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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where do we go next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-19, volunteering and learning for campaigners

What campaigners can learn from the different approaches to coordinating volunteering during the coronavirus lockdown.

COVID-19 has seen an enormous groundswell of interest in volunteering, with the different approaches to how you can get involved in volunteering to help those in your community who are vulnerable or isolating are good examples of how volunteering and community activism is changing.

You have the decentralised, distributed, new power approach of local Mutual Aid groups, supported by a team of volunteers behind the https://covidmutualaid.org/ site.

Then the centralised, controlled, old power approach of NHS Volunteer Responders, run by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS).

Both have been successful at getting people to volunteer.

Over 500,000 signed up to volunteer as an NHS Responder in the first few days, and research back in April suggested that 22% of us have signed up to be part of a community support group.

And both have encountered some challenges.

There are stories of how those who signed up to be NHS Responders haven’t been called upon, while I’ve heard more anecdotal stories of how Mutual Aid groups have fractured over political difference or the reluctance of local authorities to work with them.

Thinking about the two models, I’ve put together this table that looks to reflects the differences in approaches;

But what lessons should campaigners take from the two approaches? Here are a few, some new, some old;

  • Always ensure you have tasks for volunteers to get involved in – the iron law of volunteering that you should always give those who sign-up to help something to do or those who’ve signed up risk not staying involved.
  • Use the tools that people are already using – having signed up to be an NHS Responder, the GoodSam app that is behind it feels clunky to use and not intuitive for the mass volunteering, while everyone is already on WhatsApp which has powered many Mutual Aid groups (or can quickly learn to use Slack) which has good UX at the heart of it.
  • Think about how you build leaders – that’s easy to do for Mutual Aid groups and replicates the lessons we’ve seen in political campaigns which make big asks for volunteers, I’ve seen in my local community how individuals have been able to actively offer skills they have to help the group, and then take on more significant roles in a community response.
  • Allow for local knowledge and adaption – When I signed up for the NHS Responder role it looked like I needed a car to do pharmacy deliveries, despite living in London and not regularly using a car, and it being possible to do it on my bike, it’s a tiny example, but shows how’s a centralised approach can often miss local knowledge/ which can lead to changes to improve the experience (and impact). It’s a theme picked up more in this article.
  • Make it about more than the task – my sense is that many Mutual Aid groups have grown to become more than just about helping others in the community, they’ve been places to organise other activities. It’s a reminder for me of the findings of Hahrie Han, who found that many of the most successful chapters or groups in her studies are those that combined political and social activities, deepening commitment and a sense of shared values. The ‘what’ of that might be different in an age of social distancing but the premise remains true.

I’d be interested in your thoughts in the comments on what else campaigners can learn, and for a brilliant deep dive into wider lessons for campaigners from COVID-19 I’d recommend a read of this by Natasha Adams.

COVID-19 and Campaigning – a summary

Like everyone else, the last couple of weeks have been very different to what I expected or imagined, and blogging hasn’t been a priority.

But one of the things that I’ve found myself continually grateful for is how so many individuals and organisations have been so generous in sharing their thoughts, ideas, advice, and help as we try to make sense of what’s happening – and that meant my inbox has been bursting with unread emails.

It’s taken a couple of weeks to stop and look through them all, so if you’re feeling the same I thought it might be useful to do a summary – a summary of summaries if you like – and I’ll try not to use the word ‘pivot’ once!

1. We need campaigning more than ever during the coronavirus crisis – The team at Mobilisation Lab have, as always, been super attentive to how they can help campaigners, convening community conversations to dig into the issues – I’m looking forward to seeing more of their thinking. This is a really good summary of their thinking, with the advice that every campaigner and social change organisation needs to reassess its existing analyses, strategies, and tactics, and the suggestion that means;

  1. Walk away from last month’s theory of change.
  2. Thinking outside of the (digital) box.
  3. Changemakers can do more with less—through people-centered design.
  4. The impact of the digital divide is greater than ever.

2. An abundance of tactics Beautiful Trouble’s irreverent guide to activism in the time of pandemic makes a great read, and as you’d expect from a collective that is known for helping to highlight new tactics and approaches, the article is full of ideas of just – as well as sage advice about how to use timeless campaign theories.

