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.

The Road Ahead for Campaigners

The annual NCVO Road Ahead report is a great resource – packed full of insight and predictions about the trends, drivers challenges, and opportunities that are going to shape the next year might look like for charities – it’s basically a ready-made PEST analysis for the charity sector.

The 2022 edition was launched earlier this week (this is a great summary from the report’s author Alex), and I thought I’d pull out 7 key trends that I think are particularly important for campaigners and change-makers, but I’d 100% encourage a read of the whole report as its packed full of useful insight, examples and case studies.

  1. A period of political stability – the authors might be regretting writing this given the political drama of the last 72 hours! But after the snap elections in 2017 and 2019, most predicted that we could be entering a a period of relative political stability, with an election most likely in 2024 (or 2023).

    It means campaigners should be starting to think now about how they plan their influencing activity – as I wrote ahead of the 2015 election, decisions about elections are made month or years in advance so start to plan now and not when the election is called. But I guess whatever happens with the Prime Minister in the next few weeks, shows the importance of being able to plan ahead, but also adapt to changing circumstances.

  2. The continuation of a culture war – or at the very least some who want to continue it, with the authors predicting that ‘Politicians are likely to continue to seek dividing lines where they feel there is political advantage in doing so, so we should expect that culture wars will be a part of our political environment in the years ahead‘. Although the polling suggest that the public is more split on the topic that the politicans might want, but as Bobby Duffy has written ‘the huge surge in media coverage of culture wars – in 2015, there were only 21 articles in mainstream UK newspapers that discussed a “culture war” in the UK – in 2020, there were 534’ shows that topic isn’t going away.

  3. Devolution – the continued growth in the profile and role of Metro Mayors (remembering that 41% of the UK population now have a Metro Mayors) and the continued promince of the devolved adminstrations that has come about beause of the pandemic (this is a great thread by Andy Glyde from CRUK about the important for national charities in how they approach devolution and how they should be influencing the devolved governments). As the report says ‘charities that aren’t considering the local and regional landscape, and the decision-makers within it, are likely to be missing opportunities to further their cause.’

  4. Restrictions in the space for campaigning – timely this week with the defeat in the Lords of part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, but expect some of the elements of that which seek to, amoungst other things, introduces new powers allowing police to decide where, when and how people can protest and increases penalties for those breaching police conditions on protest.

    It’s been great to see so many organisations come out against the Bill, but whatever your campaigning approach standing and challenging the Bill which the report says will limit what is ‘a fundamental tool for democratic expression and social transformation’ is going to be vital as it passes back to the House of Commons.

    Likewise the Elections Bill might not sound relevant to many campaigners, but as this briefing from Friends of the Earth notes it again has clauses that should concern all those involved in social change.

  5. Pressure on household finances – I think this economic driver is likely to be one of the political challenge of the year. It’s most pronounced now with the rise in fuel prices, and the latest figures on the cost of living (inflation), and as such its going to dominate the media and political agenda, as well as being a cause of concern for many in society.

    Savvy campaigners are going to need to think about how they can adjust their messaging and approach to adapt to this issue which is likely to repeatedly dominate politics.

  6. Changing volunteering patterns – the report finds that during the pandemic ‘those over 16 years old who volunteered at least once a month for a formal organisation fell to 17% from 23% in 2019/20, and those who volunteered at least once a year decreased to 30% from 37%’ but at the same time as Relationships Foundation has found we’ve seen new forms of community volunteering emerge during the pandemic, with 9 million people stepping forward to help.

    As we potentially return to some sense of normal how these volunteering trends unravel will be fascinating to follow for any campaigning charity that relies on volunteers to lead much of it local campaigning activity. At the same time, as the report finds the changing face of work, could present new opportunities with more people working flexibily or from home changing how they can engage.

  7. Increase in regulation of social media – the report suggest that ‘governments are starting to take the regulation of social media platforms more seriously. There are concerns about how platforms push and curate news to users and how this can spread fake news and malicious content with alarming speed’.

    While changes might not immeditely impact campaigners given the important role that social media can play for charities in desiminating messages, changes to how platforms operate can have significant consequences. Those campaigns that have a distributed approach to how they share their campaign content are more likely to be able to ride out any change (forced or planned) to the algorthms.

When Companies Campaign – part 2

This isn’t a new trend (indeed I’ve written about it before – something I only realised on completing this post)- but over the last few months I’ve stumbled more and more articles and examples of companies using campaign tactics and approaches – so it felt like it was time for a quick post! 

