I was invited to speak today at a Sheila McKechnie Foundation ‘Masterclass’ on leadership in campaigns – mobilising internally and externally. It was a fun session sharing alongside Claire Hazelgrove from Friends of the Earth, and a group of 20 or so campaign leaders from across the campaigning community in the UK.
We looked at what it means to lead internally within our organisation and externally in coalitions. I draw on a few themes that I’ve written about before on this blog, but wanted to pull together some of the resources I mentioned during the session, both for those who came along (thanks for joining) and others who might be interested. Leading Internally
When it comes to leading others, it’s really helpful to take the time to consider your leadership style. Tools like Strengthfinder, Myers-Briggs, or www.16personalities.com can be helpful for thinking about this, and then having a conversation as a team or with who manage you.
I’ve found the writing of Margaret Wheatley, who wrote this excellent and very accessible paper (it’s only 6 pages long) on ‘host leadership’ a few years ago excellent and speaks to some of the differences of leading campaigners.
I’d encourage any campaign leader to create space to be curious. Some of my thinking has been drawn from the work of Duncan Green and idea of dancing with the system, see my post here on his ideas, and a link to his book ‘How Change Happens‘. I’d also really recommend this by Kate Norgrove who has just finished as Head of Campaigns at Water Aid asking how we know if we’ve made a difference.
This is more about the DARCI tool that Claire shared.
I really enjoyed the discussion about how we maintain hope in difficult times. If you’ve not watched Selma, Pride, Milk, Cry Freedom or the many other great films on campaigning then do (this list has some other ideas), and I think it’s prompted me writing another post about the leaders behind the leaders of great campaign movements. As Claire reminded us we should never forget these words of Martin Luther King
On how our tactics need to respond to the times we find ourselves in. I’d recommend a read of Micah White’s ‘End of Protest‘ not an easy read but a really interesting one.
While my password is more sophisticated than ‘password’ – you might laugh but a recent article by suggested that’s a very common password – I know I’ve not spent enough time thinking about protecting myself online.
But with news of the hacking of the Clinton campaign, an awareness of how much information that I produce is held in ‘the cloud’, and reading stories like this about a sophisticated attempt to create a fake campaign group to hack the IT systems of organisations like Amnesty who had been raising concerns about workers rights in Qatar. I’ve started to think that I need to consider taking my digital more security more seriously.
As campaigners, we’re often working on issues where there are powerful vested interests that we’re opposing, so making sure that we’re thinking about our data security should be on our to do list. Attending CampaignCon in October it was interesting just how many campaigners at the conference were talking about it as a key concern for the work they’re doing. For many campaigners, it’s a challenge to get the balance right. We want to collaborate with others which makes platforms like Dropbox and Google Doc invaluable, we need to use social media channels like Twitter and Facebook to get our messages out, and investing in complex cyber security can feel like an unnecessary cost when every penny counts..
It’s easy to think that you only have to worry about your digital security if you’re running some campaign on the arms trade, or in a country with a repressive government. But that’s before you start to investigate the powers that governments have over our data (see the recent Investigatory Powers Bill/Snoopers Charter passed in the UK last) or consider what new laws President Trump might implement and what that would mean for any data held in the ‘cloud’ on a US server. 2017 is the year that cyber and data security need to be every campaigners concern.
If that’s not enough to convince you – at a time when elements of the media are looking for charity scandals making sure that you’re no unwittingly writing a front page story is another reason to revisit those social media permissions.
I’m no expert at how to do this, but I’ve found the following articles really helpful as an introduction to thinking about digital security – but please do add other thoughts in the comment box below. Step 1 – Start with some light housekeeping – I found this article from Owen Barder really helpful. It’s nothing complicated, but making sure that you’ve got two-step authentication set up, are using a password manager and thinking about where you store key information are some simple and easy steps to take. Step 2 – Think about encryption – This is a really helpful guide to thinking about how you can tread more lightly when you’re using the internet. Again, nothing that requires lots of technical expertise, but it’s got some really useful suggestions about how to search in private or use secure message platforms like Signal to share. Step 3 – Consider a digital detox – If you’re concerned about Google actually knowing more about you that your best friend thanks to your search history, use of Google Maps, etc. Have a look at the Digital Detox that Tactical Tech have launched. Again its’s full of really simple and easy steps you can take to take back control of your digital self Step 4 – Review your campaigns risk – Clearly every campaign comes with a different level of risk attached to it, but this articles from Mobilisation Lab really helpful. I found thinking about this made me consider what information I’m sharing information with on email or who is on those big mailing lists I’m sharing my latest campaign dilemmas with. Step 5 – Dive in to find out more – The Tactical Tech Collective is a brilliant place for anyone wanting to learn more about digital security – there Security in a Box project while designed for frontline human rights defenders has lots of practical ideas. Please do use the comments box to share others thoughts, ideas and resources.
