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.

What my friend Sam taught me…

My friend and former Tearfund colleague, Sam Barker passed away last month, after a short but brave battle with bowel cancer. You can read more about Sam in this obituary here
For the last few weeks, and at his funeral last Friday, I’ve been carrying around with many many thoughts about Sam; about what he taught me, about how he made me, and so many others he worked with, better advocates for change.
So I wanted to write some of that down as a small tribute to one of the very best people I’ve had the chance to work alongside to change the world, in the hope, it might help others.
Dear Sam,
I still remember properly meeting you for the first time, we sat in Portcullis House as we chatted about politics, what it was really like to work for an MP, and because it was a Friday it was definitely a ‘dress down’ day in Parliament!
You’d been kind enough to reply to a post I’d written suggesting we should all start to encourage our supporters to be ringing their MPs. There I was, the impatient campaigner, as you shared for me what it was really like working for an MP and how that perhaps encouraging everyone to start phoning wasn’t a very good idea!
Since your passing I’ve spent lots of time reflecting on everything that you taught me, and the things that I wish I’d said to you, so I hope you don’t mind that I’ve captured, and shared a few of them.
In many ways, the first encounter was so in keeping with my memories of you, always be generous with your time, advice and expertise. You didn’t need to take that time to meet with me; but you didn’t want to keep the insight and experience you had, you wanted to share it with others in the hope it would help me be a better advocate.
I remember at the first Bootcamp, you added yourself to the seed list and took the time to send really insightful feedback to that cohort, who used that to help them become better campaigners.  In the last few weeks, I’ve heard others share similar stories of their first meetings with you, and they all have that theme of generosity and kindness at the center of them. You taught should never to become too busy or self-absorbed not to take the time to offer thoughts and advice to others.
And I think it was that spirit, that meant you knew that change wasn’t going to happen without building a bigger tent, opening it up to welcome and include others. History is good at celebrating the figureheads of movements but isn’t always as quick as it should be at recognising the tent builders. Those who do the hard work of connecting people together, remembering that the most effective movements are the surprising coalitions. It’s so clear in the work you did across your career was about building a bigger tent in pursuit of a fair and just world.
The words of Jo Cox have come back to me on so many occasions in the last few weeks – that we have more in common. I don’t suspect we’ve ever voted for the same party at an election, you were a proud Conservative. I am, at times, an overly tribal member of the Labour Party (although perhaps less so at the moment), but those words that Jo shared “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us” keep coming back to me.
You taught me more than anyone else I’ve known that whatever the political tribe you choose to be part of, that it’s the job of changemakers to look to make common cause. You taught me over and over again to look beyond the political tribe; that there are individuals in all parties who are committed to addressing the big challenges – we might have different routes to get to the outcome, but we will achieve those quicker if we work together.
To wrestle with the question ‘are we really making a difference?’ – it’s so easy to get caught up in the doing, but I remember many of our conversations had that question at the heart of them, over coffee or beer, asking, pushing, probing if the work you were doing was making a difference – and if not what would be more strategic. What I really admired about you, was the way you didn’t shy away if that question came with a difficult answer and I hope you realise just how much of a difference you did make.
That this work needs to be fun –  there is a picture a colleague from Tearfund shared a few weeks ago, of you at the George Osborne event as part of the IF campaign – you appear to be in your element with your George mask in hand. It’s a reminder, that in the seriousness of the work of bringing an end of poverty, ushering in a greener and fairer economy and caring for creation: we need to have fun, to laugh, and to get stuck in with whatever is happening – even if it means an early start dressing up as George Osborne! I loved that about working with you, for all the seriousness of the work, you brought fun and laughter into the center of it.
But perhaps most importantly, you taught and challenged me to bring your whole self to the work of making change. As a Christian, it can be easy to hide that away in the campaigning arena – to avoid the difficult questions that can come with it. But you challenged me by your example, it was so clearly your Christian faith that brought you to the work that you did and that faith that shone through until the end. You showed me that we can’t leave our faith at the door of the office, but need to unashamedly acknowledge that it’s the guiding force and sustainer behind the work of bringing change to a broken world.
I could write more, and I’m sorry for not saying this to you in person, but thank you for everything you taught me. Like so many others I’m really going to miss you,
Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory,
Tom

