US Election tactics and strategies – approaches that might work in the UK context.

So we’ve got President Biden in the White House and a Senate controlled by the Democrats – the US election is truly over.

But, if you’re a political campaigner in the UK, you might want to think about what this could mean for May 2021 – when the Westminster government seems set to continue to push forward with many elections in England (and possibly Wales and Scotland), despite the pandemic.

It’s easy to look at the Presidential campaigns and how they’re run, but dive down the ballot, and you’ll find a bunch of candidates and state parties doing interesting and innovative work that is perhaps easy to replicate.

And with elections happening in May, and probably in similar conditions to the US, where the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is going to force campaigners and candidates to adapt, it’s somewhere to learn from.

Here are a few to start from;

1. Stacey Abraham and her Georgia GOTV effort – Abraham’s who narrowly missed out on being elected Governor in 2018, has rightly been praised for building an election machine that helped to turn Georgia for the Democrats for the first time in over 30+ years, and then picked up two Senate seats earlier this month.

Her relentless efforts on driving voter registration and then GOTV across the state certainly flipped the state, indeed there was some suggestion her team was at the impromptu celebrations in Atlanta when President-elect Biden making sure everyone was registered, but it also showed the importance of investing in long-term plans to win.

If you want to find out more about Abraham’s this film is a good place to start, but the big lesson here is that if you want people to vote for you then they need to be registered – or have a look at her detailed game plan from 2019.


2. Beto O’Rourke and how he almost turned Texas blue – An similar story to Georgia, Beto who ran for Senate in 2018 has been running a commanding GOTV operation in the state. Those efforts saw him get some huge numbers turning up for his virtual phonebanks, which saw the campaign making over 2,000,000 calls on the day before the election – just thinking about organising that makes me come out in a cold sweat!

One of the keys seems to be bringing celebrity power to the phonebanks, so you can be dialing along with the stars. With lots of UK campaigns likely to be focused on phone banking in the coming months, it’s a good reminder that making hitting the dialler a fun community experience is going to be really important. If you’re interested, more on the campaign in Texas here.

3. Wisconsin State Democrats – another state which flipped back to the Democrats last week, and this short video is a good look at how the state party, led by former MoveOn.org campaign director, Ben Wikler, adapted to moving to a digital organising program in the middle of an election earlier in the year.

The big lesson I took from this film, and also following Ben on Twitter, is the importance of letting organisers use the channels that work for those that they’re looking to engage, that could be Facebook Live, Zoom or another platform. But it highlights the importance of distributed leadership with those who know their communities left to run the most appropriate strategy.

Another cool thing that I saw the Wisconsin party do was run these virtual reunion events which brought together the casts of shows like Princess Bride, which saw over 110,000 people donate to watch the cast reunite – campaigns need money, and in an age where many of the traditional approaches like fundraising dinners aren’t possible this looks smart (and fun) to me.

4. Ed Markey sees off a primary challenge – this isn’t about a victory in November, but back in the Primary season when the incumbent Senator for Massachusetts defeated Joe Kennedy III to secure the Democratic nomination. Markey has been an elected official for almost 40 years, but his long-standing support for climate action saw the Sunrise Movement support his campaign and it’s thousands of activists to help (and also produced this brilliant advert). More on the amazing operation of the Sunrise Movement here.

As this podcast explores, he won thanks to the work his organising team did to ensure that field and digital was totally integrated, and if you want to deep dive into what that looks like there are loads more lessons in this playbook that the team have shared which could be applied to lots of local races. I’d also really recommend a read of this over on Labour Society of Campaigners site.

5. People’s Action and Deep Canvassing – lots of the talk about the election was about the role relational organising would play in the campaign – but the team at People’s Action focused on Deep Canvassing – candid, two-way conversations where canvassers ask voters to share their relevant, emotionally significant experiences and reflect on them aloud – and showed through a study that this approach was 102 times more effective than traditional electioneering efforts aimed at persuading people to change their vote.

Now as Mark Pack rightly pointed out to me on Twitter there are some questions about if you can scale this given the time it takes for the conversations, but in tight and local races, there could be some value in this approach. One to explore further?

