Campaigns Resolutions for 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation and trends from US Presidential election

The US Presidential election is less than 60 days away – and this post is (largely) a Trump-free zone.

As the most expensive campaign in the world, with over $1bn spent in the months leading to election day, it’s always an interesting place to spot campaign innovation, with each election bringing forward new ideas and approaches that often make their way into the wider campaigning landscape.

But this election will be different – with the spread of COVID-19 still high in the US, the campaigns have had to throw out their traditional playbook – out have gone the rallies, townhalls, and door-knocking that characterises a US election, and instead have come new approaches and tactics.

So with a few months to go here are a few things that I’ve spotted. 

1. Relational organising – as candidates can’t doorknock, campaigns are putting lots of focus on relational organising, put simply, encouraging people to use their existing networks, their friends and family to vote for a particular candidate.

That might not sound like anything especially groundbreaking, but the difference in this campaign has been the availability of apps to support this directly so it will help you to identify those contacts that are most important and help people see how your friends respond – closing the feedback loop.

Apps and tools like Outvote, Tuesday Company and Outreach Circle are making it easier for individuals to do that (this from Kasch Wilder is a brilliant list of all the tools available), and at a time when candidates can’t get out and about to undertake the normal doorstep, this is about ‘recruiting and training trusted messengers’ who can be used to get messages to individuals who might not see (or might ignore) – early evidence shows it 3x more effective at getting people to vote than traditional ‘cold calling’ efforts of campaigns.

It’s an approach that could gain traction in the UK, and it’ll be interesting to see if some of the tools get adapted to be used in our political context.  

2. User generated content  – perhaps it’s a result of the times we’re in, but user-generated content has featured in many of the campaigns, for example here are Republicans Voters against Trump who’s whole approach is about getting short films of former Trump supporters, filmed on smartphones talking about why they’re not supporting Trump this time, or in Iowa, eventual caucus winner, Pete Buttigieg, used endorsements from supporters in every county to cut these films.

And, if you tuned in to any of the Democratic conventions last week you’d have seen plenty of content with high production values, showing that still has an important role to play, but it was split up with lots of clips from web cameras and smartphones. In the age of lockdown, we’ve come much more accustomed to watching content that is user-generated as well.  

3. Branding – There are some fascinating reads from the 2016 campaign, about the thought that went into the logo and brands of Hilary Clinton, (and the critique that it reinforced the sense of being a centralised campaign, when her rival Bernie Sanders had a brand that was more open and adaptable), through to this on the Make America Great Again hat that, while ridicudled by many, was actually a piece of brilliant design.

This time around Hunter Schwarz at Yello has been doing an amazing job of chronicling the significance of the design approaches of the different campaigns – from the choice of color pallets to reflect the personalities of different candidates, to how campaigns are thinking about typefaces – it’s really fascinating.

I still love how Pete Butt has his own mood board on his website, but it matters because in an age where everyone can be a content creator, as a candidate you want to get your approach in the hands of as many as possible. It’ll be interesting to see how the Biden/Harris brand is reflected on at the end of the campaign. 

4. Humour – if you’ve not stumbled across the Lincoln Project, you should look at their approach. It’s a well-funded group of Republican supporters who are able to produce slick and quick videos with the aim of challenging Trump’s narrative. Much of their strategy seems to be less about persuading wavering Republican voters to ditch Trump, but actively ridicule the President in the hope it’ll get a response.

And it’s a strategy that’s working – their initial advert has a tiny ad spend, but crucially it was shown on Fox News at a time when Trump was on Twitter. Cue Trump tweeting about it, and millions more seeing the advert. This is an extreme example, but do campaigns spend enough time trying to cleverly provoke those they’re running against? 

Similarly, this campaign cycle has seen social media influencers and content creators brought directly on board to campaign teams to produce memes and other content that will reach younger voters – for example, failed Democratic candidate, Michael Bloomberg was reported to have been paying millions for influencers to share about him back in the primaries, and the Lincoln Project has teamed up with the same group of content creators for the general election.

5.  Winning takes years – I’ve been reading Upending American Politics – which explore citizen activism in the US from the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance, it’s an excellent collection of academic studies into why Trump won on over the last month – and the big takeaway for me is that he benefitted from a local Republican infrastructure in key states that had been deliberately built over years. It’s a theme that is echoed in this excellent piece by Pete Buttigieg Campaign Manager, Greta Carnes.

