finds that;

“Multiple actors and approaches are needed to build impactful change that lasts, and NGOs must recognise that they are only one (important) piece of the puzzle. NGOs can support, seed, collaborate with and build upon the work of actors across the whole ecology of a movement”

Few campaigns succeed because of a single organisation who plays all of the required roles – instead, they need a range of actors approaching an issue with different perspectives and tactics.

That might not always make it easy to be movement generous, but starting from an understanding that the success of a movement is dependent on others can really help to shift your perspective.

That including recognising the role of more radical groups which Natasha’s research finds “playing an important outsider role, bringing fresh energy and grabbing headlines with brave, surprising, creative, disruptive and sometimes illegal activities”.

2. Being clear on your role – work in a team, and at some point you’ll probably find yourself doing an exercise that looks at what you’re strengths/weaknesses are – and it’s helpful as it means you can be honest with those you work with day in/day out about what you do/don’t find easy to do.

So why don’t we do the same in the campaigns we work on? What would it take to acknowledge the role that your organisation best plays and focusing on doing that brilliant – helping to focus resources and effort where it can have the greatest impact.

3. Freely offer insight and resources – not everyone has access to some of the resources those working in bigger organisations can take for granted. You might have a budget for insight or polling that just isn’t available to others or have intelligence from an insider contact that has built a relationship with you.

As Nick says a key element of being movement generous is by ‘sharing your intel, being proactive in connecting people, and being thoughtful in how you convene’.

This can also include how you’re generous with the assets and spaces you have – I’ll be honest I need to think more about how I can get this right, but it’s an area I’d like to think about more, but there are good examples like Friends of the Earth who opened up their office spaces for ethical start-ups to use.

4. Share learning…. – one of the things that I love to do the most is getting out and share with others – either in groups or over a coffee. It’s easy to get caught up in being busy internally – there is more than enough to do, but as much as possible I’ve tried to create the time to share what I’m learning, both what’s working and what’s not working when asked.

I struggle to think of an occasion when not sharing an approach we’ve found to be successful wouldn’t have been appropriate – and if the tactics we’re using are being successful surely we want other to use them.

If you need more convincing, spend a moment learning from how many of those who’s agenda you probably opposed, and you’ll find that they actively collaborate in sharing what’s working.

5. But be humble in knowing that you don’t have all the answer – if reflecting on the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that the way that change happens is shifting, and NGOs are increasingly being outpaced by others who are able to embrace new power approaches. So taking the time to learn from others needs to come from a place of respect – celebrating and appreciating the work of others.

6. Do the work needed in a coalition – I’ve written before about what the keys are to effective work in coalition, and for larger NGOs it can be a balancing act to not dominate.

But if you’re sitting around a table with others knowing that you can ‘carry more’ then it’s probably a sign you should. That needs to be approached with the right attitude, but for coalitions to succeed they need everyone to pitch in according to their abilities and capabilities.