If you’re looking for inspiration then the Climate Strikers are one of the campaigns who’ve adapted quickly, for example in South Asia they’re switching to focusing on lawsuits and to target companies and banks or you can watch this livestream to get more of a sense of their thinking in Europe. 

3. The impact on organising – many of us have been looking at focusing more on relational organising, and when we’re in lockdown it’s hard, but this helpful and practical piece from the team at M+R and 360 Campaigns, both agencies in the US have some practical advice – the recommendations to build community and curate a digital “speaker series seem sage to me at the moment, before looking to move towards taking in-person tactics online in the future, like digital lobby days. 

4. Digital organising when we are physically isolating – Rachel Phan and the team at New/Mode have shared ideas for those looking to do digital organising, much of it has similarities with M+R’s advice, with a big focus on listening to and keeping connected with your community, and getting creative and try different tools and ways to engage – a 

5. Proven tactics and approaches for fundraising – the superstar team at Forward Action have also been super generous, sharing loads of their accumulated knowledge into this 3 part series on digital mobilisation – with ideas for all organisations to look into whatever your size. At times when fundraising budgets are undoubtedly tight, it’s a really helpful read. 

6. Can you mute your microphones – We’ve all been adjusting to moving meetings, workshops and training online (this is fun bingo to play) and the team at Blueprints for Change have produced a really top set of guides full of advice from across their community to help you do that well. 

I’d also recommend this from Gastivists Network, suggest you look into the facilitating online sessions training that Training for Change run (I’ve been using this set of Google Slides which are perfect for online campaign facilitation), while the team at Campaign Bootcamp have shared this with a focus on training. I’m keeping a bit of a thread going on Twitter for useful guides I’ve found. 

7. The story to tell – Lots of useful content on messaging and framing, but I’d especially recommend what the team at Frameworks, with their 20+ years of experience have launched in a special series which aims to help advocates and experts be heard and understood in a time of global crisis, and in the UK, this is an excellent round-up from Alice Sachrajda on the story to tell and how to shape the narrative, with a long summary at the end of many other framing and narrative efforts. 

8. Remembering a larger us – the response that has seen in the UK, hundreds of mutual aid groups set up (a perfect example of a distributed networked campaign) is evidence as Alex Evans writes that ‘coronavirus asks us: do we see ourselves as part of a Larger Us, a them-and-us, or an atomised “I”?’. So with that in mind, I’ll finish with this;


Full Spectrum Engagement – blending effective community building practices and new engagement tools

If I’m honest, I’ve been distracted by the World Cup over the last few weeks, but one paper that I really enjoyed reading while I was away on holiday, was Full Spectrum Engagement – Build Community Power to Win Campaigns.
A short paper pulled together by the team behind NetChange, New/Mode and others looking to bring together effective community building practices and new engagement tools,
It draws together threads from some of the most interesting thinking on campaigning that I’ve read over the last few years – reflecting on the work of Hahrie Han, the principles of Networked Change, the insight on New Power, the idea of Big Organising and the Engagement Organising. It’s also built on the back of a stack of research about how those we target are engaging with campaigning.
It’s based on 5 key principles;

  • Show how change is possible – show a clear theory of change and how your plan – powered by their actions – leads to the goal.
  • Give recognition – make supporters the stars, highlighting those who engaged and sharing their stories of progress.
  • Be accessible – meet people where they are, with language and actions that draw them into deeper engagement over time.
  • Build meaningful relationships – build relationships and communities, not just lists and data points.
  • Share ownership -give community members as much control as you can. listen, and let them shape the campaign with you.