A summer reading list for campaigners…

I set myself a challenge at the start of the year to read a book a week – and it means I’ve got a few recommendations for those looking for a good campaigning read as they head off on holiday.
If you’re looking to dive into the lessons from successful movements of the past – I finally got around to reading ‘Bury the Chains’, which is one of the most comprehensive accounts of the abolitionist movement. It’s an absorbing read, and full of examples of how those campaigning for an end to the transatlantic slave trade use approaches and tactics that wouldn’t look out of place today.
Similarly, I really enjoyed William P Jones, March on Washington – Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights, for a broader look at the work that went into bringing the march together where Martin Luther King gave his ‘I Have A Dream Speech’.
If you want to understand how technology is shaping campaigning – the last 6 months have been full of stories about Facebook, data and Cambridge Analytica. So I really enjoyed ‘The People Vs Tech: How the internet is killing democracy (and how we save it)’ in which Jamie Bartlett exploration of how technology is changing democracy. It’s a quick and accessible read which isn’t full of tech-optimism, but also doesn’t leave you wanting to delete every social media account you have.
While Zeynep Tufekci’s  ‘Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest’ is the best book I’ve read that explores the limits of social media when it comes to securing change. More here.
If you’re looking for some challenge on the approaches you’re taking – Then I can’t recommend ‘Where Good Ideas Come From – The Seven Patterns of Innovation’ enough. Steven Johnson has written a really interesting book drawing on the lessons from innovation across history and providing insight and tool about how to do that. I wrote more about it in a post here. I’d also add ‘Unsafe Thinking’ by Jonah Sachs to the list. More on his ideas here.
If you’re looking to be a better leader – I really enjoyed ‘The Culture Code’ by Daniel Coyle, as a primer to all the steps we can take as leaders to help team flourish, if you’re managing a team at work, or working with a team of volunteers then it’s got lots of principles you can draw from. I also found Jennifer Dulski, the former CEO of Change.org, Purposeful, a helpful read on how to be a leader in a campaigning organisation.
One of the topics I’ve been really thinking about this year is privilege in leadership, and what my role is a white straight man in helping to be a better ally. I found ‘Win Win: When Business Works for Women, It Works for Everyone’ by Joanne Lipman, a really good read for thinking about what more I can do in the office, although I prefer the books US title That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) about Working Together.
If you’re looking for the trend that will impact campaigning the most in the next decade– my pick of the bunch so far this year is ‘New Power: How It’s Changing The 21st Century – And Why You Need To Know’ by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms. It’s a book that builds on this brilliant HBR article and looks at how the nature of power is changing today, and what that means for influencers and institutions. Heimans and Timms explore how many are already harnessing New Power – if you’re looking for an accessible read with lots of practical thinking about how to succeed as a campaigner in the 21st century then it comes highly recommended.
If you’re trying to make sense of the UK today – then I’d recommend having a read of Joe Hayman’s ‘British Journey’. Hayman is a former special adviser who spent 3 months after Brexit travelling around the UK talking to people about what was behind the vote to leave. The result is a really good read on views far outside the ‘London bubble’. I’d add Ian Bremmer’s ‘Us vs Them – the failure of globalism’ if you’re looking to complement it with some more analysis of the forces driving the rise of populism.
I’m looking for recommendations for what to read over the rest of the year – so please do add thoughts to the comments below. I’m very conscious of the 12 books I’ve recommended only a quarter are by women authors, so that’s certainly something I want to address in the second half of the year.

Could 'unsafe thinking' help us come up with better campaign approaches?