Today will mark the first day in the office for many after the Christmas break. In previous years, I’ve written posts on the resolutions that you can make to be a better campaigners this year (you can read them here) they’re full of useful advice that I’d stand by, but this year I’ve decided to share the 7 things that I’m going to try to do more of as a campaigner in 2017.
2017 feels like it’s going to be important. 2016 was a difficult year, and on many of the issues I care about their is real jeopardy about the progress we’ve made or could make, so now the Christmas break I’m asking myself what more can I be doing in 2017.
We’ve got work to do, so by sharing this I’m doing so for 2 reason – for accountability, in the hope that by writing this it’ll be harder to avoid doing it (please ask me if you see me) and to prompt other to think about what more they plan to do over the next 12 months. 1) Listen more – If I’m taking anything from 2016, it’s that I need to listen more. I’ve been sharing this quote from Sir Craig Oliver with everyone, because I think it’s at the essence of what we so often get wrong in campaigning.
So in 2017, I want to find ways to listen more – to understand what those outside my ‘bubble’ are thinking and to actively seek out different perspectives. There is a temptation to rush from listening to suggesting action or solutions – but I’m not sure that’s going to solve the challenges we face.
So 2017 is a year of listening – I’d welcome practical suggestions of how best to do that. One colleague suggested that we adopt the political party approach of surveying local resident, or perhaps it’s street stalls on High Streets, but whatever solution I come up with I want to be listening more. 2) Share more – I’m convinced that movement generosity is going to be vital if we want to win more. Movement generosity doesn’t mean that we all have to adopt the same approaches or tactics. Far from it, we need to recognise that we’re more effective thanks to campaigns taking insider and outsider approaches, but movement generosity for me is about actively asking how can we collaborate together, and taking time to learn and share from each other.
So in 2017, I want to share more. That’ll be by continuing to write on this blog (and thanks to everyone who has said encouraging things about the blog this year) and make a point of responding to at least one question a week on the E-Campaigning Forum, but I’m also really keen to get out and share with other campaigners – so if you’d like to invite me to speak to your team, department or conference please get in touch. In return, I want to learn from others who are leading and winning campaigns. 3) Read more – I’ve written before that ‘leaders are reader’, so inspired by this article I’m setting myself a goal of reading a few pages everyday, I want to dive into learning more about the Civil Rights Movement something that has long fascinated me, but also learn more about unsung movement builders from history and . I know that reading isn’t for everyone, some people prefer audio books and podcasts (if that’s you here is a list of some podcasts you might want to subscribe to), but however you take in information, I think the principle of actively seeking out new information is a critical one. 4) Get out more – One of the books that I read over Christmas was Gillian Tett’s ‘The Silo Effect‘. I really enjoyed it (and I plan to write more about the lessons we can take from anthropology that she suggests). The book is full that we need to be proactive at getting out of our silos that often emerge in our organisations – perhaps that’s self evident but how often do we fail to do it, accepting that they just exist! This quote at the end of the book is a good challenge;
5) Build more – I’m super proud of what Campaign Bootcamp has become since I helped to found it back in 2012 – every few weeks I see a campaign agitating for change and winning from within the Bootcamp community. I believe its a vital part of the campaign infrastructure that we need to ensure we can train, equip and support campaigners to win.
I’ve no doubt that those on the ‘other’ side are reenergised and reinvesting in their infrastructure – so in 2017 I want to explore what I else I can contribute to building so that we’re better equipped to win. I’ve no idea what that is yet, get in touch if you’ve got a good idea. 6) Ask more questions – Campaigners always need to be asking questions (some suggestions here)- what does success look like, do we really need to campaign, who can deliver the change we want. We’ve got scare resources to allocate, and I know that those on the opposite side aren’t planning to take it easy in 2017 – read this for a slightly terrifying view on they think needs to be done in 2017. So I’m going to ask more questions, especially the ‘why’ question – ‘why will doing this help achieve the change we’re looking for’, ‘why do we think that’ – it’s a powerful question. 7) Rest more – with so much to do it’d be easy it’d be easy not to giver permission to rest, but as I’ve written before rest is vital if we’re going to be able to sustain this work for year. Rest doesn’t have to mean sitting around, but taking time to step out of our work to do things that recharge and reenergise us. I know for me that means running (I’m a big ParkRun fan) and tackling some new challenge (a Triathlon for me). So that’s more of what I’m going to do in 2017 – do use the comments below to let me know what you’re thinking.
