ChatGPT: A Revolutionary Tool for Political Communication and Influence?

It’s almost becoming a cliché, but it seems that you need to start any post on ChatGPT or another similar A.I (Artificial Intelligence) tool by sharing what it has suggested you should say!

I’ve not done that, although there is one part of this blog that has been informed by using the tool – more on that below.

I’m not going to lie – I’m a little freaked out when thinking about what new A.I. tools will mean for us, but as David Karpf said in this really helpful seminar on the implications of ChatGPT for political campaigning, this is potentially one of the most game-changing technologies that we’ve seen in campaigning in the last decade so it’s not something that you can just pretend to ignore.

So what does it mean for campaigners?

Here are 5 quick thoughts from a brief exploration of ChatGPT;

  1. It’s not going to take our jobs for now – I love this article from Future Advocacy which looks at how ChatGPT performs when presented with regular activities that will come across the desk of a campaigner.

    It’s quite clear that the tool currently isn’t able to replicate the insight and knowledge that comes from a curiosity about how change happens which is the key to being a successful campaigner.

    For example, it’s not able to pick up on the nuance and subtlety that is often needed in the development of campaign strategies. And because it uses the information that it’s been fed with, it’s not able to come with innovation or novel approach – ask it to develop a campaign strategy and it’ll share a range of ideas you’d probably think about – although it’ll do that in second not hours.

    And when it comes to messaging – it’s rather good at producing cliches, but those can quickly demonstrate a lack of authenticity that’s often needed for communications to cut through.

    It has some clear limitations – for now.
  2. But it could certainly help in automating some processes for campaigners – there are probably a whole set of regular tasks where it could be helpful for campaigners.

    Think about the challenge that some MPs have with campaigners producing the same pro-forma campaign email to them – could ChatGPT help to take information from a constituent and then produce a unique email response? (see this from Rally who tried just that).

    Or the optimisation of adverts on social media platforms – it’s very easy to see how ChatGPT could help to produce different advert copy that could accelerate the optimisation process.

    Or could ChatGPT be used to help in filtering and replying to responses to submissions to survey, applications for volunteer roles, or grant applications?

  3. And that raises some important discussions about ethics that need to happen – this is a whole post in itself – about the inherent bias in the tool, the transparency of the outputs, and the motivates of those behind ChatGPT, but practically this is a conversation that is already emerging in the publishing industry where publishers are starting to be clear where they are and aren’t going to be using ChatGPT.

    Campaigners are also going to need to be clear about how they’re using ChatGPT and be transparent about that with those they’re sharing the outputs with. As I said above, this article is all my own work, but I did ask ChatGPT for some help on the title of the blog.

  4. This is where it probably is useful for now – as a starting point for research or ideas – as a tool it can be great as a starting point if you’re stuck and looking for ideas – like brainstorming title for a blog post, or an email subject line, or providing the initial outline of what you might want to include in a briefing note, or summarising an existing policy report or debate in Parliament, or helping you to organise a complex data set – the outputs might not be perfect, and certainly need a human to look over the output, but it’s a powerful tool to help to get you started.

  5. And it’s certainly going to fuel misinformation and disinformation – everyone has access to A.I tool, and it’s almost certainly the case that it’s already being used to pursue disinformation – see this for some examples of how it’s already being used in the US. If this is what the tools are able to develop and generate in just 6 months, so it’s likely that as it becomes more ‘smart’ that – for example, it’s already the case that A.I can take audio of someone speaking and turn it into a speech generator which you can program – so you can imagine the rise of deep fakes of politican supposedly saying something they’ve never said.

    That’s going to raise some important challenges for campaigners which we can’t just ignore – about how you both deal with the effects of disinformation campaigns but also help to encourage critical thinking, and support activities that help to counter polarisation in society.

Using Freedom of Information as a campaign tool

I’m running a session later today at the Campaign Bootcamp Communities of Resistance conference on using Freedom of Information (FoI) as a campaigning tool.

This post is a summary of the session, with links to a few useful resources. The slides from the session are below and can be viewed here.

While Whitehall has grown more hostile to FoI requests – Tony Blair famously said it was one of the biggest mistakes he had from his time in government – if used effectively it can still be a useful tool for campaigners.