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;

Can we stop the inevitable? Some thoughts on the theory of change behind stopping Brexit

I’ve got a campaign frustration that I need to be honest about – what is the theory of change behind the ongoing ‘stop Brexit’ campaign.
Now put aside for the moment if going back on the original referendum is a good thing, both for the public faith in democracy and if it’s legally possible, but it is one campaign that seems to have an ability to wind me up, because I can’t see anyone outline a plausible theory of change, but yet millions of pounds are clearly being spent towards it.
As I’ve written before, I don’t think that we’re going to be able to reverse the outcome of the 2016 Referendum by –

  • Organising demonstrations in places that comfortably voted Remain – because it’s just making people who already voted Remain feel like they’re doing something, but that isn’t building power.
  • Complaining that the BBC isn’t covering the ‘remain’ campaign – because let’s be honest they cover almost zero demonstrations.
  • Moaning about the statistics the Leave campaign used – because as Nicky Hawkins points out that’s not a way to persuade people to change their minds.

So I’ve been looking at applying the 5 theories to inform policy change outlined in Pathways to Change as a working example of how Brexit could be stopped.
In doing so I’ve found it a useful way of turning what is a really brilliant, but fairly dense report into something that helps campaigners think about the different opportunities to deliver policy change.
1 – Large leaps – crisis or sudden unexpected events create the opportunity to create change. Those in power will see that ‘something has to be done’ to respond to an unexpected or unanticipated event. Too often campaigners aren’t well placed for these moments, for example, the 2008 Finacial Crisis which threw up the opportunity to push for legislation that might put more controls on the financial sector.
So for those hoping to halt Brexit what are the ‘large leap’ moments that might cause a fundamental rethink of if we should remain – have they created a ‘break glass if’ strategy ready to go if something happens? Opportunities to influence and mobilise when those moments happen they move quickly so they need to be thought about in advance.
2 – Policy Window – issues get attention when they become ‘problems’ for those in power, and they know that they have to do something to respond, for example, the impending end of the lifespan of existing nuclear power stations means that the government needs to make some decisions about the future of the UK energy mix, thus providing an ‘policy window’ for campaigners for renewable energy – however for a policy proposal to be successful it needs to be seen a technically feasible and consistent with policy maker and public values.
For those looking to stop Brexit it’s hard to apply this to stop the campaign ahead of March next year.
3 – Coalition – Policy change happens through coordinated activities amongst individuals and organisations outside of government with the same core policy beliefs. If enough people can come together they can force change, however, the magic ‘n’ number of how many people that needs to be isn’t always clear.
Key to this is about recognising that the coalitions that are most likely to be successful are those that include broad and unusual suspects, so the ‘remain’ campaign is to focus on building a coalition that isn’t just made up of those that supported the original referendum. As academic Erica Chenoweth says ‘An increase in the number and diversity of participants may signal the movement’s potential to succeed. This is particularly true if people who are not ordinarily activists begin to participate — and if various classes, ethnicities, ages, genders, geographies and other social categories are represented’ which implies a big effort is needed to mobilise and bring new people into a movement – the new approach of calling for a People’s Vote could help to achieve this.
4 – Power Elites – the power to influence policy is concentrated in the hand of a few – some people have more power than others, so influencing efforts should be focused on the few, not the many.
This feels like the approach that those who are opposing Brexit are most comfortable using, almost all of the output I see from groups like Open Britain is focused on trying to influencing MPs and Ministers, it’s a plausible strategy, but a Power Elites approach requires a really sharp thinking about where power is, and who needs to be influenced.
5 – Regime – Governments must work collectively with public and private interests to achieve its aims and outcomes – these are known as ‘regimes’ – so in the UK we have a ‘regime’ around both political parties – and they coalesce around a shared broad agenda. So those seeking influence either need to become part of the existing regime or ‘overthrow’ the existing regime and replace it with another.
Another potential approach, but with both of the main political parties supporting Brexit it’s hard to see any ‘regime’ to attach to this approach – if one of the parties could be shifted then there could be a possibility of change happening in this way.
For those interested in the theory behind this post, I’ve put together this which is a short summary for campaigners of the approaches outlined in Pathways to Change. You can read the full report here.

