What is your target seat strategy?

With the recent local elections out of the way, and thoughts turning to a potential General Election in the next 2+ years, I’m sure many campaigners are looking at their target constituency list and reflecting if they’ve got the right seats and MPs on them.

Putting together a target seat list is more of an art than a science, but when you have limited resources putting in some thought to the approach that you’re going to take and the rationale for it can help.

So where do you start, below I’ve listed a number of different approaches that you think about taking for your list;

  • Political Lifecycle – there is often a temptation to focus on those already holding the key political positions that you’re looking to influence. That can be important, but with Ministers changing regularly, and often by virtue of their ministerial role being less active in their constituencies, I’m not sure that just focusing on ministers is the best approach to take. Not least because it can take time to build your presence in a constituency and you can quickly find that work wasted when a reshuffle happens.

    But looking at other ‘life’ stages for an MP could be useful, for example;
    • Reflecting on those that are likely to get promoted in future reshuffles – perhaps by looking at who’s in junior minister and Parliamentary Private Secretary roles – they’re often the roles future Ministers take.
    • Building a base of support in the seats of MPs who are on key Select Committees or APPGs.
    • An approach that looks at those MPs who just got elected at the last election – based on an assumption that newer MPs might have more incentive to be seen to be active in their constituency as they look to establish themselves, or perhaps still working out what they want to prioritise as an MP.
    • You could play a long game by building power in those seats where an MP might be likely to retire at the next election, so you’ve got a base to influence new incumbent MPs.

  • Swing Seats – a very traditional approach to a key seat list, and ahead of the next general election I’m sure many campaigners will be looking at list of Red Wall and Blue Wall seats to see where to target.

    There is a strong political rationale for this – the views of constituencies in these seats will have an outsized influence in the next election and will see a disproportioned number of focus groups and media ‘vox-pops’ happen as a result, but the challenge can be to ensure that you’re able to build enough power to feel like your able to get cut through in what is likely to be a busy and noisy environment.

  • Political tribes – it’s easy from the outside to treat political parties like homogenous blocs, and while there are of course many things that unite MPs looking beyond party affiliation to the specific political tribe or grouping that they’re in can be helpful – this is a helpful, if slightly irreverent, look at some of the tribes in the Conservative Party (here is another). Membership of some grouping might indicate a greater propensity to support your issue or cause.

  • Local connections – given the importance of rooting your local campaigning in relevant local issues, you could build a list based on local connections – for example, if you’re campaigning on a specific environmental issue selecting constituencies that are home to relevant habitats or similar. It’d provide great opportunities to connect MPs to projects and volunteers.

  • Engage-ability – for supporters, there is nothing more demoralising that being asked to engage your local MP knowing that their MP won’t. The reality is that some MPs just aren’t as interested in their constituents as others so building a list, perhaps cut from criteria but with one eye on if the MP will engage can be a useful approach.

  • Personal background, interest or issues – if you’ve already got a list of MPs who are allies you could focus on building a base of support behind them, but beware that in doing so while it might help to strengthen your relationship with existing MPs it’s unlikely to build you any new or additional supporters.

What criteria do you use to select your target list of MPs?

The Engagement – 10 lessons from the US campaign for same-sex marriage

The Engagement is Sasha Isssenberg’s (author of the Victory Lab which is another must-read) latest book, and it’s the authoritative book on the campaign for same-sex marriage in the USA,

An absorbing if long read that wonderfully intertwines the stories of those involved in the campaign, with the lessons and reflections on what did and didn’t work for the campaign.

It’s a great contribution to a lot of other useful writing on the campaign (I’d also recommend this) and I’d really recommend a watch of some of the online discussions that Sasha did as part of the promotion of the book, or a read of this.

As I read the book I noted down a few of the lessons that I think are applicable to all movements – most from the winning side, and one from those who opposed it.  

