Last week was one I won’t forget in a long, long time. Together with a group of wonderful friends, I helped to organise and run the first every Campaign Bootcamp (the video below shows a little of what we got up to).
It was a dream that took almost a year to bring together, and is one of the main reasons that this blog has been so quiet in the last 6 months!
The idea was simple, take 30 of the most talented and energetic emerging campaigners committed to building a more just, fair and sustainable country from across the UK and give them a week of training from some of the very best in the campaigning business, but also allow them to put those skills into practice in real-time.
We had so much fun, and I’m incredibly excited about what we’ve started, but being at Bootcamp also taught me some invaluable lessons that I think might be useful for other campaigners to reflect upon.
1 – Let’s talk about power. It’s all too easy to dive right into learning about exciting new tactics. But we devoted the first day to understanding power and how change happens. It’s an issues I know that is a critical part of any training you might do with those involved in community organising, but something that I know I’ve been guilty of rushing over when I’ve run campaigns training before. Ensuring every campaign has a clear and robust theory of change is critical, but something we perhaps incorrectly leave to those who are more senior or have greater experience.
2 – Practice makes perfect. One of the central components of Bootcamp was running a scenario which participants had to run a campaign on. In real-time they we’re expected to write emails, build websites and consider how they should adapt their strategy to changes in the scenario.
Some might see it as a giant game, but last week I saw it as an invaluable way of learning how campaigners react and respond under pressure. I saw it teach valuable lessons, and would encourage any campaigns team to put time aside to learn from the experience and ‘stress test’ there systems and structures before a real campaigning example does.
3 – Being deliberate about building community. Nothing builds a sense of community like going away together for a week. Now that might not always be possible but the value of eating, learning and relaxing together, rather than all packing up at 6pm each day and heading our separate ways built a real sense of community. As a team we were also deliberate about wanting to ensure we had a cohort of participants from across different campaigning communities together. It stuck me of how often campaigning happens in silos here in the UK.
4 – We need to teach the habits of highly effective campaigners. It would have been easy to fill the programme for the 6-days with learning on strategy and tactics, but as a team we wanted to put aside time to ensure that those attending left with habits to ensure they’re brilliant campaigners in 20 years rather than burnt-out ones. We didn’t always get the balance right (11am finishes anyone!) but I think everyone walked away with ideas and strategies to keep running the campaigning race for years to come.
5 – Everyone needs to learn code. For an afternoon, it felt like being back at school again, everyone in rows like in a classroom, laptops out and a teacher at the front as we followed exercises to help us learn HTML. It’s easy for many campaigners to assume that someone more technical can worry about the code, but with the web and email being key tools for our campaigning, having a basic understanding of HTML is a key skill to learn. I’d recommend Code Academy as a good place to start. It turns out that many of the problems can easily be solved with just a little expertise!
6 – Our sector is a hugely generous one. Throughout the week I was overwhelmed with the generosity we saw from existing campaigners. From sharing time as trainers and coaches, to donating money to joining our seed list and providing feedback on the emails that participants sent we experienced extreme generosity from others. It was something quite phenomenal and very special. Thank you to everyone who supported us in so many different ways.
I know that I won’t be able to recreate that Bootcamp feeling again any time soon, but the lessons that I learnt along with the amazing energy that the participants I hope will stay with me for a long time.
After rediscovering ‘ten positive, proactive steps to build a movement‘ by Michael Pertschuk last week, I’ve been sharing them with anyone who might be interested.
I find them challenging, inspiring and deeply practical. I’m journeying with them and trying to reflect on what I need to differently every day as a result. They’re wise words for anyone in the business of trying to achieve social change.
1. Remember where you come from, that you are part of something larger. Celebrate your origins and roots.
2. Listen to the insights and experience of people who are affected by the issues and participate in the efforts. They are the real experts – amplify their voices. Keep professional experts “on tap, not on top.”
