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;

Political

  • 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.

Economic

  • 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?

Social

  • 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. 

Technological

  • 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 https://smk.org.uk/law/

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 350.org.

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 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.

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?

10 reflections from NCVO Campaigning Conference

It was the NCVO Campaigning Conference yesterday – it’s always an interesting day bringing together a mix of campaigners and public affairs colleagues from across a range of issues.
As always you walk away with a notebook – or in my case multiple scraps of paper – full of notes, thoughts, good ideas and top tips – and a frustration you couldn’t be in more than one session.
Here are 10 things that I took from my morning at the Conference – do check out #ncvocc for more insight.
1. Brexit is the focus for government – both Jess Phillip MP and Jonny Mercer spoke about how the Brexit negotiations will dominate everything that happens in Parliament and Whitehall in the coming years. It’s not just because it’s the most important political decisions that many of us will see in our lifetimes, but it’s also because it’s taking up so much capacity from civil servant and ministers other issues are getting pushed to the side. Campaigners looking to get noticed will have to push harder than ever.
2. MPs really are tired of email petitions – so this isn’t news, and you almost expect to hear it from MPs in sessions like this, but when two pro-campaigning MPs who are instinctively on our side tell you that they’re fed up of pre-written email petitions, you know it’s time to think long and hard about if the tactic is doing more to hinder than help. Jess reminded us that she get’s over 6,000 emails every day, and the response to any pre-written email is to ensure a member of staff responds with a standard template email.
3. It’s MPs staff you should be getting to know – they’re the gatekeepers to most MPs, the ones who make key decisions about diaries and briefings. Build good relationships with them and it can really help you to get your campaign in front of an MP. Treat them badly and don’t expect to see much progress.
4. Ask do you really need to be in a coalition – I was fortunate to chair a really lively and interesting session on coalition campaigning. Jane Cox from Principle Consulting reminded us that there is a cost to coalitions (perhaps Jane had ready my blog on this) – sometimes a strategic partnership is a better approach than the time commitment an effective coalition can be. Jane wrote a really useful post with some of her learning from coalition campaigning.
5. Keep going until the end – too many coalitions just focus on the immediate change outcome, and when they’ve succeeded in delivering that they stop. That can be a mistake and often ensuring that you monitoring implementation is as important. This is something that you should factor into your planning – especially when applying for foundation support for your campaign.
6. We need to talk about power – Heather Kennedy from the Fair Funeral Campaign reminded us of the principle from organising that you either have organised money or organised power – if you’re opposition is organised money it can be easy for them to ‘sit it out’ until you’re coalition has come to an end. It was one of the few references through the day to power – which given campaigning is often about winning feels like it was something missing from the conversation.
7. Celebrate success in a generous way – Heather shared about how the Funeral Poverty Alliance has built it’s coalition over the last few years and managed to put the issue on the agenda – it sounds like a really great campaign coalition which doesn’t have lots of governing documents but has placed building relationships through well facilitated strategy sessions and strong face-to-face relationships. Demonstrating that coalitions don’t have to be dominated by ‘egos and logos’!
8. When developing campaign leaders high commitment should mean high support – I really enjoyed the session on developing volunteers as campaign leaders – it felt that there was a recognition that in response to the declining effectiveness to e-petitions we need to look again at building our networks.
I’ve been aware of the work that Alice Fuller and her team at the MND Association have been doing at building a network of Campaign Contacts in their local groups over the last few years, but it was great to hear more about it – and to hear some honest reflections about how much the team have learnt about the level of support they need to provide, the commitment to training and investing in volunteers, but also letting go and trusting volunteers.
9. Metrics matter – Eleanor Bullimore spoke about the work, and the challenge of developing relevant metrics to measure the impact of the work that volunteer network at The Ramblers is having. Elle suggested that as well as developing metrics for going up the the ‘ladder of engagement’ we also need to be looking at those going down – recognising that some volunteers will find they have less rather than more to offer.
10.Trust us – Joining Alice and Eleanor was Katy Styles, one of MND Associations local campaigners. It was so refreshing to hear of the ways that Katy had been able to get involved in leading MND’s campaign (Katy has helped to produce this cracking toolkit) – and to be reminded that most people aren’t paid to campaign they do it because of a passion. The big message that I’m taking from Katy was as professional campaigners we need to let go of our concerns about brand and reputation and trust our volunteers.
Update – all the presentations from the sessions are available here.