As a reminder, Freedom of Information isn’t a tool you need to be a legal expert to use, it’s designed to be used to everyone, which means;

  1. You can use it to ask for any recorded information held by or on behalf of any authority.
  2. Applies to all public authorities – national and local. The list of who you can make a request to is really comprehensive.
  3. You need to make a request in writing, but sites like can really help.
  4. Requests are free to make – but there are limits on how much time any authority has to spend in its response to you.
  5. You don’t have to explain why you’re making a request.
  6. You should get an answer in 20 days – but the reality is that the time scale is longer.
  7. You can specify the format you want to get the information in.
  8. There are some grounds when your request might be turned down.

There is lots more on how to make requests in this guide from the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

And looking around there are lots of ways that campaigning organisations are using Freedom of Information. Here is a helpful typology of approaches, although I’m sure I’m missing some – so please do add in the comments below;

Opposition ResearchFind out what your opponent is doing – it could be to identify who they’re meeting with, access records of relevant meetings or documents. See this from Greenpeace.
Policy ReportCollect information from a range of targets/institutions to create a data set that you can use in a policy report, for example see here.
Media StoryCreate a headline figure for your press release to support your campaign aims – can also use a refusal to provide a FoI to make a media story. See this from my colleagues at Save the Children.
Fact CheckerBuild evidence to challenge or refute arguments that are regularly used against your campaign – for example here on a story on low traffic neighbourhoods.
Campaign EvaluationUnderstand how your target has responded to your campaign – to identify how many actions received, or how they decided to respond to your requests. 
IntrigueTo get answers to questions that intrigue you – who knows what you might discover.

If you’re looking to make a request I’d strongly recommend using, but here are some useful tips for making your request.

  1. Check first – if the information has been previously released under Freedom of Information publication scheme.
  2. Be concise – remember you can be turned down if you ask for too much information.
  3. Be clear – don’t use acronyms or jargon – the official responding might not be an expert.
  4. Be focused – provide details of date ranges or specific departments/individuals you’re interested in.

Finally, if you’re looking for more resources I’d recommend;

How could the pandemic change our future approach to campaigning

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our lives, but what scenarios might we want to consider about how the pandemic will change our approach to campaigning?

Using the 2×2 Scenarios approaches from Save the Children’s Strategic Foresight Toolkit: Making better decisions, I’ve had a go at creating four contrasting scenarios to help to debate how we might need to change our approach to campaigning.

Normally, you’d use this tool to look at scenarios for the next 10+ years, but given the current situation, this feels like a useful tool for the coming months (and even as I’ve written them they change!).

Importantly these are not predictions, but rather they aim to offer interesting images of the future. My hope is to use them to explore and prompt discussions and debate with colleagues, but I’m sharing here should they be useful for others.

I used these four possible scenarios from Zukunftsinstitut to help get my thinking going, and this from Nesta is also helpful in highlighting some key trends.

Scenario 1 – A closing space
The public is reluctant to gather together for protest or marches as a combination of restrictions on unplanned public gatherings continue (there are different rules for established sporting fixtures), and the ongoing messages about limiting social contact.

Parliament puts limits on the size and scale of events that can be held to no more than 50 or 100, making lobby days or similar at Parliament hard to organise, and ongoing guidance about public gatherings and traveling on public transport makes bringing smaller groups of campaigners together in person harder to do.

Many national and local newspapers have closed during the COVID-19 due to a combination of advertising revenue and circulation of newspapers has fallen to unviable levels – this has removed important opportunities to hold decision-makers to account but to also amplify local views. Most of us now get our news from social media influencers or increasingly partisan online news sites. 

Some governments are using the pandemic to place further restrictions on the operations of civil society organisations and using it to further restrict the ability to advocate and influence. Campaigners have to learn from those movements that have thrived and survived under hostile governments in the past.

Scenario 2 – Back to the future
Parliament returns, with the Conservative government and its 100+ seat majority in Parliament. The government has to focus on an economic agenda that it didn’t anticipate when it was elected, as the country has fallen into a deep recession, but it was seen to be doing an effective job by most of the pubic during the crisis, who are thus largely supportive of their policies, including cutting back some of those introduced during the crisis. Brexit is back on the agenda, but a secondary priority to managing the economic impact of the crisis.