Don’t underestimate what those on the ground are telling you – in a world of insight and data it’s easy to trust the model, but the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in November has led some to suggests that the Clinton ignored those on the ground who saw the threat coming – so much so they might have actually been mobilising people to vote for ‘The Donald’
Get creative about how you acquire the data you need – For Clinton it was via concerts to collect data to help mobilise key voter groups, for the Leave Campaign it was a competition to win £50m if you could predict the results of the European Football Championships. Both might be seen as gimmicks but they helped to collect data the campaigns needed.
But if you are going to respond with protest have a clear theory of change – as this article there is both a science and an art behind successful protests. Want to get the low-down on what makes a protest work then these 10 social science insights are a good place to start
Make the most of armchair volunteers – Bernie didn’t just ask people to get involved in contacting voters, but his distributed organising model made the most of armchair volunteers – individuals who are happy to spend hours at home inputting data or staffing virtual help desks.
Harness the power of mobile – If 2008 was the email election and 2012 was the Twitter election, I’m not sure what 2016 should be called, but the way that Bernie used mobile to engage with voters might be one of the lasting legacies.
Remember Brexit? I wrote this shortly after the vote in June. I think lots of the insight still stands but 6 months later there are an abundance of people writing from inside the campaigns on what worked and didn’t work.
Focus beyond the Westminster Bubble – I really enjoyed Unleashing Demons by former No 10 Communications chief Sir Craig Oliver. Although he was on the losing side this insight seems pertinent to all campaigners;
Message discipline wins – Like it or not, but Vote Leave focused on a tight message about take back control, with the now dodgy £350m statistic at the heart of it. As Tom Waterhouse who worked on the Leave campaign writes they managed to get their message to stick in a way that the Remain campaign didn’t, and while the Remain campaign tried to focus on myth-busting, Jon Quinn suggests it’s an increasingly ineffective tool.
If you want more on the Referendum here are good insights from the Leave and Remain sides. There is hope in unusual places – I’ve already shared learning from the Australian election, but this story of how Get Up focused it’s resources to impact where it really mattered.
But finally, let’s not forget that US Elections lead to some of the best campaign videos – this is one of my favourites.
It’s the time of year when people are looking for ideas for Christmas gifts. So here are a few recommendations from things I’ve read over the last 12 months for campaigners looking to add something else to under the tree. How Change Happens – Duncan Green’s long trailed book answers a critical question that all campaigners need to grapple with – how does change happen. It’s a really good read, and as I wrote here I really enjoyed some of the challenges that Duncan puts out to those of us who work in campaigning. Change doesn’t happen in a linear way, and we need to adjust our thinking and approach to respond to this. Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything – I need to do a bulk purchase of this to pass onto my team. It’s simply a brilliant book written by Becky Bond and Zack Exley who were the brains behind the ‘distributed organising approach’ that took Bernie Sanders so far in the Democratic primary in the US .
It’s short, at around 150 pages, unpacking how the approach was so successful with lots of stories to make the pages wizz by. Bernie Sanders clearly built something very unique so the 22 rules in this book. It’s oozing with wisdom and insight. A MUST READ. Blueprint for Revolution – I loved this from Srdja Popvic, the Serbian activist who led the movement to overthrow Slobodan Milošević and has shared his skills around the world since. It’s part autobiography, but also part playbook for anyone involved in campaigning. It’s an easy and enjoyable read, with Popvic mixing a range of stories from his personal experience with lessons from history. My review of the book is here. The Inevitable – this isn’t a book about campaigning, but the themes that Kevin Kelly explores in his book which looks at the themes which will shape technology over the next 30 years are totally relevant to anyone who wants to. I put the book down feeling a mixture of emotions, excited about what the future will look like for campaigning but also daunted about what the trends driving us towards. This is one of the best books I’ve come across to looking into the future. It’s not an easy read but a worthwhile read. Ireland says Yes: The Inside Story of How the Vote for Marriage Equality Was Won – I had the privilege of hosting Gráinne Healy at the Bond Conference in March. Her insider account of the campaign for equal marriage in Ireland is brilliant.