I’m reading a lot at the moment – so forgive me if the next few posts are based on thoughts solely derived from the last book I’ve read.
I’ve just finished Jonah Sachs ‘Unsafe Thinking’. If you recognise the name, Sachs is the author of Winning the Story Wars, which is a brilliant read on using the power of stories to engage people to take action.
But in his latest book, he explores how we can get out of the patterns of behaviour that find ourselves following a well-trodden path in our approach to solving creative campaign problems.
I’ve come away from reading it with 8 principles to push when trying to come up with next campaign approaches and tactics.
1 – Push imagination – ’never use the same tactic twice’ is the advice from Micah White, who wrote the Adbusters manifesto that helped to launch the Occupy Movement. He contends that novelty and unexpectedness keep the public and press interested in a campaign – imagine approaching a campaign planning session where you couldn’t reuse an approach that had worked for you in the past.
2 – Push your passion – research shows that the most effective thinking can come when you’re ‘in the flow’ – when you’re working on something that you’re truly passionate about. Work to solve problems that you really believe in.
3 – Push out of the ‘expert trap’ – If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve been coming up with you’ll be familiar with the idea of ‘paralysis of analysis’. When you’re so much of an expert you can’t see the solution. A little knowledge about something is vital, too much and you can get entrapped, unable to see signals and information that might be telling you something different. Experts don’t always know best!
4 – Push those on the edge of the room – Sometimes we can be too close to a situation to be able to assess the best options. We find ourselves frozen by the urgency of solving a problem. Those on the outside of a room – close enough to the details but with a different perspective can be helpful.
5 – Push intelligent disobedience – some of the best solutions come from those who have a hunch that is just outside the boundaries of what’s acceptable. How can you encourage others to explore these space – it’s a tightrope to walk but this discomfort can lead to reasonable risk-taking that can lead to new approaches or innovation.
6 – Push (friendly) conflict – employ a ‘red team’ who are specifically mandated to challenge a strategy to make it stronger. It’s worked as an approach in the armed forces for decades, where everyone knows the purpose of the team is to expose flaws so they can win.
7 – Push others forward – If you’re a leader and you start a meeting sharing your opinion, chances are it could be a quick meeting, as others will often decide to agree with you. Instead stand back and encourage others to share – ask them to discuss what the group doesn’t already know. It’ll bring new thinking into your planning.
8 – Push dialogue with those you disagree with – a harder approach when campaigning is so often about identifying how to, but dialogue with those who hold opposing views can help to build new understanding and challenge blind spots in our own thinking. So often our approaches are tied to our beliefs and values – some dialogue might help to shift that.
Some of these approaches feel easier to push into than others – I can see how it’s possible to push (friendly) conflict, how you can change your management approach to push others forward or pushing imagination. While others feel harder, like dialoguing with those you disagree, but as Sachs writes in the book – pushing into the discomfort is a key element of identifying the ‘unsafe’ approach is working.

What will campaigning be like in 2040?

In 2010, NCVO produced a useful resource asking what campaigning might look like in 2015, it’s worth a read as it accurately predicts some of the trends that we’re seeing today. I’m also a big fan of this resource from Mobilisation Lab looking at some of the trends that campaigners will face in 2018.
But what would happen if we looked way further ahead – to say 2040 – what might campaigning look like then?
I had the opportunity to spend some time with the School of International Futures (SoIF), using some of the tools and techniques they use to work with to ask what the future might be for campaigning.
One of the things I was most struck with from the session was the sense that you have to look at the margins for ideas of what might become the future, that the further reaches of literature, the arts and academia to get a glimpse at what might become a future reality.
SoIF took us through a range of exercises to get us thinking about what might be ahead in the future – here are 5 scenarios that I’ve sketched out from that conversation;

