May the Force be with Greenpeace

Greenpeace have launched a fantastic new campaign today (Tuesday) – ‘Volkswagen. The Dark Side’ targeting car manufacture VW to ‘turn away from the Dark Side and give our planet a chance’.
It’s been going less than 12 hours, but already they’ve had over 38,000 people send a message to VW bosses, over 10,000 likes on their Facebook page, #vwdarkside has been trending in London for much of the days and thousands have viewed their excellent video spoof of hugely popular VW Star Wars film.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXndQuvOacU] Here are the five reasons why I think it’s been a fantastic campaign launch.
1 – An inspired location – Old Street has also been trending all day as well. Why? It was the location that Greenpeace chose to launch the campaign. No VW garage in sight just the home of Silicon Roundabout and undoubtably more tweeters than any part of London. Dot a few Stormtroopers around the place and you’ve got lots of digitally connected people talking about your campaign on twitter.
2 – A competitive edge – The campaign doesn’t simply want you to send a message to the VW CEO, it wants you to recruit more friends (or Jedi’s) to join the campaign. You’re given your own training page and the more friends who join, take action on your recommendation or view your special page the more points you get, which helps you unlock new characters from Star Wars. The element of competition is inspired, and has meant that its been passed on a huge number of times.
3 – A everyday brand – No doubt a multitude of other targets who could leverage the changes that Greenpeace would like to see, but VW are a globally recognisable brand and one who have tried to build a green image. Thus they make ideal targets. Moreover the launch is showing that the decisions that need to be made to stop climate change are, in part in the hands of companies like VW. The campaign also makes a direct pitch to those who drive VWs in the sign-up page, a really nice touch.
4 – A great message – This isn’t simply a ‘aren’t VW really horrible and nasty’ campaign, rather a campaign to persuade VW to play its part in helping to save the world. The language that the website uses it’s all about encouraging VW to stop ‘using its influence to prevent us getting the laws we need to protect our planet and boost our economy’.
5 – Everyone loves Star Wars – With over 40 million views, the original VW advert has been hugely popular so by basing a campaign on this Greenpeace is already tapping into popular culture. It’s also a huge amount of fun and its impressive how Greenpeace have carried the Star Wars theme through every element of the launch (for example their policy report is entitled ‘The Dark Side of Volkswagen’ and is introduced by R2D2!).
What do you think? Are you as enthused about the campaign launch as I am? Have you seen it all before? 
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From Across the Pond – Leadership within an Advocacy Movement

American’s love the concept of leadership. Go into any bookshop and you’ll find shelves dedicated to the subject, attend a conference and you can guarantee that the word ‘leader’ will have been used a dozen times before the lunch break.
So perhaps it’s no surprise to find that it’s our colleagues in the US who have been thinking about leadership models and advocacy.
The Institute for Sustainable Communities – Advocacy and Leadership Centre has produced ‘Leadership Roles within an Advocacy Movement’, a short and readable paper in which they identify 11 different types of leadership needed within a movement arguing that ‘a movement must have a plurality of leaders, filling a cabinet of distinct, yet complementary, leadership roles.  By utilizing a diverse cabinet of leaders, a movement develops a powerful dynamic that strengthens and emboldens, bringing the movement closer to optimum gains and successes’.
The list looks like this;

  • Visionaries who raise the view of the possible
  • Strategists who chart the vision and achieve what’s attainable
  • Statespersons who elevate the cause in the minds of both the public and decision-makers
  • Experts who wield knowledge to back up the movement’s positions
  • Outside Sparkplugs who goad and energize, fiercely holding those in power to account
  • Inside Advocates who understand how to turn power structures and established rules and procedures to advantage
  • Strategic Communicators who deploy the rhetoric to intensify and direct public passion toward the movement’s objectives
  • Movement Builders who generate optimism and good will, infecting others with dedication to the common good
  • Generalists who anchor a movement, grounded in years of experience
  • Historians who uphold a movement’s memory, collecting and conveying its stories
  • Cultural Activists who pair movements with powerful cultural forces