Many MPs and decision-makers fall back on the method and approaches they used – citing the desire to want to show that we’re ‘returning to normal’ as a reason to drop the approaches they’ve taken during the lockdown.  The virtual Parliament has come to an end.

We’re waiting for the US presidential elections, but the ongoing dysfunction in global institutions have continued to stall international cooperation. The rearranged COP summit on climate in Glasgow is seen as a moment where the UK government will aim to demonstrate that the country is moving forward – putting the focus back on the climate emergency. 

Scenario 3 – A digital leap forward? 
Remote working from home becomes increasingly normal for those who can, with that adjusting the way that we also connect with businesses and institutions, with the expectation that we’ll be able to video call, someone, as opposed to just a voice call – including campaigning groups and charities. 

This move to digital is also subtly changing the nature of local community, with the result of Mutual Aid groups being that individuals are more connected to their immediate neighbors through community WhatsApp groups or similar, as over 30% of have been part of a local community response group – but we’re less engaged in wider institutions, especially those which haven’t been able to adjust to the new digital expectations – this further narrows the perspectives and opinions many are exposed to.

Through lockdown, many MPs and decision-makers have moved to new methods to continue to engage with, for example, virtual surgeries, or being more accessible through social media is a norm. That continues with MPs increasingly using the approaches their lockdown approaches for ongoing interactions – that opens up possibilities and opportunities, for example, more and more digital roundtables with MPs or Ministers, but also creates a further digital divide for those who do not have access to computers or reliable data connection. Elements of the virtual Parliament continue – like electronic voting.

Scenario 4 – A great shake-up
As with past public health crises, COVID-19 sparks a desire from the public for far-reaching reforms, securing many of the policy changes that were announced during the crisis, but also more, as a result of a government ‘in the market’ for other ideas and approaches.

Think tanks and other policy institutes are in demand, with requests for new ideas to help to respond to the social, economic and health crisis that coronavirus has caused. Policies that just a year ago were thought to be unrealistic or improbable are now considered. 

The connections made in communities through mutual aid groups continue, with a closing of the ‘empathy gap’ as individuals reflect on the importance of having strong community ties. This leads to a growing interest in campaigning and advocating on local issues – with a big focus on councils and mayors as local bodies that are seen to be most responsive. As a result, further devolution gives mayors and councils more power to make decisions and enact policy. 

What do you think? What seems likely or unlikely? What might this mean for your approach to campaigning?

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.

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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.
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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.

Why it's time for campaigners to take digital security seriously…

While my password is more sophisticated than ‘password’ – you might laugh but a recent article by suggested that’s a very common password – I know I’ve not spent enough time thinking about protecting myself online.
But with news of the hacking of the Clinton campaign, an awareness of how much information that I produce is held in ‘the cloud’, and reading stories like this about a sophisticated attempt to create a fake campaign group to hack the IT systems of organisations like Amnesty who had been raising concerns about workers rights in QatarI’ve started to think that I need to consider taking my digital more security more seriously.
As campaigners, we’re often working on issues where there are powerful vested interests that we’re opposing, so making sure that we’re thinking about our data security should be on our to do list. Attending CampaignCon in October it was interesting just how many campaigners at the conference were talking about it as a key concern for the work they’re doing.
For many campaigners, it’s a challenge to get the balance right. We want to collaborate with others which makes platforms like Dropbox and Google Doc invaluable, we need to use social media channels like Twitter and Facebook to get our messages out, and investing in complex cyber security can feel like an unnecessary cost when every penny counts..
It’s easy to think that you only have to worry about your digital security if you’re running some campaign on the arms trade, or in a country with a repressive government. But that’s before you start to investigate the powers that governments have over our data (see the recent Investigatory Powers Bill/Snoopers Charter passed in the UK last) or consider what new laws President Trump might implement and what that would mean for any data held in the ‘cloud’ on a US server.
2017 is the year that cyber and data security need to be every campaigners concern.
If that’s not enough to convince you – at a time when elements of the media are looking for charity scandals making sure that you’re no unwittingly writing a front page story is another reason to revisit those social media permissions.
I’m no expert at how to do this, but I’ve found the following articles really helpful as an introduction to thinking about digital security – but please do add other thoughts in the comment box below.
Step 1 – Start with some light housekeeping – I found this article from Owen Barder really helpful. It’s nothing complicated, but making sure that you’ve got two-step authentication set up, are using a password manager and thinking about where you store key information are some simple and easy steps to take.
Step 2 – Think about encryptionThis is a really helpful guide to thinking about how you can tread more lightly when you’re using the internet. Again, nothing that requires lots of technical expertise, but it’s got some really useful suggestions about how to search in private or use secure message platforms like Signal to share.
Step 3 – Consider a digital detox – If you’re concerned about Google actually knowing more about you that your best friend thanks to your search history, use of Google Maps, etc. Have a look at the Digital Detox that Tactical Tech have launched. Again its’s full of really simple and easy steps you can take to take back control of your digital self
Step 4 – Review your campaigns risk – Clearly every campaign comes with a different level of risk attached to it, but this articles from Mobilisation Lab really helpful. I found thinking about this made me consider what information I’m sharing information with on email or who is on those big mailing lists I’m sharing my latest campaign dilemmas with.
Step 5 – Dive in to find out more – The Tactical Tech Collective is a brilliant place for anyone wanting to learn more about digital security – there Security in a Box project while designed for frontline human rights defenders has lots of practical ideas.
Please do use the comments box to share others thoughts, ideas and resources. 