  1. Set out a clear plan for victory – advocates came together on multiple times to set out their shared strategy and playbook. The book makes it clear they didn’t always agree on the approach, but nevertheless spent time developing collective plans together and understood the role that different actors were going to play.
    Together they set out a ’10-10-10-20′ strategy looking at how the approaches in different States and the tactics and resources needed. I was struck by the sense of farsighted the movement had been.
  2. If you’re not getting anywhere with political processes, build pressure from outside politics – advocates for a time focused on corporates to try to recognise the rights of their gay staff to access healthcare for their partners and other rights to grow pressure from other routes on political decision-makers.
  3. Build a funding infrastructure committed to the 4 ‘multis’ – multi-year, multi-state, multi-partner and multi-methodology. I hope many movement funder will read the book – it’s a reminder that if we just aim to fund a slice of what we think is needed we will probably fail.
  4. Learn from past issues and campaigns – advocates spent time learning from the success or failures of others movements in the US such as abortion rights activists. We need to be students of what others have done, so we can learn and apply what might work for us.
  5. Recognise the importance of divergent tactics“there are many methodologies for social change and we really need them all pulled together in partnership and working to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts”. That can be uncomfortable when working in movements, but we shouldn’t forget it’s importance for our collective impact.
  6. Obsess about what works – advocates established the Movement Advancement Project to assess the effectiveness of what approaches were working and not – and help funders to surge behind those that were.
  7. Focus on messaging as well as operations – ensure you’re clear on who your audience is, and continuously develop your messaging. “no matter how many people you train and deploy to go canvassing, if you can’t figure out your message, you are dead in the water”
  8. Try new approaches – that helped the movement develop it’s ‘deep canvassing’ approach which focused on interactions that where seeking to change the views of voters as opposed to simply focus on identifying new and existing voters. 
  9. And one lesson from the opponents – trendspotting – opponents of equal marriage had a well resourced campaign, but also benefitted from a network of individuals within their network who effectively acted as trend-spotters. Looking for up-and-coming issues ready to make the jump from niche policy interest to mass concern.

10. Ask tough questions – finally, reading the book reminded me of this excellent article on questions proponents were forced to ask themselves and honestly answer, which seem vital to any successful

What all campaigners can learn from The Canary Craftivists

I’ve written before about the work of Sarah Corbett and the Craftivist Collective – I really admire the commitment to principles of gentle protest and the level of thoughtfulness that’s goes into the approach. In my view, while it’s easily dismissed by some it’s a unique but vital form of campaigning.

The movement’s most recent campaign, Canary Craftivists, appeared on my social media timeline throughout 2021, and I think it was one of the most interesting and original pieces of activism that I’ve seen for a while.

One of the benefits of being a patron of the Craftivist Collective (and I’d really recommend becoming a patron, for £10 per month you are supporting this important campaigning ) is that I recently got sent a copy of the #CanaryCraftivists Manual – which is a beautifully curated guide on how to run the campaign. Even if you’re not into crafting I’d really encourage getting hold of a copy as it brilliantly unpacks the Craftivist approach.

As Sarah explains the idea behind the approach was two-fold for “participants 1) organise a small gathering of craftivists as a ‘flock’ to hold a stitch-in by a loved local landmark and invite the local press to cover it and 2) handcraft a life-size canary and a personal letter for their local politician or other local powerholders urging them to do more and faster for the environment“.

During 2021, the reach of the campaign was really impressive, especially when you consider that it’s driven by a one-person team at the center of the Craftivist network – with 99 flocks came together across the UK, securing lots of local media coverage, seeing canaries sent to almost 200 MPs and achieving stacks of reach on social media.

And I think there are lessons that all campaigners can learn from the success of Canary Craftivists, here are just a few;

  1. Take time to find a tribe (or flock) – it’s easy to focus on finding individuals that are interested in the same issue or cause as you and mobilise them for action -that’s important. But what Sarah has done with Craftivism is take an alternative approach, find those with another interest (craft) and then invite them to get involved in acvitism – in a way that appeals to their existing interests, and it totally designed to help individuals to .