It’s easy to think that winning an election is about appearing a few months before polling day, but the evidence shows that the Republican Party has just been better at investing in and playing a long game. It’s a really good and important lesson for all campaigners (and those who manage campaign budgets) that results often don’t appear overnight, but are the product of smart, strategic and long-term investment towards a goal. It takes time and commitment to build to win. 

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.

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.

When 'normal' resumes what could be different for campaigners?

I’m not sure when the General Election is going to be, if we’ll leave the EU by the end of October, who’ll form the next Government.

Politics is unpredictable at the moment, and like most campaigners, it can be hard to look up from preparing for the next key moment or just keeping up with the latest twist and turn in our current political saga.

Take a step back, and I’ll make one prediction.

Whatever happens in the next few months, when we’ve passed through this current period of uncertainty we’re not going to be returning to politics as it was.

So what does that mean for campaigners, and what are some of the new norms that we’ll need to respond to in our campaigning?

  1. Uncertainty in UK politics is the new normal – Forget predictable election timetables and long periods of government with the same minsters in the same post. It’s time to start to prepare for uncertainty – fragile coalitions, changing ministerial teams, picking up or abandoning policies at a moment’s notice and MPs swapping parties could become the new normal.

    What’s does that mean for planning, as this note about how to approach strategy from the team at Firetail outlines, it’s time to move away from just doing strategic planning which is based on certain assumptions with strategic thinking with an emphasis on insight, adaptation, responsiveness, innovation, and creating synergies.
  2. An electorate split along new dividing lines – we’ve often worked on the assumption that the electorate splits either economically right and left or between those who hold different perspectives on social issues so that you could plot most voters into these four quadrants of the Political Compass.

    To win, campaigners needed to find a way of building power within that dynamic to secure change, but the evidence suggests that now we need to look at a new way of plotting the electorate, with Brexit likely to be at the center of it.  

    As the graph below, from the NatCen Social Research, shows far more people feel a strong attachment to Remain or Leave that consider themselves to be a supporter of a political party, so that presents new strategic challenges for campaigners thinking about where and how they build power at a time of increased polarisation – although John Harries argues that perhaps this sense of polarisation isn’t as acute as the media might like to argue.
Taken from The Emotional Legacy Of Brexit: How Britain Has Become A Country Of ‘Remainers’ And ‘Leavers’

3. The main parties will be even further apart than before – A Conservative Party being influenced by members of the European Research Group, and the well-reported growth of Labour Party membership under Jeremy Corbyn with a more active role in setting party policy, coupled with lots of retirements at the next election (whenever it happens) it’s likely the partisan make-up of our political parties will mean that they’re even more entrenched in their positions.

That might create both opportunities for campaigns, as can be seen in this article by the impact of grassroots organising within the Labour membership have had on advancing Labour policy agenda on issues like the Green New Deal, four day week and free personal care for the elderly.

But for those campaigners who’ve sought to ensure their issue holds cross-party support from both politicians in both parties that could present new challenges at a time when there could be fewer politicians looking to occupy it.

4. A decline in civility at the heart of how we do politics this blog outlines some of the trends that we’re seeing that have not simply crept into our common political life, but seem to increasingly dominate it – from the promotion of conspiracy theories to the increasing normalisation of dehumanising language and imagery in our political conversations, it’s noisier and uglier out there than it has been, and often increasingly hard to cut through with considered and balanced content.

And the implications of this aren’t just that it’s harder to cut through, it also means an increasingly hostile atmosphere for those who choose to engage. The result, many decide that they’re less prepared to do that and as this fascinating research from a few years ago in the US shows those who are least engaged in politics are often from those who find themselves in the political middle ground

5. A new role for the judiciary? – perhaps it’s too early to tell but it feels like the focus on the work and role of the Supreme Court over the last few week could mark an important shift in the way and role this institution, which has often been overlooked by those focusing on what happens on the other side of Parliament Square.

Who know if we’ll head in the direction of the US, where the role of the US Supreme Court appears to play a vital role in delivering change, but the role of judiciary has certainly risen in change makers awareness and I sense that the idea of using the courts to challenge or question political decisions feels like it’s not going away.

Campaigners would do well to explore the work of the Good Law Project, which is one organisation looking to uses strategic litigation to deliver a progressive society, including being behind the recent progration ruling in the Supreme Court.