Building Coalition – learning from the best

When it comes to building brilliant coalitions that achieve change, the team at Crisis Action are some of the best in campaigning sector at doing just that. And to benefit all of us, they’ve shared the approach and model they use in Creative Coalitions – A Handbook for Change.
I’m passionate about the importance of coalition campaigning, and it’s something I’ve written about before on the blog, but listening to Nick Martlew, author of the guide and UK Director of Crisis Action speak when he came to the Save the Children office a few weeks ago, I was struck that there are some characteristics and approaches that epitomise highly effective coalition builders that we can all learn from.
1. Strive for excellence – coalitions can often fall into a ‘lowest common denominator’ approach, where you start out by considering what are the asks that everyone can agree on, rather than what is needed to deliver change. For Crisis Action that’s the wrong approach, they start by asking what’s the outcome they are looking to achieve and then ask who they need to involve to make that happen. Work to build together a critical mass of individuals or organisations who have a shared view of how a change will happen.
2. Thrive on feedback – you can only improve if you are actively asking others if what you’re doing is or isn’t working. See feedback as a ‘gift’ and actively seek it out from those you’re working with. It might not always be comfortable received but it invaluable about making you more effective. Be generous is sharing it with others.
3. Keep ‘other’ people in the game – if you’re building a coalition that isn’t going to involve everyone that doesn’t mean you have to ignore them or cut them out. Keep others informed of what’s happening, draw on the insight and knowledge they have – you never know when their insight or connections might come in useful later down the line. Share the insight you have.
4. Always talent spot – keep asking does the tactic your delivering do enough to solve the problem. If it does bring together the best people that can help to deliver that. Crisis Action always asks who should be on the team – who are the talented individuals that they need to be seeking out to get involved.
5. Exceptional networkers – be active at building out networks beyond your usual suspects. Spend time asking them for their opinions – share your ideas for plans and tactics with them and get them to give you an honest assessment of it the tactic is likely to bring about the change you’re looking to achieve. Ask contacts in your networks for ideas of what they think is likely to make the difference.
6. Be Servant Leaders – deploy ego wisely, remember that the cause or the goal matters more  than an individuals profile. But that doesn’t mean being un-directed, Crisis Action encourages the principle of ‘democracy of ideas but a dictatorship of delivery’ ensuring leaders are effectively and rapidly bringing the best ideas to life, and delivery is kept on track.
7. Risk Takers – not in a cavalier or reckless way but they’re calculated gamblers who’ve asked around for evidence of what is likely to have the biggest impact, asking informed targets directly what would happen if they attempted specific approach, and then make the calculation about if it’s an opportunity that worth pursuing. That means it’s as important to learn from failure when things don’t work out as it is from success.
8. Seek efficiency – working in coalition often with high costs (I’ve written about what economics can teach us about working coalition). Great coalition builders seek to actively lower the transaction costs of getting involved. They look to find efficiencies that help to keep others involved.
9. Compulsive chroniclers – Write down everything that happens that suggests you’re having an impact – don’t just leave it to the evaluations. Crisis Action have an ‘evidence of change‘ database which helps to capture all the seemingly small changes that those involved in the coalition are seeing which often add up to the big impact.
For those that want to learn more about the report here is a useful summary, and Jim Coe (as always) has done a fascinating podcast with Nick.

How to build unexpected alliances that win

“It is more powerful to recruit unexpected allies than to galvanise the usual suspects”
One of the 5 lessons that Justin Forsyth shared during his ‘Changing the Changemakers’ lecture at the RSA last week reflecting on his time leading Save the Children UK.
I’d strongly recommend watching the whole lecture (or reading this article which summarises his lessons) because it’s packed full of useful insight about how change happens from someone who has been at the forefront of achieving it both outside and inside government, but the lesson about unusual alliances is one that resonated with me the most.
In his lecture, Forsyth cited the example of how the Religious Right in the US joined forces with Bono to persuade President Bush to massively increase the contribution that the US government made to fund the global response to HIV/AIDS and also the work that Save the Children have done with GSK – a company he had personally campaigned against in a previous role – in reformulating an antiseptic found in mouthwash into a gel that prevents serious infection of the umbilical cord, a common cause of death for newborn babies in poor countries.
Both show the power of unexpected alliances. This is a lesson is something I’ve written about before. But thinking about building unexpected allies also challenged me to ask are campaigners today doing enough to build those unexpected alliances?
While you could point to the Lobbying Act campaign that brought together PETA and the Countryside Alliance to collectively voice the concerns they had about the space to campaigner, on the whole have we have become to timid in the unexpected alliances that we’re building.
Make Poverty History might have forged a unusual coalition of development organisations, faith groups, trade unions and many other which got noticed inside Downing Street, but do campaigners today too quickly default to the ‘comfortable’ alliances which while broad have ceased to be ‘unexpected’ by decision makes.
Perhaps it’s because unusual alliances are harder to form in a social media age, when the backlash from an organisations or individuals ‘base’ is much easier to amply and quantify. Forsyth’s advice on that was that charity leaders shouldn’t be scared by criticism of unusual alliances – but rather asked to be judge on the impact they have.
So how do we start to build those really unexpected alliances?
1 – Think outside of the box – Stonewall is a cracking example here, partnering with Paddy Power to raise awareness of homophobia in Football, knowing that working with the firm would help them reach new audiences that Stonewall wouldn’t have alone.
2 – Prepare to be judged on impact – Justin’s advice is right, albeit hard to hold onto when your the organisation or individual being criticised, but unexpected alliances are those that make the political calculations that they’ll have the influence that’s needed at the highest level.
3 – Become a bridge builder – As Lisa Witter writes in this excellent article ‘leaders seeking to make social change are like all people: They feel most comfortable associating with others who share their point of view, values, and priorities’ but instead challenges us to become bridge builders ‘people and organizations that draw their power from their connections across issues and sectors, and specialize in translating the language of a specific issue tribe for (and building relationships with) potential allies outside of it’.
Her tips for doing that well are;