  1. Apptivism – we’ll see an end to campaigning informed by altruistic motives of standing up, and instead, campaign actions will be driven by more intrinsic motives – where we’ll get rewarded by companies or other groups for taking action. We already see the rise of the role of Uber, Airbnb and others who are turning their customers into activists – and with the vast amount of data they hold, presumably offering incentives, like free rides, for those who take action on their behalf. Beyond that, some have suggested that Blockchain could provide a tool to help to register participation in campaign events or activities, which could then be rewarded.
  2. Algorithmocracy – the power of computers will be able to crunch so much data that we’ll no longer need decisions to be made by a form of representative democracy, but instead from publically held data points – what you say on Facebook (or whatever has replaced Facebook) will define the decisions that are made. As author Eli Pariser writes in The Filter Bubble we could be looking at  “a world constructed from the familiar is a world in which there’s nothing to learn, since there is invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas”. As the stories around the Cambridge Analytica have shown in the last few weeks there is a huge amount of power in who holds data and information so perhaps our future campaign targets will be companies like Facebook rather than Governments.
  3. Return to MySpace – a reaction against the influence of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook means groups will head back to digital infrastructure that was previously considered obsolete is taken over again with individuals finding online tribes in different spaces – it’s a trend that’s already been observed by some as alt-right groups have taken over MySpace. but also in how more and more messenger apps like WhatsApp are being used to bring groups together.
  4. VR Organising – at the heart of organising approaches is about bringing people with a common interest together to build their power, but does the arrival of virtual reality mean that this will no longer have to happen in a physical location – instead you’ll be able to do it from the comfort of your front room but feel like you’re in the same room as others who you’re going to take action with.
  5. Gathering together  – we’ll see a focus on in-person methods to bring people together, as people reject the role of technology and want deeper connection. Everyone has long suggested that death of offline approaches, but the success of big organising approaches in insurgent campaigns like Bernie Sanders suggest that people still have a thirst for coming together to secure change, and work by my friend Casper terKeile suggests that the thirst for a community to make meaning of the world is growing not decreasing.

But as I reflect more on these scenarios, I’m also struck that the fundamentals of campaigning probably won’t change – the role of campaigners will still be about building power and mobilising – so perhaps a more important conversation to have is what’s the future direction of power. Not just the visible power, but also who has invisible power and influence?

Re-energise your campaign – lesson from #BondConf session

I was really fortunate today to host a panel at the Bond Conference on how to ‘re-energise your campaign’. It was a great hour-long discussion between four inspiring campaigners, who are all leading really important campaigns with some new and different approaches.
It was one of those hours where I was trying to keep time, capture learnings and facilitate a discussion – needless to say I failed to time keep well, but a few lessons I took from the conversation;