What it's really like as a Junior Minister

I’ve been enjoying Hinterland, the memoir of former MP and Minister, Chris Mullin in the last few weeks, so it’s reminded me of this post I wrote in 2009 after reading the first volume of his diaries.
I’ve always highly recommended Mullin’s diaries for anyone understanding how Parliament really works (I’d also recommend Power Trip by Labour spin doctor Damien McBride, all of Alastair Cambells diaries and more recently Sir Craig Oliver’s Unleashing Deamons) .
The diaries are a little dated now as Mullin stood down in 2010 – his valedictory speech is one of the best Parliamentary speeches I’ve watched – but I still think they have lots of useful insight.
I’ve be reading the very enjoyable diaries of Chris Mullin MP over the Easter weekend, entitled ‘A View from the Foothills‘ they’re a great look at life somewhere down the ministerial pecking order.
Mullin was a junior minister at the Department for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), DFiD and the Foreign Office. It’d be fair to say that Mullin isn’t a great advocate of the lower rungs of ministerial responsibility, but reading the book provides some useful insights into what the work of junior minister is like. Something of tremendous use given that much of the engagement campaigners and lobbyist often have is with junior ministers.
A few key lessons stand out;
1. Junior ministers aren’t often particularly interested in the brief they have. Mullin, who before becoming a minister was a influential chair of the Home Affairs Select committee, implies he knew next to nothing about the environment when he started in that job, and kept up simply from reading the briefs provided to him.
So we shouldn’t be surprised when they’re not especially interested, Mullin seems to infer at times that the best issues to deal with are the ones that are trouble free, uncontroversial and mean that they won’t cause any embarrassment. Some lobby for the post they really want but most don’t get it.
2. Ministers sign lots of letters. Mullin talks about spending hours at the office often late at night signing letters from MPs. Few get mentioned, although he does despair when thanks to a Friends of the Earth campaign he has to sign over 500 letter. A good way to make a point, but perhaps a quick way to loose good will?
3. They spend lots of time giving speeches – part of the life of a junior minister is to go out and about around the country and give speeches to organisations which have some link. Mullin suggests most aren’t very well written and he was often embarrassed to deliver them. So the next time you hold an event and the minister doesn’t give the barnstorming speech you expect after watching too much West Wing, it probably isn’t their fault.
4. They don’t have huge amounts of access to the Secretary of State or the PM. This obviously depends on the department they’re posted to (so access seems to be better at the Foreign Office under Jack Straw than at DETR under John Prescott) but most seem only to have access to the Secretary of State at weekly departmental meeting and occasional rushed conversations here and there. Generally Mullin doesn’t give the impression that they get to  set a departments agenda, this comes from the Secretary of State (or often even higher up government).
5. They are advised to pick a few issues to change policy on – Mullin while at the environment and region chose try to deal with leylandii hedges, rent paid to absent landlords and getting away without a ministerial car. All valuable but hardly groundbreaking, and even then it was hard work navigating between special interests, civil servants and government priorities to make progress.
6. So much of politics is informal – from the diaries you get the impression that many decisions are made through quiet conversations in tea rooms, chats in the lobby, a call to a friend who is a friend with another minister or a written note slipped into a box.
7. MPs spend lots of time on the train! Mullin is often talking about catching the 20.00 back to Sunderland and bumping into this or that MP.  I think my next campaign strategy is going to map the MPs my target might catch the train home with!

Do we need a new map? How the referendum changed the political landscape for campaigners.

For those concerned that this is becoming a blog about political theory. Fear not. Normal service will soon resume.
But a skill for any campaigner is considering how the changing external context is affecting the issue that they’re campaigning on. As a result over the last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about what the uncertain and turbulent times mean for the political context we find ourselves in.
For a long time we’ve considered politics to be about right and left, and tried to place our targets and audiences on that. We’ve always know it was a little simplistic – David Bull explores this some more – but it works when thinking about who to target and who we need to demonstrates supports our issue or cause.
When you have a right of center government you have to consider who are the allies that you might be able to build on the right that you can engage in your coalition, or think about how you frame your message to appeal to ‘right of center’ voters. And the same happens when you have a left of center government.
But so much feels like it’s changed over the last 12 months I’ve started to think about different approach when considering where we place our targets – especially if the negotiations around Brexit dominate the political debate in the UK over the coming years
Instead of thinking about Left – Right, I’ve been thinking about needing to work from a Populist – Establishment/Internationalist – Isolationist matrix.
new axis
It’s built on the premise that perhaps there are groupings across political parties that have as much in common as others within their parties – we’ve long known that there are factions within parities – but the referendum seems to highlight new alliances across parties – see the emergence of More United led by Paddy Ashdown, or the continuation of Britain Stronger In becoming Open Britain with strong cross party support.
Populist or Establishment – Lots has been written about the rise of Sanders and Corbyn on the political left, or populist movements on the right across Europe and beyond – all of whom have been able to position themselves as ‘anti establishment’. While part of the reason the Remain campaign failed in the EU referendum was that it wasn’t able to shed an establishment image against the more populist message that was being pushed by Vote Leave. This axis also throws up some interesting challenges for me about how many campaigning organisations and our messages are perceived – are we seen as too much part of the ‘establishment’?
Internationalist or Isolationist – this is a question about the range of policies that people want to see enacted, especially when it comes to Brexit. Internationalists are those that believe that the big challenges we face can only be solved by cooperation and collaboration across boundaries. Isolationists on the other hand believe that first and foremost it’s about solving the problems at home – it’s about ‘taking back control’ or ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ depending on your viewpoint.
But if that’s about political targets. What about the public?

