When companies start to campaign

Starting out as a campaigner it often easy to take the position that all companies are your opponents – and on some issues, they remain the major perpetrators of human rights abuse and environmental destruction.

But that assumption can prevent campaigners from exploring how companies are getting more involved in campaigning – and potentially missing opportunities for creative partnerships to secure change.

Without looking for it, here are 6 (and a half) ways that I’ve spotted the companies are starting to campaign that have crossed across my Twitter feed in the last few weeks;

1.The Activist CEO – primarily a phenomenon in the US, as this article suggests an increasing number of CEOs are speaking up on ‘thorny social and political discussions about race, sexual orientation, gender, immigration, and the environment‘. Active at suggesting that they will move their companies resources or investment decisions away from states where they disagree with specific policies – for example PayPal decided not to locate  a new global operations center in Charlotte when North Carolina passed a law requiring people to use the bathrooms corresponding with the gender on their birth certificates, which became a referendum on transgender rights.

2. The Activist Employees – seen most recently when a group of over 4,000 staff at Amazon came together to add their names to an open letter calling on the company to do more to respond to climate change, but it’s a trend that is growing, as this graphic from Wired magazine at the end of last year shows.

With companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon all being on the receiving end of its employees, but as this amazing documentary, which tells the story of the Rolls Royce workers in Scotland who refused to service the engines of jets used by the Chilian dictator, General Pinochet, shows its not a new tactic, but it can be a very effective one.

3. The Mobiliser – I’ve written about this before, an approach which sees companies like Uber, Airbnb and others turn their customers into campaigners for them – apptivists, or as this article explores, brobilize — thousands of people via a simple email or push notification to blast targeted messages to their elected officials

Using the relationship they have to invite customers to take action to help to further a companies goals – seen for example in 2018, when Uber asked London based user to petition. Rarely (if at all) have we seen companies use their platforms to advocate for causes beyond those that will benefit them, although, in the US, Uber and Lyft have both offered ‘free rides’ to polling stations during elections. 

4. The Partnership – perhaps the most traditional approach that sees a corporate partner of a charity endorse or supports a campaign by promoting it, for example, Malaria No More have used their partnerships with companies like Rentokill and Fever Tree to promote their latest voice petition to a wider audience.

A more integrated example of this might be Scope’s partnership with Virgin Media, as part of its Work With Me campaign where as well as leveraging the marketing channels that Virgin, it was also able to work alongside them to look to implement their campaign calls for employers to think and act differently about disability in the workplace.

Linked to this is a variation, The Platform, for example, Netflix recent partnership with WWF to produce the One Planet set of documentaries seems to be a perfect example of this, where a company is able to use the platform it has to provide start a conversation on an issue.

5. The Funder – when a company makes supporting activism around a specific issue or set of issues an explicit part of its mission. Good examples of this would be clothing brand Patagonia which has been an active funder and supporter of environmental campaigns for years (I remember collecting a vote for the environment sticker when I visited a store ahead of the 2004 US elections) but something that is has increased since the election of Donald Trump and as this article explore its a very deliberate strategy.

In the UK, the handmade cosmetics brand, Lush is probably the closest equivalent which has a long history of both funding activism, but also using it’s stores and platform to push campaign messages and has built campaigning into the heart of its brand as a company.

6. The Policy Pioneer – when before launch or early during a campaign a company comes out in support of a campaign ask, helping to split the pack on an issue, and providing the opportunity to demonstrate to others that it’s possible to be achieved – for example, when Sainsbury’s first committed to Fairtrade Bananas it was seen as a significant or Starbucks introducing a charge on paper cups it showed support for a ‘latte levy’.