    As Micah Sifry wrote in his newsletter last week – we know individuals are more likely to get involved in activism for a cause when the following 3 conditions are achieved “First, they have to experience a direct, personal contact, through their social networks, to a movement organization. Second, they need to be at a moment in their lives where they are open to a personal change. This is what sociologist Douglas McAdam called “biographical availability.” And third, they have to actually participate in some form of initial activism—a rally, protest, meeting, counseling session or the like—which they enjoy and decide to continue doing”. It strikes me that the model of Canary Craftivism certainly achieves 1 and 3.

  2. Really think about the visuals and the asthetic – if your wondering about why a canary – the campaign took inspiration from yellow canaries because they are small and sensitive little birds yet in the past they quietly helped warn miners of dangerous pollutants such as carbon monoxide with miners. In the same way, the Canary Craftivists hope that their little canaries and local demonstrations will gently warn and help remind their politicians and governments about the urgent dangers of global warming.

    And it’s that level of thinking and detail that marks out this approach – sure, perhaps a canary doesn’t immediately make you think about climate and the environment, but spend a little time and it’s excellent connection, whatsmore it makes for great images and content that individuals want to share with others on social media.

    I know I’m guilty of not spending enough time thinking about how decisions about design and visuals impact my campaign approaches, but in a world where great images and visual content can stand out, there is something in this for all campaigners.

  1. Obsessively focus on the local – The campaign encouraging small gatherings (or flocks) to come together to meet and craft in loved and recognisable locations – using those gatherings both as an opportunity to generate local media coverage for the campaign – an important route to reaching local MPs – the target, but also the opportunity to connect with others in the local community who shared the same interests.

    As campaigners, we can often thinking about building up to a central moment or gathering, but the local flock approach clearly really worked – drawing in many who might have rejected getting involved with other forms of activism, and developing a model that was perfect for our socially distanced times.

Plan for your engagement with decision makers to be both memorable and thoughtful – each individual was encouraged to take the time to handstich and name a canary and send it to their local MP.

We know that every day MPs will receive hundreds of pieces of correspondence, from email, to letters to phone calls so the canarys really got noticed. The feedback from MP suggested that the carefully and thoughtfully stitched canary complete with letter will cause them to pause and not just respond with a pre-written response.

In few campaigns that I seen have seen such a stream of such considered correspondence from MPs and their staff who have recieved their canaries as exampled below – as another MP wrote ‘my whole team were awed by the kindness and the effort that you put in‘.

It’s evidence for a hunch that I think most campaigners hold – that MPs are more likely to engage for longer with something that has taken time for the sender to put together with thought – a reminder that with a bit of careful thought you can come up with a campaign idea that really makes a lasting impression.

If you want to support more amazing activism from the Craftivist Collective you can find out more about becoming a patron here.

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.

Organising during Lockdown – some reflections from the last year

It’s about a year since we all went into lockdown here in the UK – an anniversary that coincides with about the same period of time we’ve been putting organising at the heart of our campaigning approach at Save the Children UK. 

As I wrote last January, the addition of organising alongside campaigning in our organogram was about a deliberate intention to move ourselves as Save the Children to focus much more on building the power of others in our campaigning approach – than simply focusing on mobilisation that perhaps we’d most comfortably focused on for much of the last decade. 

And no sooner that we got started, many of the plans and intentions that we had for our organising work had to adapt – as it was clearly not going to be possible that a vision of getting out and about to meet with those who wanted to connect with our cause, or traveling up and down the country to build leaders, all had to move online.

So as we’ve come to the end of a year of lockdown – it’s been a useful moment to take a step back and reflect on our organising journey over the last 12 months, and ask what I’ve learned from that.

So what’s worked and not worked? 

1. It’s put organising as the first thing on the list – We started last year with a couple of organising programmes going, but we now have so much more- a new programme now piloting working with students, some amazing work with parent campaigners – building on the brilliant Mums on a Mission community – which is at the heart of our work on UK child poverty, exploring work with diaspora communities after a number of years of ad-hoc work, and a more active network of Campaign Champions – our core organising role for those who want to stand with us for child rights that at any point in my time at Save the Children.

It feels like the decision to put organising at the heart of our work, has I think helped to remind us that this is core to the campaigning we’re looking to do – something to think about first, not something to add on. 

