How to – commission polling for your campaign

I’m seeing more and more campaigners turn to opinion polling as a tactic – and having recently been involved in commissioning some polling, I thought it’d be useful to share a few lessons that I’ve picked up;

1. Start by being clear on what you’re looking to achieve from your polling – ask yourself is it polling ‘to know’ or ‘to show’?

Polling to know is about giving you and your organisation insight and information for the campaigning you are doing, it might be used to inform your strategy or approach, but it might not be something you want to make public.

Polling to show is when it’s designed to demonstrate to your target audience (that could be a decision maker, supporters or the wider public) something that you want them to know about public opinion on a specific issue – this is probably something you’re going to look to put out in a press release or briefing.

2. Decide on the type of polling you want to do – there are different approaches, and they all have different timescales to them. The most common polling that you see is based on a nationally representative sample of the UK public – basically, the pollster you work with will get the views of around 1,000 people to make up a sample that reflects the population of the UK – normally these can be turned around in a few days as most pollsters have weekly polls they can drop them into – where their panels respond to questions on a whole range of topics.

You can also look to use the same approach but ask to focus on a particular region of the UK (as a national representative sample probably won’t give you a sample size big enough to be statistically significant for most specific regions or nations) or a group (for example previous Conservative voters) – generally the more complicated the sample you’re looking for the longer and more expensive it can get.

Increasingly some organisations are using MRP (Multilevel regression and post-stratification) polling, which is a more complex approach, which seeks to sample a large group, and then uses statistical analysis of that plus insight from the census to provide estimates of opinions and attitudes for geographical areas, like a constituency – it’s a great way of getting more detailed insight, and 38 Degrees are the example of an organisation who use it powerfully for campaigning, but it’s much more expensive and takes longer (weeks not days) – so potentially good for planned work but less useful if you’re looking for something quickly.

3. Decide how you’re going to share the results from the start – as you start to think about polling bring together all those who will be involved in sharing the findings together. If you’re looking to get media coverage from your polling, you want to be getting media colleagues involved to think about the media line you might be looking for – and also what else has been in the media recently.

You can also think about using results in MP briefing – especially useful if you can provide details by constituency or region, and there is lots you can do – especially if you can find interesting ways of bringing the findings to life.

Deciding on your approach before you commission – can help you think what you’re looking for in the questions you ask. Also, talk with whomever you’re commissioning the polling from to see if they’ll be happy to share the findings on their channels as well – it might be a good way of getting the results out to a wider audience.

One thing that I think charities could look to do more of is to repeat their polling over a period of time – for example, looking to ask the same questions every 6 or 12 months to see how much the political landscape is changing– it’s obviously a commitment in resource, but could be an interesting approach.

4. Who to work with – there are lots of companies that will offer to do polling for you, but some have better reputations than others. If you’re looking for polling that is going to be used in more political work, then start by looking at working with a polling company that regularly publishes polls on voting intention as they’re likely to have better name recognition with your targets – looking for a member of the British Polling Council is probably a good place to start.

Every polling company charges differently but expect to put aside at least a few £100s for each question you want to ask – and it’s often the case you’ll want to ask more than one, and as mentioned earlier more complexity = more cost, but often more interesting results.

Expect to get a spreadsheet with the results, including breaking them down by different demographics, and sometimes previous voting intention from your pollster. While these breakdowns can be interesting – be careful not to over-interpret small sample sizes.

5. Coming up with the questions – there is an art to writing great polling questions – and for your polling to have credibility it’s important to try to avoid bias or opinion in them that leads to a particular result.

The polling company you work with will be able to advise you on how to approach this but also get the insight or information you’re looking for. I’d also recommend running the question by someone who isn’t as close to the subject as you are – to get a sense of it it’s understandable to someone without expert knowledge of a topic.

And a note to caution, the reality is that if you’re asking on something very specific it might be that you get lots of ‘don’t know’ answers.

How to – organise a campaign stunt

It’s been a while since I organised a campaign stunt, but after putting 100s of shoes out in Trafalgar Square to highlight the ongoing hunger crisis in East Africa.

Following it I did a bit of a learning session with my team on running great campaign stunts, and wanted to share some of my lessons here – it’s very much from the perspective of making these happen within charities, but hopefully it’s useful.