Here are four approaches to corporate campaigning I’ve spotted – can you add more or share other examples?  

1. Activist CEO – where corporate leaders decided to put their brand behind issues. This seems to have entered a new chapter in the last year, especially in the US where they’ve been active in supporting #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and most recently to challenge legislation that will make it harder to vote.

Look at the UK and you can see how Tim Martin, the CEO of Weatherspoons has put his pub chain at the front of campaigning on both Brexit (he was for it) and lockdown (he’s against it). 

As this article from the Economist points out normally companies  ‘put their faith in paid lobbyists and used industry groups like the Business Roundtable to campaign on their behalf. The lobbying concerned almost exclusively matters of direct concern to their bottom lines, such as taxes, regulations or immigration policies that might affect their employees’ but  that’s clearly changing.

This report from Phone2 Action argues that corporate activism is now a market expectation suggests that ‘more than three out of four consumers (79 percent) expect companies to engage on political and social issues’ so we can expect to see more of this in the coming years. 

2. Product based campaigning – I’ve written before about Apptivism – where app-based platforms like Uber use their technology to invite users to take action to challenge decision-makers who they perceive are preventing them and their customers from getting what they want, or in the US encouraging people to vote a particular way in referendums.

It seems to work well as an approach for ‘challenger’ brands like Uber which have got a strong or loyal customer base – I guess if you’re going with this approach you’ve got to confident that consumers will back your positions.

Another example is the photo below that my colleague spotted on the side of his Oatly carton – focused on challenging EU guidance on labeling on milk substitutes.

3. Community Organising this brilliant paper by Luke Yates at Manchester University provides an in-depth look at how Airbnb has used community organising approaches to build a network of Home Sharing Clubs to help to bring together specific members of their community to build power to influence local officials. The paper outlines how Airbnb explicitly uses community organising approaches, like one-to-ones to move members up the mobilisation curve.

It also explores how other companies, like Uber, Lyft and Lime are using the same techniques, creating effectively a whole industry of corporate grassroots lobbying which is able to draw in those who have party political or more traditional community organising experience, and then use those approaches for their corporate benefit. Feels like an approach we’ll see more of.

4. Activist Brands – some companies have always had activism is woven into their DNA, perhaps the most notable one is the clothing company, Patagonia, whose CEO talks about how ‘we used to be a company that supported activists, and now we are more of an activist company’, and its Patagonia Action Network has been active for 40+ years at distributing funding to support environmental activism, but also showcases activism in its stores and actively promotes its activist positions as central to its approach (see more on that in this great article).

Ice Cream brand Ben and Jerry’s would be another example, using its brand (and packaging) to support work on refugees – although it’s also been challenged to stop sales in illegal Israeli settlements and publicly oppose Israel’s occupation.

Cosmetic companies Lush and Body Shop would be other examples in the UK – with Lush for example featuring campaigns in their stores.

Innovation and trends from US Presidential election

The US Presidential election is less than 60 days away – and this post is (largely) a Trump-free zone.

As the most expensive campaign in the world, with over $1bn spent in the months leading to election day, it’s always an interesting place to spot campaign innovation, with each election bringing forward new ideas and approaches that often make their way into the wider campaigning landscape.

But this election will be different – with the spread of COVID-19 still high in the US, the campaigns have had to throw out their traditional playbook – out have gone the rallies, townhalls, and door-knocking that characterises a US election, and instead have come new approaches and tactics.

So with a few months to go here are a few things that I’ve spotted. 

1. Relational organising – as candidates can’t doorknock, campaigns are putting lots of focus on relational organising, put simply, encouraging people to use their existing networks, their friends and family to vote for a particular candidate.

That might not sound like anything especially groundbreaking, but the difference in this campaign has been the availability of apps to support this directly so it will help you to identify those contacts that are most important and help people see how your friends respond – closing the feedback loop.

Apps and tools like Outvote, Tuesday Company and Outreach Circle are making it easier for individuals to do that (this from Kasch Wilder is a brilliant list of all the tools available), and at a time when candidates can’t get out and about to undertake the normal doorstep, this is about ‘recruiting and training trusted messengers’ who can be used to get messages to individuals who might not see (or might ignore) – early evidence shows it 3x more effective at getting people to vote than traditional ‘cold calling’ efforts of campaigns.