I don’t disagree with any of these but wonder if they’ve missed out a couple of key leadership approaches;
Pioneer – Someone who pushes the movement to make use of new tools and tactics. Most recently they would have been engaged with making the most of digital tools to further our campaigning, but throughout the history of campaigning we’ve had individual leaders who have been prepared to push into making use of new tools and tactics. This is different from the ‘visionary’ because they’re defined by the tactics they use.
Administrator – Too often forgotten but every campaign needs a solid and dependable administrator. This is not simply a service function, but a leadership function, someone who is their to ensure that the organisation of the campaign keeps pace with the growth of the energy behind a campaign issue. Too often campaigns fail because they don’t have the material resources or the structure to sustain them.
I was also thinking about the idea of adding in a ‘visualiser/designer‘. Someone who use creative tools to help communicate the essence of the campaign. Someone who harness the notion that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, but I’m not sure if this is more a branch off from the ‘strategic communicator’ role than a stand alone approach.
What do you think? What else has been missed out? Are my additions justified?

O.A.Ps = Overlooked Activist Potential

Older people are an often overlooked but vital group of activists so it’s great to see the Sheila McKechnie Foundation launch the ‘Take Action’ award supported by Age UK to ‘recognise and encourage older campaigners who are aged 60 or over who campaign about issues that matter to them’.
In my own work, I’ve often been inspired by the commitment that some of our older activists have played in our campaigns, so its great to find an opportunity to acknowledge the key role they play.
Here are a few reasons why I think campaigning organisations shouldn’t overlook the valuable role that older campaigners can play;
1. Engaged – From voting to participation in voluntary groups most surveys show that the over 60s are more likely to get involved, so if we’re looking for people who are likely to get involved on a regular basis older people are likely to be a reliable source. Add to that the fact that they vote means that they’re a group that politicians like to listen to because they’re more likely to turn up at the ballot box when it matters.
2 – Well networked in their communities – Many older people have lived in their communities for years and are often active members of community groups, faith communities, etc. So if we’re looking for people who know other people to get involved in our campaigns using the networks that many have could be an effective way of doing just that.
3 – Professional experience – This is a theme that Duncan Green picked up in a post entitled ‘Are Grey Panthers the next big thing in campaigning?‘ at the end of last year. If we’re looking for people who can talk about the importance of health systems in developing countries, should we be looking to get retired nurses and health workers from the UK involved? Will they be able to speak with an authenticity born from years of working in the health sector that others can’t?
4 – Time rich – One of the criticisms of the current debate about ‘clicktivism’ is that it’s campaigning for the time poor. That it’s suited for people who don’t have the time to do anything more than send an e-mail or click ‘like’ on a Facebook page. Many older campaigners have time to devote to other activities, so perhaps they’re the group we should be focusing on to take part in high-level campaign activities.
So how should we respond to working with older campaigners? Here are a few thoughts;

  • Build alliances with key gatekeepers – I remember being told once that the government really started to take notice of the Jubilee 2000 Campaign when it started getting messages from local WI groups around the country. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s a useful reminder that coalitions could do well to reach out to and engage similar groups.
  • Profile them in our materials – Too often our annual reports have pictures of enthusiastic young people on a demonstration, perhaps it’s time to start to profile some of the activities of our older campaigners.
  • Remember to go beyond philanthropy – One of the untold stories in development over the last 20+ years has been the role that the Rotary Club International has played in the fight to eradicate Polio worldwide. Through its branches it raised over $900 millions, but more than that it’s advocated to raise over $8billion from governments, but you probably haven’t heard much about it. A great example of using a network, which has its fair share of older members, not simply to raise money but also advocating for change.