How Theory of Change can help your campaign win gold

Suggesting campaigners spend some time thinking about Theory of Change doesn’t normally elicit the same energising response that cheering on Team GB in the Olympics does!
So while I’ve been spending the last two weeks watching the Olympics, it’s got me thinking about winning and the approach that UK Sport has taken to ensure this was our greatest ever Olympics.
It strikes me that they have an incredibly clear theory of change about how they we’re going to approach Rio 2016 and build on the success from London 2012.
But what could campaigners learn from the rush of medals Team GB has won in the last fortnight?
Alongside other colleagues at Bond, we’ve been working with Jenny Ross to produce resources on Theory of Change which we hope will help to provide a useful introduction, and encourage more campaigners to use it as an approach.
Theory of Change is a key approach for any campaigner who is serious about winning to take, but one I think many of us shy away from as it’s been built up into that’s impenetrably complicated, so we hope that this video and accompany resource will help to make it more accessible.

So drawing on the lessons from the success of Team GB here are a few thoughts on how theory of change can help you approach planning your campaigning;
1. Be clear on what success looks – It’s simplistic to suggest that all Olympic athletes are going for Gold. Yes that’s what they want to achieve, but many realise it’s unlikely, but for sports that UK Sport funds it’s clear on how many medals they’re looking to achieve.
Using Theory of Change can help you be clear on what your specifically looking to achieve and be able to articulate it for all those your working with.
2. Map out the route to success – Listen to any of the Olympians and they’ve been successful by building up to the competition in Rio. It has come about through months and years of planning and meeting milestones on the way – achieving certain targets in training, winning an important competition, etc.
In the same way using Theory of Change can help you to set out what the progress on the way that you expect to see before winning the overall change – it helps you to map out the goals that you need me to meet on the way.
3. Challenge your assumptions – One of the issues where UK Sport has been criticised is the way it ruthlessly allocates resources to sports where it believes it has a medal opportunity, even when they’re unpopular. It’s a harsh approach but one which clearly produces results by making sure resources are going to the right place.
In Theory of Change, we’re asked to test our assumptions and to make sure that the resources we have are being allocated in the most effective way to deliver the outcome – just because we’ve always done something doesn’t mean we should continue to do it.
4. Look for marginal gains – Those being Team GB success in the velodrome are famous for a focus on marginal gains, which is all about small incremental improvements in any process adding up to a significant improvement when they are all added together. It means when it comes to winning nothing is left un-investigated.
Theory of Change asks us to think about the context within which we’re working, and what that will mean for the work. To investigate and consider all the factors that might help or hinder us on our route to winning.
5. Reflect, review and repeat –  Listen to the interviews with officials in UK Sport and they’re already planning for Tokyo 2020, building on the success and learning of the last 16 days.
It should be the same with Theory of Change, it isn’t just a document to be produced and forgotten. It should be a living document that responds and reacts to – looking forward to the next opportunity.