2. It’s transformed our engagement – driven by lockdown, but going digitial has totally changed who from our networks has been able to get involved. Before lockdown, despite recognising it, we were frankly too London centric.

Training days would typically happen near our London offices, but by moving everything to digital has removed that overnight – and as we’ve all grown more used to catching up with friends and family on digital platforms- so attendance at many of our online sessions has ballooned. 

But that’s not been without challenges, for some of those we’ve been working with, especially through our parent’s campaigning programme, access to digital devices or data has been a barrier, and we’ve not been as quick as we can be to resolve that. 

3. We’ve seen the community grow and leaders develop –  If the heart of what we’re trying to do is ‘build power’ through the leadership of others, then across the year I’ve seen lots of that starting to happen – individuals want to step up and take on responsibility.

But it’s also interesting that when I talk with colleagues I think that people still find the idea of being a ‘leader’ as something that fits a little uncomfortably, that they’re excited to be invited to step up to do the work and to given space to develop, but not sure about the label we put on that. 

4. It’s (obviously) been tough to do none of this ‘in person’ – sure we’ve seen lots of benefits from being able to digital, but there is still something that’s lost from not being able to have a chat over a cup of tea in the fringes of a meeting, or being able to celebrate with a high-5 or simillar.

The future might be more online, but it’s not going to be able to replace the fact that growing leaders is about connecting in person. 

5. It’s allowed decision-makers to decide who they want to meet with – we’ve had some amazing doors open for us in the last 12 months, with more people getting involved and taking to Zoom to meet with their MPs or directly with officials, but the big change has been that it’s further allowed decision makers to be the gatekeeper on who they do and don’t meet with – and that depends on both the interest in the topic or often just how organised their office is.

Gone have been many of the more informal spaces that you can use, or the formal mechanisms like pitching up in Westminster to ‘green card’ your MP. In the long run I’m not sure this healthy for how we engage with our decision makers – as I suspect they won’t be enthusiastic about returning to how it used to be.

The same for media, now little happens in the studio, it’s much easier to get a leader you’ve been working with to share what they’re doing as opposed to someone from our organisation who can easily get to a ISDN line. 

6. You can’t stop telling the story – often, in conversation, one of my team will share the most amazing story of what one of our volunteer leaders has done, but it’s been really interesting how hard it’s been to translate that into indicators to share with the rest of the organisation – it’s amazing how strong the muscle memory is, pulling you in the ‘comfortable’ direction of what you’ve always done.

I’ve learned this year, that you can’t just make the pivot and then hope that everyone will behind what you’re doing. You’ve got to keep finding the stories of leaders, sharing those stories, putting them into context for others, reminding everyone why you’re doing this and explaining how this approach. Building power takes time, and often we can be impatient for quick results. 

Who knows what the next 12 months are going to hold – hopefully, we’ll soon be able to get out and about again, building an organising approach that allows us to mix the benefits we’ve seen from lockdown, but bringing in-person relationships back into the heart of what we’re doing. I’ll report back next March with some more reflections.

Campaigns Resolutions for 2021

A busy end to the year to 2020, moving house, and lots (too much) happening at work meant that regular posting stopped sometime in September.

But it’s a new year, so with my usual optimism I’ve set myself a new goal to get into a regular rhythm writing blog posts.

So this first post for 2021 are some other resolutions that I’m making – lightly informed by the last 12 months.

1. ‘Don’t take a fact to a narrative fight’ – last year saw so many examples of how effective framing and use of narrative can make such a difference if you want to win – on so many issues our opponents just seem to be better at this.

The phrase, which comes from this excellent paper by Kathryn Perera and others written in 2019 about what we can learn from the anti-vax movement, I think brilliantly encapsulates what we all need to do as campaigners.

Tell stories, follow the evidence on framing, and stop trying to win simply by presenting more facts or using myth-busting (which is proven to often reinforce the existing myth you’re looking to bust).

If you’re looking for more on framing I’d highly recommend a listen to this podcast which excellently unpacks some of the key ideas. 