This recent research from Social Market Foundation is well worth diving into. It suggests the public could now be grouped into eight political tribes – these aren’t going to replace the existing parties, but highlights that the political views of the public are more complex, and might shape the possible policy directions of the existing parties, as any good politician is going to think about how they can build an electoral coalition that can win.

Taken from http://www.smf.co.uk/publications/dead-centre-redefining-the-centre-of-british-politics/
Taken from http://www.smf.co.uk/publications/dead-centre-redefining-the-centre-of-british-politics/

I’ve tried to place the tribes onto the Populist – Establishment/Internationalist – Isolationist matrix – which is interesting to consider – especially when you reflect on the relative sizes of the different tribes.
The Social Market Foundation suggest that Our Britain accounts for 24% of the population, compared to 5% for the Community tribe. I think it shows that there is possibly a clear pull towards the Populist/Isolationist side of the matrix which could presents challenges that campaigners are going to have to overcome if politicians feel the need to tack towards that group to sure up electoral support.
new axis with tribes
I’m not suggesting that campaigners should adopt policies that will appeal to the Our Britain tribe, but as I’ve long argued, as campaigners we need to spend more time considering different perspectives, and understand that we often live in a bit of a ‘bubble’ so we need to become more aware of different tribes. This means finding ways our messages could resonate with other tribes, or find ways of expanding the tribes that support our calls, or at least giving the impression of more size.
Right, that’s the political theory lesson over – normal service will resume next week, but I’m interested in what people think – as a passionate internationalist I’m concerned about the need for voices in the populist and internationalist box that can energize and engage.