Taking from the best 2018 US midterm tactics and approach

It’s a week or so since the mid-term elections, and political enthusiast like me can get all excited at the best tech, tactics and approaches – here is a good list. Of course, there is a world of difference between a multi-million dollar race to elect a new Senator and many of the single issue campaigns that most readers of this blog are working on.
But as I’ve written before they can provide a useful place to spot a bunch of campaigning tactics and approaches that might make their way across the Atlantic.
Here are 5 that have got me interested;
Peer-to-peer text messaging – Not new to the mid-term elections, as it was something that was talked about a lot after Bernie Sanders primary run in 2015, but the mid-terms have seen lots more campaign use platforms like Relay and Hustle, and while the law about permissions and sending text messages is different in the US (and at the same time the WhatsApp usage is lower), I still think there is something in how we engage with text that could mean its an underused tool. Potentially as much for engaging volunteers as supporters. Ted Fikes in his excellent Bright Idea email (sign up if you’ve not already) points to these findings from M+R, a US agency who used SMS heavily in the campaign to get volunteers involved.
Connecting activists – MobilizeAmerica is described as ‘akin to the restaurant-reservation service OpenTable, but for shoe-leather politics: A candidate can post an event for knocking on doors, and interested supporters can snag a spot‘ during the election it was used by more than 400 campaigns and groups, and by Thursday, they had rounded up more than 254,000 volunteers who had visited, called or texted about 19 million voters. As you’d expect from something that’s funded by a bunch of tech startups it’s got a great user experience which was then made available to lots of candidates. It’s a really great reminder that if you can make it really easy for volunteers to find out how to get involved, and you’ve got the right issue then you can expect to get lots of people involved, plus the importance of sharing tech that is going to work.
Facebook advertsMoveOn.org might have a big budget, but this use of Facebook adverts is really smart – get 2,500 voters to record films on their phones, cut them as Facebook adverts, and then push those that are most effective. I really the way that they’ve thought about hyper-targeting, and also finding messengers who are going to relate with their target audience, and then being really data lead about it. Lots that campaigning organisations, especially where we’re looking to build support in a specific constituency, could learn from this.
Building infrastructure – go back to 9th November 2016, the day after Trump won a bunch of people started to think about 2018, building infrastructure in the background that helped to secure wins. Two to mention – Run for Something actively encouraging people, especially those who’ve been historically underrepresented in politics, from standing for election – and then giving them loads of support, and Higher Ground Labs effectively acting as a venture capital fund come incubator to invest in smart tactics, platforms, and tech to help win. There is a lesson here for me in the importance of collectively doing the work to think about the wider infrastructure a movement needs rather than just leaving that to a specific campaign or political party.
Debriefing – there is a whole circuit of debriefing and learning events happening this week – this is a good list of them and many of them are open as webinars. It’s a great principle to see people committed to sharing the lessons of what worked (and didn’t work) openly with others with the hope they’ll pick up the best practice or avoid the mistakes that have been made. Something for campaigning organisations to replicate in the UK after the next general election perhaps?
Oh, and if you’ll indulge me for a moment. It’s really worth digging into some of the approaches the Beto O’Rourke campaign in Texas who got within 3% of winning took, including real and refreshing approach to transparency on outlining with his campaign plan online and a detailed statewide map of field organising goals and progress.

When is a petition, a BIG petition?

A colleague asked recently – what I’d consider a ‘big’ petition number.
Putting aside the discussion about the role of petitions in campaigning and their effectiveness, plus the reality that a big petition is so dependent on the context that it’s being used as a tactic for – if you get 1,000 people in a village of 2,000 to call on the local parish council to take action on something then I’d argue that’s a ‘big’ petition.
But given the discussion was about influencing Westminster and Whitehall, I decided to dive into the data that’s available on the Parliament Petition site. It’s a site that I’ve had misgivings about in the past, but one thing in its favor is that it does make the information really easily accessible by allowing you to download it in a format that means you can manipulate the date.
The Parliament site already sets some suggestions of what it considers to be a significant petition – if you get 10,000 people to sign you’ll get a government response, and 100,000 could mean that the petition will be considered for a debate.
So working on an assumption that anything that gets over 10,000 must at least get on the radar of the relevant Secretary of State or Minister – because presumably, the response gets put in the ministerial red box, and if it’s 100,000 they need to attend the debate, so I decided to look at every petition that had got over 10,000 signatures since the start of the current Parliament – a total of 165 petitions when Parliament went into recess for the summer (the number is now at 174).
So what did I find out?
I’ve made the whole dataset available to download here. I went through each response to code them against the government department that was asked to respond as a way of identifying who they targetted.
1 – There is a very long tail – even when you’re looking at just those petitions that get over 10,000 signatures, it’s very much the case that you find a few petitions with very large numbers of signatories – there are 4 current petitions with over 200,000 signatures.

It’s useful to look at the largest petitions that each department has received, as it gives an indication of what might be considered ‘big’, and for many departments – they’ll be the recipient of one very significant petition and lots which are closer to the initial 10,000 thresholds;

2 – Some departments receive lots more petitions than others – Officials at the Department of Health, Home Office and Department for the Environment have been kept busiest having to respond to the most petitions over the last 18 months, each dealing with over 25+ petitions, compared to just 1 for DFID, Northern Ireland Office, Minister for Equalities and Leader of the House (who had to respond to a petition about subsidised meals in the House of Commons). The average for a department is 6.