6. Will anyone ever believe in petitions again? Over the last year, we’ve seen some of the biggest petitions on the Parliament petition site, over 6 million people signed to ‘Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.’ back in March, and another 1.6 million called on ‘Do not prorogue Parliament’ in September but either have directly led to any policy change.

While it’s easy as a campaigner to sit and write a critique of why those petitions weren’t unlikely to ever be successful, I have this concern. What happens if many of those who did sign believe that this could lead to change – does the failure of a petition to do that further undermine the role of petitions in delivering change, while at the same time raising the bar for what size a successful petition needs to be?

In short, if the largest petition in recent UK history can’t be successful, can any petition be expected to be?

What my tweets could tell us about the political, economic, social, technological landscape for campaigners…

Doing a PEST (political, economic, social, technological) analysis can be a great way for campaigners to look at the external landscape that they’re campaigning in – so as we head into a new year I decided to look back through the 100s of tweets I’d written in 2018 to see if there were some trends that might be emerging.
Politics

    • Brexit – enough said perhaps, and there are lots of great articles out there on the topic, but it’s going to dominate politics over the next 12 months, taking up the bandwidth of Parliament and Government to push forward other legislation, and also the need to shape new policies if and when we leave the EU. But the campaigning over Brexit also shows the new realities in how to use framing, narratives and targeting to win, for those who are looking to stop Brexit it can’t be through using facts alone.
    • The fallout from Brexit – it’s not time for predictions of what will happen, but the end of 2018 showed that events can move quickly, we could get a Conservative leadership election – and a reminder here that favorites don’t always win so look out for outside candidates, or a General Election which means that parties are preparing for it, both by selecting candidates for target seats and starting to think about their manifestos.
    • Metro Mayors – 2019 will see an election for a North of the Tyne mayor to join the existing 22 directly elected Mayors, and with increasing powers being devolved to Mayors they can be powerful advocates to push for issues at a time when Westminster politics can appear gridlocked.
    • A decline in the traditional way that we have engaged and communicated MPs. More and more research is showing MPs saying that they don’t find emails an effective way for supporters to be in touch, so what other approaches should campaigners be looking at?
  • The new divides – it’s been labeled open/closed or anywhere/somewhere but the last few years have highlighted the new fractures in British politics, for campaigners they present a challenge in an increasingly polarised country and show that there are some important strategic choices to be made in who you are trying to engage with your issue and a question of is single issue campaigning is contributing to polarisation.

Social

    • How we gather – While attendance and membership of traditional institutions that have been at the heart of many movements like the church and trade unions might be declining, but that does mean that new spaces are emerging, from activities like parkrun to Crossfit we’re finding new ways to gather together.  

Technological

Economics – Interestingly I didn’t tweet much that would end up in the economic section, but here are a few reflections from the few tweets I did send;

Updated list of training for UK Campaigners

I got lots of positive feedback on the list of training for UK based campaigners I put together last year, so I’ve updated the list to include some new courses or more information where it’s available. I hope it’s helpful if you’re looking for opportunities for personal development in 2019.
A few things to note;

  • Information is taken from the website of the organisers and I’ve focused on training that’s specific to campaigners/change makers.
  • The comments are based on my experience attending or what others who’ve gone along have told me.
  • I’m happy to add in other relevant courses or training – the focus is on training for campaigners, so please do use the comments below to make suggestions, or update on the information I’ve provided.
  • For training that don’t appear to be running in 2019 I’ve struck through, but do get in touch with the organisers to confirm that’s the case.

There are lots of ways to learn how to be a great campaigner – formal training or conference can be as a useful way to pick up new skills, dive into understanding strategy or make more connections, but if you’re not someone who enjoys training I’ve made some suggestions here of what else you can do, and a list of some great campaign reads here.
And finally, I’ve found inviting other campaigners in to share with my team a really great way of learning so why not reach out to campaigners who’s impressed you, and shameless plug – I’m always happy to share what I’ve been learning at Save the Children.

For full disclosure, I helped to found Campaign Bootcamp (and still serve on the board), worked at Bond when they designed the latest training content and have spoken on the NCVO Certificate in Campaigning. 
 