In/Out, Leave/Remain – the EU Referendum and what it means for campaigners

So the starting gun for the EU Referendum has been fired, and for the next 4 months it’s going to dominate the political discourse.
So what does that mean for campaigners? Here are a few initial thoughts.
It’ll shape all political decisions – I’ve highlighted the comment from Tim Montgomery below before, but I think it’s really pertinent and worth every campaigner thinking about.
This government is behaving differently because the outcome of the In/Out referendum (likely to be held in June 2016) may well determine David Cameron’s place in history and is uppermost in his mind. He risks Britain’s membership of the EU if he’s an unpopular mid-term prime minister at the time he is recommending Britain should vote to “remain” (as he certainly will). I underestimated Downing Street’s determination to organise everything in terms of avoiding Brexit. The go-slow on cuts, the living wage announcement, the retreat on tax credits, the extra money for defence… this pre-referendum behaviour is pretty boilerplate pre-election behaviour.
As Tim says the Government are going to want to go into the Referendum looking like they’re in step with the public mood. What does that mean for your campaign, does it provide new opportunities to push, or should you be prepared for an unexpected announcement? Also, now that Cabinet Members have come out for and against the deal what will that do the dynamics of the Cabinet will it effectively mean more briefing against each other?
Prepare if you get caught in the crossfire – Many campaigners will chose not to get engaged in the Referendum, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be immune to the Referendum. My work is on international development and I can already see how the ‘out’ campaign might choose to use that issue to demonstrate another reason we should leave the EU. I’m sure lots of other examples exist in other areas as well, basically any issue where the EU has some involvement. Scenario planning and preparation is essential.
See which messengers get cut through – The anti-politics/anti-elite mood that seems to be engulfing the country mean that I think, that while we’ll see a lot of them, it’s unlikely that politicians will be those who deliver the most convincing messages (see the YouGov Tracker to see why George Galloway was a spectacularly bad idea to use at the Grassroots Out rally on Friday). This is particularly a challenge for the ‘Remain’ campaign, with it focus on a message that staying in is good for both economic and national security, need to find credible alternative messengers to motivate people to get out to vote to stay. Look out for who are the messengers who do get cut through – there might be some good learning in here for your campaign.
Watch out for the grassroots interest groups – To counter the ‘politician’ problem that both sides have, we’re already starting to see an emergence of grassroots groups to amplify the voices of different interests (see this list of some of the pro EU groups emerging – I think Football Fans 4 EU is my favourite so far). These groups are presumably aimed at making the case for different issues and engaging specific audiences to vote. It’ll interesting to see if the most vocal manage to cut through. One of the things I’ve already liked about US election is the emergence of grassroots interest groups, but it’s not really a trend that seems to have caught on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps the Referendum will change that.
Lookout for innovation in campaigning tactics – To be honest, I’ve not seen very much of this from either the Remain or Leave campaigns so far. It seems that they’re both deploying a fairly standard field operation which combines phone calling (and the US primary elections have shown how hard it’s becoming to reach people) and street stalls, with some interesting social media content – which often ends up in an echo chamber of those who’ve already decided what they think. But keep an eye on what the Remain campaign does, it’s got some smart people working on it and has the bigger challenge on its hands, to motivate those who are instinctively ‘in’ but perhaps don’t have the same motivation to get out to vote as the ‘out’ campaign does.
Understand what you can and can’t do – Lots of the rules for how the specifics of this referendum will be run still don’t exist, but in CC9 we already have general guidance about what Charities can and can’t do around a Referendum. In short the guidance says that ‘The principles that govern political activity by charities also apply to referendums. This means that, depending on the nature of the referendum issue or question, there may be some circumstances in which it is appropriate for a charity to set out the pros and cons of a yes or no vote for their beneficiaries’. It also goes into more detail about when it might be appropriate to take a specific position around the referendum when a charity thinks it will directly affect the work they do.  NCVO is holding a breakfast briefing on Friday for anyone interested in this. 
Think about what happens with a Brexit – While negotiating the details of a Brexit will be protracted, it’s worth starting to scenario plan what that could mean for your work. What routes to influence it’d open up or close down. How would your strategy have to change?

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Lessons from the Field – my reflections on 5 years organising for the Labour Party