3. Keep balance in your work and personal life. Work hard, yes. Meet responsibilities, yes. Make an extra effort, yes. But also add humor and rest. Avoid pessimism and martyrdom.
4. Recognise human frailty and accept it. Set the example by not holding yourself – or others – to rigid or impossible standards that drain the organisation’s energy.
5. Motivate others by sharing responsibility, paying attention to others, and encouraging those who make the extra effort. Give praise when it is merited.
6. Model behavior, or set a good example, by fostering cooperation, sharing information with others, and encouraging others’ leadership. Don’t dominate. Leave space for others to share their knowledge and skills.
7. Insist on a calm approach to solving problems. Set real deadlines. Avoid a crisis mentality.
8. Share credit generously within the organization, sector, and among allies.
9. Be equally civil to those who share your views or tactics, and those who do not. Agree to disagree and do so without personalising disagreements.
10. Recognize that there are incremental steps in the advocacy journey. Celebrate how far a group has come and what it means to the lives of people. New experiences – like meeting with a bureaucrat, politician, or editor – are as much a success as winning a favorable policy. They build confidence and empowerment that, in many ways, are the most profound and lasting changes. Savor them.
I’ve been in self-imposed blog exile for the last couple of months.
A combination of running a small part of an election campaign, two trips to the US for work, participation in an amazing action learning process hosted by the Common Cause team and a number of other commitments have meant that I haven’t been able to blog.
Here are a few things that caught my eye while I’ve been away;
1. Avaaz 2.0 – The global campaigning movement has launched a platform for its own members to develop and run their own actions. It’s still in beta mode at the moment but I’m sure that will change in the coming months. Also Change.org has launched its own UK platform with some great coverage. I’ve written before about how I really like the model that Change.org uses providing campaign organisers to help increase the impact of online petitions created by members. I hope that both will be successful.
2. Right Angle – The platform aims to be ‘a grassroots community. We exist to stand up for ordinary families – Britain’s silent majority’ and is supported by a number of Conservative MPs. So far, they’ve not had the same impact that 38 Degrees had in their first few month, although they were able to generate over 100,000 people to join their Facebook campaign against cutting fuel duty, so it’ll be interesting to see how the grow over the summer.
3. Twitter – It’s been great to see organisations engage with twitter in more and more innovative ways, two particularly impressed me. The Twobby of Parliament by members of the Care and Support Alliance, and the development of this tool by ONE which allows users to send messages to David Cameron on food security.
4. People’s Pledge – This sneaked under the radar , but I think the ability of an organisation to mobilise 14,000+ people in a constituency to vote for a local referendum on membership of the European Union is an impressive feat. With the introduction of the Localism bill, I wonder if we’re going to see more of this community level campaigning that leads to local ballots on issues.
5. The next Make Poverty History – It was confirmed that development organisations are coming together to launch another ‘Make Poverty History’ style campaign in 2013. I’m sure this will be huge in the next 12 months, and I’m hoping that all those involved read this about lessons learnt and ensure that the next campaign is designed to avoid them.
6. KONY 2012 – I wrote before my blogging break about why the video had such a phenomenal response when it was first released, however the campaign wasn’t able to sustain the initial interest with the ‘Cover the Night’ event in late April failing to take off in the way they’d originally hoped.
7. US Election – Lots more great articles about different techniques and tools being employed in the campaign. I’d highly recommend every campaigner keeps an eye on the articles by Sasha Issenberg over at Slate, which I’ve found to be the most insightful into the approaches the campaigns are taking.
Life is returning to normality, so I plan to write some more on these topics and others in the coming weeks, as well as share the initial results I’m getting in government departments about the number of actions they’ve received in the last 12 months.
A combination of holidays and overseas travel with work have caused posts to dry up on the site over the last month or so, but with 2011 coming to an end it’s time to ask how will the year be remembered for campaigners and reflect on a few of the posts that I’ve written.