3 – Getting over 50,000 is a significant milestone – there are only 7 petitions in my dataset that are between 50,000 and 100,000, 22 which have gone beyond 100,000, and just 4 over 200,000 – so 20% get over 50,000. Of course, the challenge here is that officials and ministers are only obliged to respond when the petition hits 10,000 or 100,000, but if you’re looking for a sense of what’s a big petition then anything over 50,000 feels like it is.

4 – Looking for an average number? Then this really does differ by department, with the average number of signatures that get on to the radar of the relevant ministerial teams going from around 20,000 for departments like Transport or the MoD but up to closer to 75,000 for the Treasury and over 100,000 for BIS. The Department of Justice has the highest average of 115,000 but that’s based on just two petitions – one of which has got over 210,000 signatures.

If you’re looking for an average number across government then the mean average is 39,932 and the median average is just 18,189 – which shows the impact of the handful of very large petitions on the overall total.
5 – Other petition sites, of course, exist – this is just data from the Parliament site, and of course many petitions are set up with 38 Degrees or Change.org, as well as on agency-owned platforms, but a quick look at the petitions set up towards the FCO, a department I have a particular interest in for work, suggests that the numbers for actions on those platforms aren’t dissimilar to those on the Parliament site, but there are a few organisation petitions that are much more significant. (As an aside if anyone from change.org or 38 Degrees wants to provide me with a similar data set I’m happy to add this in!)
So what makes a big petition? Well with lot’s caveats, but from the data, I‘d suggest that anything over 50,000 could be considered a big petition to the government. It’s a clear milestone that most petitions don’t get over and it’s a number that can’t easily be dismissed as an ‘average’ number, but I’d be interested in what other readers think.

Why the 'general public' isn't an audience for your campaign

I’m on a train heading back from Birmingham where I’ve been sitting in on some focus groups that we’ve been running.
It’s been literally the most interesting few hours of my week, and I’d recommend to any campaigner that they get themselves in to view a focus group (or do their own impromptu research in the street) on occasion because it’s brilliant.
But sitting in the groups also got me to think about how as campaigners we approach audiences, it’s a theme that I picked up when I shared at the NCVO Certificate in Campaigning just before Christmas, and I thought it useful to share a few different ways I’ve been thinking about audiences.
To start with, we need to stop thinking that the ‘general public’ as an audience. It’s something I hear campaigners talk about but its such a massive audience it’s – even at election time the parties don’t target the ‘general public’ because not everyone can vote, so they’re working with a narrower audience than the public.
Instead, we need to start to think about audience in the context of what our strategy tells us that we need to achieve, and focus on who we need to be engaging, mobilising or shifting the attitudes.
Thinking about it that way and you can start to cut your audiences in a range of different ways – here is a quick guide to get you started with some common approaches;
Geographical – based on the location of your audiences, it might be that you decide that specific parliamentary constituencies are going to be important for your campaign, so you want to focus on those who live in a number of key seats. Incidentally this recent NFP Synergy research of what influences MPs highlights again the importance of smart geographical targetting as a way of building relationships in Parliament
Political Influence – this can be as narrow as those that are likely to vote for a specific political party, but it can also be the groups of the population that parties want to appeal to as they seek to win votes and support. In recent years, that means considering focusing on certain demographic groups that the parties have competing to reach, like the JAMs (Just About Managing) or ‘squeezed middle’ from recent years, or Mondeo Man or Worcester Women
Attitudes – Depending on what you’re looking to achieve, you might want to focus on the attitudes that different audiences hold on a specific issue. For example, on overseas aid, you could categorise people as supportive, swings or sceptics. On this, the risk can be that it’s very easy to spend lots of energy on either energising those that are already supportive or getting worried about the sceptics, but the value is often in focusing on the swings.
Behavioural – if you’re campaign is about volume then focusing on behaviours can be  a good place to start, if you can find a way of energising existing activists then that can be an effective way of growing numbers, but again the pitfall here can be that you can end up risk preaching to an existing choir to the detriment of presenting wider support for your campaign.
Values – there has been lots written in recent years about starting with the values and beliefs that people hold. Chris Rose writes about the role of pioneers, prospectors and settlers in his work on campaigning audiences, while Common Cause has approached this through the lens of frames + values. This isn’t always the easiest approach to get your head around, but it can be valuable for thinking more deeply about your audience.
Economic – I’m not sure that campaigners spend enough time thinking about possible economic audiences, but there can be a real influence in mobilising the grey, purple or pink £s or focusing on those who hold shares or investment in a specific company, something that Share Action do brilliantly.
I’d love to know what you are thinking about when you approach thinking about audiences for your campaign.

