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/

Another Election = another opportunity to spot campaign trends, tactics, and approaches

So another General Election campaign has started, and to be honest I’ve not got anything more to add to previous blogs about how campaigners can use them most effectively (you can read them here, here and here).

But I do think that elections are great opportunities to be looking out for trends, tactics and approaches that will influence and shape wider campaigning in the weeks

And, unlike 2017, when the election took almost everyone by surprise, all the major parties have been planning and preparing for this election for months, so I suspect we’ll see more innovation in approaches than we did two years ago.

So here is my top list of what campaigners should be lookout for in the next few weeks;

  1. How Momentum uses Big Organising – the grassroots movement that is supportive of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. They’re the only group that I can see across the political parties who are trying to adopt the big organising approaches that have been at the heart of the success of Bernie Sanders in the US – in keeping with that approach they’ve published their whole strategy online for supporters to see.

    They’ve already kicked off the campaign with the largest mobilising conference call in UK political history which involved over 1,500 supporters, and this really site with great UX to help supporters find the key seats to go and campaign in.

  2. What issues cuts through beyond Brexit – the election might have been called because of Brexit, but don’t assume that will be the only issue the parties are talking about. Back in 2017, who would have thought at the start of the election that the Conservative’s Dementia Tax or support for the Ivory Trade would become some of the most important issues for voters.

    I suspect the same will happen this time around, and watching what topics cut through beyond Brexit will provide useful case studies for campaigners to learn from how issues rise up the agenda, how to frame a topic, built concern and keep it in the news agenda.

  3. Does this become the climate election? – awareness of the climate emergency has never been higher, thanks to Blue Planet, Extinction Rebellion, Greta and the School Strikes, but will that translate into a voting priority in December – given the science this should be the climate election, and that’s happened in other countries (more in this article) but will the same happen in the UK?

    I’d also be watching out for the way young people mobilise on the issue – youth campaigners in Canada have used their recent elections to drive up the conversation about the need for a Green New Deal, and the Sunrise Movement is doing some brilliant big organising work in the US ahead of the 2020 presidential elections.

  4. Who will produce the best video content? With more and more of us viewing video content via social media on mobile devices, and the ease of producing video content, we’re a long way from the days of Party Political Broadcast shown just after the news, but who will produce the most viewed content, and what can that teach campaigners looking to communicate using this medium.

    Beyond that, look to see what type of content gets cut through on social media – the Conservatives might have been ridiculed for using Comic Sans in Twitter posts a few weeks about, but apparently the era of political shitposting is on us.

  5. The great Facebook advert debate – The initial focus of the last few weeks might be on Twitters decision to ban political adverts (sidebar on that – the definition of political adverts that includes ‘advocate for or against legislative issues of national importance (such as: climate change, healthcare, immigration, national security, taxes)’ could catch lots of non-partisan charity campaigning – see more here) but watching how the parties are using Facebook in targetted ways will be packed full of lessons for campaigners – and how that shapes the conversation about if and how Facebook adverts should be regulated .

    Earlier in the year at the European Election, it was the Brexit Party who used Facebook most heavily in the campaign, and I’d recommend a read of this from 89Up on what they did – you don’t have to agree with them to learn from them. This is a great look from Who Targets Me at how all the parties are pushing A/B testing in their campaigns showing just how granular the parties will go in their tests, and this another good look from the team at Shape History here.

    One of the few positive steps that Facebook have taken is to open up the Ads Library, so anyone interested can just jump into to see what adverts candidates and parties are running – I’d recommend an explore.

A toolkit for playing defensive advocacy

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

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

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

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

Here at my top takeaways;

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

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

What does it mean to be movement generous?

“Think of any campaign success you’ve seen or been involved in. I would wager good money – that it wasn’t achieved by one actor alone: it was collective action that brought about change” 

I couldn’t agree more than with Nick Martlew in this excellent Mobilisation Lab post on what makes for effective collaboration in campaigning.

Like Nick, I have seen throughout my career that change happens when we come together and to achieve that we have to approach our work with a ‘movement generous’ mindset.

But what does being generous mean if you’re a campaigner working in a big charity or NGO, where a focus on brand profile and achieving KPIs can often disincentivise working with others?