  1. Build a simple structure that works for volunteerRobyn, one of the co-directors of IC Change, which has achieved remarkable success, reminded us that we need to build structures for our campaigns that work for volunteers and not the other way around. IC Change was a built on a range of volunteer roles, some long-term, some surge roles to help at busy times, and others to utilise specialist skills or knowledge.
  2. Be intentional about building relationships – at the heart of IC Change is a core team of volunteers who are working together. They’re committed to spending time building real relationships with each other. In our campaigns we need to put in the time to help people get to know each other – echoes here of the work of Hahrie Han in building social ties over meals and other social activities.
  3. Just do somethingTrica from Sum of Us shared how they often launch a campaign without having a fully agreed strategy, but they want to get a sense of how the corporate will react so put out petitions – sometimes with remarkable success rather than spend months developing the strategy. It was a theme that Robyn also picked up on that IC Change has because it volunteer-run looked to launch minimum viable proposition campaigns. There was something refreshing and exciting about just doing it!
  4. Find the pressure point – Sum of Us is about looking to find the most appropriate pressure point of their target, whats going to get them to move and respond to you. Then they design out the approach to take informed by that. Find the tactic that works to move your target. Keep experimenting if you’re original approach doesn’t work. Loads more about the approach of Sum of Us here.
  5. Build diverse and resilient coalitions – a theme across all the presentations was the importance of always looking to work with others, and while that can come with challenges working together helps campaigns to draw on each other’s strengths. For example, Rebecca from Ben + Jerry’s talked about how working with IRC meant they had access to policy knowledge and expertise. It’s about knowing what you know and what you don’t know.
  6. Be flexibleLarissa from Youth for Change reflected on how her campaigning had worked because they’d be flexible at adapting to where they were being successful, and look to go where people are to have the conversations. That could be a Whats App group, a Slack channel or something. Being too prescriptive can easily take valuable energy away.
  7. Get out and about – So Ben + Jerry’s have an advantage here as they have an Ice Cream Van, but Rebecca shared how important getting out and about to go to where people gather to have conversations about our issues. The Homecoming Tour, for example, was about going to communities and having conversations about welcoming refugees, and it was a great chance to have deeper conversations. Going offline helped to ground the campaign in realities that couldn’t be understood in a London planning meeting.
  8. Live your values – If as, Sum of Us is, you are asking your targets to live up to higher practices and values, you need to live those out. We had an important discussion about how we make sure that more diverse voices are heard in our campaigning. If our values don’t align with the work we’re doing we’re always going to be drawing energy away from our mission.
  9. Eat together – Perhaps an unintended theme throughout the presentations was the role of food at the heart of campaigning, from campaign planning over a cup of tea, to bring snacks to a meeting, to ice cream, everyone seemed to agree on the importance of food!
  10. Don’t forget the ‘why’ – a powerful reminder from Larissa that we all come into the work of campaigning because we want to change things, and if we’re feeling like our campaigns are lacking the energy they need, sometimes we need to go back to the ‘why’ we do this work and rediscover the passion that brought us to it.

If you joined the session at #BondConf I’d love to know what you’re reflections from the conversation was. 

 

Where could good campaign ideas come from?

Steven Johnson asks a simple question – where do good ideas come from? Looking across the history of innovation and the development of some of the most important breakthroughs in history, his book by the same name explores what are the lessons that we can learn from them, and apply in our own work.
The themes of the book really resonated with me. As a campaigner, I’m constantly on the lookout for the latest idea and approach that will help my campaign to gain the traction needed to secure change.
A campaigners work is often about doing the most with the scarce resources that exist so any edge we can get needs to be explored.
So what are simple steps that we can take as campaigners to come up with better ideas?
1 – Go for a walk – Getting away from our desks is one of the simplest actions you can take. It draws you away from the every day tasks that you get focused on when sitting at your desk. It gives your mind space to make connections between ideas you’d previously had. Try it. I know that I often find some of the best campaign ideas I have come to me on my cycle ride to and from work – which then presents the challenge of how to remember them before I get into the office.
2 – Read a newspaper – in the days of social media we get specific and curated information in front of us, but we’re losing out by not reading a newspaper where you browse across articles on a range of subjects, some of which might peak our curiosity, even those not linked to a topic we might naturally be interested in. Johnson is also a big advocate of reading more in general, he points to the examples of innovators like Bill Gates who take a whole week out a year to read – now most of us can’t devote that much time to reading, but we can all increase the breadth of the content we’re reading.
3 – Chronicle everything – During the Enlightenment, keeping a ‘Commonplace Book’ was well common place! These book are collections for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across, and help you to review them to make connections or new ideas. Johnson encourages us to create our own 21st century version of these books, a collection of quotes, ideas, thoughts but through a digital medium. More on how to create them here.
4 – Connect with others in coffee shops – Johnson is an advocate of the inhabiting spaces where you’ll find ‘liquid networks’ – groups of people working on different challenges and topics. In those space he argues that ‘different people with different perspectives coming together’. The 21st coffee house might be very different from those from a few hundred years ago, but the principle of proactively taking time to meet with, learn from and debate with those working on very different challenges from yours seems to me to be a good one. One practical way I’ve thought about doing this is looking to go along to talks and conferences on topics that aren’t immediately related to what I’m working on.
5 – Make a mistake – that might sound counter intuitive but Johnson argues that ‘being right keeps you in your place, being wrong forces you to explore’. Some of the most important innovations come about because of mistakes. For me this is about how we continue to embrace a culture that allows us to interrogate the mistakes we make, rather than looking to hide them or not make them for fear that in some way we’ll be penalised. It’s a theme I’ve explored more here.
6 – Take up a hobby – Individuals like Benjamin Franklin, the American inventor, or John Snow who is seen as the father of modern epidemiology, because of his work in tracing the source of a cholera outbreak in London, have a number of things in common, including the fact that they both had lots of hobbies. In an era when we’re told to focus our efforts on one thing, Johnson argues that having hobbies can be an invaluable way in helping our minds to make new connections, and to bring the approach we might take from on hobby into thinking about another area of our work.
7 – Have lunch together with colleagues – Psychologist, Kevin Dunbar set up cameras in a biology lab and look to study where most of the research breakthroughs came from. Now you might expect it’d be at the scientist’s desk, but it turned out to be a conference table in the middle of the room during breaks. Dunbar suggests that this was because it was the space where researchers could challenge assumptions or blend together ideas or hunches they were having. So while we might think we’re doing our best work at our desks, sometimes the questions that we need to be asking across the table from colleagues during a coffee break or lunch.
If you want to learn more about Johnson book I’d recommend this and this. He’s also done an excellent TED Talk on the themes in his book.