The legacy of Gene Sharp – some tools for campaigners

It was announced last week that Gene Sharp has passed away. If you’ve never come across the work of Sharp you should. He was one of the most important writers, thinkers and strategist on nonviolent resistance. Tim Gee has written this really nice reflection on his work and legacy.
The short pamphlet that he is most well known for is ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’ which was translated into over 40 language, and part of his many writing that influenced numerous movements around the world, including those like CANVAS in Serbia who overthrew Slobodan Milošević, many of those involved in the Arab Spring movements and many many more.
But there is a richness in his work that’s applicable for any campaigner, so I wanted to share some of three tools that Sharp developed or inspired that I’ve found especially useful to consider in campaign strategy.
1. Pillars of Support – Traditional power is thought of as a pyramid, where power flows from the top downward, but Sharp suggested that as activists we should turn the pyramid upside down, and see that power is ultimately dependent on the cooperation and obedience of large numbers of people acting through the institutions that constitute the state. These are its pillars of support.

Image from https://trainings.350.org/resource/understanding-people-power/

Those pillars can include institutions like the military and judiciary, but also media, education system and religious institutions which can support the system through their influence over culture and popular opinion. Sharp suggested that activists should focus on a target’s pillars of support, and then set about working to win over, or at least neutralize, those pillars of support so that the foundation that sustains the target begins to crumble
This is a brilliant case study of how the model can be applied to the movement for equal marriage. See more on this approach here and here. Too often I think campaigners focus on changing the position of the government, but Pillars of Support reminds me that sometimes looking beyond that can lead to impact.
2. 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action – The most comprehensive list I’ve ever come across of the “entire arsenal of nonviolent weapons” at the disposal of change makers.
Sharp listed almost 200 different approaches and classified into three broad categories: nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation (social, economic, and political), and nonviolent intervention. If you’re ever looking for campaign tactic inspiration this is a great place to start.
3. Spectrum of Allies – In campaign strategy we can too easily focus on those who are already supportive or those who are opponents, and so our campaigns are planned in a very binary manner. The Spectrum of Allies recognises that often many groups are in the middle, or those whose support or opposition is softer than it might appear.
Image from https://trainings.350.org/resource/spectrum-of-allies/

The goal of the spectrum of allies is to identify different people—or specific groups of people—in each category, then design actions and tactics to move them one wedge to the left. Once you’ve identified where different groups sit then you can start to think about how you can engage them in your campaign. See more on this approach here and here.

How we could all benefit from the 'art of gentle protest'