Much has already been said about 2011 as a year of the protest. Time Magazine has nominated ‘The Protester‘ as its person of the year in response to the momentous changes that we’ve witnessed as a result of the Arab Spring and column inches continue to be written about the Occupy movement that has captured the imagination of many in the UK and US but beyond that what might 2011 be remembered for?
1 – If you snooze, you loose! Time and time again this year I’ve been struck by the importance of campaigning organisations having the ability to respond quickly. Indeed one of my posts back in February was about the way that WWF had failed to respond to the campaigning that had started around the sell off of the UKs forest. Those organisations that have succeeded in the last year are those that have been able to develop structures that allow them to quickly respond to a campaigning opportunity and be ‘first to market’. In an increasingly dynamic campaigning environment where loyalty to one organisation is declining, actions can easily be shared via twitter and an increasing number of ‘platforms’ for campaigning exist it’s hard to see this trend changing anytime soon.
2 – Movements don’t need (visible) leaders. Examples abound about leaderless campaign, with Occupy London being one of the most prominent recent examples, but dig a bit deeper behind most of the campaigns and movements that have been successful in the last year and you’ll find an often complex web of individuals playing different leadership roles. In the last year I think we’ve seen a shift in the way we need to see and understand campaign leadership from the strong figurehead (which I wrote about here) to a more nuanced and networked leaders, making things happen in the background but not always leading from the front, this post I wrote back in June reflects on some different leadership roles needed in campaigns.
3 – The coming of age of 38 Degrees. It’s amazing to think that it’s just a few years since 38 Degrees was established, but this year it’s had a number of high-profile campaign victories most notably on stopping the privatisation of the UKs Forest and also causing a huge amount of bother with its ‘Save the NHS’ campaign. But in the process of establishing themselves as key players has led to the start of a backlash about its campaign approach which is heavily reliant on generating large numbers of emails actions, with some MPs going as far as refusing to respond to campaign actions from 38 Degrees. Will a trend to watch in 2012 be increasing questions raised about the sustainability of the approach they take?
4 – Measuring impact matters more than ever. In a year of tightening budget ever organisation is being asked to demonstrate the impact of its advocacy and the contribution it’s making through its campaigning, but despite some efforts that I’ve written about (here and here) I don’t think that anyone has cracked this yet with an approach that quantifies our impact as opposed to simply our outputs or outcomes. This is another debate that isn’t going to go away and one that every organisation is going to have to grapple with in 2012.
Those are my observations from 2011. What do you think it’ll be remembered for?
This book will make a bold claim: that a single idea helps to explain why social movements past and present have succeeded, partially succeeded, or failed.
So begins, Tim Gee’s new book Counterpower, released last week which asks the question. Why do some movements bring about transformational change while others fail?
It’s a question that many campaigners grapple with and the book provides much food for thought about what might be the key to success, looking back at the experiences of campaign movements from the last 100+ years.
For Tim, the answer is a clearly articulated theory of change that runs through the book, the idea of Counterpower. Tim argues that change happens when people use;
- Idea Counterpower – challenging accepted truths, refusing to obey or finding new channels of communication.
- Economic Counterpower – exercised through strikes, boycotts, democratic regulation and ethical consumption.
- Physical Counterpower – which can mean both fighting back, or nonviolently placing our bodies in the way of injustice.
Tim suggesting that many of the most successful movements for transformational change have used all three kinds of Counterpower, while those that have fallen by the wayside have only used one or two.
It’s a sweeping statement and one that’s perhaps unfair, for example the anti-poverty movement in the UK has achieved much in the last 15 years, perhaps the most high-profile example being the Jubilee Debt Campaign that saw the cancellation of billions of dollars of debt, with most of its tactics focusing on Idea Counterpower, but his theory is well argued.
The book explores how to apply these Counterpower principles to a number of successful campaigns in the last century. Ghandi’s camapign against British rule in India, the Anti-Apartheid campaign in South Africa, Universal suffrage in the UK and most recently the Arab Spring in Egypt. Each of the case studies are well researched, approaching the information from a new angle and helping to provide fresh insight to even the most well told of campaign examples.