  • Have the right expertise to know enough about an issue but not too much knowledge.
  • Ensure others trust you.
  • Work towards a cause, not a brand – this mirrors the point that Forsyth made about the need to build powerful platforms not just organisations
  • Be connected
  • Be a skilled communicator – to attract people and make them feel heard.

How the laws of economics can help you decide if you should campaign in coalition

For the last year or so I’ve been a speaker on the NCVO Certificate in Campaigning, teaching a session on how to work in coalition. One of the questions I’ve often been asked is how do you decide if you should work in coalition.
My natural instinct is to look to work in coalition but is that always the right decision? But working in coalition isn’t without its challenges. As I’ve thought about what it strikes me that some principles from economics might help campaigners to think about working with others.
So with apologies to Mr Crick, who taught me A-Level Economics, here are some economic principles that you could use to help that decision making.
1. Opportunity Cost – In economics, this is the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. So if a gardener decides to grow carrots, his or her opportunity cost is the alternative crop that might have been grown instead (potatoes, tomatoes, etc.)
As campaigners we often assume that going to work in coalition is the right thing to do. It can be, but its useful to spend a moment to consider the opportunity cost, what are the alternative approach that you might have pursued instead. For example going into coalition can means the loss of brand profile or control over the message or strategy.
2. Transaction Cost – that’s the cost incurred in making an economic exchange. I’ve suggested before that diverse and unusual coalitions are often more likely to deliver change – but the transaction cost of bringing those groups together can be high. So asking when does the cost of getting thing done as a coalition – the time it takes to reach decisions – become so high that it outweighs the benefits.
While we’re thinking about the cost of ‘business’ in coalition- as you start out the work of bringing together a coalition it’s worth thinking what the sunk costs – that’s a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Often time is spent trying to get a coalition going. Thinking about what investment you prepared to make in achieving this helps to decide how much time you want to dedicate at the outset.
3. Impact Cost isn’t actually a concept in economics (well not yet!) but as you build your coalition its useful to ask who do you need to bring together to have the impact that you’d like to have. I’d suggest the impact cost is about reflecting on past experiences to consider which organisations you think you need to involved to have the impact you need to push your policy change over the line. Do you need to have organisation x because they bring key political contacts, or organisation y because of the supporter network they can mobilise.
4. The Free Rider Problem – In economics the free rider problem refers to a situation where some individuals in a population either consume more than their fair share of a common resource, or pay less than their fair share of the cost of a common resource.
Sound familiar? It’s often one of the biggest tension within a coalition – an organisation perceived to be free rider not making the expected contribution, but pause for a moment to reflect that the contribution of an organisation isn’t just the money they put in or how many staff involved, sometimes the most valuable contribution an organisation can be the legitimacy their brand brings or key political contacts.

