How to follow the General Election as a curious campaigner

With the election campaign in full swing, here are some thoughts on how can you take a step back to follow the election as a curious campaigner – rather than get swept up with the latest ‘hot takes’.

I LOVE elections!

So since the General Election was called I’ve spent way too much time scrolling through Twitter/X, listening to the latest podcast and gossiping away on WhatsApp.

But with the campaigns in full swing, here are some thoughts on how to follow the election as a curious campaigner.

1 – Get beyond the ‘what’s happened’ analysis – there are some brilliant people getting under the skin of the election campaign to help unpack the tactics and approaches that the parties are using, as there are lots of interesting ideas for campaigners to take.

I’ve especially been enjoying ex-Labour adviser Dr Nick Bowes daily updates on LinkedIn, Benedict Pringle who’s been taking a deep dive at the advertising strategies of the parties, Aggie Chambre on the Politico Westminster Insider podcast and Tom Hamilton’s excellent Substack ‘Dividing Lines’ on the art of political attack.

2 – Follow the election on a different platform – The parties are all investing huge amounts of money and time in digital campaign, so it’s been interesting to dive onto some less familiar social media platforms to see how the parties are approaching different audiences.

What you see on Facebook is very different from what you’ll get on Instagram – and there full of creative and innovative ideas about how to communicate your message. I thought this was good on the approach the parties are taking on TikTok.

3 – Jump into listen to a Focus Group – amongst the pollsters I find that More in Common consistently share some of the most interesting polling insight (and not just on the way your biscuit preference informs your vote).

They’ve got a great series of deep dives looking at the polling on different issues, but they’ve also launched Focus Groups Live – which is bringing the views of focus groups, that are often only accessible to those who fund them to everyone. A great way to listen to what others are thinking. I’d also recommend The Times Radio Focus Groups.

And if you want the ultimate Focus Group then I’d strongly encourage you to pick a party or candidate you want to support and go knock on some doors for them to see what voters are really thinking.

4 – Pick some different constituency races and follow from your laptop – depending on where you live, you might be getting fed up of hearing from the parties who are competing for your vote, or if you live in a safe seat feeling like you’ve been totally overlooked.

But thanks to internet you can do that from the comfort of your sofa – so pick some races that are different to where you live, follow the candidates on social media, see what they’re serving up on the Facebook Ad Library and set up Google News alerts to get a sense of how the parties are approaching winning over voters in very different parts of the country.

The team at Democracy Club also have Election Leaflets. Don’t have time to do that, then I’d recommend Who Targets Me for getting more on what the parties are doing.

5- Watch the news with the sound off – this was one my top takeaways from this Institute of Government discussion on communication strategies at the election – the point being that many people are watching the news on TV while trying to feed the kids, get the washing in, or rush out to the gym, and often with the sound off.

So the pictures and visuals matter as much as the words. A good reminder that as campaigners that it’s not all about the policy narrative – and often about the images that are linked with your campaign.

How should you prepare for a 'snap' General Election?

Your guess is as good as mine as to if a General Election will be called in the coming weeks or months – if you want to follow the betting markets you can get 7/1 that it’ll happen this May, but with the possibility that it could happen what should campaigners being doing to get ready?

Be prepared – we’ve all got a story of where we were when Theresa May called the 2017 election – I was at a petrol station outside Ledbury on the way back from the Easter weekend with my parents where I’d said how much I’d enjoyed an Easter without an election – it came as a surprise, but no campaigner can use that excuse this time around.

The election is a possibility, so starting conversations with others in your organisation and putting together a ‘best guess’ plan of what to do in the event it is called seems like a smart thing to do.

Prepare for a short election – I have a largely useless knowledge of election timetables – but an election will be most likely run on the shortest possible timetable – 25 working days from the dissolution of Parliament. There will be no ‘long campaign’ – the period before the official campaign start.  That means having a plan for the first 24, 48 and 72 hours after the election is called as it’ll be moving quickly. The full timetable is here if you’re interested.

