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.

New Year, New Job

I started a new job last week – still at Save the Children UK, still campaigning on issues that I’m passionate about, but now as Director of Campaigns and Organising. 

It’s a new role for Save the Children, that’s the outcome of a larger re-organisation we’ve gone through over the last few months to look at how we can be even more deliberate at focusing our resources on achieving change for children, but the blog about how we’ve done that is for another time.

But as I’m moving into my new role, the thing that I’m most excited about in this role is the explicit inclusion of organising into our public campaigning approach – I’m very literally making the move from mobilising to organising.

I hope having organising not just in my job description, but at the heat of the work of our Campaigns and Organising department will help us to be more intentional about embedding this into our approach.

I see my role is now all about leading a brilliant team of campaigners to help to build power of those who want to join Save the Children to help secure change for children. 

But as I start, I wanted to offer a few reflections that I’ve been thinking about what putting organising more explicitly front and center of our campaigning approach will mean in the coming year, and in particular what I think it might mean for me as a leader. 

I’m very aware that, like many others, we’re on a journey with organising – building on work that we’ve piloted in the last few years and following many others, like Shelter who’ve embedded community organising at the heart of their new strategy or colleagues at Save the Children Action Network in the US who have helped to shape some of our thinking.

So I’m sharing this in the hope it’ll help others who are exploring what organising could mean for their campaigning. 

1. Intentionality – we’ve definitely got a strong organisational ‘memory muscle’ at Save the Children UK – a way of approaching an opportunity that has often been about moving quickly to mass mobilisation. We’re not going to lose that overnight, nor should we, as sometimes that approach is going to be the best approach, for example, our recent work on calling on the UK government to bring back UK children trapped in NE Syria, but if we’re to embrace an organising approach it’ll require us to learn some new habits, and that means being intentional about asking ourselves if moving directly to mobilise is going to help us build power for our cause in the long-term?

2. Patience – organising is about relationship building, which takes time and will mean that results aren’t going to be immediate to see – so a big challenge is going to be about being patient with the space, time and resources we have – we’re often used to campaign cycles where we can quickly see outputs, but at the end of the year I hope we’ve made more decisions where we’ve chosen to be patient with our organising approach, rather than reverting to a more transactional mobilising approaches. Ask me in a year how this has gone.

3. Accountability – I’m rightly held accountable for specific indicators in my role, but often I’ve found our KPIs can incentivize us to work towards report on the volume of activity, and not tell the whole story. I’m sometimes aware that I’ll be reporting on 10s or 100s of high-quality actions being taken, which can appear small in comparison to other indicators –  so that means we’ll need to look for new metrics that help us to report on the work we’re doing and get better at telling the story of the impact we’re having.

4. Understanding – organising is an approach that gets mentioned in lots of conversations between campaigners at the moment, and I’ve found even in recent months as I’ve been talking about with colleagues everyone has different understandings and confidence. There are of course specific approaches – but for me, moving to more of an organising approach is not about adopting a specific ‘school of thought’, but exploring using the principles that Hahrie Han so brilliantly outlines in her book – skills and principles that in my experience come very naturally to many campaigners.

5. Involvement – If mobilising is transactional, then organising is relational – which means that we need to build an approach that actively draws others into shaping our strategies and approaches  – that could be diaspora communities, our existing Campaign Champions and importantly for us at Save the Children – children and young people. In this approach, we’ll have to be less protective of the ‘how’ even if we remain focused on the ‘what’ – the change outcome we’re all trying to achieve.

6. Honesty – I’m not going to get this right all of the time in my leadership, we’ll make mistakes, assert too much control, revert back to old habits, but rather than wait until we’ve ‘cracked’ it as an approach I want to be open and honest about the journey we’re on, hence the motivation to share this on week 1 – I want to be challenged by, get help and new idea from others. So this post serves as an open request for that!

Learning from successful movements – some recommended reads for campaigners

Between the election, a busy period at work, and family life, blogging has slowed down towards the end of 2019 – that’s something I’ll be aiming to fix in 2020.

To be honest, I didn’t find 2019 to be a classic for books for changemakers, and many of the books I’ve most enjoyed have been those that have told the stories of movements in the past that have successfully won change – while acknowledging there are lots of other movements, especially from outside the US and Europe that’d I’d be keen to learn from and not reflected in the list.

I think curiosity about how change happens is a vital attribute for any campaigner and have found that looking back at the past can be one of the best ways to learn how to win in the future, and in our current turbulent political times, I’ve found that reading up on movements from across the ages has been important for remembering the principles that should be at the heart of every campaign.

So here are some of my recommendations;

Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery by Adam Hochschild (Amazon/Hive)- the classic text of the successful campaign of the abolitionists, led by William Wilberforce to end the transatlantic Slave Trade in the 1800s, but as you read it you also discover the campaign pioneered many of the tactics that we still use today, like petitions, direct mails, and boycotts. Max Lawson has written a good review of it here, but the book has too much focus on the role a small number of men played in the campaign. I’m definitely looking for texts in 2020 that correct that.

The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss (Amazon)- this book explores the successful campaign to introduce women’s suffrage in the United States – and in particular, focuses on the efforts to ratify the 19th Amendment in Tennessee – the 36th state needed to become the law of the land. The book is rich in exploring the tactics used, and in particular, the important role that different actors played with the suffragette movement, and the recognition that successful movements often require leaders and organisations that take – as Weiss writes ‘rifts within protest movements appear to be an essential component of the ecosystem of change’.