2. ‘There is no such thing as the general public’ – too often I hear campaigners talk about wanting to ‘engage the public’, but as I’ve written before, a focus on the general public is often a sign that a campaign hasn’t done it’s thinking and planning when it comes to identifying who is really able to help you deliver the change you’re campaigning for.

Focusing on which segment of the public is going to be most important to help you achieve your outcomes matters, and if you’ve got limited resources then being clear on the ’who’ matters.

That also doesn’t mean that you just focus on those in segments that support or already agree with you, that can be easy to do, but too often it leads to going around in a circle.

3. ‘Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves’ – the mantra of community organisers is something that I’ve come back to time and time again over the last 12 months.

During lock down, I’ve seen our community activists step up, innovate, adapt, come up with new ideas and approaches –  and there are countless other examples from other campaigns.

Our approach to organising might have had to change as we can’t meet in person, but the principles have remained. Ask people to step up and they will, ask them to play more of a leadership role and they will – step back so others can step forward. 

4. Be generous and travel with others – if we want to succeed we need to go with others. There is that phrase, ‘if you want to go fast go alone, want to go far go together’.

In the last 12 months that we’ve seen the value and importance of going together – it’s always been true, and it often takes longer, but it’s more needed than ever before, with the scale of the challenges that we face as campaigners, ensuring that we’re traveling with others and practicing movement generosity is key to change in 2021.

5. See the whole canvass – I’ve found the SMK Foundation ‘Social Change Grid’ a really useful tool to look at in 2020 (pdf here), and the reminder in it that change doesn’t just happen through one route. That the campaigns that have been most successful are those that draw from across the whole canvass (see here and here for two examples I visualised during the year).

I know how easy it can be to get caught up in the part of the grid that you feel most used to or comfortable with, but we need to challenge ourselves to see the whole grid, and SMK have provided a really useful tool to do that. Looking across the grid matters more than ever.

What's changed? The post lockdown landscape for campaigners

For most of the last few months I’ve found it hard to sit down and write for the blog – but a combination of so much changing with trying to juggle ‘lockdown living’, has meant it’s felt like every time I’ve had a thought or an idea to write down it’s quickly been surpassed.  

At the start of lockdown in March, I used a model of three phases for our thinking with my team;

  • Now – what was happening right then – the immediate response to the crisis.
  • Near – the following few months – how priorities would shift to focus predominantly on the impact of Covid-19.
  • Far – some point in the future where the focus would move to a wider set of priorities than just Coronavirus.

But as lockdown is lifted for many, and we’re seeing a reopening of shops and restaurants in the UK, it feels like we’re moving into that far territory – although the virus is still prevalent and the future remains uncertain – but with that, I’ve been pausing and starting a quick analysis of what’s changing and changed. 

But all of the conversations and discussions that we have about what next needs to be done after some long, honest and uncomfortable conversations about racism and white privilege that has been brought to the spotlight by the brutal murder of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Some working in the charitable sector might be under a misguided view that because our work is to ‘do good’ it’s not something we have to consider, but as #CharitySoWhite has so powerfully shown white priviledge and racism is as prevelent in our work as any other profession or sector.

All of us need to commit to doing the work to address our own privilege, and how structures and approaches reinforce inequality in the charity sector and then keep coming back to, just because the news agenda might have moved on we need to keep coming back to it – and that’s certainly something that I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Beyond that if we were to draw a quick PEST (political, economic, social, and technological) analysis of what’s going on, what might be include.

Here are some thoughts;

Political

  • We’ve got a government that is going to use cultural and values to divide us – as this excellent piece outlines with the economy likely to get worse as a result of COVID-19, there will be a strategy that by those in Number 10 to focus on cultural issues – the ‘war on woke’ is a deliberate and calculated strategy designed to play to voters that the Conservatives need to win at the next election – informed by regular and extensive polling and focus groups. 
  • The rule of engagement with MPs have changed – MPs have seen their inboxes overflowing with more messages than every before – it was initially in response to Dominic Cummings and his decision to break his own lockdown rules, but has followed with a second peak caused by Black Lives Matter. My Society, the team behind They Work for You, reported that June was the busiest month ever for their site. And importantly the majority of the messages MPs are getting aren’t the pre-populated messages that come from campaigners, they’re constituents taking the time to write on their own. 
  • It’s a footballer who’s almost certainly secured the biggest policy U-turn from the government over the last 3 months. Marcus Rashford got the government to extend its free school meal provision through the school summer holidays, and it’s full of clues for campaigners at what could make the government move – excellently outlined in this article, although all campaigners should be wary of trying to use the same ‘formula’ twice. But it shows what’s possible.