For those looking for candidate lists they’ll be available about a week later when all the nomination papers are in – although, in previous elections sites like Democracy Club have collected that information more quickly, however it’s worth being aware that the main parties have already selected their candidates for the majority of their target seats, so that provides an opportunity to start to identify potential supporters of your issue now – as Ali says says don’t leave it until the election is called.

Think like a candidate – If you’ve never spent time chatting with someone whose run for election, try to find someone and ask them about their experience. I suspect they’ll tell you about a frantic few weeks with multiple demands being made on their time.

For a ‘snap’ election it’ll likely be even more frantic, with candidates starting from a standing start, having to quickly get the infrastructure in place to run a campaign, raise money and motivate volunteers.

So start to think about approach based on what will work for candidates who have limited time and will be thinking about what matters to the 70,000+ electors in their constituency – look to provide them with useful information and localised briefings on your issue – as Sue Brown suggested on Twitter ‘they want things to help them get elected not information about what you want them to do if they get elected’.

Chose the right tactics – I’ve long been skeptical of the value of email to candidate actions – in my experience candidates aren’t spending much time looking at emails, but perhaps more aware of what they’re seeing on social media as they might flick through Twitter on the way from one event to another. 

I asked a few others on Twitter and got some really helpful advice from those who’ve been involved in campaigns supporting candidates and campaigning on issues that I’d recommend you follow;

It doesn’t have to just be about Brexit – just because Brexit will be the main focus of the election doesn’t mean it’ll be the only topic of the election, as Pete has written Brexit isn’t an excuse for not planning activities, it just requires campaigners to think differently.

Do you focus on building alliances in some key seats, or on working with candidates who might be supportive of your issue, or getting your issue in the manifestos, or perhaps use the election as an opportunity to try some new approaches or tactics?

Sure, most of the noise will be about Brexit but look at campaigns, like School Cuts, that got traction at the last election for ideas – see here for a few other lessons from 2017.

Use it as an opportunity to engage your supporters  – as campaigner we often live in a political bubble, assuming the majority of people around us are thinking about politics all of the time. They’re not. Election periods are a time when people more so than any other time are engaging with politics.

I’ve certainly seen an uptick in activism from my supporters in the past, and the evidence from post-election periods is that many organisation see a surge in people signing up. That’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be overlooked.

What are you doing to prepare for a possible election? What are your top tips? Use the comments below to share them.

After #WinningBig – some thoughts on what next

Winning Big was the best conference I’ve been to in a long time – it brought together a really interesting and diverse mix of campaigners working across party politics, unions, NGOs and pressure groups to ask what we could learn from the big organising approach that has been successful in recent years.
Huge kudos to the organisers Eva, Tom and Anna for bringing such an excellent day together, and the team who facilitated the sessions.
If you couldn’t make it along, I know that the team behind the day are looking to make some of the sessions available as recordings (follow them on Twitter to find out more), do look at the #WinningBig hashtag (and look beyond the Trump tweets!), and I shared a few of my key learnings from the opening session here, and fellow blogger Alice Fuller shared some thoughts here.
Walking away at the end of the day I had a whole range of thoughts and questions – lots of conversations started to follow up, but I also wanted to share five thoughts about what next.
1 – Get better a sharing across our silos – I’ve written before that there are too many silos between NGO and political party campaigners, and that’s to the detriment of both communities. So it was refreshing to be in a room full of presentations and ideas from across.
I was struck that many of those who are leading these amazing, innovative and disruptive campaign are doing it in there spare time alongside other roles often inside charities – they have feet in both camps. It struck me that as you go up in an organisation keeping a foot in both camps becomes harder – perhaps there are good reasons for this, especially when charities are under pressure not to be partisan.
But how do we as senior leaders keep ourselves closer to the edge, so we can support and learn from the innovative approaches, and create the space to champion the lessons into our work?
2 – We need to build more of an evidence base of what works (and doesn’t work) – I’ve walked away with pages of ideas of what works, and doesn’t work, but how can we create more spaces to share across campaigns in a way that gives those involved confidence that it’s being shared with those who share similar aims.
I mentioned in one session the Analyst Institute in the US, which aims to be a clearinghouse for research and best practice in political campaigns. I wonder if we need to have a conversation about creating something similar here in the UK?
We can’t just replicate it as we don’t have the same number of academics working on this or the same number of political consultants, but building a culture where we can rigorously test and share in confidence could be really useful. Some of that happens within political parties, but relatively little, and yesterday convinced me that it needs to happen outside party political silos.
3 – Celebrate what we’re starting – Working for a big NGO sometimes walking away from a conference on big organising can be a little depressing – you leave full of great ideas but knowing you have to wrestle with the challenges of embedding them into an organisation that by necessity has structure and process, as I’ve written before it’s not easy.
But yesterday made me think differently – so many of the projects and approaches that were shared had started with the principle of ‘what if’ accepting that failure was OK. So I’m going to go back into work tomorrow looking to celebrate the little things that we’re already looking to do, and look for the next steps that we can take to build this into our approach. And I’d love to find a space to have conversations to celebrate + share the little steps as well as the big leaps.
4 – Let’s not forget the fundamentals – There is a risk that the story of what works is written whoever wins – so after 2015 General Election the story became about how the Conservatives were using Facebook so successfully, and thus that was what we all need to do. So why we should excitedly embrace the principles of big organising – in doing so we need to be careful we don’t overlook the fundamentals that are still required.
The approaches that helped to mobilise people to get out doorknocking in marginal seats in the General Election still required people to organise effective and well-run canvassing sessions. Big organising campaigns are still going to need narratives and messages that inspire and engage large enough numbers of people to engage.
5 – Trust – time and time again in the presentations I heard the word ‘trust’ come up. That all the evidence suggests that when you invite people to take on roles in a big organising approach and trust them with the responsibility they respond to it positively. So a personal challenge I’m taking from the day is how I can do more to give more responsibility away.
I’m looking forward to the conversation continuing.