How Oxfam let key activists know about its new campaign first

Oxfam are due to launch a new global campaign tomorrow (June 1st – although it seems that the BBC have jumped the gun by reporting on it a day early), and we’re promised that we should be prepared for a ‘impending wonk, campaign, celeb and media fest around Oxfam’s campaign launch tomorrow. Biggest thing ever; simultaneous launches in 45 countries; bigger (at least in ambition) than Make Poverty History or Make Trade Fair’
While it’ll be interesting to watch how the campaign develops and the tactics they use, especially with so many countries involved, as a campaigner I’ve also been interested in following the way that Oxfam GB have already soft launched the campaign to key activists around the country.
For example a colleague forwarded me an invite to a supporter phone briefing the activism team hosted on May 17th. It’s the first time I’ve come across the idea of such a call, but it seems like a really inspired and practical idea. The call involved speakers from the Oxfam GB’s Campaigns and Policy team, alongside representatives from the Events team with practical suggestions about what people could do.
Looking at the Cover It Live conversation from the call it looks like those who participated had a really lively conversation. For me, using such an innovative tool has a number of advantages;

  • It builds a sense of ownership – For those invited to be part of the call to allows them to feel that they’re the first to know, that they’ve got a responsibility to promote the campaigns to their own networks when it goes live.
  • It equips people and provides a space to ask the difficult questions – It’s easy to launch a new campaign with the accompanying policy report, but the reality is that most activists don’t have time to sit down immediately to read and digest it. A call like this allows the opportunity for supporters to feel like they’ve had the opportunity to ask before they’re hearing about it on the news.
  • It builds loyalty – by breaking down the divide between staff and supporters, especially by actively asking for suggestions and ideas, it makes Team Oxfam bigger. They also actively encouraged those on the call to join a group on their ‘enabler‘ site to keep the conversation going.
In the past, the cost of hosting such a call would have been prohibitive but here are a few ways that other campaigns looking to try the idea could do it for almost nothing;
  • PowWowNow is a free conference call service, which can facilitate ‘event calls’ for up to 300 people.
  • Cover It Live is an excellent interface for facilitating live discussion between a group. It’s free and you can use it to display images, carry out polls and can even include live video from a webcam if you’re prepared to pay a little extra.
What other free technology exists that could enhance a call like this? Have you seen other organisations use similar tools to keep key supporters informed? 

Can working with think tanks enhance our campaigning?

This was originally posted over at the NCVO Campaigning and Influencing Forum.
Think tanks are hard to define, they’re part academic institution and part lobbying outfit. But however you understand them, I think that they could provide useful allies for campaigns.
That’s why ‘The Global ‘Go-To’ Think Tanks List‘ is an interesting report which tries to rank the ‘best’ think tanks around the world.
It shows that the majority of think tanks are based in the US, but the UK also has it’s fair share of ‘top’ think tanks. While the report doesn’t seek to rank them simply on political influence, it shows those who can be perceived as most credible.
Have you had experiences of working with Think Tanks? Do you think that they provide a place to enhance campaigns and advocacy? 
I’ve got a few thoughts about why they are and aren’t useful allies.
Firstly, they’re the home of future politicians and influencers. A quick look across at whose sitting on the benches in the House of Commons, will show that a significant number have spent time working within think tanks, they’re often the breading ground for politicians who will become the leading thinkers within their parties.
Take for example Nick Boles, now the Conservative MP for Grantham, who was former director at Policy Exchange, where he was said to be one of the most important influences on David Cameron. He might not be a minister in the current government, but you can guarantee that his views have a resonance. If you’re looking for future MPs who are going to be writing future manifesto, a quick look at who’s who across think tanks could be a good place to start!
Linked to the point above, as well as producing future politicians, lots of those working in think tanks have spent time as special advisors or other key influences within Parliament and Whitehall. I short they’re packed full of people who know people in power.
For example, in the last government, The Smith Institute was led by Wilf Stephenson, who was Gordon Brown’s closest friend from University, as such it said to have considerable sway over the views of No10, while one assumes that now The Centre for Social Justice which was set up by Iain Duncan-Smith, now Secretary of Sate for Work and Pensions, has considerable influence in certain part of the government.
But this is also  one of the weaknesses of think tanks. That they can be seen to be politically partisan, and thus rise and fall dependent on those in power at any given moment. While, a few on the list are seen as more politically neutral, most have a political leaning towards one party or another.
That said think tanks can be a useful vehicle for organisations looking to inject big ideas or new thinking into a debate. One of the roles that they can play is to provide a broader platform to spark a debate that an NGO might be more hesitant to initiate.
I wonder if one of the things stopping some NGOs from working more with think tanks is the cost of it. I’ve been on the receiving end of quotes for events at party conference with think tanks mean that they would be little to spare for anything else in the year.
Obviously think tanks needs to raise revenue to keep going, but because they’re not linked to universities they don’t benefit from academic funding. While the premium for the access/legitimacy that they can bring to a campaign is their most valuable selling point and means working with them doesn’t come cheap.
What do you think? Have you seen good examples of campaigns working with think tanks? Do they prove to be useful allies for campaigns?