Economic

  • An asymmetrical recovery –  Think back to late March, and there was a sense of surprise as many of the policy announcements that the government was making were previously thought to be impossible or improbable, but in the same way that the policy response to the lockdown was asymmetrical, with some gaining, but many others missing out or falling through the gaps, the same is likely to be true of the recovery. We’re about to enter into the deepest recession in a generation, and how to respond to the narrative that will be created about the inevitability of austerity will be critical for campaigners.  
  • Inequality and austerity – Coronavirus has brought into the light, the many inequalities and injustices that blight our society, from the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on ethnic minority communities, to low pay that essential workers receive, to the digital divide that means it’s impossible for many children to study remotely, to the rising use of Foodbanks – the growing inequality in our society has been brought into sharp focus, and public attitudes for action are moving as a result. It feels like that’s unlikely to quickly reverse, so what does that mean for campaigners?

Social

  • Public displays of activism – walk down many streets and you’ll see signs of ‘window activism’ – what started as rainbows has moved to statements about pay for care workers, or statements in support of Black Lives Matter. Certainly in my community, it feels like you seeing more political statements that at any time outside of an election.
    But beyond our windows, we’ve seen a move towards public art activism as US cities have painted statements in support of Black Lives Matter on key streets, while on social media, Instagram, has increasingly turned into the platform of choice for sharing campaigns. Campaigning has always been visual, but perhaps even more so now?
  • Protesting has adapted rather than stopped, with people taking part in socially distancing protests around May Day, in the US innovating by moving to car protests (not sure this will catch on in the UK – although it’s an approach that farmers have used), and in response to Black Lives Matter, locally organised events for those who don’t wish to travel to a central protest. How we protest might change, but the last few months have shown that it’s not going to go away. 

Technological

  • Corporates boycott social media – perhaps less noticed here, but in the US there has been a significant number of household brands publically committing to stop spending on advertising on Facebook until it takes action to ‘the end to their amplification of hate speech’. The decisions which have come about as corporates have considered their response to the Black Lives Matter movement is an interesting and important move that shows the potential power of corporate – it’s a theme explored more in this podcast. A similar situation is happening with companies like FedEx calling on the NFL to rename it’s Washington Redskins. 
  • Use the algorithms for good – who’d have thought that K-Pop stans (fans of Korean pop bands- don’t worry I had to look it up!) would have shown how to so effective in mobilising to flood the #AllLivesMatter hashtag, or the TikTok community in the US would score a famous win by registering for millions of tickets to Donald Trumps rally, but they did. In an age, it shows that not just having a social media presence, but understanding how to effectively using the algorithms that Twitter and Facebook use to identify premium content to share further. As an approach, it’s so smart.

Understanding Campaigning – 4-week learning and development syllabus.

For those on furlough at the moment, or anyone looking to sharpen their skills and knowledge, I’ve put together this Understanding Campaigning syllabus. It was inspired by wanting to provide some useful learning resources for colleagues on furlough

The aim of the syllabus is to provide some recommendations of resources to help you understand more about campaigning – with recommendations of online courses that you can enroll in, talks and films to watch, podcasts to listen to, and useful documents or reports to read.

It was designed to be followed over 4 weeks, but in reality, it can be followed over any time period.

Each week is themed and was developed from recommendations from colleagues at Save the Children. It’s still a work in progress, and I’m aiming to add new content and material to keep it current – do add your recommendations in the comments.

COVID-19, volunteering and learning for campaigners

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

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

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

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

Both have been successful at getting people to volunteer.

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

And both have encountered some challenges.

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

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

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

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

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

Jubilee 2000 – five enduring lessons for campaigners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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