Before the results – some observations from the 2017 General Election

I love elections.
While I might have complained when I first heard that Theresa May was taking the country to the polls, it wasn’t long before I found myself getting stuck in campaigning in my local community, and implementing our (hastily assembled) election plans at work.
Who knows what will happen on Thursday evening, but before the results come I wanted to highlight a few ‘winners’ from the election, based on the campaigns that I’ve noticed.
1. The rise of the MicroPACs – BBC News has this great article on the rise of individuals who’ve used Facebook and other social media platforms to get their campaign messages out, what they’re dubbing MicroPACs – after the Political Action Committees that pour huge amounts of money into campaigns in the US. While much of the campaign news has focused on the huge ad spends of the Conservative Party on Facebook advertising, learning from what Trump did in the US which is summarised well here.It’s fascinating to see how individuals with some expertise of how to do effective targeting, and effective messages can get them out in front of tens of thousands of people.
Certainly a lesson to be learnt here for all campaigning organisations about how giving away some control of your message can lead to creative execution of ideas. Having said that the work that the team behind Who Targets Me has been doing is also fascinating work tracking the adverts that the parties are pushing – this article gives a small snapshot in the breadth of messaging targeting.
2. 38 Degrees and Avaaz dive right in – Unlike 2015 when it felt that both of the big online platforms seemed to be less involved, both Avaaz and 38 Degrees have been really active in this election. Perhaps been learning from colleagues at Get Up in Australia who’ve built themselves in formidable election campaigning machine.
While 38 Degrees have been focusing on voter turnout in two marginal seats (Hove and Bath) looking to encourage civic participation rather than pushing a specific party, as well as organising a hustings. Avaaz have been much more active at pushing supporters to join activities of progressive parties, and supporting the work of the Progressive Alliance (see below).