From Serbia and beyond – FT profile of Canvas

Last weekend’s Financial Times has a wonderful article about Canvas (the Centre for Applied NonViolent Strategies), a Serbian organisation that trains activists around the world in how to successfully overthrow a dictatorship. Formed by a group of students who were involved in the overthrow of the Serbian Dicator, Slobodan Milosovic, in 2000, the group has gone on to train activists in Egypt, Zimbabwe and Burma.
Like many I was aware of the role that students had played in the campaign back at the start of the century, but the article shares not only the tactics they used then but sheds lots of insight into the legacy of this work. The article can be read in full here and I’d recommend it.
The five tips that the article outlines about ‘HOW TO TOPPLE A DICTATOR PEACEFULLY’ also serve as good reminder about core principles for anyone involved in campaigning, even if you’re not trying to topple a dictator! Analyse the problem, identify and agree a clear vision, build and maintain a strong team, with perhaps the exception of tip 4 which isn’t a risk in most campaigns in the UK.
1. Do your homework: analyse the pillars of support you want to pull on your side (“pillars” refer to institutions and organisations that are crucial for non-violent social change)
2. Come out with a clear vision and your strategy for your struggle – and don’t listen to foreign advice
3. Build a unity within a movement – unity of purpose, unity of people and unity within the organisation
4. Maintain non-violent discipline – one single act of violence can destroy the credibility of your struggle
5. Keep on the offensive, pick the battles you can win and make sure you know when and how to proclaim the victory
I’d also recommend having a look around the Canvas website for some interesting resources, including Nonviolent Struggle – 50 Crucial Points (reviewed here) which is a primer that drew on the lessons of the revolution in Serbia and this set of resources about recruiting and building a team of activists.

Great free daily organising tips from @neworganizing Institute

I’ve just signed up to get ‘Tip of the Day’ from the New Organising Institute. They’re based in the US and every weekday they send a free tip about organising, many of which would be relevant to campaigners in the UK. How brilliant is that?
This is my favourite so far (which I’ve reproduced in full to illustrate how brilliant they are*). I can’t encourage you enough to sign up for the tips….
The difference between goals, strategies and tactics by Nick Gaw
I see so many campaigns get excited about a new tool, and then use it without considering how it impacts their strategy. There are some really sexy organizing tools out there. In the midst of some amazing innovation, it can be all too easy to get excited about using a particular tool and forget to think about where it fits in to the grand scheme of your primary objective. Unless you can use it to reach your goal, it’s not worth spending time and money on. So, here’s an example to demonstrate the difference between goals, strategy and tactics.
Your Goal: Getting backstage at a Justin Bieber concert.
Possible strategies, with accompanying tactics bulleted:
Strategy 1. Become friends with Justin Bieber’s mom

  • Join her book club
  • Join her church
  • Get your mom to introduce you

Strategy 2. Get Justin to notice you from on stage and invite you back

  • Procure front-row tickets
  • Coordinate posters and outfits among other attendees
  • Throw something attention-getting onstage

Strategy 3. Become friends with the bouncer

  • Dress in a way that he notices
  • Buy him beer
  • Date his best friend

Notice that the tactics for each strategy are unique, specific, and don’t fit any of the other strategies. If you can stay committed to your goal, put creative strategies into place, and use tactics that are effective in your specific situation, you’ll be in good shape!
And remember, if a tool or tactic helps you implement your strategy to reach your goal, you should use it (Justin Bieber’s mom probably appreciates a nice young person in her book club). If it doesn’t, then it’s only going to be a distraction (throwing something attention-grabbing on stage at her church is probably counter-productive).
If a tool fits your strategy and tactics, use it! But make sure you know why you’re using it, and how it benefits your work.
Go to http://neworganizing.com/tag/noi-tips/ for more and to sign up.