I would have liked to have seen the book make an attempt to apply the principles of Counterpower to some less obvious contemporary movements, perhaps struggle for gay equality in the last 30 years or the anti-roads protests of the 80s or even some smaller scale campaign for justice at a local level.
I’d also like to have seen some analysis of why other campaigns have ‘failed’ because they haven’t made enough of Counterpower. One movement that comes to mind that would be fascinating to explore would be those working for climate justice, where has it failed to make use of Counterpower? I’d also have welcomed to some more reflection on what impact that current trend for ‘clicktavism’ might have on the use of physical Counterpower.
Tim presents a challenge to those campaigning organisations that focus on idea counterpower or perhaps dabble with economic counterpower by encouraging boycotts to consider if ‘stronger’ tactics need to be applied for change to be achieved. However I wonder at times if he’s too dismissive of the role that these organisations can play in helping to bring about change, overlooking the fact that many campaigns are ‘won’ by coalitions of organisations who employ different tactics, although as Tim points out in the introduction these ‘traditional’ organisations have often found ways to support more , citing the example of WWF helping to pay for the first Rainbow Warrior. But even with that the book lays down a challenge to these organisations to consider if the current suite of tactics they are using are working.
The other thing that I really enjoyed about the book is that its written by someone who’s a campaigner. It means that this isn’t an academic text, but you sense a living account of a campaigner grappling with ‘how change happens’.
In summary, I’d highly recommend this book. It’s a great read, well written, excellently researched and provides much food for thought for all campaigners, not simply those who would consider themselves ‘radical’.
With the birth of UK Uncut in the last year, events in the Middle East & North Africa and the #OccupyWallStreet demonstrations, Counterpower provides a timely and fresh look at how change can happen when we reexamine our understanding of power.
Counterpower: Making Change Happen can be purchased here. The author, Tim Gee, is currently on a speaking tour around the UK, dates available here.
The last few days have been fascinating for any watcher of UK politics, media or campaigning. Pages and pages have already been written about what’s happened with News of the World and BSkyB.
I’m certain more will come in the next few days and weeks, indeed the story seems to change by the day. But it looks to me as though three distinct campaign asks have been running in the last week;
- For an advertising boycott of The News of the World (which helped to contribute to its closure).
- For News Corporation (the parent company run by Rupert Murdoch) not to be able to continue with his takeover of BSkyB (which lead to it News Corporation withdrawing its offer)
- For a public inquiry into the phone hacking.
Although they have separate aims lead by different organisations, at times it’s been hard to distinguish from the campaigns, as much of the messaging seems to be ‘Stop Murdoch’. For me at least 5 distinct groupings have emerged, from what I can tell their hasn’t been huge amounts of central coordination, although they’ve clearly fed off each other and sometimes shared campaign tools.
It’s interesting to reflect if any of these groups alone would have been able to achieve their campaign aims. Would, for example the demand to stop News Corporation take full control of BSkyB have happened without the campaign which lead to the boycott of The News of the World (NOTW) being successful?
So who was involved?
Twitter – Not the site itself, but a number of users who kicked off the idea last Monday about targeting the valuable advertising revenue that was central to the News of the World profitability. Their role has been well chronicled by Rory Cellan-Jones over at the BBC, but it’s also worth reading the account of Melissa Harrison who was one of those who instigated the idea of a boycott on Monday 4th July.
It was Harrison and others who developed online tool at http://www.pint.org.uk/notw.html(now taken down) which allowed users to generate a pre-prepared tweet which went something along the lines of ‘“Dear @TheCooperative, will you be reconsidering your advertising spend with #notw given that we now know they hacked Milly Dowler’s phone?”. I’m sure that the presence of this site really help to accelerate the number of tweets that were being sent.