It’s also been interesting to see a few other initiatives emerge during the election, including More United, which was is campaigning for pro-Remain candidates, and Campaign Together, which has been driven by some campaigners involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign. I’m sure post-election there will be time for those involved in some of these initiatives to share the stories of what worked and didn’t work, hopefully providing some useful lessons for campaigners on new models of organising.
3. Go local – I’ve long been impressed by the School Cuts campaign run by the NUT but they seemed to have kicked it up another level this election. The website has been updated to show the impact of proposed party manifestos from each party, coordinate local groups – I’ve seen an increasingly active local campaign in Tooting where I live, and some cracking social content which has clearly tapped into parents concerns. Some really useful lessons in this for all campaigners, including about the importance of providing local information if you can to help make your campaign as tangible as possible to people.
4. The Lobbying Act – despite renewed assurances from NCVO and even the Electoral Commission that charities can campaign, the act seems to have had the anticipated ‘chilling effect’ on many charities (see here as a good example of concerns). Perhaps it was the short notice of the campaign that meant unlike 2015 organisations didn’t have time to prepare, but the act has once again appeared to have an impact on the way that many charities have engaged in the election. Following the election, campaigners need to look again at how we can get the Act amended to remove any ambiguity about charities campaigning during elections.
5. Aid Campaigners – so I’m biased, and can’t share everything that happened, but the first few days of the election saw a huge amount of focus on if the Prime Minister would commit to maintaining the 0.7% aid target. It was a heavy lift, but within a few days we’d seen all parties commit to the target. It happened through a combination of bringing smart insider engagement with key influences together with targeted public pressure demonstrating the depth of support for the issue, and developing messaging we felt would resonate beyond our traditional supporters (see #BiggerBritain). It was lesson for me of the importance of how all the aspects of advocacy can complement each other, and how to use different tactics to drive the issue across news cycles. I’ll write more in due course!
And finally, NCVO has also come up with a neat list of 10 great charity campaigns this election – it’s full of more good ideas of how charities can make the most of an election.

Why campaigning charities shouldn't leave the pitch during the election

There are lots of article going around at the moment that suggests that campaigning charities should just walk off the pitch during the election campaign.
From weekly articles suggesting that the lobbying act is stopping charities speaking out – the latest here which suggest that some social care charities have felt they couldn’t speak out in the last few weeks. To an article published in Third Sector last week, where the director of NFP Synergy, Joe Saxton, argues that charities shouldn’t campaign during an election period suggesting that;
Charity campaigning during an election is like standing on a railway track in the face of a runaway train and shouting that you’d like to talk about their rail safety record. They’re not listening. They’re not interested. They’re politicians at the point when the annual cycle of politics is about to reach a climax. They might want to do a photo op with you and kiss any babies you have lying about, but don’t mistake that for cast-iron commitments to your policies’.
Now I don’t agree that at the calling of an election, charities should go into some type of self-enforced purdah, but rather than just rushing to say that I disagree, I wanted to reflect on why I think charities should get involved in speaking out around an election period (and on this it’s useful to read the response in the comments from NCVO with its helpful reminder that charities are encouraged to speak out during election periods – but they have to comply with the relevant charity and electoral law).
I think charities should campaign during elections for the following reasons;
1. This the moment when the direction for the next Parliament is set – part of the reason that the current election was called was so the Prime Minister could secure her own mandate on a manifesto that she’s put forward. That’s a good reminder of why organisations work to make sure that manifestos reflect the policy asks they’re pushing for. They know they’ll set the blueprint for what a government plans to do in the coming years.
While the work of getting into manifestos often takes months of work before they’re published, stepping back at the last minutes before parties finalise manifesto seems short sighted, especially if you can show a constituency of support, is a key opportunity. I know in my work on international development, elections have been a key period to get commitments from parties to meet the 0.7% target for overseas aid – something that has been invaluable for future campaigning.
2. They are a vital chance to build relationships – Not campaigning during an election and then turning up and asking to an audience after election day, is to me a little like deciding to support a football team once they’ve won the trophy.
Candidates are out and about day-in/day-out during election periods. They’re listening to what local voters are saying and this is where I disagree with Joe that politicians aren’t listening. I think it’s the opposite – most candidates are out and about in their constituencies far more than the rest of the year, and they’re critical periods for showing that you have a constituency of support for your issue or cause.
In the constituency I live in there’s is a particularly active campaign around school cuts, and I’m sure that will resonate with whomever gets elected. Not trying to demonstrate support for your issue during an election period and then turning up when someone gets promoted to a new job and demanding you should be on the top of the pile to meet with seems. Demonstrating power during an election period – as organisations like Citizens UK have done so well, can open doors post-election.
3. We need to be involved in democracies ‘big match’ – Campaigning charities rightly raise concerns that that the Lobbying Act is unfair because it appears to stop some voices speaking up at election time while allowing others to continue to do so. If we want charities to be seen as part of the rich diversity of voices involved in democracy here in the UK then vacating the pitch while the key match is being played seem short-sighted. Given the important work that so many do across the UK and beyond, the evidence from this that can shape policy and the breadth of the public who support our organisations with their donations, voice and time means we should be involved.
4. Elections are opportunities to engage people in your issues – as campaigner we often live in a political bubble, assuming the majority of people around us are thinking about politics all of the time. They’re not, as Jim Messina suggest the average person is thinking about politics for about 4 minutes a week, but I’d suggest election periods are a time when people more so than any other time are engaging with politics. They’re asking questions and searching.  I’ve certainly seen an uptick in activism from my supporters, and the evidence from post-election periods is that many organisation see a surge in people signing up.
Now, all this doesn’t mean that we should approach elections without any strategic thought. Too many campaigns don’t think enough about what their strategy is around an election time.
They focus on the wrong constituencies, don’t providing candidates with useful (or accessible) information, or not building the right groups or alliances of support to demonstrate why politicians should act on their issue. I wrote a few thoughts about how charities can do that well here and here.