Ireland Says Yes by Gráinne Healy (Amazon/Hive) – a brilliant playbook on how to win a referendum written by the leaders of the equal marriage campaign in Ireland – it’s a fascinating insider account of how the campaign identified that to win it needed to focus on the ‘moveable million’ those who were neither a hard yes or no for marriage equality, were more likely to be persuaded by people like themselves, and then pursued a strategy to deliver that, including key decisions about how the campaign messaging was going to be framed and the messengers to be used. ActBuildChange has a great summary here, but for any campaigner, looking to understand the importance of identifying a winning narrative I can’t recommend it enough.

The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights by William P Jones (Amazon/Hive)- there is such an extensive literature on the Civil Rights Movement – I’ve had Taylor Branch’s King Era trilogy on my shelf for a few years, but I’ve chosen as it’s a really good look at one of the most pivotal days in that movement, it is, of course, the day is remembered for the I Have a Dream speech, but I found the book to also look at the critical role that many played in arranging the logistics and mobilising for the day and the level of practical detail that went into organising the day – for example having lunch packs available to all marchers and a sound system that could be heard – a reminder that movements require different leadership roles

Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America by Kate Zernike (Amazon/Hive)- The rise of Tea Party may have been over a decade ago, but I’ve found the literature to be some of the most interesting in how movements grow – none more so that Kate Zernike book which looks inside the grassroots groups that mobilised following the election of Barack Obama – and while there is nothing that I’d agree with the Tea Party on the book gives an excellent account of how the movement grew so rapidly, and how much they studied there opponents to learn from them. A reminder to campaigners to understand the approach those you’re campaigning against is taking.

I’d also really recommend Theda Skocpol The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism – it’s a more academic look at the rise of the Tea Party, but again gives clues to how it grew so quickly, and foretells how some of the infrastructures that were built by the Tea Party helped to propel Donald Trump to the Presidency in 2016. 

How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France (Amazon/Hive)- this isn’t a quick read, at 400+ pages it’s the longest books on the list – but I found David France’s account to be utterly absorbing and very moving account of how a small group of activists took on the pharmaceutical industry, mastered the complexities of HIV and the clinical trials process to gain the respect of medical researchers.

The book brings an eyewitness account of the activism that got the US Federal Drug Agency to finally change its position, the role of Act Up (Aids Coalition to Unleash Powe ) and it’s direct and creative activism which forced action – warning it’s a book that will make you angry. There is also a critically acclaimed film of the same name which is recommended. 

Parkland: Birth of a Movement by Dave Cullen (Amazon/Hive) – a very contemporary recommendation to add to the list, but one of the best books I’ve read this year, Cullen spend almost a year embedded with the leaders of March for our Lives. If the last few years have been dominated by youth activism, then this is one of the best accounts that I’ve read of how youth-led movements have driven so much action. I did a quick Twitter thread on some of the key lessons that I took from the book here. 

She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey (Amazon/Hive) – this is the insider account of how two New York Times journalists broke the story of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual aggression against both A-list actors and junior employees and the subsequent rise of the MeToo movement. It’s fascinating and well researched read, and a reminder for campaigners of the important and critical role that journalists can play in breaking stories that allow change to happen.

A note on the links – where possible the links to take you to the hive.co.uk – an independent online bookseller, but I’ve also linked to Amazon, I earn a small commission from Amazon for each sale using the link which I use to cover the costs of hosting this blog.

How to use the law for social change

The Sheila McKechnie Foundation, with support from the Baring Foundation, put together a brilliant conference on using the law for social change last Thursday – it was a fantastic day, in a room full of campaigners and advocates buzzing with ideas and questions.

Before attending, I’ll be honest in saying that I’d not spent a lot of time thinking about how the law could be used in my campaigning, despite being very aware of the rise it as an approach, and the success of campaigners, like Jolyon Maugham QC, who have used to law to good effect around Brexit.

So I walked away in with an open mind, and away with some key takeaways;

1. Legal advocacy is an approach that has firmly entered the campaigning toolkit, and if you’re not already using it you should be considering it. A number of the speakers throughout the day referenced the fact that legal advocacy had helped to reboot or push forward their campaigning whilst other approaches had floundered. 

As one speaker reflected that for years, they’d been chipping away at trying to get reform to elements of criminal law, but using equalities legislation has forced much more significant change.

In an age, where many of the traditional paths to change, working through Civil Servants and government can feel harder than before, legal advocacy could provide an alternative route. More on how others are using it here.

2. It’s doesn’t just have to be about taking your case to court – although many campaigning organisations do end up using approaches that end in a day (or days) in court, the conference was a reminder that other forms of strategic litigation are available – from using legal arguments in correspondences with a target, from raising the prospect of a judicial review to – and sometimes just the publicity brought about by considering a case can help to bring attention or progress on a campaign issue. This new publication from the Baring Foundation has lots of case studies of different approaches to take.

3. The best legal approaches are integrated approaches – presentation through the day highlight how you shouldn’t approach any strategic litigation in isolation – your legal goal needs to help to contribute to a wider policy goal – from the End Violence Against Women coalition using a legal case to help to engage MPs and decision-makers to advance their advocacy in Parliament, or Dignity in Dying driving up engagement from supporters around Noel Conway’s case on assisted dying.

4. But if you want your approach to be successful you need to be ready in advance – legal advocacy can cost (a lot of) money, can be time-consuming, doesn’t always lead to quick results and can come with reputational risks, but often has to be responded to quickly when an opportunity arises.

So any organisation looking to approach legal advocacy need to have spent time preparing for how they’ll approach the risks, including working with trustee boards who’d most likely need to sign off any approach.

5. Losing a case isn’t losing a campaign – often the aim of your legal advocacy isn’t to win the case, but to use it to drive wider political demand for change, by using the publicity and support you can build from your case to push politicians to act further, as the adage goes ‘winning in the court of public opinion’ is as important as ‘winning in the court of law’.

To coincide with the day, the Foundation also released a really useful 101 guide for using the law for social change – more at https://smk.org.uk/law/