Campaign stunts can be really varied – but being really clear on what you’re looking to achieve from the activity is critical to good planning.

Are you looking for media coverage, to generate content to share on social media, to engage a political targets (like getting MPs to come out and join you), to bear witness to an issue that’s happening, or to engage the public.

Whatever you decide to do, simplicity is the key – introducing too many elements into a stunt can often make an image. So come up with a simple idea that you’re looking to deliver.

When you’ve decided on what you’re looking to do it’s time to start to think about the location for your stunt.

Most public spaces require you to get permission to formally use them – that can be from the local authority or the landowner, although increasingly many public spaces are privately owned and that makes doing some activities harder.

Sometimes you might decide that your stunt is going to be small or happen quickly so you’ll decide not to ask for permission, or asking for permission will prevent it from happening so you can plan to go ahead without it, but that’ll be an organisational decision.

If you’re looking for your event to happen in and around Parliament then you’ve got a few options, most of which need to have permission requested 14 days in advance – Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square are both under auspice of the Greater London Authority, Victoria Tower Gardens (the space south of Parliament) is under the Royal Parks (who are often hard to work with) and there are various spaces on the Parliament estate which you can also look to hold an stunt on.

It’s certainly my experience that given the level of security around Parliament its hard to do much without permission, but it’s often easier when you move away from higher profile locations – almost all spaces have conditions on what you can and can’t do, including when you can do something. Generally they like stunts to happen at quieter times of the day – so expect an early start!

If you’re looking for props for your stunt I’d recommend getting in touch with a theatre set designer – they’re excellent at turning your vision into something that can be used – remember they have to build props that are durable but can get on and off stage quickly.

However it’s often it’s a case of needing to get out and source the materials you need – for example recently needing 2000 pairs of shoes for a stunt required getting on the phone to second-hand clothing wholesalers – basically Google is your friend.

Do think about the sustainability of your materials and what you’re going to do with them after the stunt – including where your going to store them. Invariably organisational finance process can slow down getting props commissioned or items– so if you think you’ll be likely to do this perhaps start to source a supplier ahead of time

While a picture can tell a thousand words, having some banners or signs at your stunt can be helpful. Generally I’ve got these printed by a local printer who can turn things around within 24 hours or so (at Save the Children we use ABC Imaging as they’re close to our office).

If you’re looking for banners think about the size and material you want to make from them – explore material banners which are better for the environment or make your own from sheets. Signs can be held by participants – and often best if printed on foamboard as they are a little more rigid and have better waterproof qualities. Most of the time I’ve found a printer will take a high-res pdf version to print, but check requirements.

As part of your planning you’ll want to think about the staff that you’ll need at your stunt – they probably fall into 3 groups;

  • Those needed to make the stunt happen who will be focused on logistics and delivery of the stunt. Appoint someone as the stunt lead but don’t ask them to take on any other role. Make sure you’ve thought about the number of people you’ll need to put up or out any props that you’re using, or how you’ll steward a space – less of a challenge if it’s early in the morning.
  • Those capturing the stunt – this should include any spokespeople you’ll need for the media interview, or capturing social media content. If you’re looking to get media coverage don’t assume that papers will send their own photographer, so look to book your own so you can share the photos with your press release.
  • Those supporting others who are involved – if you’ve got young people, or celebrities (which can be helpful in getting media coverage), or politicians coming along you’ll probably want some people who are explicitly linked to working with them.

Ahead of the event, put some time in to brief everyone on what’s going to happen and their role on the day, plus what to do if something goes wrong.

Approach planning the stunt as you would any stunt – exploring putting together a project plan (or whatever tool you find most useful for planning), put in some regular check-ins with key colleagues that are working with you on it, set a budget, and once it’s all over do a quick learning review or evaluation

Every charity will approach this differently, so follow your internal guidance, but expect to put together a risk assessment for your stunt – it’s something that’ll be needed for some authorities to give you permission to use a specific space, but also a useful way to test what you need to be thinking about.

You might find that you need to demonstrate that you have public liability insurance – which would cover your organisation if something went wrong (which is unlikely), and you’ll want to make sure you’ve got contact details of any suppliers you’re going to need on the day – one of my learnings is if you’ve got to get props on site, make sure your courier or van driver knows exactly where to drop them.