Some dismiss craftivism as not ‘real’ campaigning. If that’s you, I’d challenge you to read ‘How to be a Craftivist‘ by Sarah Corbett, and see if you still hold the same view after reading it.
I’ve just finished Sarah’s book, which was crowd-funded by hundreds of individuals (including me and my wife), and explores what the art of gentle protest is.
I struggle to think of a single book that looks at an approach to campaigning with such rigor and reflection. I can’t recommend it highly enough, even if you’re someone who doesn’t feels comfortable with a needle and thread in your hand.
The book is in part a how-to handbook and in another part a call to a better form of campaigning. It’s brilliantly written, and a really wonderful, uplifting, inspiring and encouraging read. If only every branch of campaigning had someone who took the time to think deeply about their campaigning craft and share it with the rest of us.
As I’ve written before that I think that we dismiss craftivism not as ‘real campaigning’ at our peril, and that’s a view I’m even more sure about after reading ‘How to be a Craftivist’.
Having finished Sarah’s manifesto, I’ve also been reflecting if all campaigners could benefit from the following 5 traits of gentle protest, whatever your preferred form of activism;
Thoughtful – Craftivism isn’t simply about making something that looks ‘nice’ – although that’s helpful. As Sarah explores in the book it’s about really thinking about what will resonate most with the target that you’re looking to influence. I love the campaign that Sarah ran with Share Action to get Marks and Spencers to pay the Living Wage.
Each activist was given a member of the board to stitch fora and was encouraged to research the board member, and stitch a hankie that contains words, images, and ideas that would resonate with them. When they were delivered many of those they handed to them engaged in meaningful conversations. That thoughtfulness in connecting into what will engage with our ‘targets’ really resonated with me. How do we help those we’re looking to influence understand the commitment we have to our issue.
Slow – So much of our campaigning is about responding quickly but in the busyness of getting our latest email action out or responding with a clever tweet. Now the book isn’t suggesting that we should stop doing ‘fast activism’ for ‘slow activism’, but instead presents a challenge. That when so many of the issues that we’re working on are big, complex and complicated, we sometimes we need to slow down to go further. To find approaches that let us reflect on where we’ve come from, and where we’d like to go.
Communal – Craft might sound like a solo activity, but around the world, the Craftivist approach has been bringing groups together. Many who join would never consider getting involved in a campaigning activity, especially a march or a protest, it’s bringing people together, getting them to find community over the act of stitching and building connections to sustain activism. But beyond that, I found the story of organising her first protest outside Primark, which saw Sarah reflect if the protest had done more to build a divide rather than a bridge, and the challenge to organise protests that open people up to engage with our message a really inspiring one.
Graceful – As a campaigner, I’ve never been asked by my MP to stop sending them issues, but Sarah has. She writes in the book about her experience of lobbying her Conservative MP. She was sending their office so many emails they asked her to stop. Instead, she took to stitching a message on a hankie to them and asking for the opportunity to meet. That helped to open up a dialogue and conversation.
I don’t get the impression for the story that Sarah has started to vote for this MP, but in a world where it’s easy to see our opponents as our enemies, it a reminder of a more graceful and generous approach to our activism. Where we see those we’re seeking to persuade as those we have more in common with.
Mindful –  I was struck throughout Sarah’s book that the approach to craftivism is a real sense of intentionality in the way in which you approaching design – from the color of material you choose to use to the messages you share. It’s a mindful intentionality that we could all learn from. But beyond the approach to design, it the constant message in Sarah’s book that you need to approach your campaigning with a mindfulness that reflects the decisions and choices you make about your campaigning.

Needed: New approaches to campaigning…

As a child I was a huge fan of Zelda – I’d play for (my parents would argue waste) hours on my Game Boy, moving Link around the island, trying to unlock the instruments that he needed to wake the Wind Fish.
What’s that got to do with campaigning?
Well with everything that’s been happening over the last year, I’ve been asking what are the new instruments that we need to find as campaigners. I know from my personal experience, that it’s easy to get stuck in using the same tactics over and over again, not least because we become comfortable with the approaches that we know, and end up having our ‘go to’ moves.
But with so much changing around us, is it time, like Link in Zelda, to search for new instruments? Here is my list of 9 new approaches that we could be exploring.
1) Craftivism – an approach that should need no introduction to regular readers of the blog, but the idea of using ‘craft as a tool for gentle activism aimed at influencing long-term change‘ is rightly getting lots of attention. And it works, just a few weeks ago I was able to see Craftivist extrodinare, Sarah Corbett, pick up an SMK Campaign award for the ‘stitch-ins’ she led to call on Marks and Spencer’s to pay the Living Wage.
2) Leaktivism – The opportunity for those on the ‘inside’ to make private information available to the public, to bring it into light – has seen a number of high-profile examples in the last few years, not least the publication of the Panama Papers which has put new energy behind the conversation on tax avoidance. This guide has some really useful suggestions about how organisations can support whistleblowers.
3) Laughtivism – ‘the strategic use of humor and mocking by social nonviolent movements in order to undermine the authority of an opponent, build credibility, break fear and apathy and reach target audiences’. Used by Srdja Popovic and the CANVAS movement in Serbia, but also by the Yes Men. See more in this Ted Talk.
4) Legal Activism – the use of the legal system to bring about change – used brilliantly by Client Earth, a group of activist lawyers who are committed to a healthy planet, who took the government to court and won over its failure to tackle illegal air pollution, and helped to push the debate about the need for action on air quality firmly on the agenda of politicians.
5) Archive activism – I stumbled across the story of Charles Francis, a self-described ‘archive activist’ recently. Francis has used Freedom of Information requests in the US to demonstrate the discrimination faced by homosexual men working for the US Government in the 1950s/60s, and securing pardons and apologies for them. The dedication of using this approach to bring information into the public domain is a powerful reminder of the usefulness of Freedom of Information as a camapign tool.
6) Data Activism – as with archive activism, with so much information and data now available in the public domain, is there opportunities to use this to challenge power structures. While I Quant New York is an amazing site, it does more than just produce neat maps, it’s run by Ben Wellington, who has used open data to highlight issues like the fact that the NY Police Department has been ticketing legally parked cars. What else is out there in open data that can be challenged?
7) Meme activism – I was in a session recently with a group of teachers. It was fascinating, but one thing that they shared stands out. It was that for most of the kids they teach, many of them get their news and information about issues through memes. Memes are powerful ways to spread ideas, but how many of us are using them to communicate our messages? As this post suggests they could be a powerful tool in our arsenal.
8) Shareholder activism – Shareholders can influence a corporation’s behaviour by exercising their rights as owners, so organisations like Share Action use their AGM Army to do just that, and it works. In 2016, ShareAction supported 102 different people to ask 121 questions at 84 AGMs, with many companies then engaging in dialogue around issues.
9) Investigative Journalism – A recent advert for a job at the Greenpeace Investigations unit caught my eye. They’re a team inside a great campaigning organisation, equipped with all the tools and approach of a journalist, but with a mission to support the campaigns the organisation is running. It’s similar to work of the independent Bureau of Investigative Journalists. With the budgets of newspapers being cut, these are new ways of bringing stories into the public domain.