It’s a quick report to read that prompted me to reflect on a few lessons that I can apply in my campaigning work.
1 – Petitions still have a role in our toolkit – it’s become fashionable in some parts to be dismissive of petitions as a tactic to secure change, it’s a view that I know that I sometimes find myself endorsing. But Full Spectrum Engagement challenges those who might hold that perspective to consider the role they can play in helping to engage people. However, we need to be honest that many of those who campaign for us are increasingly wondering if anything will change from the actions that they take – the report cites some interesting research from Google about involvement in civic engagement.
2 – Don’t overlook the ‘mushy middle’ – one of the principles that I found most exciting about the approach is the role that it sees for the ‘mushy middle’. These those campaign steps that fall somewhere between online engagement but aren’t the high bar. How do we use a letter to editors or phone call to decision-makers to help make the step up the pyramid of engagement? They have a strong tradition in campaigning in North America but it feels like in the UK we’re more reluctant to embrace them – but they can be powerful tools in helping to deepen the engagement of campaigners.
3 – Enter anywhere – We spend lots of time thinking about engagement as a ladder or pyramid that you can go up (and down) but that approach limits our assumptions about where supporters will start – and while most will move up – the experience of the Bernie Sanders campaign shows that some people want to jump in higher up, and take on more responsibility, while at other times you’ll need to present compelling ask to get everyone to go deep. Think more about a matrix of engagement.
4 – Have a really clear theory of change – the report cites the examples of campaigns, like Stop Adani, that have really worked to produce sharp and easy to communicate theories of change – suggesting that they help those who support your campaign understand how we’ll collectively achieve change. I’ve often thought about a theory of change as something that’s internally focused, but have found this approach from Purpose really useful to shape my thinking about the role of creating a shared public understanding of what you’re looking to achieve.
Can you campaign complete the following sentence to explain your campaign – ‘If we mobilize (participant) to (actions), we can influence (target) to achieve (goal) in order to (impact)’
5 – Make supporters the stars – reiterating a theme that comes up across many of the works that inform the paper, it’s no longer an option not to involve supporters at the heart of your campaigning, that this needs to increasingly be about giving away control to them, finding ways to get them to involve, shape, inform, and lead. Campaigns that aren’t able to do this are likely not to succeed – and it requires us to build meaningful relationships.
6 – Seek out new metrics? – It feels like lots of reports circle back on this as a theme, recognising that so many of the metrics that we feel most comfortable to use focus on our reach rather than our impact. Building on research by the Open Gov Foundation, I know that i’m going away from reading the report thinking more about how I can develop metrics that speak to the strength of the relationships they have with decision makers – looking to think less about how much reach we can have on a really good day, and more on the depth of the our relationships week in, week out.

Could Vicars help us overcome the 'Activist Paradox'?

US megachurch pastors might not at first glance have a huge amount in common with campaign activists, but both have interesting thoughts on how you go about building a movement.
Jamie Bartlett succinctly describes the ‘activist paradox’ that many movements face in his book The Radicals describing “the way a self-selecting groups of similar people create a powerful shared subculture — ideas, language, received wisdoms, behaviours — that help them bond and commit to the cause, but in so doing create a subculture that makes non-members feel like it’s not really for them”.
As someone with a foot in both the campaigning and church community, I’ve a long interested in the lessons that activists can adopt from the church to help them overcome the ‘activist paradox’ that many of us experience in the work that we’re doing.
As I was reading Jonathan Smuckers ‘Hegemony How To – A Road Map for Radicals’ earlier in the year, I found myself reflecting back on some of the principles of church growth.
A really good summary of those principles can be found in Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church. It was a book that was extremely popular within the church growth movement around 20 years ago, and lead to this brilliant paper ‘Purpose Driven Campaigning’ written by Australian agency, on which I’ve drawn some of the lessons in this blog.
Here are 6 things that perhaps activists could learn from the church pastors about growing a movement;
1- Be sensitive to those attending for the first time – churches should be willing to adapt what they do when the unconverted are present – they need to be constantly asking if the shared rituals that they’ve developed make sense to those who are attending for the first time. Warren also highlight the need to create an atmosphere of acceptance, that you need to be nice to people when they show up. Obvious advice, but something easy to overlook!
2 – I see your pyramid of engagement and raise you the circles of commitment – As campaigners, we spend lots of time thinking about how we can move people up the pyramid of engagement. For church leaders, the goal of a church should be to move people from the outer circle (community – low commitment) to the inner circle (core – high commitment). For the community, Warren encourages churches to focus on bridge events that bring them in – think social, think non-threatening, then look to get people in small groups to build connections with others, while for the committed you should look to offer training and for the core to focus on leadership development. See a brilliant article on the principle behind the ‘circles of commitment’ here.
3- Avoid the ‘problem of the core’ -too often in churches a small group who start off something together that they develop a core mentality. Forgetting the original reason that brought them together they such close-knit fellowships which make it impossible for newcomers to break in. Warren encourages churches to take an ‘inside-out’ approach – by focusing on growing from the outside in, by actively designing programmes for each group in the circle of commitment. This is a trap that I see many activist groups fall into, so being aware of the ‘problem of the core’ is key to avoiding growth stalling.
4 – Ensure you a purpose-driven – Warren suggests that churches should restate their purpose on a monthly basis to keep an organisation moving in the right direction, and encourages churches to ensure the purpose of the church is communicated through symbols, slogans, and stories. It’s a good reminder to campaigners that vision needs to be continually highlighted in our communications.
5 – Seek a commitment from people – churches should focus on turning people into active members. The manner in which people join an organisation will determine their effectiveness for years to come. Make them feel special by selling them the vision for what they’ll achieve rather than the cost of getting involved – this to me has parallels with the idea of ‘asking big’ in the Bernie Sanders campaign.
6 – Know who you are fishing for – Warren says ‘people don’t voluntarily jump into your boat so you need to go and catch them’. To do that you need to reach people on their terms, which means thinking about your messaging, offering multiple ways and making it as easy as possible for people to get involved. Again sage advice for those finding ways to help activists increase in number.