The legacy of Gene Sharp – some tools for campaigners

It was announced last week that Gene Sharp has passed away. If you’ve never come across the work of Sharp you should. He was one of the most important writers, thinkers and strategist on nonviolent resistance. Tim Gee has written this really nice reflection on his work and legacy.
The short pamphlet that he is most well known for is ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’ which was translated into over 40 language, and part of his many writing that influenced numerous movements around the world, including those like CANVAS in Serbia who overthrew Slobodan Milošević, many of those involved in the Arab Spring movements and many many more.
But there is a richness in his work that’s applicable for any campaigner, so I wanted to share some of three tools that Sharp developed or inspired that I’ve found especially useful to consider in campaign strategy.
1. Pillars of Support – Traditional power is thought of as a pyramid, where power flows from the top downward, but Sharp suggested that as activists we should turn the pyramid upside down, and see that power is ultimately dependent on the cooperation and obedience of large numbers of people acting through the institutions that constitute the state. These are its pillars of support.

Image from https://trainings.350.org/resource/understanding-people-power/

Those pillars can include institutions like the military and judiciary, but also media, education system and religious institutions which can support the system through their influence over culture and popular opinion. Sharp suggested that activists should focus on a target’s pillars of support, and then set about working to win over, or at least neutralize, those pillars of support so that the foundation that sustains the target begins to crumble
This is a brilliant case study of how the model can be applied to the movement for equal marriage. See more on this approach here and here. Too often I think campaigners focus on changing the position of the government, but Pillars of Support reminds me that sometimes looking beyond that can lead to impact.
2. 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action – The most comprehensive list I’ve ever come across of the “entire arsenal of nonviolent weapons” at the disposal of change makers.
Sharp listed almost 200 different approaches and classified into three broad categories: nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation (social, economic, and political), and nonviolent intervention. If you’re ever looking for campaign tactic inspiration this is a great place to start.
3. Spectrum of Allies – In campaign strategy we can too easily focus on those who are already supportive or those who are opponents, and so our campaigns are planned in a very binary manner. The Spectrum of Allies recognises that often many groups are in the middle, or those whose support or opposition is softer than it might appear.
Image from https://trainings.350.org/resource/spectrum-of-allies/

The goal of the spectrum of allies is to identify different people—or specific groups of people—in each category, then design actions and tactics to move them one wedge to the left. Once you’ve identified where different groups sit then you can start to think about how you can engage them in your campaign. See more on this approach here and here.