After Article 50. Some questions for Remain campaigners

Last Wednesday, Article 50 was triggered, and already the papers are full of headlines about the return of Blue Passports (and worse). It’s getting me wound up.
But over the last week, I’ve found myself on a few occasion lamenting the apparent lack of any effectively organised campaign against ‘hard’ Brexit, and quietly getting frustrated about the March for Europe last Saturday which saw tens of thousands of people on the streets of London, but seemed like a missed opportunity to kick start something.
I don’t know who was behind the March for Europe – it wasn’t Open Britain, the group that’s trying to continue the legacy of the Stronger In campaign – but perhaps that speaks to the disjointed nature of what’s become of the Remain campaign.
So I wanted to offer a few reflections/questions for those involved in the March for Europe. Sorry if it’s a bit of a rant –  I’d welcome comments or feedback about what others reading this think.
What’s the Theory of Change to stop a ‘hard Brexit’? At the heart of every campaign is a theory of change (see this short video for more), which is designed to help you to make the connections between what you’re doing and the change you want to see.
If I’m honest, I’m still not sure what those who organised the march on Saturday wanted to achieve. I realise it was timed to coincide with the issuing of Article 50 and the 60th anniversary of the EU – so perhaps it was simply a show of strength, but it didn’t feel like it had any clear theory of change.
The question I’m asking is will we win the concessions we want in the Brexit negotiations on the streets of Whitehall on a Saturday, or in High Streets across the country? My sense is that we might push back some of the worst of Brexit if we can demonstrate to MPs who voted Remain (especially Conservative ones) that there is a political risk for them to back a ‘hard’ Brexit.
With the Parliamentary arithmetic as it is, those antagonised backbench MPs will be some of the most effective advocates we have for the issues – channelling the anxiety to Number 10 and others, that this will cost votes/seats at the next election. It’s a tactic that we’ve already seen anti-Trump campaigners use effectively on Healthcare in the US, where moderate Republicans felt they couldn’t back (more on that in a moment) as a result of pressure.
Was a demonstration the most appropriate tactic to use at this time? History is a testament to the fact that marches have a role to play in delivering change. But in campaigning, you always have to make decisions about the allocation of scarce resources, and organising marches are resource intensive activities. They require money to pay for stewards, effort and energy to mobilise people to turn up, and much more – they are huge operations.
Sometimes there can be really good reasons to march – I’ve written about some here – and sometimes a march can be about coming together to bear witness or be in solidarity with others – something I felt strongly when I joined the Women’s March following the inauguration of Donald Trump. But did anyone ask if this was the most useful tactic to use given the resources available?
Who was the audience? Looking at the images of the marches I have a concern – it seemed designed only to appeal to those who define themselves as Progressives or New Britain’s – groups that research shows aren’t close to equally a majority of the population. That’s understandable – I looked to buy an EU Flag ahead of the referendum vote – but winning change will need to build a coalition that is bigger than the 48% who voted Remain.
Concessions will need to be secured with the support of those who voted for Brexit and I’m not sure they’re likely to be attracted to a cause which was so vividly wrapping itself in the European flag.
Human nature suggests that telling people that the way they voted was wrong (even if you think they are) isn’t likely to attract others to your cause and as this research shows movements are more likely to win if ‘various classes, ethnicities, ages, genders, geographies and other social categories are represented’.
What happens next to those who came? Across the pond, the election of Donald Trump has led to a similar outpouring of activist energy, so I wonder if there is learning from those behind the Indivisible campaign in the US. They’ve taken the model that the Tea Party used during the first term of Obama’s presidency and turned it on its head, and it’s already having success, for example pushing back the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
There focus is unashamedly local, they realise they won’t win with lots of people putting pressure in the right places, by turning up at the public ‘Town Halls’ that representatives hold, or bombarding Representatives with phone calls – they’re also making some fairly nifty tech for it.
So what is happening next to everyone who marched on Saturday – the last thing that needs to happen is all those people return home thinking they’ve done their bit. Who is creating a UK equivalent of Indivisible to move this from the streets of London?