Using your voice as well as your vote – 7 things you need to know about election campaigning

I need to start with a confession. I’m an election geek! My fascination with elections has taken me to the US to campaign for President Obama and I know an unhealthy amount about the electoral systems in countries around the world.

Obama campaign
Out on the doorstep for President Obama in 2012

For campaigners, they’re hugely exciting – they engage people in politics and they’re opportunities to shape the agenda for the next government.
With just 120 days or so to go until the next UK General Election, there is a huge amount that we don’t know about what the outcome will be on May 7th.
That’s a huge opportunity and challenge for campaigners, we could get another Coalition Government, we don’t know which parties will end up in the TV debates, and what will happen in Scotland, with UKIP and the Green Party.
At the same time, election campaigns are getting more and more sophisticated, with parties using micro-targeting to reach specific groups, and social media working alongside the traditional ground game (think people knocking on doors) and air game (think TV news headlines).
For campaigners preparing for the election in May there are 7 things you need to be thinking about.
1 –Remember Charities can be political but not party political
Its too easy to think of politics as something that is just about different parties, but it’s not, politics is about the choices societies make and we have a stake in them being the right choices – including challenging vested interests.
If it wasn’t for campaigners engaging in politics, we wouldn’t have an arms trade treaty, equal marriage, climate change act, and much more.
Thanks to the Lobbying Act there is lots of talk about if charities should get involved in politics, but the short answer is yes.
As charities, you can’t engage in party politics, that is supporting one candidate over another, or providing an endorsement to one but not another, but we can, indeed we’re encouraged to engage in politics.
As we get ready for May, every campaigner should check out the guidance from the Electoral Commission on the Lobbying Act and the Charity Commission (Bond also has some helpful guidance) but that shouldn’t stop you from campaigning.
Countdown Clock at CCHQ
2 – Start now
Walk into the HQ of all of the main parties and you’ll see countdown clocks on their walls. For them the election has already started, and it’s got a fixed deadline – 10pm on May 7th, the point when polls close and nothing else can be done.
At the moment, in most constituencies’ candidates from any of the parties that hope to have a chance of winning will have been selected. For those candidates the most precious commodity they have is time, and as they get closer to the election, they’ll be thinking more and more about how they use their time to ensure they’re speaking to voters. Right now, candidates are busy, but not as busy as they will be in a few weeks time.
Come the ‘short’ campaign, which starts on 30th March, candidates are moving from one event to other, and they’re already starting to plan now for then, getting going now means your campaign has a chance of establishing itself before its just another event or activity in an already busy day.
3 – Everything is Local
There are few better ways of getting a sense of what people are thinking about than knocking on the doors as part of a party canvass, and as much as I’d like the top issues to be global poverty, climate change and world peace. More often than not its parking, poo, potholes, pavement and flytipping or welfare issues – housing, immigration, benefits. Occasionally global issues, but they’re rare.
For any campaign that means making your issues local as well, that could be making connections to local figures or events, ensure your statistics are localised or finding local figures to speak out in support of your issue.
Whatever you can do to demonstrate the breadth of local support for you campaign the better. Remember most candidates are thinking about events to attend alongside two axis the likelihood of those present actually voting and the likelihood of someone in the room voting for them, so make sure
Make it easy for candidates to support you
4- Make it Easy
Most candidates are keen to engage, they want to meet with voters, but remember they are time poor, so make it easy for them to engage with you and also their office staff. Behind ever candidate is a team who will be working hard and often making the decision about what events the candidate does and doesn’t attend.
Provide candidates with something in return for engaging with your campaign, the opportunity to meet local voters, a photo they can send to the local paper or thanks on twitter.
Also think about the medium of your message, most candidates will tell you that they’re already being inundated with emails and briefing papers, so what about video messages or infographic.
Finally, think about how they can really support your campaign – what can they actually do. Don’t ask a candidate to vote a particular way in Parliament if they’re not (yet) an MP.
5 – If they won’t come to you, go to them
One of the exciting thing about the upcoming election is I’m expecting more platforms that ever before to ask candidates the questions you want.
As well a the traditional hustings, often organised by local churches, this election most candidates are on twitter and looking to engage, local papers will run election specials, the growth of online localised communities holding ‘ask the candidate’ discussions or raising it when someone comes to knock on your doorstep. Whatever you can ‘get on the record’ now could invaluable come May 8th.
Heading into May, watching how parties respond to pledges is going to be interesting. Lots of campaigns ask candidates to sign pledge to show their support for an issue. It can an effective tool, but one I suspect many candidates will now approach with caution, especially as the possibility of a coalition government means MPs can be even less certain about what they can promise.
Amnesty Campaigners meeting with Caroline Lucas MP
6 – Plan for May 8th
The election may be over, but the hard work for whoever is elected has just begun. Be ready to follow up with those who’ve been elected, politicians are often accused of only appearing near an election but can the same be said of campaigners?
Offer to come to meet with them to brief them on the issue, write to them, reminding them of what the said in the campaign and don’t overlook getting in touch with the candidates that weren’t successful – remember that they might be candidates in another election.
7 – Vote
I hope that most campaigners vote. I have a rule on election day, that you can’t show up to help get out the vote if you’ve not already voted. If we want to participate in campaigning, we need to vote. If your not sure you’ll be in your constituency on election day, sign up for a postal vote here.