Why Developing Your Grassroots Matters – My review of 'How Organizations Develop Activist' by Hahrie Han

Since reading it last year, I’ve been telling anyone who’d listen about why they should read Hahrie Han’s book “How Organizations Develop Activist“.
So I was delighted to be asked to contribute to a special Mobilizing Ideas dialogue on the book. A extract from my review is below, but I’d encourage you to head across to the Mobilizing Ideas blog to read the rest of my review and some cracking contributions from other brilliant organisers and academics.
Han has turned her lens on what she describes as national associations, which appear to be organisations with longstanding programs of grassroots work linked with grasstops influencing, neither mentioned by name but one working in health and the other environment, but you get the impression the lessons are widely applicable.
While there are certainly difference between our approach to grassroots campaigning in the UK to the US, for example less of a focus on state/local level activism, we’re generally keen to learn from trends in the US, and while enjoying the book I was reminded of the lessons from Theda Skocpol’s study on why the push to get action on climate change in 2010 failed in part because it focused too much on grasstops lobbying, rather than the slow work of strategically building power, a sobering lesson for any organisation that nurturing your grassroots matters.
Turning the pages, in the book Han hits the sweet spot in the challenges anyone who works with local chapters or groups. The characterisation of groups being categorised into 3 types, Lone Wolves, Activists and Organiser rings true for anyone who’s been involved in working with local groups.
Lone Wolves being those who chose to ‘to build power by leveraging information — through legal briefs, public comments, and other forms of research advocacy’ while ‘mobilisers and organizers, by contrast, choose to build power through people’.
For many its easy to see activism and organising as the same, but as Jim Coe points out in his review of the book that the ‘two strategic models are in fact based on radically different philosophies and approaches’.
This central idea is one that I found most challenging in the work that I do. I often find myself using the words interchangeably, but as Joy Cushman suggests in the book “The organizer thus makes two [strategic] choices: 1) to engage others, and 2) to invest in their development. The mobilizer only makes the first choice. And the lone wolf makes neither”.
The study is full of practical ideas and evidence insight, for me 5 things stand out as challenges and opportunities for those working in ‘traditional’ organisations or associations looking to build grassroots networks;

  1. The need to focus on transformational and transactional outcomes – Han refers to the this paper on Metrics that Matter suggesting in the rush to prove to funders and if were honest often others in our organisations the value of our work we can spend too much time focusing on transactional outcomes (the number of emails sent for example) but we need to focus more on transformational outcomes that reflect the often ‘invisible’ work of building capacity and how people have been altered through collective efforts.
  1. Develop the approach of a coach when working with supporters – groups that had adopted an organising approach were ones that Han understood the need to create a ‘network that grows’, as staff at the heart of an association its easy to revert to an activist approach, but should focus on coaching those involved in groups about how to overcome specific challenges or situations that they are facing.
  1. Question the narrative – Han talks about the way she observed different chapters making meaning of their work through past experiences “Remember when we got 100 people to attend the meeting”, suggesting its more than just the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ perspective but a sense of believing that we develop a ‘taste’ for specific approach. We need to challenge this.
  1. Bring people together for fun – the research finds that the most successful chapters or group were those that combined political and social activities, deepening commitment and a sense of shared values. Perhaps a learning that feels obvious in the cold light of day but too often in my experience overlooked.
  1. Make our approach sticky – making the time to invest in leadership development isn’t easy, but for chapters to succeed the rationale for adopting a particular method of change needs to become ‘sticky’ that is passed on from one generation of leaders to another.