More book recommendations for campaigners

If you’re a campaigner looking for some books to add to your Christmas list here of some of the recommendations of the best books that I’ve enjoyed in the second half of 2018 – and as I start I want to acknowledge that as putting this list together I’ve read too many books written by men.
I’d also suggest that you have a look over at this list that I put together in the summer – if I was doing a top 10 books of the year I’d definitely be adding New Power and Twitter vs Tear Gas onto the list.

  1. How To Read A Protest – using two protests that happened over four decades apart, LA Kauffman looks at what the March on Washington in 196? and the Women’s March in 2017, can teach us about the role of demonstrations and protest in causing change. As campaigners we should be looking to learn from history – this short but inspiring read does just that.
  2. The Fixer – Bradley Tusk is the political strategists behind the campaigns start-ups like Uber have run. I’ve written before about some of the interesting approaches they take to converting app users into apptivists, and in this book which is part autobiography, part political playbook he unpacks the approach that many corporates take to winning change. You might not agree with the changes they’re pushing for but if you want to learn how they do it this book takes you inside.
  3. Death of the Gods – there is a blog post I need to write about the new sources of hidden power that are increasingly influencing the campaign landscape (think about the power of the group that set the Facebook moderation policy or the influence of thinktanks linked to 55 Tufton Street). Carl Miller does a great job at exploring the new actors in the global power grab. In many ways it doesn’t make for comfortable reading but it helps to think about where power might sit in years to come. It’s a great build on The People vs Tech.
  4. Don’t Trust, Don’t Fear, Don’t Beg – this is a true story that reads like a thriller, as Ben Stewart tells the inside story of the Greenpeace Arctic 30. It’s a page-turner about the campaign to secure the release of the campaigners, a sobering reminder of the sacrifice that the group of the activist was willing to take to highlight the risks of drilling for oil in the Arctic circle and the suppression of dissent in Russia.
  5. Re: Imagining Change – drawing on the lessons the experts at the Centre for Story-based Strategy have learned from 20 years of building campaigns that win change narrative, it’s a really practical read with lots of great advice about how to frame your campaign to win – and let’s be honest most campaigners don’t spend enough time thinking about the role of shifting or re-framing a narrative to win change.
  6. All Out War – sure, everyone is tired of talking and reading about Brexit, but Tim Shipman has the inside story of the 2016 referendum campaign, and it’s an account that I do think all campaigners should plan to read. There are lots of lessons in it for on message discipline matters, using narrative over numbers, trying new tactics and getting out of your bubble to understand your audience.
  7. Engines of Liberty – another book from across the pond, but David Cole is the legal director of the ACLU (an organisation that has been getting lots of kudos this year for its approach to defending the US constitution while Donald Trump is President), the book takes a deep dive of three successful movements in the US over the last 30 years, and looks at the role of citizen activism to influence change. There is a heavy focus on how campaigns can use legal means to win change, but also lots of smart advice about how to avoid campaigning pitfalls.

 

Help! Where should I set up my petition?