It’s very unlikely anything will go wrong, but I always find it’s useful to run a quick ‘what will we do if’ exercise to think about any key things that might be challenge you occur on the day and what you’ll do – for example what happens if its raining, or someone does turn up, and to take with me to any stunt a bag of ‘just in case’ materials like Gaffa Tape, cable ties, marker pens, etc.

Finally, there are loads of people who can help, from professional event planners who can take on lots of the planning and logistics, to other campaigners who’d always be happy to offer some advice based on what they’ve done.

In praise of network weavers

Successful movements don’t just occur – they often emerge thanks to patience and the ongoing work of individuals and organisations to bring them together.

It’s the quiet and behind-the-scenes work of network weavers (sometimes referred to in documents as ‘movement builders’ or ‘field builders’) that helps to create a critical mass for change.

As IPPR found in their study last year of what works when it comes to making change – that in many successful movements it’s thanks to the work of individuals and organisations who make sure everyone’s activities ‘add up to more than the sum of its part’ – work that is often in everyone’s interest but no-one’s immediate remit.

While in this report from the US foundation, Bridgespan Group (see above for the 4 Superpowers they identify), they highlight the importance and unique role that some who is at a nerve center of a coordinated approach who is able to work in partnership and at the service of a myriad of actors devoted to solving a given problem or cause.

Almost by design, these individuals can go overlooked, but without them many of our causes, but what are the key characteristics of effective network weavers;

  1. They have a deep understanding of the issue and the ecosystem around it. They look to have a birds-eye view of what’s happening, and who’s involved. They understand those who are deeply involved in the work on this issue alone, and other who are working across a breadth of issues who can be drawn in. They find opportunities to bring those working at a local and national level, and with those working in adjacent issues.  

  2. An organisers mindset – they use the tools of organising to build the ecosystem or field that’s working on an issue. They look to actively build connections, build trust and confidence through 1:1s, and bring people to the table. This work is often in the background without fanfare.

    Like organisers, they’re consistently assessing is what’s happening, adapting their point of view, and working out how to take advantage of a moment. It’s not a passive convening role, but an active but quiet leadership knowing when to push for action or when to encourage reflection.

  3. Hold trusting relationships built through humility and openness, accepting when they get things wrong as well as right. They’re able to look to bridge the divides that often occur in movements, looking to find ground between those who are reformists and rebels.

  4. Share tools and knowledge – they offer those involved in the work the tools that are needed to help to deliver change, and if they can’t they go and find them. They’re open to sharing the knowledge and insight they have – on social media, in newsletters, and in meetings. They don’t see the value in hoarding it within a small group but in making it available to those who need it.

  5. They know when to step in – I’ve written about this before in coalitions, that every coalition needs someone who will step in to make things happen, from minutes of meetings to moving forward a vital action. It’s the same with network weavers, they know when to step in to help move forward a project or initiative, and also when to encourage something to come to an end.

How stunts can amplify your campaign message

Earlier this month, working with the Crack the Crises coalition, I was in Cornwall for the G7. 

Around Falmouth, where the G7 media center was located, at times it felt like you were at a festival of activism, with dozens of causes and campaigns looking to get coverage for their issues, and given the COVID restrictions more so than at previous G7 lots of these were through photo stunts (see a good collection here).

Across the weekend of the summit, as the Crack the Crises coalition, we organised for a blimp of Boris and Joe Biden to float in the Harbour, and for members of the coalition and the local community to hold a Vigil to remember the 3.7 million people globally who had lost their lives due to COVID.

So it got me thinking about the role of and use of stunts as a campaign approach.

Over the weekend of the summit I saw how what I’m calling the ‘summit stunt cycle’ can work itself ou. Given you can’t actually advocate directly to decision-makers at the G7, so much of the influencing that happens during a summit like the G7 through the media – those running the summit, in this case, the UK government, want to use the media to portray the summit as a success – ‘look we’ve got leaders to donate 1 bn vaccines’, while those of us on the outside want to suggest otherwise – ‘a huge disappointment and a missed opportunity‘.

And that’s where stunts can be really helpful.

They provide an opportunity to get the media interested in your message or perspective, by providing a hook for a photo or a conversation with a journalist, which can lead media interviews, which can lead to help set expectations for what ‘success’ from the summit would look like, causing your target to respond – hopefully by raising ambition – and so you get to go round the cycle again.