As I said to CharityComms – it’s a page-turning account of a referendum campaign which successfully integrated brilliant messaging, powerful messengers and creative tactics to win.
If the story of the Irish referendum inspires you, I’d also really recommend Winning Marriage: The Inside Story of How Same-Sex Couples Took on the Politicians and Pundit sand Won which focuses on the equal marriage campaign in the US.
Looking ahead, I’m also super excited about 2 books coming out in early 2017. The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough by Alex Evans and Analytic Activism: Digital Listening and the New Political Strategy by David Karpf. They’re definitely on my wish list for early 2017. What else should I be adding?
The further I’ve gone in my career the more I’ve been thinking about what leadership in campaigning looks like and the more I’ve found that there aren’t easy answers out there.
So it was great to be asked by Jim Coe to chat with him about some of my thoughts about leadership and campaigning a few months ago. You can listen to the whole podcast here, but preparing to speak with Jim and thinking about the topic has got me thinking.
There is of course a legal and project management element to campaign leadership – it’s important to know about the latest regulations from the Charity Commission, or how to manage a budget, or ensure good external stakeholder relations. But what I don’t find is writing about how to lead teams of campaigners or campaigns.
On leadership, I’ve been really inspired and informed by the writing of Margaret Wheatley, who wrote this excellent and very accessible paper (it’s only 6 pages long) on ‘host leadership’ a few years ago.
Most of us aren’t going to the be the ‘heroes’ who are the ‘face’ of a campaign or a cause – indeed I think there is a whole post to write about if the model of campaigns with a ‘figurehead’ leader is largely redundant.
But for those of us in leadership roles in campaigning it’s a really important paper to read, because it speaks to the challenge of managing and leading talented individuals who are hungry to change the world, working in complex (and often changing) situations where plans evolve and the external environment can shift at a moments notice.
So I’m really putting some thoughts out here, not to present them as a ‘blueprint’ but to spark a conversation amongst others in leadership roles in campaigning.
As a campaign leader I’ve found the following important; 1 – Help those around you make sense of the story – Helping others to step back from the now and understand how does a specific win or campaign fit into the bigger picture of the change that you’re going to achieve, how does that win further the cause that you’re all working for. 2 – Intentionally invest in others – This isn’t unique to leading campaigners, but there can be so much ‘doing’ in campaigning that it’s hard to find the time to pause and make sure people are investing in their personal development. What that looks like will be different for different people – some will appreciate being encouraged to find a mentor, others will need a recommendation of a good book to read, but holding the space for others to flourish by investing time in them means we continue to cultivate generations of campaigners. 3 – Model what you’d expect from others – Let’s be honest, burnout is a huge problem for campaigners. One of the hardest things that I find about leading a team is trying to model what the right balance looks like – I’m a workaholic. I know I don’t expect others to be ‘always on’ but often in campaigning its hard to switch off. It’s easy to tell others to do it, but as I’ve stepped into leadership I’ve become more and more aware that unless you ‘walk the walk’ you can’t expect to ‘talk the talk’. 4 – Understand my privilege – I was fortunate to spend a day thinking about power and privilege early in my career – it was insightful in helping me to think about this and challenge my approaches. I’ve still a lot to learn, but those of us in leadership need to be aware of our privilege. This from NEON is a really helpful resource to start to think about this. 5 – Recognise weaknesses – None of us are good at everything – so as much as we might not like to admit it – we need to be vulnerable to others including those we lead about what we’re not good at. I’ve found that people respect you for it. 6 – Assemble a team around you – Some of those I most admire in campaigning are individuals like Ralph Abernathy and Bayard Rustin they’re not household names, but they’re those who stood around Martin Luther King as he ‘led’ the civil rights movement. The one question I often encourage people to ask when they’re applying for another job is to ask their potential future line manager ‘who do they go to when they don’t have the answer’. Why? Because the best leaders I’ve ever worked with have had people around them to council and challenge them – leaders who think they know it all invariably fail. 7 – Create the space to be curious and ask ‘why’ – Like taking time out or investing in development, the space for evaluation is often lost in our busyness. Evaluation is more than just completing the indicators form at the end of a project. Campaign leaders need to be hosting those around them to ask some of the questions that Duncan Green was encouraging us to think about – to be curious about why change is happening or share rumours. 8 – Pass it on – I’ve written before about the importance of mentoring and coaching – which means those of us in leadership need to be generous in offering to do just that to those who are a step or two back in their campaign leadership journey. Not sure where to start Campaign Bootcamp has a mentoring scheme that’s always looking for people. I’ve very much written this to start to kick off a conversation about leadership in campaigning, so please do comment below on what else I’ve missed.