When newspapers start to campaign – The Times Cities for Cycling

The email from my father this weekend started like this;
Thomas, Can I bring your attention to The Times Cities for Cycling Campaign which is trying to make a real push to improve the cyclists lot and safety particularly in our cities but not exclusively. There are already some top people signed up to it (most UK cycling Olympic team members, Boris J and Ken L, Gabbi Logan, Jon Snow, James Cracknell)…..
It was in response to the biggest public policy campaign to launch last week didn’t come from an NGO or a pressure group but The Times newspaper, which launched the campaign on Thursday motivated by a tragic cycle accident that left one of its young reporters in a coma last year.
As a response, the papers campaign is calling on the adoption of an 8-point cycle safety plan in cities across the country. As I write the paper is suggesting that 17,000 people have supported the campaign, and over 600 have emailed there MP.
Now The Times isn’t the first newspaper to launch a campaign to change public policy, indeed seeing it reminded me of a conversation that I once had with a former Government PR Advisor who suggested that many of the campaigns that are launched are worked out with a certain level of collusion with the government beforehand, but it’s a good case study to look at.
To see what the newspaper has done well in the first few days of its campaign, and what it could improve on, but also the massive potential opportunities for the right campaigning partner to come alongside a newspaper on.
So what are they doing well?
They give profile to a previously overlooked issue – Now this is obvious, if you’ve got a daily readership of 400,000 people, plus excellent connections with credible spokespeople (see the use of many of our Olympic cycling medalists) it’s easy to give a huge amount of profile to the issue that has perhaps previously been overlooked, and that’s certainly true with the editorial coverage of this campaign. The website has a nice breakdown of everything they’ve covered and the celebrities they’ve engaged.
Direct access to decision makers – We shouldn’t underestimate just how good this access is. Read any of the diaries that came out from ministers in the previous Labour Government and you soon get a sense that they were in weekly (and perhaps daily) touch with the editors of the main newspapers. Add to that the fact that some of the advisors around key Ministers previously coming from the ‘fourth estate’ you can be sure that regular lobbying around some of the campaigns demands. I’m sure we’ll see articles in support of the campaign from leading political figures in the next few days.
They accelerate the policy change cycle – Perhaps because of the demands of a daily paper, or as a result of the discussions that happen before a campaign is launched, previous newspaper campaigns have been able to move from launching the campaign to declaring victory within days rather than, giving a natural platform to announce the campaign success. I can’t see the Times campaign as being any different.
In this campaign they’ve moved an issue that rapidly up the agenda of decision makers, and I’m sure across the country this weekend there are elected Mayors and Council Leaders trying to work what they can do to implement these suggestions. It’ll be interesting to see when The Times announces its first campaign victories, my guess it’ll be within days rather than the months it can often take for traditional NGO campaigns.
Engage new audience – Exhibit A for this would be my father, he’s a loyal Times reader and a regular cyclist, but he’s not a natural activist but so I can only guess that because the issue has come from a trusted source for him (his newspaper) its been able to engage him, and no doubt others in a way that other campaigning organisations can’t.
But what aren’t they so good at?