Perhaps the G7 is a unique summit, but the reality is that photo moments or stunts can be a useful tool for campaigners, so here are 5 top reflections on what makes a successful summit stunt;

1. Be informed by the official agenda – it’s very hard to drive a news cycle at a Summit as so much of it is dominated by what’s on the official agenda – so think about how your stunt can add to that. One organisation, Oxfam, has done this absolutely brilliantly for the last 15 years.

Since 2005, they’ve been taking their Big Heads of G7 leaders to summit after summit and serving up brilliant photo after brilliant photo. So this G7 the focus was going to be focused on vaccines and climate – so that’s what the Oxfam stunts were about. Perfectly providing a picture – and an alternative message – to what the government wanted the message to be.

2. A good stunt is simple – the adage that a ‘picture paints a thousand words’ is so true when it comes to stunts. It can be really easy to over think or overcomplicated – something that sounds great in a brainstorm but doesn’t translate into a stunt. And the reality is that if you build on the ‘summit stunt cycle’ you don’t want to overthink it.

How much did a giant blimp of Boris and Biden actually have to do with vaccines or climate? Not that much, but perhaps it didn’t matter – it said ‘these are the leaders that matter and we need them to do more than just turn up for it to be a successful meeting’

3. Plan to fill the quieter moments – There are hours of coverage at a summit that need to be filled by journalist and broadcasts, perhaps even more so in the days of live blogs and 24-hour news – and only so many photos of leaders on a beach, at a BBQ or around a table.

Don’t plan to do your stunt when it’ll be clashing with leaders press conferences, but do think about early in the morning, or in the evening, when the official agenda is quieter. 

We got the media out on a press boat at 8am and got lots of coverage for the blimp just because nothing else was happening at the Summit. The Vigil we held was at the end of the day and ran on many news channels over the whole night, as it was one of the last images from the summit that day.

4. Be adaptable – this is why I’m so in awe of the Big Heads because they can easily be reused to work for the moment. The dynamics of the summit can change across a weekend, so planning a stunt for the final day which can’t be easily adapted is risking the summit staying on track – having something more adaptable means as the summit goes on your can help to adjust your approach to feed into that summit stunt cycle.

But you also need to accept that not every stunt will get coverage– but as with much campaigning, it’s better to try and not succeed than not try and wish you had.

5. Work together – Good stunts work because they bring everyone together, you need media colleagues to get out and sell it in to the media, you need spokespeople who are preapred to do endless interviews to share the message, you need social media colleagues to push the idea out on your own channels, and you want to work with event experts to make – it’s a perfect example of when campaigners need to be the glue to hold it all.

Campaigning and the Church

It’s been a few years since I worked for a charity directly linked to the church – but because I’ve worked for Christian Aid and Tearfund – and as I’ve always tried to be open that my Christian faith has always been an important part of my motivation as a campaigner – I often get drawn into conversations and discussions by those seeking to understand a little more about how to engage churches in their campaigning.

I’ve had a few of those over the last month, so thought it useful to write a few reflections – that are by necessity, broad, on churches and campaigning – which might be useful to others.

  1. Go behind the ‘church attendance is down’ headline – it is, and that’s not news, the reality is that overall church attendance has fallen dramatically over the last few decades, but behind that overall trend is a much more complicated picture. 

Attendance at some denominations (like Methodist or United Reformed Church) that have often put social justice at the heart of their mission, appears to be declining faster – with some predicting that some denominations will be very small in a few decades if rates of decline continue. 

However there are other pockets of the church where numbers attending are growing – see for example the growth of the Catholic Church in London as an example of this, which has seen growth as a result of immigration into the city, or the continued growth of pentecostal and evangelical churches in urban areas across the country (including some growth in attendance at Church of England services in London – see graph (which is a few years old)).

Resurrection? | The Economist


So the story is more complicated and nuanced than the headlines would have you understand, but often much of that growth is centered in more urban areas, and that’s having an impact on where churches can be engaged in campaigning.

2. Understand the structures you’re navigating – as with any institution, most churches are part of a formal national structure – understanding it will help you to navigate it, but it’s useful to be aware that the overall decline in church attendance is putting pressures on those structures.  