To petition or not to petition

One of the fun parts of my job is that occasionally people come to me to ask for advice about the best campaigning tactic to use. (Let me know if I can bring my campaign advice clinic to you – I’m serious).
A few months ago, an organisation approached me asking if they should launch a petition for their latest campaign. Its a good question, in the days when petitions with 200,000 names in hours feels like a regular occurrence, where to start can appear daunting.
Here are a few thoughts that I shared.
1. It’s not simply about the numbers – Over the last few years we’ve been experience an petition arms race. Some groups are able to rapidly mobilise 100,000s of people to sign a petition. Looking at those numbers it can feel intimidating to start a petition, but when it comes to petitions, size doesn’t always matter.
Instead its about being clear about what your looking to demonstrate with the petition, a well targeted petition with a few thousand names can also be effective, or adopting a more creative approach which Scope have used brilliantly. Having said that, petitions that linger on a few thousand names probably aren’t the most effective way of influencing change.
2. Remember a petition is just a tactic – campaigning isn’t just about getting more names on a petition, its about change and other tactics are available. Identify and be clear what role your petition is going to have in delivering your change outcome. Saying, we’re doing it because we’ve always done it, isn’t an especially good reason.
Be clear are you looking for your petition to put the issue on the agenda by showing public support, or providing a target with a public mandate to do something (‘over 20,000 people have called on me to’) or demonstrate solidarity with those impacted by a policy change, or something else.
Remember opportunity cost, I’m yet to find a campaign that isn’t resource constrained. So if you decide to do a petition then you need to consider what tactic or tactics you can’t deploy as a result. Check you can’t achieve your outcome through other means.
3. Be clear on how long you want to run the petition for – I think you get two types of petitions at the moment, the ‘short-term and focused’ petition which is linked to a specific moment or policy change that your looking for (this is the bread and butter of platforms like and will be most effective if it can highlight a particular individual your looking to target, or the ‘long term and broad’ petition which can run over several months, which can have a wider policy ask, the One Campaign use these really well.
Both can have a role, the later can be repackaged to respond to different opportunities, while the former probably has a much tighter shelf life but can help to provide a opportunity for people to respond to something in the news.
4. If you do it, do it well – There is a not-so-secret source behind the formula that 38 Degrees, Avaaz and use. They show a clear link between the petition and the result your looking for.
So be specific and realistic in what your asking for, make the most of an crisistunity (that might mean holding back launching your petition until a moment when the media is interested in your issue), and have a compelling reader focused theory of change (if you do this, then we can do this, which means this will happen). The model of ensuring a strong personal narrative from the petition starter is also a brilliant approach.
5. Make it easy to sign – remember not everyone is going to sign on to your petition from a desktop computer. Make sure your petition is mobile friendly, or go old school and have it available as a paper petition as well. Check that you’ve thought about the supporter journey after they’ve signed your petition. Can you use the signer to be a multiplier? When will you feedback to them about the impact it’s having? Can you invite them to take another action on your behalf? But please, and I’m a purest on this, don’t just run the petition to collect names for your next fundraising push.
6. It’s what you do with it that matters – Think about how you use the petition to leverage more profile for your campaign. The approach ensure that the petition has at least 3 media moments, the launch, when it hits a significant number and then the handover. Make sure your plan a handover that will lead to a great photo which you can use in the media or with supporters, or use hitting a sigificant number to launch a policy briefing off the back of it.

What happens when you handover a campaign postcard?

A while ago, one of my colleagues got to speak to a former ministerial Special Advisor (SPAD) to find out what really happens to all those campaign postcards we send to a government department.
My experience from running the Campaign Totals project over the last few years indicates that every department does things slightly differently, but here are five useful reflections from that conversation;
1. All correspondence goes to the correspondence unit. There’s no mechanism to make anyone outside the unit aware of it. However SPADs and Ministers can enquire about what the public’s writing in about, and SPADs in particular are likely to make sure they do as a good way to keep in touch.
2. Ministers will sign and read replies to letters or emails from MPs, and usually from directors of NGOs (sometimes from other senior staff) and will also read the incoming correspondence at the same time. That’s the only correspondence they’ll usually see.
3. The department may choose to post a reply to a public campaign on its website, usually if a SPAD says they should. That’s a good way to see what they think is worth taking notice of.
4. It works well for an NGO CEO to write to a minister to say how many campaign messages they’ve received and say what they’re asking the minister to do.
5. Hand-ins are a very good way to get a minister’s attention, if something is personally handed over to them. They’re more likely to agree if they think the photo will get good media coverage, and if there’s a celebrity involved, or someone who is seen as a celebrity by a particular audience. A hand-in with no minister present won’t come to a minister’s attention (unless you got media coverage for it).
What other insights do readers of the blog have about how to ensure your campaign postcards get noticed after a handover? 