It’s an approach that could gain traction in the UK, and it’ll be interesting to see if some of the tools get adapted to be used in our political context.  

2. User generated content  – perhaps it’s a result of the times we’re in, but user-generated content has featured in many of the campaigns, for example here are Republicans Voters against Trump who’s whole approach is about getting short films of former Trump supporters, filmed on smartphones talking about why they’re not supporting Trump this time, or in Iowa, eventual caucus winner, Pete Buttigieg, used endorsements from supporters in every county to cut these films.

And, if you tuned in to any of the Democratic conventions last week you’d have seen plenty of content with high production values, showing that still has an important role to play, but it was split up with lots of clips from web cameras and smartphones. In the age of lockdown, we’ve come much more accustomed to watching content that is user-generated as well.  

3. Branding – There are some fascinating reads from the 2016 campaign, about the thought that went into the logo and brands of Hilary Clinton, (and the critique that it reinforced the sense of being a centralised campaign, when her rival Bernie Sanders had a brand that was more open and adaptable), through to this on the Make America Great Again hat that, while ridicudled by many, was actually a piece of brilliant design.

This time around Hunter Schwarz at Yello has been doing an amazing job of chronicling the significance of the design approaches of the different campaigns – from the choice of color pallets to reflect the personalities of different candidates, to how campaigns are thinking about typefaces – it’s really fascinating.

I still love how Pete Butt has his own mood board on his website, but it matters because in an age where everyone can be a content creator, as a candidate you want to get your approach in the hands of as many as possible. It’ll be interesting to see how the Biden/Harris brand is reflected on at the end of the campaign. 

4. Humour – if you’ve not stumbled across the Lincoln Project, you should look at their approach. It’s a well-funded group of Republican supporters who are able to produce slick and quick videos with the aim of challenging Trump’s narrative. Much of their strategy seems to be less about persuading wavering Republican voters to ditch Trump, but actively ridicule the President in the hope it’ll get a response.

And it’s a strategy that’s working – their initial advert has a tiny ad spend, but crucially it was shown on Fox News at a time when Trump was on Twitter. Cue Trump tweeting about it, and millions more seeing the advert. This is an extreme example, but do campaigns spend enough time trying to cleverly provoke those they’re running against? 

Similarly, this campaign cycle has seen social media influencers and content creators brought directly on board to campaign teams to produce memes and other content that will reach younger voters – for example, failed Democratic candidate, Michael Bloomberg was reported to have been paying millions for influencers to share about him back in the primaries, and the Lincoln Project has teamed up with the same group of content creators for the general election.

5.  Winning takes years – I’ve been reading Upending American Politics – which explore citizen activism in the US from the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance, it’s an excellent collection of academic studies into why Trump won on over the last month – and the big takeaway for me is that he benefitted from a local Republican infrastructure in key states that had been deliberately built over years. It’s a theme that is echoed in this excellent piece by Pete Buttigieg Campaign Manager, Greta Carnes.

It’s easy to think that winning an election is about appearing a few months before polling day, but the evidence shows that the Republican Party has just been better at investing in and playing a long game. It’s a really good and important lesson for all campaigners (and those who manage campaign budgets) that results often don’t appear overnight, but are the product of smart, strategic and long-term investment towards a goal. It takes time and commitment to build to win. 

What's changed? The post lockdown landscape for campaigners

For most of the last few months I’ve found it hard to sit down and write for the blog – but a combination of so much changing with trying to juggle ‘lockdown living’, has meant it’s felt like every time I’ve had a thought or an idea to write down it’s quickly been surpassed.  

At the start of lockdown in March, I used a model of three phases for our thinking with my team;

  • Now – what was happening right then – the immediate response to the crisis.
  • Near – the following few months – how priorities would shift to focus predominantly on the impact of Covid-19.
  • Far – some point in the future where the focus would move to a wider set of priorities than just Coronavirus.

But as lockdown is lifted for many, and we’re seeing a reopening of shops and restaurants in the UK, it feels like we’re moving into that far territory – although the virus is still prevalent and the future remains uncertain – but with that, I’ve been pausing and starting a quick analysis of what’s changing and changed. 

But all of the conversations and discussions that we have about what next needs to be done after some long, honest and uncomfortable conversations about racism and white privilege that has been brought to the spotlight by the brutal murder of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Some working in the charitable sector might be under a misguided view that because our work is to ‘do good’ it’s not something we have to consider, but as #CharitySoWhite has so powerfully shown white priviledge and racism is as prevelent in our work as any other profession or sector.