For example, many vicars in the Church of England have multiple congregations or churches that they’re now responsible for. As attendance numbers have fallen, and the resulting impact on budgets – remember churches are mostly reliant on individuals contributions from congregation members, fundraising, and sometimes income that comes from investments or property – so bringing groups of churches together has been a viable financial approach. 

Just keeping the local church going is a rewarding, but often exhausting, vocation for those in local church leadership. It does mean that there isn’t an interest in campaigning or social justic causes, it’s just that the reality of local ministry with its many competing demands. That was before the impact of COVID, and the fact that many congregations haven’t been able to gather in person for much of the last 12 month which no doubt    

3. Don’t assume that just because you’ve got someone at the top involved means it’ll be a success – different churches have different relationships with authority and hierarch – indeed much of church history and the emergence of new denominations is arguably about difference over that, and like any organisation understanding it will help you to navigate it. 

Too often I’ve found colleagues who think that getting a Bishop (a senior role in both the Church of England and Catholic Church) onboard is enough – only to be disappointed. It certainly helps, but it probably doesn’t unlock as much as you might like. Also, be aware that churches often work on long timetables. Want them to get involved in your cause – plan months ahead if you can, and check the church calendar as well – your plan for a really important event on the Easter weekend is probably not going to get a fair consideration! 

4. Churches are about the communities they serve – I don’t have any data for it (although I suspect some readers of this blog would be able to point me towards it), but my hunch would be that during periods where levels of poverty and inequality in the UK are rising, then you’ll see a corresponding increase in the churches setting up projects and activities in the communities that they serve. 

In many communities, local churches (along with other faith groups) are a key player in organising the local food bank, debt advice service, shelter for the homeless, or the local refugee welcome group. Churches are about the community they serve  – but again it can mean the ‘bandwidth’ to connect on other topics or issues can be reduced, or approaches need to be made that connect with what is happening in a community.

5. Don’t be scared of evangelicals– most evangelical churches in the UK aren’t anything like what you might see on TV coming from America. Indeed, I’d argue that one of the stories of the last few decades is how much the evangelical ‘wing’ of the church has rediscovered its interest in social justice and the need for engagement in politics – I say rediscover because many social reformers identified as evangelicals, but that’s a whole theological PhD!

Go into most evangelical churches and you’ll find a commitment to action on the climate, fair trade, poverty, and other issues. You might find you don’t agree on everything – but good campaigning is often about building a coalition that is broader. Approach ready for a conversation to find the common ground, while accepting that there is something that your not going to agree on.

6. Churches like to work together – look around for the existing relationships, they might be through charities or organisations that have a long connection working on an issue – many of the campaigning organisations that we see around us have roots in churches, for example, the Children Society or Trussel Trust were both founded with links to the church.

With each other, often through local platforms like Churches Together groups which have often take a role at organising local election hustings (but like many other bodies in the church struggling to find volunteers), and with other faith groups – through interfaith platforms.

Working through those relationships and partnerships is important so approaching your work with that same emphasis on working together is a important place to start. 

7. The church is made up of people – so like any other charity or organisation, it can experience many of the same challenges and opportunities that other charities and voluntary organisations face. Congregational giving will often be squeezed if the overall economy is shrinking and individuals feel they’ve got to save, and like many charities finding volunteers to replace those who are choosing to step back or retire as they get older is a challenge that many churches also face.

Oh, and don’t expect everyone to hold the same view or opinion – indeed in many churches, you’ll find that the very opposite, a community of individuals united by the same faith, but politely disagreeing on much else.

A toolkit for playing defensive advocacy

A new Prime Minister, a possible General Election and Brexit continues to rumble on.

In our current, politically uncertain times do we need to start to reconsider what campaign success looks like?

That’s why I really enjoyed the latest paper from the team at the Centre for Evaluation Innovation which looks at how to define what successful defensive advocacy looks like (and is summarised in the short video below)

I’ve written before that sometimes campaigners should focus on ‘keeping the keep’ rather than expecting that they can move the ball down the field , so the report ‘When the Best Offense is a Good Defense: Understanding and Measuring Advocacy on the Defense’ provides a really helpful framework for what successful defensive advocacy, which they define as ‘a “win” can mean avoiding a disadvantageous policy or holding the line on past wins’, might look like.