I’ve come up with the following, but I’d love reflections from others;

1. Acknowledge and welcome the role everyone plays – this is a theme that comes out so clearly in Natasha Adam’s review of the ecology of effective social movements which finds that;

“Multiple actors and approaches are needed to build impactful change that lasts, and NGOs must recognise that they are only one (important) piece of the puzzle. NGOs can support, seed, collaborate with and build upon the work of actors across the whole ecology of a movement”

Few campaigns succeed because of a single organisation who plays all of the required roles – instead, they need a range of actors approaching an issue with different perspectives and tactics.

That might not always make it easy to be movement generous, but starting from an understanding that the success of a movement is dependent on others can really help to shift your perspective.

That including recognising the role of more radical groups which Natasha’s research finds “playing an important outsider role, bringing fresh energy and grabbing headlines with brave, surprising, creative, disruptive and sometimes illegal activities”.

2. Being clear on your role – work in a team, and at some point you’ll probably find yourself doing an exercise that looks at what you’re strengths/weaknesses are – and it’s helpful as it means you can be honest with those you work with day in/day out about what you do/don’t find easy to do.

So why don’t we do the same in the campaigns we work on? What would it take to acknowledge the role that your organisation best plays and focusing on doing that brilliant – helping to focus resources and effort where it can have the greatest impact.

3. Freely offer insight and resources – not everyone has access to some of the resources those working in bigger organisations can take for granted. You might have a budget for insight or polling that just isn’t available to others or have intelligence from an insider contact that has built a relationship with you.

As Nick says a key element of being movement generous is by ‘sharing your intel, being proactive in connecting people, and being thoughtful in how you convene’.

This can also include how you’re generous with the assets and spaces you have – I’ll be honest I need to think more about how I can get this right, but it’s an area I’d like to think about more, but there are good examples like Friends of the Earth who opened up their office spaces for ethical start-ups to use.

4. Share learning…. – one of the things that I love to do the most is getting out and share with others – either in groups or over a coffee. It’s easy to get caught up in being busy internally – there is more than enough to do, but as much as possible I’ve tried to create the time to share what I’m learning, both what’s working and what’s not working when asked.

I struggle to think of an occasion when not sharing an approach we’ve found to be successful wouldn’t have been appropriate – and if the tactics we’re using are being successful surely we want other to use them.

If you need more convincing, spend a moment learning from how many of those who’s agenda you probably opposed, and you’ll find that they actively collaborate in sharing what’s working.

5. But be humble in knowing that you don’t have all the answer – if reflecting on the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that the way that change happens is shifting, and NGOs are increasingly being outpaced by others who are able to embrace new power approaches. So taking the time to learn from others needs to come from a place of respect – celebrating and appreciating the work of others.

6. Do the work needed in a coalition – I’ve written before about what the keys are to effective work in coalition, and for larger NGOs it can be a balancing act to not dominate.

But if you’re sitting around a table with others knowing that you can ‘carry more’ then it’s probably a sign you should. That needs to be approached with the right attitude, but for coalitions to succeed they need everyone to pitch in according to their abilities and capabilities.

What can campaigners learn from start-ups?

I’ve finally got around to reading ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Reis. It’s one of those books that has come across my radar from time to time, and I ended up buying it after an impromptu book buying visit to my nearby book shop.

I can’t say I found it the easiest book to read – not least because many of the examples used felt a long way away from working in a campaigning team at a large charity.

But the principle at the heart of the book – about how to quickly build companies or test products in times of uncertainty, which has led to the creation of the ‘‘lean startup’ movement feels like it has crossover to the world of campaigning.

So the book got me thinking about the way I’ve approached creating a campaign strategy, and if a ‘lean’ approach could offer some clues to doing that differently. Here are some takeaways from the book;