All of us need to commit to doing the work to address our own privilege, and how structures and approaches reinforce inequality in the charity sector and then keep coming back to, just because the news agenda might have moved on we need to keep coming back to it – and that’s certainly something that I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Beyond that if we were to draw a quick PEST (political, economic, social, and technological) analysis of what’s going on, what might be include.

Here are some thoughts;


  • We’ve got a government that is going to use cultural and values to divide us – as this excellent piece outlines with the economy likely to get worse as a result of COVID-19, there will be a strategy that by those in Number 10 to focus on cultural issues – the ‘war on woke’ is a deliberate and calculated strategy designed to play to voters that the Conservatives need to win at the next election – informed by regular and extensive polling and focus groups. 
  • The rule of engagement with MPs have changed – MPs have seen their inboxes overflowing with more messages than every before – it was initially in response to Dominic Cummings and his decision to break his own lockdown rules, but has followed with a second peak caused by Black Lives Matter. My Society, the team behind They Work for You, reported that June was the busiest month ever for their site. And importantly the majority of the messages MPs are getting aren’t the pre-populated messages that come from campaigners, they’re constituents taking the time to write on their own. 
  • It’s a footballer who’s almost certainly secured the biggest policy U-turn from the government over the last 3 months. Marcus Rashford got the government to extend its free school meal provision through the school summer holidays, and it’s full of clues for campaigners at what could make the government move – excellently outlined in this article, although all campaigners should be wary of trying to use the same ‘formula’ twice. But it shows what’s possible.


  • An asymmetrical recovery –  Think back to late March, and there was a sense of surprise as many of the policy announcements that the government was making were previously thought to be impossible or improbable, but in the same way that the policy response to the lockdown was asymmetrical, with some gaining, but many others missing out or falling through the gaps, the same is likely to be true of the recovery. We’re about to enter into the deepest recession in a generation, and how to respond to the narrative that will be created about the inevitability of austerity will be critical for campaigners.  
  • Inequality and austerity – Coronavirus has brought into the light, the many inequalities and injustices that blight our society, from the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on ethnic minority communities, to low pay that essential workers receive, to the digital divide that means it’s impossible for many children to study remotely, to the rising use of Foodbanks – the growing inequality in our society has been brought into sharp focus, and public attitudes for action are moving as a result. It feels like that’s unlikely to quickly reverse, so what does that mean for campaigners?


  • Public displays of activism – walk down many streets and you’ll see signs of ‘window activism’ – what started as rainbows has moved to statements about pay for care workers, or statements in support of Black Lives Matter. Certainly in my community, it feels like you seeing more political statements that at any time outside of an election.
    But beyond our windows, we’ve seen a move towards public art activism as US cities have painted statements in support of Black Lives Matter on key streets, while on social media, Instagram, has increasingly turned into the platform of choice for sharing campaigns. Campaigning has always been visual, but perhaps even more so now?
  • Protesting has adapted rather than stopped, with people taking part in socially distancing protests around May Day, in the US innovating by moving to car protests (not sure this will catch on in the UK – although it’s an approach that farmers have used), and in response to Black Lives Matter, locally organised events for those who don’t wish to travel to a central protest. How we protest might change, but the last few months have shown that it’s not going to go away. 


  • Corporates boycott social media – perhaps less noticed here, but in the US there has been a significant number of household brands publically committing to stop spending on advertising on Facebook until it takes action to ‘the end to their amplification of hate speech’. The decisions which have come about as corporates have considered their response to the Black Lives Matter movement is an interesting and important move that shows the potential power of corporate – it’s a theme explored more in this podcast. A similar situation is happening with companies like FedEx calling on the NFL to rename it’s Washington Redskins. 
  • Use the algorithms for good – who’d have thought that K-Pop stans (fans of Korean pop bands- don’t worry I had to look it up!) would have shown how to so effective in mobilising to flood the #AllLivesMatter hashtag, or the TikTok community in the US would score a famous win by registering for millions of tickets to Donald Trumps rally, but they did. In an age, it shows that not just having a social media presence, but understanding how to effectively using the algorithms that Twitter and Facebook use to identify premium content to share further. As an approach, it’s so smart.

How to use the law for social change

The Sheila McKechnie Foundation, with support from the Baring Foundation, put together a brilliant conference on using the law for social change last Thursday – it was a fantastic day, in a room full of campaigners and advocates buzzing with ideas and questions.