How to – Organise a supporter Lobby of Parliament

Some of my excellent team at Save the Children have spent the last 3 months organising a lobby of Parliament in support of our Big Futures early years campaign calling for more invest in nursery teachers.
Yesterday, we had an amazing day with over 60+ supporters coming along, meeting with there MPs and talking about the campaign ahead of the budget. It was a brilliant day.
As with so much of campaigner there isn’t really a written down guide to ‘how you go about organising a supporter lobby of Parliament’ so in an effort to readdress that, and also because my ‘How to organise a Downing Street petition handover’ has proven to be popular, here are a few lessons;
1. Set the date well in advance – lobbies of Parliament take lots of work to organise so if at all possible give yourselves at least 3 months to plan it. As you set the date do a quick to check to see if anyone has planned to do a lobby on the same day. Sometimes that can’t be avoided but if other big events are taking place it means it’s likely to be busy.
2. Get in touch with Serjeant of Arms Officethey’re responsible for what happens in and around the House of Commons, so it’s good for them to know what you’ve got planned,  but be careful of the language that you use when describing your event with them! I’d avoid describing it as a ‘mass lobby’ as that conjures up specific images of 1000s of people (if you’re going to have 1000s of supporters coming along I’d strongly recommend you get help.
3. Wednesday is a great day to do a lobby of Parliament – if you’ve got some flexibility in when you can hold your lobby, try to do it on a Wednesday as that the day most MPs are around. Aiming to catch MPs after Prime Ministers Questions is a good opportunity to arrange meetings.
4. Holding a briefing. Do it outside Parliament – There are lots of great spaces in and around Westminster that you can use, including the Mother’s Union, Abbey Centre and Westminster Central Hall. Using a space outside means that supporters who aren’t familiar with Parliament get an opportunity to meet with you and your team, and you can run through any last minute updates with supporters, and provide an base for the day if people have meetings with MPs at different times throughout the day.
5. You can’t follow up with your supporters enough  – Just because someone has said they are coming doesn’t mean that they are. We found that big phone banks where staff joined together to call through all the supporters who’d RSVPd was really effective way to do this. Keeping in touch with your supporters also helps them overcome point 6.
6. Arranging meetings with MPs can take persistence – Some MPs run really efficient and effective offices, but we’ve found that most supporters need to follow up with their MPs on a few occasions before they could secure a meeting, often by phoning them as well as sending emails. This includes having the facilities for supporters to phone MPs on the day.
7. It always takes ages to get through security – it’s a truth universally acknowledged that getting in via the main entrance always take time. So make sure you factor in time for that in any programme. Nothing is worse than missing a meeting because you’re in a queue. Also, if you’ve got supporters travelling some distance, remind them that they can’t take anything that wouldn’t get through airport security into Parliament.
8. Leave a ‘Green Card’ – If a supporter comes along without a meeting, and even after phoning on the day, they still can’t get a meeting, then it is possible to go to Central Lobby and ‘Green Card’ their MP. In former times, Parliamentary convention means that any MP who got a ‘Green Card’ would come and meet there constituent, but now it’s more of a ‘I called but you weren’t in’ way of getting a message across!
9. Have lots of staff around to help supporters – we found having staff located in strategic places within the Palace of Westminster was really helpful for looking out for supporters before/after meetings. Just because you’re used to heading into Parliament don’t assume that your supporters will be. It’s a imposing, inspiring, and bewildering building for many.
10. Make sure you provide talking points, and something to leave with MPs – You’ve briefed supporters in person, and on paper. Great. But you wouldn’t send your CEO into a lobby meeting without a set of talking points. So don’t do the same with your supporters. Also have something they can leave with the MP, ideally with local statistics which show the impact of your asks, and clear requests of what you want them to do next. It’s a good way of ensuring that your key asks don’t get forgotten.
11. Capture feedback on the day – You want to be in a position to learn how the meetings have gone. So produce a feedback form supporters can complete, and make it clear how you want supporters to pass it onto you. This is where point 9 comes into its own – but reiterating the role for feedback you know what MPs have committed to do.
12. You can’t say thank you enough afterwards – your supporters have just done something amazing for you and your organisation. So make sure you thank them. We offered everyone who came to our lobby a tour of Parliament at the end of the day and they’ll all be getting a hand written note as well.