From time to time I get people asking which platform they should use to set up their campaign petition – it’s a fair request as a quick search will pull up a number of different options for a petition starter.
So which do you chose?
For me there are few questions to ask when deciding on which platform to use;
1. Does the platform let you communicate with those who’ve signed your petition? It’s great that people are signing, but as your campaign develops you might want to get in touch with them again – to ask them to take another action for you, or feedback on the success you’ve had.
2. What support can the platform provide you? Some of the sites you can choose to host your petition on are able to sometimes provide extra support to you – that could include help getting media coverage or meeting with the person you’re targetting with your campaign.
3. Can the platform help promote your campaign to others? Growing your petitions is going to be important, can the platform you’re hosting your petition on help with that, or will the only traffic to your petition be whatever you can generate?
4. Who owns the data from your petition? Some of the platforms are run by campaigning organisations so they might share other campaigns with them, others by companies looking to potentially sell data with others. Neither approach is right or wrong, but it can be helpful to make sure you’re happy with where you’re hosting your petition
5. Does the platform offer any other functionality? Are you just able to set up a petition to a single target, or are you able to engage multiple targets with your action – or let people select their local MP. That can make a big difference in your approach and effectiveness.
Based on this I’d recommend considering the following platforms;
Change.org  as the worlds biggest petition site you’ll find petitions for almost everything on the site – which you might consider a downside as you’ll find petitions on the site for and against most topics. But being big comes with some advantages – they’ve developed some really cool tools to help get your petition started, some very smart was of pushing your petition to others if it’s gathering momentum and you can also explore how you can raise money to support your campaign as well.
Change is run as a B-corp, which is a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. and that means they’ve got a small staff team in the UK that can sometimes support petition starters – they have a real knack for getting great media coverage for some campaigns.
38 Degrees – alongside the member-led campaigns that 38 Degrees run, you can host your own petition on Campaigns By You (https://you.38degrees.org.uk/). You’ll get access to many of the same tools that the campaigner at the organisation use, and they’ve got a dedicated team to support those petitions that are growing – providing support and sometimes sharing them with a wider group of individuals from their list.
There are some limits on how often you can contact those who’ve signed up your petition – not a bad thing as people don’t want to be messaged too often, but the interface is really easy. A great site to approach if you’re campaign is about a local issue in the UK – I’ve seen some excellent campaigns win on Campaigns By You when targetting local authorities.
Care2 – the folk behind The Petition Site (full disclosure – I’ve worked with Care2 in the past in my professional work) is another social enterprise committed to helping build a community of change makers, with a more explicit focus on standing with ‘humanitarians, animal lovers, feminists, rabble-rousers, nature-buffs, creatives, the naturally curious, and people who really love to do the right thing’  and as a result of that, the petitions they select feel more curated than on change.org.
Care 2 is US-based, and you notice that on your first visit to www.thepetitionsite.com, but they have a small team in the UK dedicated to supporting petition starters, again can provide many of the same resources as 38 Degrees and Change.org, plus access to a big network of people who are keen to sign your petition if it starts to grow. They’ve also got some ace tools and guides in their Activist University.
And I’d urge you to think carefully about using;
Parliament Petition Site the knowledge that getting 10,000 signatures will get a response from Government a goal to get you going can be enticing – but the site lacks much of the functionality of those I’ve recommended above, and it’s hard to build your movement if you’re not able to communicate with it.
Obviously, it’s also only possible to petition Parliament, so the focus is clearly limited – and once you get a response from Government it’s hard to do much, plus when your campaign is over there is no access to that data to move people on to another issue. I’d also caution against similar functions that many Councils have – just because they are ‘official’ it doesn’t always make them the most effective to use.
iPetition – I don’t know much about the company behind this site – Angle Three Associates – and there isn’t much to be found from a quick search of the US equivalent of Companies House. So I suspect, their main focus is collecting data which can be sold on. The site has some of the same functionality as the other sites I’ve recommended, but nothing close to the support you’ll get from them.
And finally, if you’re looking for some smart people writing about how to make the most of your petition, then I recommend a read of this.

Summer Viewing – 5 great campaigning films on Netflix

It’s the summer holidays, so I’m going to take some time off from blogging – normal service will return in early September – but if you’re looking for some campaign inspiration here are 5 great campaigning films on Netflix.

1 – Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower – a brilliant film following Joshua Wong, one of the organisers behind the Umbrella Revolution, that saw young people in Hong Kong mobilise when the Chinese Communist Party reneged on its promise of autonomy to the territory. It’s a brilliant portrait of courage, and an insight into a movement that hasn’t got as much coverage as others in the UK.
2 – The Square – another insider look at the Tahir Square revolution in Egypt. It rightly got lots of critical acclaim when it first came out, and while it’s a few years old it’s still a fascinating look inside a movement that gripped the world’s imagination back in 2011.

3 – The Final Year – a fascinating look inside the foreign policy work of the final year of the Obama White House. While it’s easy to warch this film and reminisce about a different political time, it’s also a really interesting look at how decisions get made inside a government, and the interactions with other governments, the media and political opposition. If you’re looking for something at the opposite end, then Mitt is a look inside the failed 2012 campaign of Mitt Romney, but again gives a great inside account of how political campaigns run.
4 – 13th – one of a number of excellent documentaries available on Netflix, 13th explores the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States, while Nobody Speaks looks at the role of the free press, along with many others in the documentary category.
5 – Reporting Trump’s First Year – The Fourth Estate – not on Netflix, but this excellent 4 part Storyville documentary which goes inside the New York Times newsroom is worth catching while it’s still available on the BBC iPlayer. It’s a great look at how political journalism operates and some of the challenges of breaking news in an era of Twitter. If it’s not available, I’d also recommend Page One – Inside the New York Times.