One of the joys of my job is I get to go off to talks to listen to interesting people. Last week I got to enjoy thought provoking hour with Duncan Green.
Duncan is Strategic Adviser at Oxfam GB – basically from what I can tell he employed to write + say interesting and proactive things to help make NGOs and others involved in international development better. If you’ve not come across his writing before I’d strongly recommend his website ‘From Poverty to Power’.
Duncan is about to release a new book ‘How Change Happens‘ and I’d recommend going along to one of the many lectures and talks he’s giving over the next few months – it’s full of lots of useful content.
This session was especially useful as it was focused on those those involved in running and leading global campaigns, as it was part of a fascinating workshop hosted by Save the Children International and World Vision International sharing what they’d learnt from campaigning on the MDGs (and on that topic this learning from Water Aid about there work on pushing on the post-2015 agenda is also excellent).
The session was also packed full of useful insight, and big credit to both organisations to actively looking to share what they’ve found has worked and not worked from the campaigning they’ve been involved in over the last 5+ years.
But here are a few things from Duncan that got me thinking about our approach to understanding change. How change happens? It’s complicated.
Campaigning isn’t like making a cake – we can’t just repeatedly add the same ingredients, mix them together, put in the oven, and get the same cake time and time again. Instead change is complex, ‘non-linear’, messy and involves multiple actors. Frankly its complicated!
To reflect this campaigners need to grapple with what changes a system, to reflect on the role of critical junctures in driving change (see some of my thoughts on preparing for crisis’s here) and recognise that causality is uncertain. I was struck that some of the models in Pathways of Change are really helpful here. But our traditional planning approaches don’t accommodate complexity.
It’s not often Mike Tyson gets quoted in a campaigning presentation but his quote ‘Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth’ is a 21st century take on the ‘No strategy survives first contact with the enemy’ quote. We need to accept that our strategies aren’t up to incorporating the complexity of the challenges we work on.
Instead Duncan suggests that when we to have two types of theories of change – Theories of Change which look at how we think the system is going to be changing even without our interventions, and a Theory of Action which focus on what we hope the impact will be of the interventions that we plan to make. (see more here) So we need to start to think differently.
As change makers we need to start to think/feel/work in a different way. We need to nurture an inherent curiosity about how change happens, to listen to gossip which can often help us make sense of what’s happening, to learn to embrace uncertainty, and be reflective to recognise our own prejudices and power. In short, we need to ‘learn to dance with the system’ (this draws on the work of Donella Meadows who’s paper on this I’d recommend reading) Open ourselves to unusual suspects and voices.
To dance with the system we need to look out for those who are already dancing in the system – that might be more ‘junior’ staff in our offices who are actually more ‘in touch’ with with new trends or approaches, to actively get ourselves out of the ‘thought bubbles’ that are so easily to inhabit, or through different ways of seeing he world, for example Duncan ask why do we draw so much from the scientific/econometric approaches in how we try to evaluate advocacy – could we learn as much from history, sociology or social anthropology? Duncan’s book is published at the end of the month and available at all good bookshops – I’ve pre-ordered my copy.
It was the NCVO Campaigning Conference yesterday – it’s always an interesting day bringing together a mix of campaigners and public affairs colleagues from across a range of issues.
As always you walk away with a notebook – or in my case multiple scraps of paper – full of notes, thoughts, good ideas and top tips – and a frustration you couldn’t be in more than one session.