Last month I shared a few thoughts about what issue campaigner can learn from party political campaigning.
A few people encouraged me to do the opposite post, but as I started writing I discovered this isn’t really lessons for political parties from campaigning organisations, it’s more my reflections from 5 years as a volunteer campaign organiser within the Labour Party.
Some caveats to start with. My experience is perhaps an isolated one, I’ve been focused on working in support of one party in a few constituencies in SW London, and I can’t say that I’ve managed to address everything I’ve written in the constituency I was involved in, but they’re a few observations, which feel timely as the Labour Party considers its future direction.
I’ve tried to avoid too much of a focus on the idea that too many party members are focused on the minutes of the last meeting, that we send too many emails (which we do!) or we only visit at election time (which we don’t).
Why? Yes, it’s sometimes true we do all those thing but it’s also an unfair parody. Many of those I’ve worked alongside have been committed, dedicated individuals who put in hours of volunteer time determined to make a difference in their community. Instead I’ve chosen to reflect on the following.
1. Don’t forget to evaluate – I’ve been through a number of election campaigns now, they’re all different, but in all of them I’ve spotted things I’d do the same or do differently. It’s surprised me that the political parties don’t have a instinctive or systematic approach to sitting down, evaluating the evidence and learning what’s worked and what hasn’t.
Perhaps its because politics is always moving along, win and you’re into governing. Lose and the last thing you want to do is reflect on what you did wrong, but it’s a practice that needs to be encouraged at all levels of the party. Personally, despite feeling numb from the result of the election in May, I’m glad the Labour Party has committed to do a full review of what worked and didn’t work, and it’s great to see some of the candidates do the same. That needs to become the norm not the exception, and the findings need to be distributed widely.
2. Test, trial and try new – Elections are in many ways won (or lost) using the same formula that parties have been using for years. Yes, there are a few examples of doing differently (Birmingham Edgbaston is the example that was rightly praised in 2010 and Ilford North in 2015) but outside a few campaigns committed to pioneering , and the work of the Labour digital team who I think awesome, new approaches seem to be to too often few are far between and not mainstreamed quickly.
Innovation is hard when the risk of it not working is losing an election, and not all campaigning organisations get this right either. But I’d love to see the party embrace a culture of testing different approaches to see what has the biggest impact, trailing something new, building an evidence base based on experimentation.
It doesn’t mean throwing the old playbook out (there is much to be said for the approach of going door to door and being routed in a community) but the playbook needs to have some (evidence-based) chapters added to it.The experience of Arnie Graf and the suspicion with which his community organising approach was viewed is a lesson in how hard this can be.
3. Share learning – In the overall scheme of things I was a fairly unimportant volunteer. But with a (unhealthy) passion for campaigning that took me to the US to learn how Obama did it in 2012, I was amazed at how little learning and good practice is proactively shared amongst other volunteer campaign organisers. I’m sure there is loads I could learn from others across the UK, but I found more ideas from reading books and blogs about what was happening in the US than I did others in the UK.
The Labour Party would do well to emulate a model similar to that of the Analyst Institute in the US and build a closed community committed to share evidence and best practice for paid staff and key volunteers (like me). But learning shouldn’t be limited from within the Party, since the election its been more interesting reading learning from Conservative activists, like any good campaign the party needs to be open to collecting ideas for a range of sources.
4. Remember the pyramid of engagement – A graph like the one below should go up in every Labour Party office. Sure some really skilled professional people just love to deliver leaflets (I’m one of them now – it’s good exercise) but too often that’s all we ask them to do, just knock on doors or deliver leaflets.
Ladder-of-engagement
The pyramid of engagement is a tool well know to campaigners, all about how you help you develop a plan to recruit individuals and engage individuals. Some constituencies do this really well, but sadly most don’t meaning talent is wasted or under-utilised.
5. Invest in your people – The Labour Party relies on a small army of organisers in many of its constituencies, most are recent graduates paid too little, and asked to make huge sacrifices of time in the run up to an election. Some are stick around for year, but most drift away after an election or two. That’s valuable institutional knowledge walking, and a huge cost in training new staff.
We don’t have the culture in the UK of a professionalised political campaign staff, but as a result there a few incentives for the most effective organisers to stick around, the training they get seems to be patchy and the support/supervision from more experienced staff limited. Building a clear career pathway that rewards the most effective rather than those who have the most stamina, and effectively scales to provide the right level of support and supervision is needed if we’re to build a cadre of brilliant campaign managers.
6. Build a culture of accountability – At times, asking how another constituency how many contacts it’s made is similar to asking someone else how much they get paid. It’s shared with reluctance and is probably over or under inflated! Work needs to be done to ensure the metrics are more sophisticated than simply the number of contact made, although that’s still an important benchmark of activity, to ensure they’re capturing volunteer engagement and much more.
But those figures need to be shared and scrutinised. To my mind it’s unacceptable that we don’t have a culture where one constituency can benchmark itself against another and those who aren’t performing, including where we have longstanding MPs, are called out by the National Executive Committee or another representative body.
So a few lessons from me.  As I was writing this I re-read parts of Refounding Labour. It’s a document full of practical recommendations. It would be easy for whomever becomes leader in September to bin it, as a holdover from the previous leadership, in my opinion that would be a mistake.
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The US Presidential election and the future of campaigning?