Taking supporters on a journey – Go to the website and the campaign offers a menu of three actions you can take to immediately support the campaign – Pledge Support, Spread the Word and Write to Your MP – but I’m not sure what will happen next to my Dad and the 17,000 others who’ve shown their support.
Will they hear more, or be encouraged to do more, or is their primary role to help provide the headline number? This is a space where a charity/campaigning partner working with the newspaper could play an important role, providing those readers who want to get involved in the campaign with tools and opportunities to do more.
Generating actions – I can’t decide if I should be impressed by 17,000 actions or a little underwhelmed. It’s a decent number but given the amount of coverage, the readership of the newspaper and the heavy promotion that it’s got on twitter, where #cyclesafe has been trending for much of the week in the UK, it puts it somewhere mid-table when it comes to the number of actions that movements like 38 Degrees or organisations like Friends of the Earth can generate. Perhaps its simply shows the challenge of converting coverage into campaign actions.
Seeing the issue to resolution – It’s too early to tell if this will be the case with the Times campaign, but given this isn’t the main business of a newspaper, it’ll be interesting to watch if the paper continues to monitor any commitments that are made to ensure they’re followed through on as opposed to simply being announced in response to the campaign.
Do you agree? Should we be impressed by 17,000 actions? Does working with a newspaper provide a great opportunity for a campaigning organisation? 

O.A.Ps = Overlooked Activist Potential

Older people are an often overlooked but vital group of activists so it’s great to see the Sheila McKechnie Foundation launch the ‘Take Action’ award supported by Age UK to ‘recognise and encourage older campaigners who are aged 60 or over who campaign about issues that matter to them’.
In my own work, I’ve often been inspired by the commitment that some of our older activists have played in our campaigns, so its great to find an opportunity to acknowledge the key role they play.
Here are a few reasons why I think campaigning organisations shouldn’t overlook the valuable role that older campaigners can play;
1. Engaged – From voting to participation in voluntary groups most surveys show that the over 60s are more likely to get involved, so if we’re looking for people who are likely to get involved on a regular basis older people are likely to be a reliable source. Add to that the fact that they vote means that they’re a group that politicians like to listen to because they’re more likely to turn up at the ballot box when it matters.
2 – Well networked in their communities – Many older people have lived in their communities for years and are often active members of community groups, faith communities, etc. So if we’re looking for people who know other people to get involved in our campaigns using the networks that many have could be an effective way of doing just that.
3 – Professional experience – This is a theme that Duncan Green picked up in a post entitled ‘Are Grey Panthers the next big thing in campaigning?‘ at the end of last year. If we’re looking for people who can talk about the importance of health systems in developing countries, should we be looking to get retired nurses and health workers from the UK involved? Will they be able to speak with an authenticity born from years of working in the health sector that others can’t?
4 – Time rich – One of the criticisms of the current debate about ‘clicktivism’ is that it’s campaigning for the time poor. That it’s suited for people who don’t have the time to do anything more than send an e-mail or click ‘like’ on a Facebook page. Many older campaigners have time to devote to other activities, so perhaps they’re the group we should be focusing on to take part in high-level campaign activities.
So how should we respond to working with older campaigners? Here are a few thoughts;