Too important to ignore? – 4 moments that could shape campaigning in 2016

We might be 2 weeks into 2016 but I don’t think it’s too late for some predictions….so here are a few moments and processes to watch out for that I think are going to have a big impact on campaigning in the next 12 months. I’d be interested in knowing what you think, please add your ideas in the comments below.
Don’t ignore the House of Commons Petition Site – Launched with limited fanfare last year, the House of Commons has updated its petition website – with new thresholds for response and debate. Watch for how active the Petitions Committee which is responsible for deciding what to do with the petitions  are in the coming year at responding to petitions that hit the 100,000 signature threshold.
I’ve been at a number of events where I’ve heard MPs express concern about the volume of e-actions they’re getting (that’s a whole other blog to write) so it could be that some MPs start to push for the House of Commons petition site to be the way that they want campaigners to interact with them – the new site already has a function to see how many people have signed per constituency.
The EU Referendum is going to set the political weather – of course we don’t know the date for this yet  – I’m predicting September, but this from Tim Montgomery, is as always, very perceptive about how it’s shaping the political decision making for the Government.
This government is behaving differently because the outcome of the In/Out referendum (likely to be held in June 2016) may well determine David Cameron’s place in history and is uppermost in his mind. He risks Britain’s membership of the EU if he’s an unpopular mid-term prime minister at the time he is recommending Britain should vote to “remain” (as he certainly will). I underestimated Downing Street’s determination to organise everything in terms of avoiding Brexit. The go-slow on cuts, the living wage announcement, the retreat on tax credits, the extra money for defence… this pre-referendum behaviour is pretty boilerplate pre-election behaviour.
Referendums are largely unknown phenomena for issue campaigners in the UK. The AV referendum hardly caught the public imagination, while the Scottish referendum has caused a political earthquake in a number of ways. The EU referendum is going to shape much of the political dialogue and decision making for the next 12 months.
Look to the US Presidential Election for the future of campaigning – I wrote before the 2012 election that given the budgets involved and the importance of the outcomes it’s the single moment that will shape the future of campaigning tactics and approaches. I can’t see the changing in 2016.
Looking back at the articles that following the elections there was lots shared about how to use data and more data, but dig around more and its also about the organising approach – so as we head towards the vote in November keep an eye out for the lessons and approaches – we’re already seeing stories about advanced data mining via Facebook, and here for some other early trends.
Don’t think you can leave the Fundraising Preference Service to your fundraising colleagues to worry about – Don’t think that the scheme – which has been developed in response to media stories over last summer -will just effect your fundraising colleagues. While the details are being worked out it could have big impact on all charity communications – including those you send about campaigning.
But this is also about how the actions of charities are becoming increasingly scrutinised – I’ve written before about the threats to campaigning, and sadly in 2016 I can’t see that changing (although at the end of 2015 we got a commitment that CC9 an important but little known piece of guidance that allows charities to campaign when they’re doing so in line with their charitable purpose won’t be reviewed). We’ll need to be make the case for what’s been changed as a result of campaigning in 2016.

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Speed, Sophistication, Structures and Space – 4 trends that will define the future of campaigning

In my role as Head of Campaigns and Engagement at Bond, I was ask to write about the trends that will impact the campaigning of members over the next 5 years, and what it means for our work to support members to campaign brilliantly. I came up with the following;
1 – Speed
The first campaign I was involved in was Jubilee 2000. I remember the record breaking petition, the sense of excitement as the latest Christian Aid News would come through the letterbox with an update, and the delighted when we heard we had succeeded in getting the G8 to cancel the unpayable debt.
It took the Jubilee 2000 campaign over 2 years to collect the 22 million signatures that formed the record breaking petition handed to G8 leaders. Anyone who collected those signatures will talk of the hours spent collecting petitions in churches, at street stalls and in student unions bars across the UK, winning the signatures one conversation at a time.
Fast forward to today, where it’s possible for a partnership between Guardian and Change.org to generate 250,000 signatures on FGM in 20 days, and many Bond members are able to generate tens of thousands of emails in a matter of days or weeks. Campaigning organisations able to launch a campaign in a matter of moments in respond to the latest event or news headline.
But while campaigning is getting faster, we’re also seeing a rise in slow activism? Organisations like the One Campaign and Tearfund are encouraging supporters to write handwritten letters to MPs around the recent legislation on 0.7% or All We Can encouraging supporters to stitch mini-protest banners ahead of London Fashion Week, part of creative ‘craftavist’ movement, which encourages reflective action that seeks to change the participant as much as it does the world. I think we need both within our movement, and a willingness to learn from both approaches.
2 – Sophistication
We know more about our supporters than we ever have, what actions the like to take, what topics they’re interested in, if and when they’ll open their emails from us, and as a result we can target our campaigns in more and more sophisticated ways. A recent report suggested “neuro-campaigning” following politics and advertising to use a better understanding of how our own brains work to persuade people to take action. With all this evidence, as campaigners we need to continue to invest more and more in testing of our messages and tactics before we share them.
A focus on what tactics to use, shouldn’t mean we overlook the importance of theories of change at the heart of our campaigning, including challenge ourselves to ask if we’re too focused on targeting our campaigning towards MPs, Government Ministers and UN bodies, or if we should follow Action Aid focusing on local councillors, or corporate divestment championed by Share Action and 350.org, or local media like RESULTS.

TTIP

3 – Structures
As much as we need to build campaigning structures that are fit for a digital era, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of investing in an active and vibrant grassroots network. For me it’s always been the hallmark of our movement, the local activists that collect names on petitions and meet with their MPs.
I want to learn from groups like 38 Degrees, about how they mobilised 10,000+ volunteers as part of the Days of Action on TTIP, or Toys will be Toys, an entirely volunteer led campaign about how they’re successfully joining up offline and online actions.
A focus on structures should not only be about how campaigns are organised, but also about challenging the very structures that perpetuate inequality and poverty. While we should take advantage of opportunities like the recent Private Members Bill on 0.7%, but the danger in focusing on ‘the little big thing’ is that we risk not building public understanding about the root causes of poverty that should be central to our campaigning.
4 – Space
The Lobbying Act or comments by the former Charities Minister that we should ‘stick to knitting’ reinforce to me that we’re seeing a narrowing of the political space campaigning organisations have to advocate. I believe we should feel proud as a sector of the positive impact our campaigning has had on the lives of the communities we work with. We should all fight to protect it.
Before starting at Bond, I helped to found Campaign Bootcamp, a training programme for those looking to start a career in campaigning. We were overwhelmed by the generosity and enthusiasm we found to help us. That experience has shown me the strength of the community we have, committed to work together to share and help each other.
This is an edited version of an article first published in The Networker available here.