Before attending, I’ll be honest in saying that I’d not spent a lot of time thinking about how the law could be used in my campaigning, despite being very aware of the rise it as an approach, and the success of campaigners, like Jolyon Maugham QC, who have used to law to good effect around Brexit.

So I walked away in with an open mind, and away with some key takeaways;

1. Legal advocacy is an approach that has firmly entered the campaigning toolkit, and if you’re not already using it you should be considering it. A number of the speakers throughout the day referenced the fact that legal advocacy had helped to reboot or push forward their campaigning whilst other approaches had floundered. 

As one speaker reflected that for years, they’d been chipping away at trying to get reform to elements of criminal law, but using equalities legislation has forced much more significant change.

In an age, where many of the traditional paths to change, working through Civil Servants and government can feel harder than before, legal advocacy could provide an alternative route. More on how others are using it here.

2. It’s doesn’t just have to be about taking your case to court – although many campaigning organisations do end up using approaches that end in a day (or days) in court, the conference was a reminder that other forms of strategic litigation are available – from using legal arguments in correspondences with a target, from raising the prospect of a judicial review to – and sometimes just the publicity brought about by considering a case can help to bring attention or progress on a campaign issue. This new publication from the Baring Foundation has lots of case studies of different approaches to take.

3. The best legal approaches are integrated approaches – presentation through the day highlight how you shouldn’t approach any strategic litigation in isolation – your legal goal needs to help to contribute to a wider policy goal – from the End Violence Against Women coalition using a legal case to help to engage MPs and decision-makers to advance their advocacy in Parliament, or Dignity in Dying driving up engagement from supporters around Noel Conway’s case on assisted dying.

4. But if you want your approach to be successful you need to be ready in advance – legal advocacy can cost (a lot of) money, can be time-consuming, doesn’t always lead to quick results and can come with reputational risks, but often has to be responded to quickly when an opportunity arises.

So any organisation looking to approach legal advocacy need to have spent time preparing for how they’ll approach the risks, including working with trustee boards who’d most likely need to sign off any approach.

5. Losing a case isn’t losing a campaign – often the aim of your legal advocacy isn’t to win the case, but to use it to drive wider political demand for change, by using the publicity and support you can build from your case to push politicians to act further, as the adage goes ‘winning in the court of public opinion’ is as important as ‘winning in the court of law’.

To coincide with the day, the Foundation also released a really useful 101 guide for using the law for social change – more at

Trend watching – how technology is affecting political communications

Going away for a week has been a good time to catch up on reading and podcasts – plus the inevitable train adventures with my 4 1/2-year-old son!

One of the best podcast I listened to was this retrospective interview with Government vs the Robots host Jonathan Tanner.

Over the last 40+ episodes, Jonathan has looked at a whole range of topics about how technology is going to impact politics in the future – and increasingly already is shaping politics.

But this episode was especially interesting as it covered many themes that feel relevant to anyone involved in the work of social change, so I wanted to do a quick post about some of the big themes I took from the episode that I’m going to be taking back into the office.

Three reflections about how technology is shaping politics

  1. All the focus might be on how technology is changing the world -think about driverless cars or devices that track your health – but we should really be looking at who controls these and the power they have. Ultimately the big learning is about the increased power of the tech monopolies – and perhaps as campaigners, we should be focusing on them more and more as the targets for our campaigns.
  2. Our media consumption is getting more and more fragmented, and that’s leading to a rise in identity politics as we’re able to be served up more and more hyper-personalized content based on our interest and views, or what an algorithm thinks should be our interests + views.
  3. We’re increasingly questioning what is reality – and this is changing fast fueled by increasing awareness of disinformation by external actors and the rise in fake news. In short, we’re questioning more and more (something explored more in this episode).