It’s the US election season, and suddenly anyone who’s watched an episode or two of the West Wing will become an expert on the best approach to win the 270 Electoral College seats needed, the opportunities presented by the Michigan Primary and the role of Super Delegates in a tight convention.
While predicting the result of the Primary and Presidential race, and while we’re at it I think we’re going to see Santorum push Romney all the way to the convention and Obama will win a second term, is a great conversation starter amongst the political engaged, it’s also a good time to start paying attention if you want to see the future of campaigning.
Why?
1. The election campaign is has a bigger budget than any other. This year President Obama is expected to fundraise over $1 billion and I’d expect the eventual Republican frontrunner won’t be far behind, which means it can develop some of the most powerful tools and employ the best and brightest staff.
2. It’s the most ‘important’ single political campaign in the world to win. The President of the United States is still the world’s most powerful elected official.
3. It’s got huge numbers of people involved. The Obama team already has over 200 staff working full-time in its head office in Chicago, a figure that is likely to increase rapidly in the next month, plus hundreds of thousands of volunteers on the ground ready to be engaged and resourced.
While I accept that election campaigning is different to campaigning to change public policy, and that the campaigns will make use of many of more traditional techniques like TV adverts, that are perhaps less available to public policy campaigns. I believe it’s still interesting to see how the tools used in previous campaigns have often tracked closely to the tools that are now common place in most campaigning organisations.
As Slate notes;
1996 saw the debut of candidate Web pages
2000 was the first time website were used for fundraising.
2004 saw Howard Dean pioneer the use of online tools (like MeetUp) to organise campaign events to link supporters together.
2008 led by the inspiring Obama campaign saw the emergence of socia media as a mass-communication tool, and the most sophisticated use of sites like my.barackobama.com which turned online interest into offline activism.
Add to that the resurgence of the concept of Community Organising fueled in part by the background of the current President but also the way that it was put to work to increase registration and turnout of previous under represented groups. (If you’re interested in learning more about the 2008 campaign I’d highly recommend that you read ‘Race of a Lifetime’ and the ‘Audacity to Win‘.)
So what are the early trends for 2012? Well the overriding one seems to be the most sophisticated use of data.
Slate suggest;
‘From a technological perspective, the 2012 campaign will look to many voters much the same as 2008 did…..this year’s looming innovations in campaign mechanics will be imperceptible to the electorate, and the engineers at Obama’s Chicago headquarters racing to complete Narwhal in time for the fall election season may be at work at one of the most important. If successful, Narwhal would fuse the multiple identities of the engaged citizen—the online activist, the offline voter, the donor, the volunteer—into a single, unified political profile’.
While the Guardian reported this weekend;
‘At the core is a single beating heart – a unified computer database that gathers and refines information on millions of committed and potential Obama voters. The database will allow staff and volunteers at all levels of the campaign – from the top strategists answering directly to Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina to the lowliest canvasser on the doorsteps of Ohio – to unlock knowledge about individual voters and use it to target personalised messages that they hope will mobilise voters where it counts most’
And this sophisticated use of data doesn’t seem to being the sole preserve of the Democratic Party, with Slate reporting in January about how Mitt Romney built a similar database to help him almost win the Iowa Caucus;
‘Romney’s previous Iowa campaign allowed him to stockpile voter data and develop sophisticated systems for interpreting it. It was that data and those interpretations that supported one of the riskiest strategic moves of the campaign thus far: Romney’s seemingly late decision to fight aggressively for his first-place finish in Iowa’
For more on the digital and data tactics that the campaigns are using take a look at this from the Washington Post and this from ABC News.
In the UK, we don’t have anything that comes close to the Presidential Elections. The nearest equivalent is the Mayor of London elections that are happening in May. It’s a highly personalised contest trying to reach one of the biggest single constituencies in the world, and certainly the Ken campaign is making use of some innovative tools;
1. Last week saw the launch of personalised Direct Mail which make of QR codes to invite a response.
2. The  Ken campaign has made a significant investment in using Nation Builder tools to launch ‘Your Ken’ – a community to resource and mobilise its activists which was received with acclaim when it was launched last year.
3. The heavy emphasise on the use of text and email to get the message out to potential voters across London.
I’ll be watching with interesting at how both these elections campaigns make use of new tools and tactics in the coming months, and reflecting on the opportunities they present for campaigning for social change. 

Lobbying the Lords….

A review of two excellent campaign tools focused on influencing members of the House of Lords.
Unlike their counterparts in the House of Commons, members of the House of Lords can be notoriously hard to campaign towards. There are over 800 of them, with some as regular attenders, while others who rarely turn up. Some are independent spirits, while others are still loyal to the parties that bestowed the peerage on the them.
But with the Health and Social Care Bill coming before the House of Lords later in the week, it’s been interesting to see how campaign organisations have been trying to target them. A couple of excellent tools have been launched to target Lords.