Here at my top takeaways;

  1. Start to reconsider what success looks like – the whole premises of the report is that too often we spend our time focusing on advocacy that leads to how new policy changes that occur, but do we spend enough time. The report reflects that ‘one of the challenges for advocates on the defense is accurately describing and exciting funders about impact that doesn’t necessarily match up well with ingrained ideas of success: i.e. a pronounced and consistent upward trajectory of positive change for certain populations or environments’ but I think that’s also true within our organisations as well. Too often we’ve premised our narrative on progress, rather than highlighting that sometimes ‘holding the line’ is a success in itself.
  2. Understand the reactive approach you need to take – the report highlight that defensive advocacy can take on different approaches to ‘stop making bad stuff happen’, it can include;
    1. Maintaining a past win or preserving the status quo – is defined by advocacy to defend or maintain an existing law, act or policy.
    2. Lessening the blow – focusing on modifying or removing the most disadvantage aspects of a new policy.
    3. Killing the bill – when the focus of advocacy is preventing the adoption of new policies or laws.
  3. The importance of the inside game – having good relationships with those working inside Government or Parliament. They can informally alert you to possible threats before they’re publically known, as it can often easier to stop a proposal or approach being introduced before it is known publically as it’s easier for a target to ‘walk back’ their position without being perceived as having publically lost because of your pressure.
  4. Playing the long game – although most defensive advocacy is often in the moment responding to a threat, others are involved in ‘proactive defense’ – long-term defensive strategies that can focus on;
    1. Pre-emptive defense – building or maintaining capacity so they’re able to react quickly to foreseen defensive needs when a proactive approach is unfeasible.
    2. Long-term restoration – winning back previous losses over time when reactive efforts have failed.
  5. Being prepared – none of this work is possible without advocates having taken the time to think through what will be needed to play defense and built the standing capacity ready to respond as needed – it’s a theme I find myself coming back to, are we doing enough to plan and prepare for these moments, and do we test our processes to ensure we’re able to respond.
  6. Hold ourselves to the same standards – doing defensive advocacy isn’t second-order work, if it’s the approach that is needed, then it needs to be approached with the same thoroughness of thought, analysis of targets and opportunities, and consideration of a theory of change as advocacy that is pushing an agenda forward. The report also has some useful reflections on what tools we can use to evaluate our approaches.

But as I’ve reflected on the report I’ve also has been wondering if ‘offense is the best form of defense’ that our most successful advocacy is when we’re pushing forward a positive vision and agenda, so while we should be equipped with the tools to run defensive advocacy, we shouldn’t lose sight of the need to present a bigger vision in our advocacy.

Top tips for blogging

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

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

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

How to sustain the energy in your campaign

I’m off to chat to the good folk in the campaigns team at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home later today about how to keep the energy going in your campaign. It’s been a really fun question to be thinking about – not least because I can use a cute cat picture to illustrate this blog.
But as I’ve been preparing I’ve been struck that we often spend so much time and effort on planning the launch phase of our campaigns but don’t think about how to sustain the energy and momentum that we need to secure change.
As, George Lakey, said in his London lecture earlier this week, “a campaign, in contrast to a protest, is going at it over and over again, and escalating at the point of vulnerability of your target until you succeed”.
So here are 9 thoughts about sustaining the energy in your campaign;