Here are 10 things that I took from my morning at the Conference – do check out #ncvocc for more insight. 1. Brexit is the focus for government – both Jess Phillip MP and Jonny Mercer spoke about how the Brexit negotiations will dominate everything that happens in Parliament and Whitehall in the coming years. It’s not just because it’s the most important political decisions that many of us will see in our lifetimes, but it’s also because it’s taking up so much capacity from civil servant and ministers other issues are getting pushed to the side. Campaigners looking to get noticed will have to push harder than ever. 2. MPs really are tired of email petitions – so this isn’t news, and you almost expect to hear it from MPs in sessions like this, but when two pro-campaigning MPs who are instinctively on our side tell you that they’re fed up of pre-written email petitions, you know it’s time to think long and hard about if the tactic is doing more to hinder than help. Jess reminded us that she get’s over 6,000 emails every day, and the response to any pre-written email is to ensure a member of staff responds with a standard template email. 3. It’s MPs staff you should be getting to know – they’re the gatekeepers to most MPs, the ones who make key decisions about diaries and briefings. Build good relationships with them and it can really help you to get your campaign in front of an MP. Treat them badly and don’t expect to see much progress. 4. Ask do you really need to be in a coalition – I was fortunate to chair a really lively and interesting session on coalition campaigning. Jane Cox from Principle Consulting reminded us that there is a cost to coalitions (perhaps Jane had ready my blog on this) – sometimes a strategic partnership is a better approach than the time commitment an effective coalition can be. Jane wrote a really useful post with some of her learning from coalition campaigning. 5. Keep going until the end – too many coalitions just focus on the immediate change outcome, and when they’ve succeeded in delivering that they stop. That can be a mistake and often ensuring that you monitoring implementation is as important. This is something that you should factor into your planning – especially when applying for foundation support for your campaign. 6. We need to talk about power – Heather Kennedy from the Fair Funeral Campaign reminded us of the principle from organising that you either have organised money or organised power – if you’re opposition is organised money it can be easy for them to ‘sit it out’ until you’re coalition has come to an end. It was one of the few references through the day to power – which given campaigning is often about winning feels like it was something missing from the conversation. 7. Celebrate success in a generous way – Heather shared about how the Funeral Poverty Alliance has built it’s coalition over the last few years and managed to put the issue on the agenda – it sounds like a really great campaign coalition which doesn’t have lots of governing documents but has placed building relationships through well facilitated strategy sessions and strong face-to-face relationships. Demonstrating that coalitions don’t have to be dominated by ‘egos and logos’! 8. When developing campaign leaders high commitment should mean high support – I really enjoyed the session on developing volunteers as campaign leaders – it felt that there was a recognition that in response to the declining effectiveness to e-petitions we need to look again at building our networks.
I’ve been aware of the work that Alice Fuller and her team at the MND Association have been doing at building a network of Campaign Contacts in their local groups over the last few years, but it was great to hear more about it – and to hear some honest reflections about how much the team have learnt about the level of support they need to provide, the commitment to training and investing in volunteers, but also letting go and trusting volunteers. 9. Metrics matter – Eleanor Bullimore spoke about the work, and the challenge of developing relevant metrics to measure the impact of the work that volunteer network at The Ramblers is having. Elle suggested that as well as developing metrics for going up the the ‘ladder of engagement’ we also need to be looking at those going down – recognising that some volunteers will find they have less rather than more to offer. 10.Trust us – Joining Alice and Eleanor was Katy Styles, one of MND Associations local campaigners. It was so refreshing to hear of the ways that Katy had been able to get involved in leading MND’s campaign (Katy has helped to produce this cracking toolkit) – and to be reminded that most people aren’t paid to campaign they do it because of a passion. The big message that I’m taking from Katy was as professional campaigners we need to let go of our concerns about brand and reputation and trust our volunteers. Update – all the presentations from the sessions are available here.
One of the things I most enjoy about going on holiday is the opportunity to dip into a good book or two.
Over the last week I’ve really been enjoying Blueprint for Revolution – How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men and Other Non-Violent Techniques to Galvanise Communities, Overthrow Dictators or Simply Change the World by Srdja Popvic.
Popvic is one of the leaders of the CANVAS (The Centre of Nonviolent Actions and Strategies), the Serbian based organisation that was behind the movement overthrowing Slobodan Milošević, and has taken these lessons to help other movements around the world (this is a good read on the work of CANVAS).
It’d be easy to think that the book is only intended for those who are interested in learning about overthrowing dictators, but it’s not. I found the book packed full of practical insight and brilliant stories that are relevant to anyone involved in campaigning.
It’s an easy and enjoyable read, with Popvic mixing a range of stories from his personal experience with lessons from history.
I’ll be recommending it to anyone who asks me about what makes a good campaign as it’s packed full of practical wisdom that could be applied to anyone involved in movement building.