  • Build alliances with key gatekeepers – I remember being told once that the government really started to take notice of the Jubilee 2000 Campaign when it started getting messages from local WI groups around the country. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s a useful reminder that coalitions could do well to reach out to and engage similar groups.
  • Profile them in our materials – Too often our annual reports have pictures of enthusiastic young people on a demonstration, perhaps it’s time to start to profile some of the activities of our older campaigners.
  • Remember to go beyond philanthropy – One of the untold stories in development over the last 20+ years has been the role that the Rotary Club International has played in the fight to eradicate Polio worldwide. Through its branches it raised over $900 millions, but more than that it’s advocated to raise over $8billion from governments, but you probably haven’t heard much about it. A great example of using a network, which has its fair share of older members, not simply to raise money but also advocating for change.

Love and hate – a contrast in approaches to climate campaigns in the UK and US

Justin Roswlatt, BBC’s Newsnights ‘Ethical Man’ had an excellent piece on last nights programme about the new approach that the Obama administration is taking to win over environmental activists.
It’s fascintating to see how the administration is reaching out to these radical students to get them to be ambassadors in their communities. One can only imagine how excited the activists must feel after spending so many years in the wilderness under the Bush presidency.
The slot started with an interview with Ed Miliband, the UK Climate Change minister discussing the way that the police have been violating the rights of UK activists in the last few weeks (although some would argue that it shows that the movement is making an impact because it’s attracting attention).
Miliband once against affirmed the right to protest at being at the heart of our democratic rights and talked about the importance of creating a ‘Make Poverty History’ like movement on the issue. It might be needed but the movement won’t grow if the supporters of organisations like Christian Aid get hastled by the police at campaign events.

Age of Stupid

Age of Stupid is a new documentary film about climate change that went on general release this week.
The film was crowd-funded by over 200 people and stars Pete Postlethwaite as a man who ask ‘why didn’t we stop climate change when there was still time?’. At the heart of the film is a call to action and the aim to launch a campaign to reach and mobilise a a movement of people who want to see more action taken on climate change and urgently.
I saw the film last night, and as I entered I was handed a pack of campaigning information and the hope must have been that I’d be so inspired at the end that I’d walk out ready to take action, but was I?
While it was interesting film, I’m not sure it has the cross over appeal that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. To much of the film felt like it was preaching to the existing climate change activists, rather than trying to reach out to new people who need to be convinced that we must do more than simply switch to energy saving bulbs.
Parts of the film felt unnecessary, containing material which runs the risk of alienating the very people that need to be won over. I’m not sure for example how the section on the Iraq War and the quest for Oil adds to the argument (especially now we have Obama in power) or the constant American bashing (which might play well to a leftish UK audience but I don’t think is going down with the proud middle American) help.
The film has a number of nice stories about the impact of climate change, my particular favourite is the French mountain guide, but it didn’t have a clear call to action within the film itself, leaving that to some titles in the end credits, which half of those watching my screening missed because they had already left. In the end I walked out of the film feeling dis empowered, that the issue was so big what could I ever do to stop climate change.
The materials in the campaign pack are clever and linked to a campaign which is being branded ‘Not Stupid’, the pack has some Stupid certificates which your asked to send to those who have are doing something to increase the likelihood of climate change, and some Not Stupid certificates to send to those who have done the opposite.  Plus a Local Action Plan, which is a concise summary of what is happening locally, or it should be but I’ve got a plan for Edinburgh rather than South London.
It remains to be seen if the film helps to build a movement of new people to add their voice . Its interesting to see the way the film has been embraced by the UK government.  I hope I’m wrong and thousands of new people watch it and start to take action, but somehow I don’t think I will be.