We Are Social have done a fascinating breakdown of tweets sent about NOTW last week and calculate that ‘on the 5th and 6th July, over 25% of conversations on Twitter mentioning NOTW keywords also mentioned one of the targeted brands‘. Brands such The Co-operative, Sky, WH Smith and Virgin Media all received over 10,000 tweets about the NOTW advertiser boycott. The Guardian also has a nice visualisation of the way that twitter has been used during the last week.
Mumsnet – The site was one the first to promote the pre-prepared tweet tool on pint.org.uk, but was also one of the first to publicly reject money from Rupert Murdoch by ending a campaign that had been promoting Sky (another part of the Murdoch empire) after complaints from users of the site.
They were characterised by some as ‘comfortable middle-class mothers of MumsNet sitting down to their fair-trade tea and organic shortbread biscuits‘ but I think their involvement was critical early in the campaign providing momentum and evidence of an appetite for rejecting money from companies associated with Rupert Murdoch.
Progressive bloggers – Collaborating together sites like Liberal Conspiracy and Political Scrapbook where quick off the mark in encouraging their readers to get involved in the campaign to potential advertisers that they should boycott (although the numbers directed to the pint.org.uk site are much lower that other sources), but perhaps more importantly they also had the capacity to run the definitive list of advertisers and if they were planning to boycott the paper or not, helping to fuel the media narrative that advertisers were deserting the paper.
The press (especially the Guardian) – It was the work of Guardian journalist Nick Davies who brought the story to light, but beyond that it was others at the Guardian, like Roy Greenslade, who encouraged action by providing a list of what people could do on his blog. The Guardian website pushed almost 10,000 people to the pint.org.uk twitter action tool. Certainly the Guardian has lived up to its campaigning reputation this week.
Hacked Off – The campaign for a public inquiry into phone hacking was only launched last Wednesday, but has quickly become the group that has been at the centre of mobilising high-profile individuals to get involved in the campaign. Many of those who have are individuals who have been directly affected, included Hugh Grant who appeared on Question Time and the parents of Milly Dowler, who met with Nick Clegg on Tuesday.
Supported by the Media Standards Trust, this is perhaps the closest group in the campaign so far that resembles a more traditional NGO approach to campaigning, with more focus on policy processes, media photo calls and meeting with government.
38 Degrees and Avaaz – The online campaigning movement 38 Degrees has been running a campaign for over a year to call for the proposed takeover of BSkyB to be sent to the Competition Commission.
As their campaign timeline shows they were well positions to make the most of the opportunity presented by the release of the revelations about Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked to invite people to join this broader campaign about corporate control of the media. It was so successful that the site crashed due to the volume of people trying to take action.
Both Avaaz, who ran a petition alongside 38 Degrees which got over 300,000 names to demand a public enquiry into the scandal and 38 Degrees were able to bring their campaigning tools to help individuals to send a message to individual MPs as well as representatives of the government.
Their huge e-mails lists (it’s estimated that 38 Degrees has over 750,000 people on its) built on the back of previous campaigns, helped to get the message out and sustaining it over the week, combined with some great ‘pop-up protests’ around Westminster. These groups certainly brought an element of strategic focus to the campaign.
What other actors were involved? Was it just online tribes who closed The News of the World?
We’re always quick to celebrate a campaign success but what about a campaign failure?
While it’s probably not appropriate to be trumpeting our failures in emails to supporters, it’s right to make sure we’re making space in our organisations to learn in a constructive way from the not so good, but how many of us actually do this?
This post was prompted by some great tips from the New Organising Institute about dealing with failure in one of their daily e-mail. The tips included;
Create a culture of debriefing. Schedule time to debrief into everything, before work starts. After every event or project, evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and articulate key learnings together. Require short, written reflection on major projects, especially those that fall short.
Get back out there! Who wants to wallow in failure? Encourage those you coach to get out there and try again!
To that I’d add a couple of thoughts;
Tolerate failure. It sounds counter intuitive, but one of the most useful things I’ve taken from a seminar was the idea that if we attempt 5 things and only 2 work then we should celebrate those, rather than lament the 3 that don’t work.