  1. Think about the moments that people care about not moments you care about – too often we focus our campaigning around pushes that fit our policy calendars. There can be a rationale to that, but why not look at alternative moments that might help to get your campaign noticed in an a different light.
  2. Mind the moment gap – thinking about moments means that we can get caught forgetting what’s going to happen in the gaps. It’s hard to sustain the same level of output for a long period of time, but planning ahead and thinking about how well placed media work, a opinion poll or another approach.
  3. Ask what’s working/what’s needed – if you have allies inside your target, why not ask them what’s working or not working. What tactic could help to make the biggest different at that moment. They might make suggestions that you’ve not thought about or how to open up a new flank in your campaign.
  4. Share, and re-share, great content – shareable content is king, but too often we produce it without thinking about audience insight, or rush to move onto the next great idea without pushing it out enough. In a time when we’re bombarding by so much content, repackaging and reusing content is too often overlooked. The same goes for message discipline, I’m struck by how much time Shelter put into repackaging the same message in their housing campaigns.
  5. Never let a good crisis go to waste – it can be easy to see crisis as moments that you can’t plan for, but I’m not sure that’s true. Most crisis can be anticipated even if the exact timing can’t be pinned down. They’re great opportunities to reach new audiences or create a renewed push behind your policy ask. I thought Which? did this brilliantly around the RyanAir flight cancellations recently – they presumably know that a crisis was going to occur and had the content ready for it. What’s the equivalent for your campaign issue?
  6. Explore allies and alliances – bring in new people to your issue by thinking about how you can take it too new audiences. Too many campaigns try to focus on energising the same group of people to get involved over and over again, but those that are able to reach out to new groups can immediately bring in new energy.
  7. Claim it  – Campaigns with big ambitions can sometimes lose energy and momentum, but like your teacher would have advised you when planning your revision timetable, it’s easier to eat a chocolate elephant a little at a time.
    Breaking down your campaign and building in winnable milestones can really help. We’re running a campaign on the conflict in Yemen at work at the moment. It’s a big problem to solve but by focusing our campaigning on milestones, like getting the UN to list the Saudi led coalition in a key report, has helped to provide milestone win to keep supporters feeling like the actions they are taking are making a difference.
  8. Give it away – provide campaigners with the tools and content to make their own and get out into their communities – it’s a key approach that many distributed campaigns take, allowing the energy and ideas of those closest to a community to engage in a campaign.
  9. Abeyance – while many campaigns are right to keep going, sometime a period of abeyance can be the best approach, a period when a campaign isn’t in public view. We perhaps sometimes forget that it took over 100 years for the campaign to end the Slave Trade to be successful.

What other ideas and lessons do you have about how campaigns can sustain the energy needed to win?

Meet the Lords – lessons for campaigners

For the last few weeks, political geeks like me will have been watching BBC2’s Meet The Lords. It’s the follow-up to the Inside the Commons series from a couple of years ago, but this time focusing on the second chamber.
For campaigners, wherever you stand on reform of the House of Lords, the programme shows why thinking about how you can most effectively influence the second chamber is important in the current political context.
It’s essential viewing, but what clues does the series give us about how best to work with them?
Lords often really are working alone – Peers don’t come accompanied by lots of staff, at best some share a member of staff, but in episode 2 we literally watched Lord Dubs repeatedly answer his own phone to respond to media enquiries as he was pushing his amendment on refugee children
As Esther Foreman points out in her brilliant report ‘Peering In‘, which look at how Peers respond to the campaigning techniques many of us use, this means campaigners need to consider the best approaches. So while we’ve grown used to MPs having staff and increasingly sophisticated mechanisms to respond the same isn’t true of Lords. So you have to question the effectiveness of mass email campaigns towards peers.
For Esther, that means the following when thinking about campaign communications with peers;

  1. Clear, well-written, thoughtful and timely communication.
  2. A personal link between the Peer and the individual/s sending the email. (note – on this allows you to enter a place, topic or birthday to join you with a Peer)
  3. When it is combined with, or pointing to, strong evidence-based policy position or personal stories/ case studies.

But many of them are really know their stuff – if it’s true that MPs are often required to know ‘a lot about a little’ then peers are the opposite. Many of them have extensive experience in different sectors before entering the Lords, including the recent creation of the People’s Peers like Big Issue founder Baron Bird who we followed in Episode 1.
This is a potential goldmine for campaigners as it means you can get a real expert with extensive knowledge of an issue. So as campaigners do your homework and make sure you’re looking for those who have connections to your issues. My bet is that many charities will find former board members or even staff are now sitting on the red benches. Quality engagement with them might be most effective way to reach peers – for example in a previous campaign I was involved in we got supporters to write handwritten letters to selected peers.
They are an independent bunch but they can secure real change – the series follows a few examples of peers pushing specific amendments in bills, for example, Baroness King of Bow who was looking to secure changes for parents that adopt in episode 1. The key to success appears to be able to a) picking on a specific amendment, b) building a compelling case backed up by evidence, c) engaging allies in the Commons and d) pushing on it at every opportunity informally in the tea room and formally in the relevant committees. It’s not glamorous but it can be effective.
Ping Pong doesn’t mean Table Tennis – Instead, it’s the to and fro between the Commons and the Lords when they disagree on something. The series shows how Lords Dubs pushed his amendment and Labour Peers push against reforms to party funding and secured change. The key to winning change here seems to be that you can secure change when a defeat in the Lords enables a group of backbench MPs to push again on an issue. So it’s not a shortcut to good work with MPs but it can help to keep an issue on the agenda or push for concessions from the Government.
You need to rethink partisan politics – The series also highlights the important role that Crossbenchers play, it’d be easy to see this group of peers as just another political party, but instead they are an independent group of Peers who can be persuaded on issue, as we see in episode 1 when they’re being lobbied by MPs. But beyond that, the series shows that many Peers are more willing to break the Whip than in the Commons or look to collaborate across party lines on amendments – which leads to the sight in episode 2 of Green peer Jenny Jones collaborating with a Conservative Lord and property magnet.
But beyond that, the series shows that many Peers are more willing to break the Whip than in the Commons or look to collaborate across party lines on amendments – which leads to the sight in episode 2 of Green peer Jenny Jones collaborating with a Conservative Lord and property magnet.
For those interested in how to influence the Lords, NCVO is running this training in June.