How to stop your campaign falling off a cliff…

As campaigners, we can be like Wile.E.Coyote running so quickly that we ignore the impending cliff.
With summits on what replaces the Millenium Development Goals and another on Climate Change in Paris in December, plus a General Election, it’s fair to say that 2015 is a huge year for anyone campaigning on development.
Lots of brilliant campaigning is taking place, but when you’ve adopted a focus on a number of key moments, how do you avoid loosing the momentum and energy once that key summit has happened, or if negotiations don’t go your way.
Ensuring that your campaign is prepared not to ‘fall off a cliff’ is easy to overlook in the busyness of activities.
Here are a few thoughts on how to avoid that happening;

1. Acknowledge the risk – Be aware that the process that you’re trying to influence might not deliver all that you want it to. Things outside of your control happen that you can’t foresee. I’m amazed at the number of campaigns that haven’t given any thought to ‘what next’.
2. Commit resources – It doesn’t need to be much, but ensure you’ve held back some resource to ensure you’re ready for the day or week after. I remember in 2005, the plan for Make Poverty History was to focus on aid and debt up until the G8 summit and then move to focus on trade justice ahead of a WTO meeting in December, but after we’d put all our energies into mobilising 250,000 people to pressure the G8 in Scotland we didn’t have many people around to help plan for the next big push.
3. Build something that will last beyond – Campaigns moments come and go, but too few campaigns focus on building the infrastructure needed to win again and again. Be it re-energising local groups, building public support or raising understanding amongst decision makers ensure that your campaign is creating the conditions to ensure your next campaign is more likely to succeed.
4. Be honest with your campaigners about what’s going to happen and what happened – Let’s be frank. Make Povery History or Stop Climate Chaos might not have been the strap lines for campaigns. The framing suggested the possibility of something wasn’t achievable in a year or two. So let your campaigners know its a critical moment for action, the ‘crisistunity‘ is after all a great way of getting people to take action, but be honest if it hasn’t succeeded or there is more to do.
5. Map out possible scenarios – Take some time out of running your campaign to explore what might happen. Think through a few scenarios, some ‘what if’ options with a plan of what you’d do to respond to them.  Scenario planning is an approach used by many to work out how they’ll respond before it happens (and what worked/didn’t work) but I don’ think widely adopted in the campaigning sector. Put your plan through its paces before the big moment.
6. Take time out yourself – There are no wins from burn out. Even in the busiest times we need you to be ready for the next campaign. If you’re in the heat of a campaign, it’s not your responsibility to plan for what next as well, although you probably want to make sure someone is thinking about it. So book time off after the big moment your working towards and time out in the weeks leading up to it.
7. Plan to evaluate – Sure, you’re busy, you have no time to reflect on what’s working, but the best learnings are, in my experience in the busyness of the moments, make sure you capture them. The Intense Period Debrief is a great way to approach this as a team.
8. Don’t stop at the announcement – Success. You’ve got the decision you’ve long been campaigning for. Congratulations but remember inplementation doesn’t automatically happen. Dial down your campaigns by all means, but keep following the process.