This post first appeared on the Mobilizing Ideas February Essay Dialogues, and can be read in full here

What happens when you handover a campaign postcard?

A while ago, one of my colleagues got to speak to a former ministerial Special Advisor (SPAD) to find out what really happens to all those campaign postcards we send to a government department.
My experience from running the Campaign Totals project over the last few years indicates that every department does things slightly differently, but here are five useful reflections from that conversation;
1. All correspondence goes to the correspondence unit. There’s no mechanism to make anyone outside the unit aware of it. However SPADs and Ministers can enquire about what the public’s writing in about, and SPADs in particular are likely to make sure they do as a good way to keep in touch.
2. Ministers will sign and read replies to letters or emails from MPs, and usually from directors of NGOs (sometimes from other senior staff) and will also read the incoming correspondence at the same time. That’s the only correspondence they’ll usually see.
3. The department may choose to post a reply to a public campaign on its website, usually if a SPAD says they should. That’s a good way to see what they think is worth taking notice of.
4. It works well for an NGO CEO to write to a minister to say how many campaign messages they’ve received and say what they’re asking the minister to do.
5. Hand-ins are a very good way to get a minister’s attention, if something is personally handed over to them. They’re more likely to agree if they think the photo will get good media coverage, and if there’s a celebrity involved, or someone who is seen as a celebrity by a particular audience. A hand-in with no minister present won’t come to a minister’s attention (unless you got media coverage for it).
What other insights do readers of the blog have about how to ensure your campaign postcards get noticed after a handover? 

8 things I learned at Netroots UK

I had a great time at Netroots UK yesterday, it was one of those conferences where various elements of my campaigning world came together, a conference full of NGO friends
, Labour Party activists and lots of interesting people who I follow to help to collect ideas for this blog.
I’d strongly recommend that people go next year, and take some time to go back through the #NetrootsUK tag on twitter for a flavour of the discussion.
I came away with lots of reflections and a very long Evernote to go back and read, but here are 8 things that struck me immediately .
1 – We need to find self-replicating models for our campaigning. Paul Mason in a great overview of the UK campaigning sector described UK Uncut as a group that had changed the agenda.
Why? Because companies quickly became terrified of their branches being taken over, and that the model quickly grew from one action in London to many across the country, including involving many people who couldn’t immediately be identified as part of a radical movement.
Dani Paffard from UK Uncut on the same panel spoke on how they’d found the tactics they’d used to sustain media interest for much longer than they expected, and that it was a template that could easily be replicated.
2 – Training Matters– In the same seminar, Paul Mason identified on of the critical groups behind UK Uncut and the Occupy movement in the UK as those who’d attended and be trained at Climate Camp. They were he suggested ‘uber-activists + committed horizontalists who knew what to do’.
Adam Ramsay spoken of how many of those involved had been part of People and Planet as students and identified that as an important training ground, and suggested that while specific campaigns are like flowers that bloom from time to time, we need to invest in the roots that sustain them.
3 – We should be interested in who owns the internet – This wasn’t something that I’d spent much time thinking or indeed worrying about until last week, but hearing Sue Marsh from the Spartacus campaign speak about how they’d found blogs and chat rooms blocked during their campaigning on the impact of austerity on disabled people, you realise how important it is to make sure you have access to the tools you need to get out your message or organise your strategy.
4 – Parody Works – Jenny Ricks from Action Aid shared how they’d used parody to highlight the practices of Tesco and SAB Miller (makers of beer like Grolsch). Jenny suggested that parody has become much more popular because of the web, as it much easier to share and can be helpful in helping to shift a broader debate, in the case of Action Aid on tax dodging. She reminded us of the importance of ensuring significant research is available to back up the claims that are being made.
5 – That the fundamentals remain the same – In the closing session, we heard from Blue State Digital who used the examples of the It Gets Better and the Royal College of Nursing’s ‘Frontline First’ campaigns to remind us that campaigns:

  • Need to make the most of moments.
  • There is a thirst for personal connection even in digital campaigning.
  • That relationships are long-term things to invest in.
  • That online campaigning needs to drive offline activity.