Three places campaigners should be learning from

  1. The Brexit Party – as they’ve realised that they don’t need to go via traditional media outlets to get their message out they can create their own channels to broadcast directly, for example launching Brexit Box, a TV channel broadcasting content via YouTube, and when appearing on traditional media they’re focusing on getting a clip that can be shared on their social platforms.
    Jonathan in his interview gently challenges many of us in the development sector who are more interested in an article in Devex or the Guardian, arguing that there is a lag in the received wisdom of what’s effective amongst too many NGO communicators. If you’re interested in more of how the Brexit Party use Facebook then I’d recommend this from 89Up.
  2. Love Island – which has created a community of unofficial, but perhaps in reality officially sanctioned, social media accounts that can push out content linked to the show which the official channels can’t.
    They’re creating a community, some might say a movement, around the program. It’s a similar phenomenon that can be seen in the ‘leaked’ lines to take by social accounts that support Jeremy Corbyn around the recent Panorama election. In a new power world to succeed we need to let the movement create its own content and give away control – something explored more in this episode.
  3. US Presidential Candidates – perhaps less unexpected but a reminder that as the US election gets into full swing we’re likely to see a bunch of innovations coming from the candidates – especially those looking for the Democratic nomination. Here is an early look at how they’re using digital adverts, and this is a topic I’ll be following over the next 18 months, but it’s also a reminder that following trends from elections across the world can be a good place to look for new trends (for example in Kenya explored more in this episode)

Three opportunities for changemakers

  1. What could a new model of online organising look like? We’re still used to focus most of our volunteer time on traditional ways of getting our message out, but what would it look like to build a program that focuses on putting volunteers time to use online, engaging in the comments in articles, sharing content and calling into phone-ins. You can see some clues in how to do this in this Changemaker podcast looking at how Amnesty harnessed its members to review abuse on Twitter.
  2. What would effective messaging on Facebook really look like? Jonathan asked what would it look like if progressives put out their best data-informed messaging on Facebook how would it perform? Are we using the tools and approaches that we know would work to maximize the algorithms?
  3. Building a narrative of hope and empathy – building on the thinking and work that Alex Evans (interviewed here) has done to on collective psychology and how we could be creating a narrative and story about a ‘larger us’ that brings us together.

5 trends shaping campaigning in the UK that you might have missed….

Brexit is dominating everything at the moment – and it can be easy not to look beyond the latest twist in what’s happening in Westminster, or the recent EU Elections to see how the campaigning landscaping is changing around us.

But here are 5 stories that you might have missed that point to other important trends that could be as important as Brexit in shaping the context we can campaign in.

1) A plan to stop the collapse of local journalism – reporting in February, the Cairncross Review examined what steps could be taken to ensure a sustainable future for high-quality journalism.

The review is a good review of the current (ill) health of local media, but why does that matter to campaigner? Well, using local media is an important and effective way for many campaigners to get their message out, and help to demonstrate support for an issue in a community, but as the Review pointed out that print sales of national and local printed newspapers have fallen by roughly half between 2007 and 2017 cutting those opportunities.

The review identified investigative journalism as a particular area which has seen significant cuts – partly due to the cost, for example, The Independent set out its predicted costs for a dedicated investigations team as half-a-million- pounds a year, but as an area that can be important for putting issues onto the agenda – something that Greenpeace has shown by setting up Unearthed – it’s own investigative journalism unit.

2) Facebook bans Brexit  – OK, so this has got a little to do with Brexit, but in response to mounting criticism that Facebook needed to do more to ensure that adverts linked to political issues it’s instituted new policies and approaches, which require more  – but that’s led to some unexpected turns, take political comedian Matt Forde who’s adverts about his upcoming tour got taken down because they mentioned Brexit.

Not a big deal for campaigners perhaps, but with Facebook still an important channel for acquisition and sharing of content the threat of the platform continuing to tighten its editorial policies on what is and isn’t allowed on social media. It’s something that other campaigning organisations have also spotted, for example, this PS in a recent email from

And at the same time, Buzzfeed found that the biggest spender of political adverts on Facebook wasn’t a political party, but a shadow pro-Brexit campaign organisation’s who’s funding source is unclear, and only staff member is a freelance writer.

3) Private public spaces mean no protest – we might have marveled at the way Extinction Rebellion took over public spaces in London back in April, but as this article from Guy Shrubsole shows how more and more of the space in our cities is held by private companies.

This isn’t a new trend, but the challenge of the increasing rise in privately owned public spaces in big cities has impacts for the right to protest, with private firms able to prevent gatherings as one of many things that can be banned under private bylaws – want to hold a campaign stunt in Canary Wharf for example that’s not allowed as it’s owned by a private company, who’ve even banned taking photographs.

4) The changing shape of political parties – the start of the year was marked by stories of infiltration into the Conservative Party by former members of UKIP who were prepared to push out those MPs whose views they disagreed with – although reports of this have declined since the formation of Change UK.