  1. Test assumptions – identify the elements of your plans that are based on assumptions rather than facts, and set out ways to test them. That could be through polling, talking to others with experience of the issue your working on, canvassing perspectives, looking at previous patterns, putting out a minimum viable. Don’t build your strategy on your untested assumptions.
  2. But sometimes be prepared to take ‘leaps of faith’ – not all assumptions can be tested, sometimes you need to be prepared to take a jump into the unknown based on your assumptions. When you do that, be clear that’s what you’re doing.
  3. Genchi Gembusu – Go and see for yourself – as your developing your strategy or plan, don’t just do it in the conference room of your office. Get out and about to go and see firsthand the problem that you’re working on. Visit supporters, spending time understanding your opponents. Don’t rely on others to tell you, create time to see it and understand it first hand.
  4. Perform a smoke test – this is apparently a ‘classic marketing technique’ where you ask supporters to preorder a product. How many times do campaigns come up with great ideas in a brainstorm, develop them and launch them to the public without any sense of if there is demand for them?
  5. Focus on validated learning – avoid after-the-fact rationalisation – the stories we often tell ourselves about why an approach worked or didn’t work, but focus on proving with evidence of which elements of our strategies are/aren’t working.
  6. Avoid vanity metrics – don’t just record the number of people involved in your campaign, unless that’s telling you something about the cause-effect of your campaign. Vanity metrics are too easy for everyone to claim they’ve contributed to. The subject of the danger of vanity metrics is a topic covered brilliantly in this Mobilisation Lab report.
  7. Ensure you meet the 3 As of Metrics – they should be;
    1. Actionable – to demonstrate the cause and effect of your activity so people can clearly learn from their actions.
    2. Accessible – ensure your reports are simple enough for everyone working on your campaign to understand them.
    3. Auditable – ensure that the data is credible to the team working on your campaign. That everyone can accept how the metrics are derived.
  8. A/B test as much as you can – Campaigners have grown accustomed to using A/B testing in emails and digital campaigning, but Ries suggests that should apply to as much of your product (campaign) development as possible. Use the information to tell you what’s working.
  9. If you’re going for growth, understand where your growth is coming from – there are 4 drivers of product growth, being clear which is helping to drive any growth in your campaigning approach can be helpful in developing your plans.
    1. Word of Mouth – because your campaigners are telling others about your campaign. It’s going ‘viral’
    2. Funded advertising – by paying to acquire new campaigners.
    3. Through repeat purchase – you’re retaining loyalty and getting the same campaigners to return
    4. A side effect of product usage – harder to see how this applies to campaigning, but for example when you send money to someone on PayPal they have to start using PayPal as well.
  10. Get everyone in the room to understand the root cause – Reis advocates using ‘5 Whys’ to get to the root cause of a problem. I think you could expand that out too when something in a strategy isn’t working, he also suggests it’s important to ensure everyone involved is in the room.
  11. Move from ‘waterfall’ development to small batches – many developers are moving from a waterfall approach where everything is released in a single go, to small batches where updates and new products are released continually. Could the same approach work for campaign strategy – rather than focusing on a long strategy process that can take months before being released/launched, developing and iterating it in small batches going forward adapting to what’s changing.
  12. Appreciate, then challenge ‘organisational muscle memory’ – the hardest barrier to moving to a more lean approach is the muscle memory which makes it hard to unlearn old habits. Recognising these and challenging them is key to changing. Sound familiar? The concept of organisational muscle memory got me thinking about many campaigning organisations that fall into the approach of trying the same thing over and over again because ‘that’s what we always do’.