11 lessons from #TurnUpSaveLives

Yesterday, I was able to celebrate (with loads of others) a huge campaign victory.
Over the last few months, one of the campaigns that has kept me busy has been #TurnUpSaveLives, a push to enshrine in law our commitment as a country to spend 0.7% of our national income on international development.
It’s been hard work (with lots of spreadsheets), but I’ve been fortunate to work alongside a great team of colleagues from 20+ organisations.
The bill, which was brought to Parliament by a Private Members Bill from Lib Dem MP Michael Moore, has now passed through the House of Lords and should receive Royal Assent before the election. It’s a big win.
I’ve learnt a lot from the campaign, here are a few brief thoughts;
1. A week really is a long time in politics – Days before both the second and third reading, we were still short of the 100 MPs we need to commit to attend, as campaigners it felt like we were running out of time but turns out the MPs are used to making changes to the diaries at the last minute, so a week really is a long time in politics!
2. Movements take time to build – I really enjoyed reading this reflection from Steve Lewis from Results UK, a reminder that the ‘movement’ calling for 0.7% goes back over 30 years, and Steve’s personal memories of a lobby of Parliament in 1984 calling for 0.7%. The votes were the culmination of the campaigning that started over 30 years ago and had grown, often working on other related topics (debt, trade, tax) but coming back when needed to 0.7%.
3. Make sure you know the process – Private Members Bills (PMBs) aren’t like normal bills that are driven by the Government, so understanding the Parliamentary procedure was vital, for example PMBs require you to get at least 100 MPs to attend on a Friday (when most MPs are scheduled to be in their constituencies), have to pass a Money Resolution (where Parliament has to agree to spending money on what’s being proposed), and the outcome of the Second Reading is used to decide the composition of the Bill Committee.
It was vital to use supportive MPs to help us understand what to expect to make sure we didn’t miss an opportunity, as well as making use of the helpful Parliament website where you can track the progress of the Bill.
TUSLMPThankYouWebsite_2
4. Opportunity Cost – For MPs to be in Parliament on a Friday, especially close to the election meant not attending a community event or meeting potential voters. We had to find ways to reduce the opportunity cost for MPs not being in their constituencies, for example we had a Lifesavers gallery where we publicly acknowledged (and thanked via twitter) who was attending, organised a photo moment with a celebrity to help MPs secure local media coverage, and placed a big emphasis on constituents writing or visiting MPs to ask them to attend.
5. Using Twitter – We got #turnupsavelives trending twice on the day of the Third Reading in December, it was thrilling, but looking through the tweets it proved that twitter can be a bit of an echo chamber, with most coming from those who were involved or supportive of the campaign.
However, where we did find twitter useful in the run up to to thank those MPs who had committed to attend or ask those who hadn’t to do so, as well as thanking those that did attend. Encouraging organisations to use their corporate accounts and also those of CEOs or other senior staff worked well, turns out MPs like to be thanked by NGOs. Having access to an in-house designer at Global Poverty Project to quickly turn around images we could share was invaluable.
6. Precedent – Often we’re campaigning were about looking to change somethings, but setting a precedent is one of the most overwhelming reasons not to do something for a politician. We found that early on in the campaign our hope to get parties to whip their MPs into attending was unlikely to happen, Labour doesn’t whip on Private Member’s Bill and didn’t want to set a precedent by doing so for this bill. So finding examples of where a party has done this before is really useful in demonstrating that you’re not asking to set a precedent in supporting your ask.
7 – Don’t forget to say thank you – I remember a MP once complaining to me that after he’d voted for something a campaigning organisation had asked him for the next letter he got was asking for something else. Its easy to forget to say ‘Thank You’ for MPs for voting (and we didn’t do enough after the second reading in September) but come the Third Reading, having a graphic ready to share the names of MPs who’d turned, sending cards from supporters, getting on the phone to key MPs, and writing letters from CEOs ensured we were doing all we could to show our appreciation to MPs who attended the vote.
Enshrining the 0.7% commitment in to law was in the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour manifestos for the 2010 General Election. Turn Up Save Lives is the campaign for them to honour the commitment. Today campainers donned festive clothing to sing carols to persuade MPs to stay and honour their commitment to pass the Foreign Aid Law and a few even dressed as East 17 to convince MPs to Stay Another Day, Westminster, London. 03.12.2014.
8. Insider/Outside – The campaign was a great example of how insider and outsider tactics can work together. We needed to be mobilising constituents to email, tweet, call and visit MPs asking them to visit, that helped to create a belief that and a constituency of support, but we also needed to be working the corridors of Westminster, understanding the positions of the different parties, providing the arguments about why we need, getting CEOs to call key MPs to use their influence to make sure we reached enough MPs pledged to attend, etc.
9. Building the right coalition – We didn’t spend lots of agreeing how the coalition was going to work, instead we kept our structures lean and simple forming three groups (one for campaigners, media and public affairs colleagues) with central coordination from Bond. The Turn Up Save Live. We worked to ensure that we tried to get as many organisations involved, including Unions and Faith Leaders. On reflection, we could have done even more to build a unusual coalition in support.
10. Supporters loved it – Lots of organisations reported that the actions they’d invited supporters to take was one of the most popular actions, I think everyone enjoyed the binary nature of the campaign, that your MP was either going to turn up or not, rather than the indirect actions we’re often asking supporters to take appealed to people.
11. Working with Lords is completely different – That’s for another post, but we learnt quickly that the same approach wasn’t going to work. Lords need to be engaged in very different ways.
Want to learn more? I’d be delighted to come and speak to your team based on the learning from the campaign.