Here are a few lessons I’m walking away with after reading the book that I’ll be looking to apply in my campaigning; 1 – Focus on small victories to build your movement – those campaigns that focus first on small achievable battles that they can win are more likely to succeed. They understand that victories can help to give your supporters confidence that they’re part on a winning side, and also help to attract others to your cause. 2 – It takes time to plan your strategy – Popvic shares a lot about the time Otpor! in Serbia took to plan and build for the actions that they then took. He’s at time critical of movements that he feels have moved to action too quickly. To be successful you need to be meticulous as you can in your planning and preparation. Leave nothing to chance. 3 – Change comes when two or more groups come together for mutual benefit – campaigns can’t be won if they just reflect the views or worldview of just one group with a community – they need to bring together different groups. Throughout the book is the message that building unity, community and trust with others is central to anyone who wants to win. 4 – Focus on the ‘Pillars of Support’ – remembering the work of Gene Sharp, who suggested that every regime is held in place by a handful of pillars – apply enough pressure to one or more pillar, and the whole system will soon collapse. But this means thinking laterally and considering what the pillars are – for example for using businesses which have close connections with those you’re looking to target. See this for how the concept has applied to the campaign for equal marriage. 5 – Make it funny – campaign can be a serious business, but Popvic is a big advocate of using ‘laughtivism’ as a tool for change, using humor as a way of undermining your target, but having some fun at the same time.
The book is, as they say, available from all good bookshops – I’d highly recommend it.
Suggesting campaigners spend some time thinking about Theory of Change doesn’t normally elicit the same energising response that cheering on Team GB in the Olympics does!
So while I’ve been spending the last two weeks watching the Olympics, it’s got me thinking about winning and the approach that UK Sport has taken to ensure this was our greatest ever Olympics.
It strikes me that they have an incredibly clear theory of change about how they we’re going to approach Rio 2016 and build on the success from London 2012. But what could campaigners learn from the rush of medals Team GB has won in the last fortnight?
Alongside other colleagues at Bond, we’ve been working with Jenny Ross to produce resources on Theory of Change which we hope will help to provide a useful introduction, and encourage more campaigners to use it as an approach.
Theory of Change is a key approach for any campaigner who is serious about winning to take, but one I think many of us shy away from as it’s been built up into that’s impenetrably complicated, so we hope that this video and accompany resource will help to make it more accessible.
So drawing on the lessons from the success of Team GB here are a few thoughts on how theory of change can help you approach planning your campaigning; 1. Be clear on what success looks – It’s simplistic to suggest that all Olympic athletes are going for Gold. Yes that’s what they want to achieve, but many realise it’s unlikely, but for sports that UK Sport funds it’s clear on how many medals they’re looking to achieve.
Using Theory of Change can help you be clear on what your specifically looking to achieve and be able to articulate it for all those your working with. 2. Map out the route to success – Listen to any of the Olympians and they’ve been successful by building up to the competition in Rio. It has come about through months and years of planning and meeting milestones on the way – achieving certain targets in training, winning an important competition, etc.
In the same way using Theory of Change can help you to set out what the progress on the way that you expect to see before winning the overall change – it helps you to map out the goals that you need me to meet on the way. 3. Challenge your assumptions – One of the issues where UK Sport has been criticised is the way it ruthlessly allocates resources to sports where it believes it has a medal opportunity, even when they’re unpopular. It’s a harsh approach but one which clearly produces results by making sure resources are going to the right place.
In Theory of Change, we’re asked to test our assumptions and to make sure that the resources we have are being allocated in the most effective way to deliver the outcome – just because we’ve always done something doesn’t mean we should continue to do it. 4. Look for marginal gains – Those being Team GB success in the velodrome are famous for a focus on marginal gains, which is all about small incremental improvements in any process adding up to a significant improvement when they are all added together. It means when it comes to winning nothing is left un-investigated.
Theory of Change asks us to think about the context within which we’re working, and what that will mean for the work. To investigate and consider all the factors that might help or hinder us on our route to winning. 5. Reflect, review and repeat – Listen to the interviews with officials in UK Sport and they’re already planning for Tokyo 2020, building on the success and learning of the last 16 days.
It should be the same with Theory of Change, it isn’t just a document to be produced and forgotten. It should be a living document that responds and reacts to – looking forward to the next opportunity.