5 campaigns that I've learnt from in 2018…

Today’s my last day in the office, and I can’t wait for the Christmas break to come, but as another year of campaigning comes to an end I wanted to add to some of the great blogs already written – see this from Pete Moorey on some campaigns from the UK, and this masterpiece from MobLab on lessons from around the world – with 5 campaigns that I’m taking learning from this year.
1 – March for our Lives – for me, one of the themes of 2018 is that it’s been a year when young peoples have been at the forefront of some amazing campaigning. From the tragedy of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida has come the most inspiring, strategic and amazing movements.
Hundreds of columns have been written about the campaign (this is the best summary for NGOs), but there is so much that all campaigners can learn – from the importance of having a super sharp theory of change focusing on those politicians who are funded by the NRA to engaging with real authenticity on social media, and much more as you can see from this Vice News film. Perhaps as importantly there is a lesson for large NGOs that sometimes it’s time to get out of the way – stepping back and providing support quietly behind the scenes so other voices can be heard.
2 – Repeal the 8th – another year, another crushing referendum victory in Ireland, this time. Once campaigners across the Irish Sea show us how to run smart and savvy campaigns with messaging and narratives discipline at it’s heart. As this article by Fintan O’Toole suggests we could all learn from be honest, talk to everyone and tell personal stories.
The campaign echoes so many similar lessons that the campaign for marriage equality in Ireland used back in 2015 – I keep coming back to the lesson about the importance of finding a message that worked for the key ‘middle million’ in the Yes Equality referendum campaign and sticking to it as an example of why message discipline works. Oh and Irish campaigners also got their government to divest from fossil fuels this year.
3 – A People’s Vote – I’ve been fairly critical of the lack of a clear theory of change for some of the campaigns, and while I still can’t work out why they’re sending me so many emails + the obsession with the EU flag, I’ve been really impressed with the way that the ‘Remain’ campaign has sharpened its approach this year.
The relentless focus on local activation is part of that – as is some really impressive content to help you engage in your community, exactly what’s needed if the campaign wants to be successful. The next few weeks are going to be turbulent in UK politics, but kudos to Best for Britain for putting the option firmly on the political agenda, and a lesson for all campaigners about continually reviewing your theory of change and approach.
4 – Gilet Jaunes – Not a campaign that has inspired, but I think there are some interesting lessons coming out of the success of the ‘Yellow Vests’ movement in France to push the Macron government into cuts on fuel duty and a rise in the minimum wage. How has a movement without any visible leadership has achieved so much? It’s an example of a campaign that is harnessing new power to win change – much of it incubated by regional groups on Facebook which were then amplified by the change in algorithms to focus on local content, and providing very easy ways to get involved – exactly the peer driven & made by many characteristics of new power campaigns.
5 – Organise – One of the untold stories of 2019 has been the rise in organising in companies that haven’t traditionally seen it  – from the tech industry where employees at Google have walked out over sexual harassment allegations and helped to get them to drop a censored search engine for the Chinese market, to McDonalds where Unions have supported workers to go on strike over wages.
Organise is a platform providing the tools to help workers campaign for better rights, using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and other tools to help reach workers to join together. For me the platform has lots of lessons for campaigners about how you can engage an audience who might be hesitant to take action, use surveys to get tips for campaigns based on the experiences of members and bring people collectively to give them confidence to take action – there is lots more in the approach to unpack in this episode of Reasons To Be Cheerful.
So that’s 5 campaigns from me that have inspired in 2018 – what would you add to the list.
Main image from Lorie Shaull used under Creative Commons.

Lessons in doing campaign strategy

We’ve just finished a process to sharpen some of our campaign strategies at work – so it’s got me thinking about some of the lessons that I’ve learned about what makes a good advocacy strategy process.
There are lots of articles written about what needs to go into a good campaign strategy and the approaches that you can use to do that, but I’m coming out of the process with the following reflections on ‘how’ to do strategy rather than what goes into it.
1 – It’s not a solo sport – sometimes in the busyness of doing, putting together the strategy can be the work that gets allocated to someone to go away and write alone. A good strategy is shaped and sharpened by having a range of voices and perspectives in the process – you have to resist the idea it can be written alone.
2 – It’s not an oral tradition – similar to the above, it can be tempting to feel that you don’t need to write down a strategy and instead pass it on in conversations and meeting, but there are two big pitfalls in taking that as an approach. Firstly writing it down gives you space to make clear your assumptions and get them challenged by others, and secondly because you can’t assume it’ll be passed on by others in the same way. A written down strategy can become a playbook for everyone to work from.
3 – It’s hard to facilitate the process and input as well – if you’re the penholder on a process (the person who needs to go away and write a draft based) then it’s hard to do that and at the same time run the process. Ask someone else to facilitate so you can fully participate and listen to the conversations as it evolves.
4 – Make sure you show your workings – the more senior you can go in your career, the more you can spot patterns and make decisions on tactics and approaches based on these. It the advocacy equivalent of the ’10,000-hour rule’, but not making clear why you’ve decided to do something – and by definition not do something else – doesn’t help others to learn, and makes it harder to challenge assumptions or question approaches.
5 – Start with the world you want to see – a strategy process needs to diverge at the start, but widening out can feel like you’ll never get to the end of the process – you have to resist that urge to converge too quickly. We’ve been looking at the theories of change outlined in the Pathways to Change document to help to challenge our thinking and assumptions about how change happens (I’ve written more about Pathways to Change here)
6 – Think about where the public is as much as where the policy is at – I’ve found that often in strategy processes that all of the energy goes into thinking about what the policy solution is – without considering where the public is, and what it’ll take to change that. Given the unique and challenging political times, we find ourselves in here in the UK, not asking how the public views your issue feels like it can lead to unachievable policy outcomes.
7 – You can’t shortcut the process – it can be tempting at the start of a process to move quickly to the later stages of a strategy process – the ‘fun’ part thinking about tactics and creative ideas, but spending time pushing into defining your problem statement, and doing the root cause analysis is the hard work that ensure. It’s like exercising for the first time when you’ve not done so for a while – it’s hard work to start with, but very satisfying at the end.