Making working in coalition work

I love working in coalition (which is perhaps why I’ve ended up working at Bond!).
I’ve lost count of the number of coalitions that I’ve been involved during my campaigning career, but from End Water Poverty, to Make Poverty History, via Turn Up Save Lives. I get a buzz from bringing people together to achieve more through our shared endeavours that we can achieve on our own (h/t the Labour Party membership card!)
But ask most campaigners about working in a coalition and you’ll normally experience a sharp intake of breath before being regaled with some horror story of the challenge of working with others, but it doesn’t have to be like that!
Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful;
Build relationships – throw any group of individuals together for the first time, that doesn’t mean you need to become best friends with everyone in the coalition, but taking time to get to know people, what’s brought them to this work, what makes them tick will always accelerate the effectiveness of your coalition.
Trust mattersresearch shows that the most effective coalitions where those involved experience high degree of trust. It’s not easy to build trust quickly, it comes through working together, going through adversity, pulling off the unexpected, but healthy coalitions are ones where those involved trust each other.
Be clear on the structure you need – there are a huge number of ways you can go about structuring your coalition, but finding a model that feels like its going to work really helps. With Turn Up Save Lives we’ve found that an informal coalition has been all we’ve needed, but in other campaigns a more formal structures has been really helpful. And remember, that the model you start with can change during the lifespan of your coalition!
Keep perspective – It can be easy to read too much into the actions of others in a coalition, and see every action as part of a vast conspiracy theory, sometimes its is, but my experience that more often than not that’s not the case. More often than not its a mistake than a conspiracy.
Build a diverse coalition – this is a mantra that’s been drummed into me from the first campaigns I was involved in. Diverse coalitions that bring together people or organisations who don’t normallly work together have impact. Remembering that by working together in a coalition doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything else you do.
Make it easy to collaborate – most people coming into your coalition are already busy, so finding the tools that help facilitate this really help. Setting up Google Groups is often a brilliant way of doing this, having regular conference calls (I use PowWowNow a lot!) and if possible getting people together in person.
Find the coalition builders – We exist, we’re often the people you’ll spot trying to make connections between different people or groups or who will pick up the action points that no one else is keen to take on. Make sure you’ve got a few of us involved in your coalition from the start!
End it when it needs to end – too often coalitions keep going because ‘thats the way we’ve always done it’. The most effective coalitions I’ve been involved in have clear review points, and end when it’s time to end. Again if your coalition achieves its original aim doesn’t mean you can’t form a new coalition for the next stage!
You might also be interested in this post – Working in coalition – learning from the last 10 years.

Reflections from campaigning in Brussels

Last week I spent a fantastic three days with campaigners from across Europe in Brussels calling on the MEPs and representatives of Member States to help to unearth the truth. We were calling on them to pass legislation that would require all oil, gas and mining companies registered in Europe to be open about the payments they pay for access to these valuable resources to governments.