Getting the most from your time as a intern

I’m re-posting some of my favorite and still relevant posts from the archives. This post still feels relevant for those starting internships and volunteer this summer. It also provides me the opportunity to highlight;

  • Applications for the next Campaign Bootcamp are open, including a stack of awesome scholarships that are available to help anyone who wants to come. 
  • I’m looking to recruit a Campaign and Policy Trainee to join the team at Bond. Applications close on Wednesday. It’s a great role, paid at the London Living Wage, for someone looking to make a start working in an exciting team (and with me!)

School’s out for the summer for university students, and some will be heading into summer internships with campaigning organisations across the UK and beyond.
Doing an (hopefully paid) internships is one of the routes for getting a permanent job in campaigning, it’s also a good way of finding out that this perhaps isn’t the career for you.
I’ve been fortunate to have hosted lots of great volunteers, interns and trainees in the organisation I’ve worked in over the years, and as such come up with my 8 top tips for getting the most out of your time as a volunteer/intern with a campaigns team.
1. Be honest – Find out why you’re being asked to do the tasks your being asked to do. Some of them won’t be glamorous, but there should be a good reason for everything you’re being asked to do. Asking lots of questions is one of the best ways of understanding how different tactics and approaches come together to make a campaign.
2. Be clear – Make sure you get the time you need at the start of your time with an organisation to understand what they want you to achieve from your time, and for you to explain what you hope to achieve. If there are certain areas that you’re interested in finding out about more, ask at the start as it’s often possible to arrange something. Be clear what your objectives from the time you’ll be volunteering are.
3. Be in the room – I always try to make an effort to invite volunteers and interns to different meetings that are going on. Some of them are directly related to a project they may be involved with, but often I see them as a good opportunity to learn. If you’re invited to these meeting, GO. You’ll almost certainly get an insight that you wouldn’t have done if you’d just stayed at your desk.
4. Be bold – It can be intimidating being a volunteer or intern, but be bold and if you think that somethings been overlooked in a meeting or if you have a good idea to contribute speak up. Chances are those involved will welcome the new insight that you’re able to bring.
5. Be a networker – Make time to try to get to know others around the organisation, approach people from different teams and ask if you might be able to meet them for lunch to find out more about their work. They’ll probably be happy to share more about it, go with some good question and you’ll come back an hour later with a better picture of how the work you’re doing links with the work of the rest of the organisation.
6. Be a learner – Ask those you’re working with for suggestions of good books, websites, reports and resources. It’s a good way to learn more about the campaigning craft and find out how others do it. Many organisations also have lunchtime sessions with internal/external speakers, go along to these as well.
7. Be cheerful – it sounds so obvious, but bring energy into the office you work in. There is little worse that a volunteer who appears uninterested. Get involved in making the tea or partaking in whatever other office routines you encounter.
8. Give feedback – At the end of your time let those you’ve been working with know what you’ve enjoyed doing, and what you found could do with some more consideration. You’ll be helping out future volunteers/interns.
What advice would you give to those coming to intern for you this summer?
Update – The team at Bright One have also come up with an excellent list of Do’s and Don’ts for an intern.