And while membership of political parties (with the exception of Labour) is in decline overall – the evidence from both the main parties over the last few years has been that the composition of the membership is having more of an impact on the policy agenda, focus and direction of a party than in the past – although the difference between the Labour leadership on the People’s Vote shows it doesn’t always work (yet!).

But beyond that, the Brexit Party has taken a totally different approach, forming as this long-read from the Guardian explores, a private company where supporter pay £25 but have no opportunity to shape the parties position.

As campaigners, we can often pay limited attention to what’s happening inside political parties, focusing on what’s happening between them, but understanding how they operate is becoming increasingly important.

5) Clarifying if we can campaign or not – no list of campaigning trends could be complete without a look at the latest actions of the Charity Commission, this time focusing on the activities of the Institute of Economic Affairs, who were issued a warning around the publication of a report on Brexit which was looking to ‘change government policy on an issue unrelated to the charity’s purposes – furthering education –which constitutes a breach of the Commission’s guidance on political activity and campaigning’ .

But this isn’t about the IEA, but as this blog from Pete at SMK highlights it’s the way that the media report the warning being issued – implying again that charities can’t campaign when of course we can campaign if it’s related to a charity’s purpose. An important one to watch at it highlights the continued misunderstanding by many of the role for charities in securing change. 

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 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.

What will campaigning be like in 2040?

In 2010, NCVO produced a useful resource asking what campaigning might look like in 2015, it’s worth a read as it accurately predicts some of the trends that we’re seeing today. I’m also a big fan of this resource from Mobilisation Lab looking at some of the trends that campaigners will face in 2018.
But what would happen if we looked way further ahead – to say 2040 – what might campaigning look like then?
I had the opportunity to spend some time with the School of International Futures (SoIF), using some of the tools and techniques they use to work with to ask what the future might be for campaigning.
One of the things I was most struck with from the session was the sense that you have to look at the margins for ideas of what might become the future, that the further reaches of literature, the arts and academia to get a glimpse at what might become a future reality.
SoIF took us through a range of exercises to get us thinking about what might be ahead in the future – here are 5 scenarios that I’ve sketched out from that conversation;

  1. Apptivism – we’ll see an end to campaigning informed by altruistic motives of standing up, and instead, campaign actions will be driven by more intrinsic motives – where we’ll get rewarded by companies or other groups for taking action. We already see the rise of the role of Uber, Airbnb and others who are turning their customers into activists – and with the vast amount of data they hold, presumably offering incentives, like free rides, for those who take action on their behalf. Beyond that, some have suggested that Blockchain could provide a tool to help to register participation in campaign events or activities, which could then be rewarded.
  2. Algorithmocracy – the power of computers will be able to crunch so much data that we’ll no longer need decisions to be made by a form of representative democracy, but instead from publically held data points – what you say on Facebook (or whatever has replaced Facebook) will define the decisions that are made. As author Eli Pariser writes in The Filter Bubble we could be looking at  “a world constructed from the familiar is a world in which there’s nothing to learn, since there is invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas”. As the stories around the Cambridge Analytica have shown in the last few weeks there is a huge amount of power in who holds data and information so perhaps our future campaign targets will be companies like Facebook rather than Governments.
  3. Return to MySpace – a reaction against the influence of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook means groups will head back to digital infrastructure that was previously considered obsolete is taken over again with individuals finding online tribes in different spaces – it’s a trend that’s already been observed by some as alt-right groups have taken over MySpace. but also in how more and more messenger apps like WhatsApp are being used to bring groups together.
  4. VR Organising – at the heart of organising approaches is about bringing people with a common interest together to build their power, but does the arrival of virtual reality mean that this will no longer have to happen in a physical location – instead you’ll be able to do it from the comfort of your front room but feel like you’re in the same room as others who you’re going to take action with.
  5. Gathering together  – we’ll see a focus on in-person methods to bring people together, as people reject the role of technology and want deeper connection. Everyone has long suggested that death of offline approaches, but the success of big organising approaches in insurgent campaigns like Bernie Sanders suggest that people still have a thirst for coming together to secure change, and work by my friend Casper terKeile suggests that the thirst for a community to make meaning of the world is growing not decreasing.

But as I reflect more on these scenarios, I’m also struck that the fundamentals of campaigning probably won’t change – the role of campaigners will still be about building power and mobilising – so perhaps a more important conversation to have is what’s the future direction of power. Not just the visible power, but also who has invisible power and influence?