The group outside the Danish Embassy to the EU

It was the culmination of months of campaigning across Europe and we had a hugely productive time together, meeting with dozens of MEPs, handing over 10,000 actions to representatives of the Danish Government who currently hold the Presidency of the EU and holding a well-attended briefing in the Parliament.
I came back with lots of great memories and some reflections on campaigning towards the Brussels based institutions;
1 – Time – I was struck how much time many of the MEPs gave to the campaigners they were being lobbied by. Meetings of up to an hour happened on a number of occasions and it struck me that the pace of the debate is perhaps slower and more deliberative, coupled with the fact that MEPs are perhaps not as bombarded casework requests that they have time to invest into the issues that they’re interested in, which is predominately shown through their involvement in the different committees and groups.
I also got the impressions that although the political groupings were important they were far less controlling than in the Westminster system where the ‘whip’ is used to ensure MPs vote the right way and as such a space for discussion and agreements amongst those MEPs with similar political views as opposed to rigid voting blocs.
2 – Complexity – The European institutions are very confusing and eyes will often quickly glaze over when you start to explain the difference between the Council of Ministers and the Commission, but its worth investing the time in understanding how they’re meant to work and also the dynamics of how they actually work. I found reading this guide from BOND hugely useful. There are a huge number of opportunities for campaigners to utilise to push their issues.
3 – Importance – In the UK perhaps we’re guilty of disregard MEPs as having limited influence in comparison to MPs but the reality is that they have a significant amount of influence on certain issues. For example, if our campaigning is successful the legislation that we’re asking for will be implemented in all member states, achieving the same using a country by country would take much longer. On issues where the European Union has exclusive or shared competency we shouldn’t overlook the importance of engaging with Europe.
4- Absence – Many of the MEPs that we meet with remarked how much they valued hearing the views of civil society on this issue we were campaigning on as they’d already been lobbied by business groups. I heard one estimate that Brussels is home to 15,000 – 30,000 lobbyists, most of whom are employed by corporate interests, and that clearly presents a challenge for civil society which is likely to be unable to match that level of personal resource!
However, I didn’t get the sense that most MEPs have come under similar campaigning influence to their counterparts based in national capitals, as I walked around I saw lots of posters publishing the European Citizens Initiative (see my post on it here), which I sense is one way that the Commission hopes to engage citizen and civil society, but I also wonder if as organisation we need to be doing more. Perhaps it’s also time to create a pan-European equivalent of 38 Degrees focusing on activities in Brussels?
5 – Being European – Our campaigning was successful because we were able to build a partnership with colleagues from across Europe at the outset of our campaign, it meant that our supporters were lobbying in Brussels alongside campaigners from Portugal, Germany, France and the Netherlands, plus we were able to handover campaign actions from 22 member states. As UK campaigners I think we need to be doing more to help create these partnerships where they don’t exist.
6 – Using constituents to drive attendance. We were involved in hosting a very successful briefing event in the Parliament on Wednesday, with one civil society representative saying that the 15+ MEPs in attendance was unusual. I think this happened in part by asking our supporters to message their MEPs and invite them to come along to the meeting. It’s a tactic that I’ve seen used before in the UK and one that worked well in Brussels as well.
Have you been involved in campaigning in Brussels? If so, what insight would you share? If you haven’t, what are the barriers that stop you? 

What did we really learn from Make Poverty History?

The Sheila McKechnie Foundation is running it’s annual People Power Conference tomorrow. It looks like a fascinating line up of speakers. Sadly I can’t make it in person although I’ll be doing my best to follow via twitter.
One of the sessions that stands out to me is the panel debate on ‘The Legacy of Make Poverty History‘, it was one of the first campaigns that I worked on professionally, so I’m interested in what the panel have to say about how we can still learn from the campaign.
The Foundation have managed to organise an impressive line-up of speakers who were involved in the original campaign, including;

If I was able to attend here at the questions I’d be asking;
1. If we’d had the research and thinking done by the Common Cause team around the role of frames and values in campaigning available to use back in 2004 what might we have done differently?
2. Have we done enough to capture the learning from the campaign and share it with others across civil society? To my knowledge there has only been one significant academic study of the campaign by Nick Sireau. Do we need to be doing more to encourage academics to study our campaigns to help us increase our understanding of what works?
3. Make Poverty History was one of the first campaigns that effectively utilised email as a tool for action, building an email list of hundreds of thousands of individuals. How much should campaign movements like 38 Degrees and Avaaz thank Make Poverty History for demonstrating the effectiveness of this campaign target? How much impact did the e-mail actions actually have?
4. Tony Blair wrote in his memoirs that the campaign worked because ‘Bob, Bono and the NGO alliance had mounted an effective campaign…by demonstrating the breadth of public support for action on Africa. It was done cleverly, with them always giving enough praise to the leaders to encourage them’. I’d be interested in knowing if the panel agrees with the statement and if we need to do more to praise and encourage our targets?