The Parliament Petition Site – a missed opportunity

At the time of writing the petition to Prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the United Kingdom has reached 1,500,000 signatures – and I’m sure by the time you read this it’ll have grown further.( This site is a nice for tracking how quickly they’re growing).
And while it’s great that people are finding out an outlet for their anger at the policies of Donald Trump, every time I see a House of Commons Petition get shared I’m always frustrated that it’s probably not directing people’s views in the best way.
For me, the site feels as much as an attempt to dissuade people from emailing their MP than a real tool for change. That’s a missed opportunity.
From the launch of the petition website in 2010, I’ve been critical about it’s purpose, and while it’s improved under the guidance of the Petition Committee, watching the numbers tick up today on the Donald Trump petition has once again reminded me of some of the limitations of the site.
1 – The can create a debate but do they change policy? While any petition that get’s over 100,000 signatures is considered for a debate in Parliament, not all do end up getting debated (46 have since the 2015 election), and even then the debate almost always takes place in Westminster Hall (which is seen as a secondary debating chamber).
So while they debates can be good opportunities for MPs to put their views on the record, the outcome is unlikely to change government policy, there are a few examples of the opposite but they’re rare when you consider the number of people who’ve signed petitions in the last 12 months.
While those of us who run campaigns on other platforms might not see that as ‘our’ problem, its bad for all of us, because it undermines our claims that taking action can deliver change.
2 – They don’t channel energy productively. The petition on Trumps visit is a great example of try to harness stop energy but because the petition site has no function to develop a supporter journey that energy doesn’t go anywhere else. If you sign a petition the only other email you’ll get it as notification of if it’s been successful or not. It’s hardly a way of turning people into engaged citizens.
3 – I can’t see any evidence that the petition signatures get noticed by MPs – I know that some of the petitions get debated (46 so far, with another 300+ getting a response from Government) so will be picked up by some, but the way that the information is expressed on the site (with the exception of this map) doesn’t do anything to show specific MPs what their constituents think about an issue.  It feels like a missed opportunity.
Now the site isn’t going to go away and as I’ve suggested before with MPs growing tired of ’email your MP’ actions it could be an effective way to channel views of constituents.
So what could be done to make it more user friendly? Here are a few suggestions;
1 – Make it easier to connect MPs with constituency level information – while data is available on a constituency level, it’s not easy for any MP to find out how many people are signing in their patch. To address this, it could be a tool that displays the number of signatures on a petition per constituency, or ranks the most popular petitions in a constituency. It’d be a dynamic way to help MPs see what their constituents actually think.
2 – Find ways of getting real Parliamentary champions to back the petitions – although petitions that go to debate get an MP allocated to it (normally a member of the Petition Committee), I’ve not seen any real evidence that those MPs are really passionate about ensuring that the demands of the petitions are actively pushed – for some doing that would go against the position of their party. But many MPs are passionate about issues, so why not connect those MPs with the issues they’ve long worked on event if they’re not on the Petition Committee.
3 – Ensure any petition that gets over 100,000 signatures get raised directly with a Minister – rather than just a Westminster Hall debate, the most issues raised in the most popular petitions could be raised in the relevant Ministerial Question Time. Taking that a step further, when the Prime Minister comes to the Liaison Committee could they be asked about the issues raised in the top petition in that period.
4 – Allow third party sites to submit petitions – at the moment you can only submit your petition, but what about working with Change.org, Care2 or other digital providers to allow for petitions signed on those sites to be submitted. It would incentives organisations. In the US, the White House under Obama worked to develop an API that allowed people to contribute to their petitions site via third party sites.