* if you’re from the wonderful folk at New Organising Institute, firstly thanks and secondly let me know if you don’t want this tip to be published in full here…

Happy Birthday War on Want

From www.waronwant.org
I wasn’t aware of the story that led to the founding of campaigning organisation War on Want until this week but it’s an inspiring reminder of the difference that one individual can make, the story goes like this;
On 12th February 1951, The Manchester Guardian published a letter from Victor Gollancz (a prominent publisher and socialist) calling for people to join him in an urgent campaign against world poverty and militarism. Britain was at that time fighting an unwinnable war in Korea, and Gollancz asked all those who agreed with his call for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict to send him a postcard marked with the single word “yes”.

The letter provoked a massive response. Within a month, Gollancz had received more than 10,000 postcards, and War on Want was born.
War on Want celebrated 60 years since that letter was published  last weekend, and while I don’t always agreed with everything that War on Want has said or the approach it always takes to campaigning, I’m grateful for what they’ve been doing for the last 60 years. Here are some of my reasons, do add yours in the comments below.
1. Faithfully stuck to their founding principles – Unlike most of the big campaigning organisations in the development sector, War on Want didn’t start out as a service provider and then moved into advocacy. As the story of Victor Gollancz shows, right from the start War on Want understood that ‘Poverty was Political’ and ever since they’ve been in the business of speaking out. Today they run campaigns in the UK on a variety of issues as well as raising money to support grassroots organising across the world.
2. Spoken up on issues that other’s have overlooked – Few other charities have such a diverse portfolio of campaign issues with the organisation currently working on Trade Justice, Palestine and Sweatshops. But unlike many other campaigning organisations, one of the characteristics of  War on Want’s campaigning is that they doggedly stick to the issues that they’ve selected to work on even when others have moved on. For example they’re still talking about Trade Justice when charities like Christian Aid and CAFOD moved on year ago.
But it’s not simply sticking with issues when others have moved on, they’re often ahead of the agenda, War on Want was one of the first organisations to start to talk about a Tobin Tax, long before governments and other NGOs were discussing the need for a financial transaction tax.
3. Not afraid to court controversy – The history of War on Want shows a long list of times when they’ve courted controversy or challenge the status quo, for example questioning the Charity Commission when it questioned the organisations support for the Bangladesh national liberation struggle, or being vocal in its support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Palestine despite complaints from Conservative MPs and others. It might have been easy for the organisation to accept these criticism and back down, but time and time again War on Want has demonstrated a admirable fearlessness.
So Happy 60th Birthday War on Want….here’s to another 60 years.

Are top ministers avoiding meetings with NGOs?