Remember Kony2012?

It was less than 6 months ago that everyone was talking about Joseph Kony.
The result of the unprecedented success of Invisible Children’s Kony2012 film that was viewed by millions. Now the dust has settled what can we learn from the success of the film?
The International Broadcasting Trusts report, ‘Kony 2012 – Success or Failure’ is one of the first pieces of research that I’ve come across that have spoken to those behind the film and looked at the reasons for its success.
I was able to attend a presentation by the report’s author Sophie Chalk earlier in the month.
Here are few reflections.
1. Know your grassroots, know your message – Invisible Children did up to 3,000 presentations to colleges, churches and youth groups in the year leading up to the release of the film. It provided a huge grassroots already motivated and prepared to share the film.
Repeated over the last 7 years, it means that the organisation had a very finely tuned message, a result of speaking to over 3 million people face-to-face and knowing exactly what would work with their target audience.
How many other organisations have that level of knowledge about their audience built over such intense engagement?
2. Word of mouth matters – Sophie shared figures from SocialFlow, who found that in the first week of the video being launched that the ‘average’ viewer was a 14 – 18 year old girl, but by the end of the first week it was men over 40. Her theory is that this was the result of daughters sharing the film with their parents at the weekend.
Sophie also suggests that one of the reasons for its success was that sharing and talking about the film was seen as a ‘cool’ thing to do, as Ben Keesey from Invisible Children says in the report it got ‘hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young people around the world having conversations about international justice’.
3. Follow up matters – Given the success of the film, the follow-up action to ‘Cover the Night’ on 20th April was a flop. 300,000 people registered to go out into their communities and make Kony famous by putting up posters in their communities, but in the end this hardly happened at all.
I was in Washington DC at the time, expecting to see hundreds of posters on the Saturday morning, but in reality only encountered a handful of them.
The report shares firsthand some of the challenge that Invisible Children faced. That they found that they couldn’t maintain electronic communications because their servers literally went into ‘meltdown’ as a result of the number of requests that they received.
As a result, they weren’t able to keep even some of the momentum behind the film going, sending out only a handful of communications in the weeks after the film was released. A stark demonstration of what happens when you can’t keep following up with those you’ve got interested in your campaign.
4. Keep innovating – Sophie concludes that one of the lessons behind the success of Kony 2012 was tactic of getting people to ask celebrities to send it round. It was one of the first time this tactic had been used. But as the report points out it really worked, for example on the day that Oprah tweeted the film the viewing figures jumped from 600,000 to 9 million,
Karin Brisby who was interviewed for the report says ‘It was not only sharing with friends but also with online celebrities… people like sending things to celebrities on Twitter, it’s like “I’m talking to this person”…..It’s not something NGOs do a lot – like send this message to a particular celebrity because that gives the power to the celebrities.’
5. Save the surprise – Kony 2012 was the only major film that Invisible Children planned to release in 2012, they spent over $1 million in producing it, but saw it as central to their campaigning strategy for the year, thus justifying the investment. They hoped that 500,000 people would watch it by May 1st.
Benjamin Chesterton quoted in the report suggests that others could learn from this selective approach warning of social media fatigue suggesting ‘I don’t think NGOs have an understanding and respect for audiences and they don’t value properly social networking in the way they should…..In the social media sphere you just create noise and people are trying to get away from noise. They are trying to decide whose information they want to receive. So NGOs need to be careful.’
6. Unleash the passion – Sophie mentioned in her presentation that after spending an hour on the phone with Ben Keesey she came away with a new appreciation of the campaigns passion and enthusiasm. Can we say the same in our organisations?
It’s something that is very evident in the film, as Benjamin Chesterton says in the report ‘he (Jason Russell, Co-Founder of Invisible Children who features in the film) is really passionate about this and that is what comes across and very rarely do NGOs allow individuals within their organisations to become so powerful as spokespeople.’
What else can we learn from Kony 2012? What other reports or blogs are worth reading about learning from the campaign?