6 – FoI is still a campaigning goldmine – Freedom of Information campaigner, Chris Coltrane reminded us of how easy at tool it is to use, and also that if you get told your request can’t be looked at because it costs too much money to always ask how they’ve made that calculation. My tips on using Freedom of Information are here.
7 – Presentation matters – The team from Who Funds You shared about their work looking at the transparency of UK think tanks, an important but potentially dry subject. However the front page of the site is a brilliant example of how to display the findings without hiding them in a press release. Karin Christiansen who’s behind the work also shared the following tips for anyone working on transparency issues suggested monitoring and ranking is the only way to get attention.
8 – We need to get out of our bubble – One of the final presenters, was Karina Brisby from the VOICE blogging project. She shared about how the project was set up to give voice to new people to share their perspectives on G20 and climate change summits, but also to ensure that the issues were communicated to those ‘outside the bubble’ by inviting bloggers to get involved who had diverse and different audiences.

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? 

Campaigning for the 'long haul'

We’re told that patience is a virtue, but if we’re honest with ourselves it’s not one that’s always found in abundance within the campaigning world. As campaigners we’re paid to be impatient people, we want things to change now.
But a recent conversation with a colleague who’d been involved in the start of the Australian anti-smoking campaign over 20 years ago reminded me that some times our campaigns are going to take years, even decades to win rather than the weeks we’d like it to!
My colleague was celebrating because just the week before the conversation the Australian government had announced another victory for the campaign, that packets of cigarettes would no longer be able to be sold with any branding on them, a step that advocates on the issue believed would help to reduce sales of cigarettes to minor, another important step in the campaign to reduce the public health impacts of cigarette smoking.
It was a good challenge, as it raised questions for me about how we plan our campaigns for the long-haul. Here are a few thoughts about what we can do, if we subscribe to the belief that sometimes change will be a ‘long time coming’!
1 – Be clear about the steps on the journey to success – I often come across campaigns that are quick to announce their ultimate goal, but are less clear about the journey that they’re going to need to go on to get to it. How much time in our planning do we map out the potential steps that we might need to take on that journey, the policy wins, the changed attitudes or the key individuals that we need to bring on board to be successful. These interim goals are as important to identify as the final goal.
When we do this do we need to do more to communicate our anticipated story to our supporters and donors to give them a sense that we’re on the right trajectory as opposed to demotivating them when the final goal doesn’t feel likes it coming around as quickly as we’d like?
2 – Consider the ‘What If’s’ – Do we spend too much time thinking about a simple and clean liner path to success in our campaigning. We assume that we’ll be successful every step of the way along, but sometimes that doesn’t happen, we find that a target is immovable, or the argument that we’re using isn’t getting the traction that it needs, but how often in our planning do we ask ‘what if’ and come up with multiple options towards eventual victory, anticipating when we might need to shift our plans. The excellent paper ‘The Elusive Craft of Evaluating Advocacy‘ has lots of more on the importance of this approach in successful campaigns.
3 – Communicating our ‘signs of transformation’ – We often have stories to share that help to prove that we’re heading in the right direction. Where I work we’re encouraged to capture and communicate our ‘signs of transformations’ to staff and support, these are the tip bits that we pick up in conversation with policy makers, politicians or others that help to justify our decisions. In the long battles for success capturing and celebrating the small victories become important both to those working on the campaign but also those supporting it.
4 – Holding something back – Thinking back to the experience of Make Poverty History, and perhaps to a lesser extent the climate campaigning ahead of Copenhagen, one of the biggest challenges that I observed was that after the main moment their were few people around to keep the campaign going.
During Make Poverty History everyone became so fixated on the G8 meeting in July that their were few people around to keep the campaign going for the second six months of 2005. I’m increasingly convinced that campaigns need to be developing a ‘bench’ of experienced campaigners who can come in to keep the momentum going after these key moments. For those leading campaigns that are going to take time to ‘win’ we need to consider what we have in reserve.
What lessons have you learn’t about campaigning for the ‘long haul’?