38 Degrees new 'Contact a Lord' tool

38 Degrees have developed a‘Contact a Lord’ tool with donations from members. It’s a tool that provides you, on production of your postcode and email address, with the contact details of a Lord to send a message to. I think it’s based on a similar function on the writetothem website and it’s a simple and user-friendly way of taking action, and I’m certain it’s providing a fuller inbox for Lords who aren’t traditionally used to receiving bulging postbags!
For me a couple of improvements could enhance its effectiveness in the future;
1. Be more specific and target those Lords who are likely to be wavering about how they might vote. I’ve used the system twice and ended up with former Chairmen of the Conservative Party, Lord Patten, who I’d imagine is unlikely not to vote the way that he’s being asked to. With greater political intelligence you could build a database to target the 50 or so most likely to be wavering and target them.
2. Make use of the Lords geographical loyalties. Although Lords don’t represent a geographical area, because of our ancient political system they’re all enobled to be ‘Lord of this place of that’. Often this is linked to a place that they have some link to, a former area they represented in Parliament, a place of birth, etc. It could be interesting if one production of your postcode you’d get the opportunity to message a Lord linked to where you live.
Some of the groups behind the #BlocktheBridge protests yesterday have also launched ‘Peer Pressure’ website. It provides a list of all Crossbench and Lib Dem MPs and their contact details. You’re encouraged to get in touch with them, although no tool do to this is provided, and then report back on if they’re likely to oppose the bill, using a ranking system.
Some excellent new tools have been launched to campaign towards the House of Lords

The site is trying to provide a more detailed picture of which Lords are likely to block the bill but the site doesn’t have much information yet, just 19 Lords (out of over 270) have been reported on, so it’s perhaps not reached enough people as yet. Perhaps a tie up with 38 Degrees would help with this?
Overall, both organisations are to be congratulated for developing such innovative tools to address a tricky campaigning problem. With the Lords becoming a popular target to modify bills coming from the Tory-led Coalition, I’m expecting that we’ll see more campaign tools like this in the coming year, and organisations would do well to learn from these examples.
What other campaigning towards the House of Lords has impressed you?

Holding successful events with MPs in Parliament

Conference season is upon us and many campaigners will be packing their bags to head off to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.
But  as Chloe Stables notes in an excellent post about making the most of attending conference they can be ‘expensive, hectic and occasionally frustrating‘ but other options for engaging with MPs do exist.
Back in March, I was involved in organising an event to mark World Water Day, which at the time one colleague musedwas a better use of resources that organising an fringe meeting at Party Conference.
A modest objective of getting 12-15 MPs along was set but in the end we got over 40 MPs came to join in, a great success and far more than we would have got attending a fringe event at conference.

David Burrowes MP at the event
One of the 40 MPs who attended the event

The idea was simple. Invite MPs to join us on and walk 100m with a jerry can on a course we’d set up in Victoria Tower Gardens, it was a symbolic act to remember the fact that many people have to walk up to 6km to get access to something we expect to get from our taps, and we hoped that it would help to build links with Parliamentarians who could act as champions for the issue in the coming year.
You can read more about the event here, but it got me thinking about what some of the elements that made the event a success.
Perhaps they’re nothing new but I wanted to share them to see what insight others have about what works when looking to engage MPs in events in Parliament.
1. Provide a photo opportunity – It’s a cliché but the offer of a photo and a pre-prepared press release undoubtedly encouraged some MPs to join us. We set up a water pump and promised to get the release to them within 3 hours. It was nice to use this as a way of helping the MP demonstrate the interest they had in the issue.
2. Targeted the few not the many – The decision was taken early in the planning not to actively invite all MPs, but to identify and approach a smaller number of influential MPs on the topic, for example those on key select committees or those who’d shown an interest in the issue previously. We hoped that our invitation was more likely to get noticed, and we already had a relationship with some which made it easier to follow up with.
3. Followed up via Twitter – Ahead of the event, we got in touch with those MPs who used twitter to remind them to come down. At least one mentioned that this had made the difference about them attending or not.
4. Used our supporters – We invited our supporters who lived in the constituencies of MPs we had an interest in to attend, but had realistic expectations about the number who’d be able to join us on a Tuesday. We also encouraged them to get in touch and invite their MP along anyhow. Again, a number of MPs mentioned that this was one of the reasons they joined us.
5. Made the most of our contacts – We found that amongst an extended group of colleagues had a number had contact with friends who worked for MPs or who could raise the profile of the event inside Parliament. A few well placed e-mails and calls from them certainly helped to increase the numbers attending. A reminder that sometimes it’s useful to use your personal contacts.
6. Kept the event going for two hours – Allowing MPs a longer window of time to come along seemed to yield dividends in reducing the number of MPs who simply couldn’t join us because of diary clashes.
What successful events have you organised with MPs? Is Conference a useful forum to engage with MPs? What have you found works and what hasn’t?
Some of this post originally appeared on the NCVO Campaigning Forum.