Tom Watson has shared a treasure trove of information about who’s getting meetings with the new government on his blog
Publishing documents previously available only to those with access to the House of Commons library. It shows who advice is being sought and who’s being locked out.
The first few months of a governments matter, because they set the tone, it’s a time when departments are being bombarded with requests for meetings, so only those whose views are really wanted are invited in.
The information from the three of the ministries of state (No 10, Foreign Office and Home Office) makes for unhappy reading for civil society groups, despite the focus on the ‘Big Society’ their hasn’t been a lot of space created for meetings with representatives from CSOs.
The PM has held just one meeting with civil society, a roundtable with 16 organisations to discuss the ‘Big Society’. The only other non-business or media interest was a meeting with the TUC in July and Bob Geldof to discuss ‘development issues’ in June (presumably ahead of the G8) although many NGOs will remember with horror the way the Geldof threw away the script and fell out with many involved in the Make Poverty History after the G8 summit in 2005.
Compare that to meetings with Rupert Murdoch, Phizer, Facebook and Wikimedia, amongst others that the PM has had and it shows more of an enthusiasm to meet with foreign companies and representatives of News International.
Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, seems to have done a little better, attending the same meeting with Cameron to discuss ‘The Big Society’, and also receiving petitions from ‘Take Back Parliament’ and the Maternal Mortality Campaign, along with holding meeting with The Elders, Gates Foundation and the British Overseas Aid Group (a group of the biggest 5 development NGOs).
The same patterns seems to be repeating itself across at the FCO, William Hague hasn’t found time to meet with any campaigning organisations, although he made space for BAE Systems, delegating to junior minister meetings on a whole range of issues including elections in Burma, human rights and Zimbabwe.
The Home Office appear to have done better, with Home Secretary Thresea May holding ‘Introductions’ with Stonewall, Hillsborough Family Support Group, Migration Watch UK and a large group of equalities organisations. Other minister in the department also appear to have been busy meeting with a whole range of campaigning groups, like Refugee Watch, NSPCC and Women’s Aid.
As an aside my favourite entry from the Home Office is a meeting in July that Human Rights Watch held with Baroness Neville-Jones, the purpose of the meeting ‘Discuss report no questions asked’. It raises interesting questions about how the meeting was conducted, and if a cup of coffee was offered to those attending!
Meetings held by other departments are, as yet unavailable, although Tom Watson has promised to publish them if they are. It’ll be interesting to see if the pattern of senior ministers not meeting with CSOs has been happening at other departments, and if this trend continues in the coming months.

Campaigning in 2015

What might campaigning look like in 5 years time? NCVO have set out to answer the question in their recent paper ‘Future Focus’.
It’s an interesting paper, and its a useful exercise to take a step back and consider some of the broader trends that influence our campaigning.
The introduction argues that the context for campaigning could change significantly under the next government, as we see a change of government, new MPs and potentially a different culture amongst decision makers towards campaigning. Only time will tell on that.
The paper, produced by NCVO’s ‘Third Sector Foresight’ team then argues that there will be 6 drivers that will change campaigning in the next 5 years. Below I’ve summarised the arguments the paper puts forwards, I hope to add my own reflections in the next few days.

Driver 1 – Growth of consumer activism
We’re seeing a blur between lifestyle choices and what has traditionally been perceived a ‘campaigning’. With people increasingly taking ‘me’ actions, like boycotting products at the expense of ‘we’ actions like demonstrations. The paper argues that in a ‘time poor’ society these are easier to fit into people’s lives.

Driver 2 – More fluid activism
People wish to engage in a broader range of issues, moving regularly from one cause and organisation to another. This means some of the more traditional membership models that campaigning organisations have employed may no longer be viable. People are less likely to feel affiliated to a cause or a political ideology.
Driver 3 – Growth of New Technology
E-campaigning reaches more people, its easier to get involved in, but it also raises the number of people you need to get involved to get noticed (does it? I’d argue if you’re more creative you can still make your point). Moreover the collaborative nature of the web challenges the more traditional hierarchical structures of many campaigning organisations. People organise themselves they don’t need someone to do it for them.
Driver 4 – Professionalisation
The push from funders to make campaigning more effective, means that people are learning a set of skills rather than being compelled by an issue. Some argue this is detracting from the radicalism once found in movement. More funding is now available for campaign training/capacity building.

Driver 5 – Increase in competition and coalitions
The sector is experiencing a growth in single-issue campaigns, and technology makes it easier for more players to get involved. The growth of campaigns like Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ have started to blur public understanding of the issue, and encourages short-term engagement in issues. Trend that the private sector is increasingly collaborating with VSOs (voluntary sector organisations).

Driver 6 – Marginalisation of dissent
More laws and increased surveillance make campaigning harder to do. On the one hand there is a growing awareness that non-violent direct action can get media coverage that can provide a seat at the table, but one the other many organisations adopting a more ‘insider’ approach as the current government has made it easier to influence policy.