Sometimes things we do won’t work but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try in the first place. This is especially true in the world of digital media where it’s much harder to pick up the website or tool that will take off. Many campaigning organisations have an institutional aversion to risk, and perhaps rightly so when resources are limited, but do we need to change the way we see things that don’t succeed?
Be honest about failure: When something doesn’t go right its often not something that we want to talk about, especially to others in our sector. But I think we should be encouraging campaigning organisations to share about what they’re finding isn’t working for them, as much as what is work.
The Admitting Failure website run by Engineers without Borders puts it like this “By hiding our failures, we are condemning ourselves to repeat them and we are stifling innovation. In doing so, we are condemning ourselves to continue under-performance in the development sector. Conversely, by admitting our failures – publicly sharing them not as shameful acts, but as important lessons – we contribute to a culture in development where failure is recognised as essential to success.”
What are you doing to learn from your campaign failures? How can we share them across our campaigns?
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I really enjoyed my time in the US last week, it was great to spend time with some inspiring advocates and get an insight into the campaigning landscape in the US. Clearly the US is a very big country and I was only able to visit Washington and New York (a little like just spending time in London and Brussels if you visited Europe) so these are just a few advocacy related observations from my time in those cities.
1. Advertising everywhere. On the Metro (see photo below supporting Corn Growers), in front yards and in the papers I was amazed at the amount of advertising in support of different public policy positions. It seems that a combinations of campaigns with deep financial pockets and media laws that make it easier for campaigning organisations to advertise have made this an attractive tactic to use. I’d be interested to see some figures on the effectiveness of this as a tactic, my concern would be that it risks becoming ‘background noise’ because it’s used so much.
2. The strength of community organising. I got to learn about some amazing examples of community organising on the issue of Environmental Justice at a conference in New York. Organisations like New York Faith and Justice or UPROSE are doing some amazing grassroots work, mobilising communities often in economically disadvantaged areas and seeing campaign success with local government, for example getting the City Council in New York to clean up disused industrial areas. It felt to me that their was a far more vibrant community of grassroots organisations than we have here making use of all the layers of government (city, district, state and federal level) that exist in the US in a far more effective way than I’ve observed in the UK.
3. QR Codes While you occasionally see these funny black and white patterns, which can be used in conjunction with a smart-phone to send you to a website for more information, in magazines in the UK they were a lot more prevalent in the US. With the growing use of smart-phones I can see how they could be used as an excellent tool in campaign literature to help bridge the digital/paper divide. I suspect we’ll see campaigning organisations use them soon.
4. How healthy are the grasstops? I heard this phrase the ‘Grasstops’ used on a number of occasions, it’s used to describe those organisations that are just involved in lobbying and influencing in DC or towards other legislators but don’t have any support from a membership base (the grassroots). It appears to be a fastly with hundred of organisations with names that include ‘Institute‘, ‘Centres for….‘ or ‘Association of‘ in them.
Walking around DC you quickly spot people with badges representing them of to meet with politicians and officials, but my question is where these groups draw their legitimacy from, even when they’re advocating for more ‘progressive’ causes. It appears to me that some of the most exciting advocacy networks are those that have been able to combine effective ‘grasstops’ engagement with support from an active ‘grassroots’. One that impressed me considerably was Bread for the World, a faith-based movement to end hunger.
5. The influence of Foundations. I’ve blogged on a number of papers on various topics coming out of various US Foundations in the last week. It’s very evident that they’re powerful financial backers of many of the campaigns and from that they are producing lots of interesting and exciting research on issues such as M+E and assessing impact (this is an interesting study on just that). I need to do more research to find the key foundations and networks, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the website of organisations like New Organising Institute, Institute for Sustainable Communities and others who are putting out some great materials.
Have you been to the US recently or are you based in the US? What are your observations on the advocacy scene in the States?
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