Campaigning tactics in a time of social distancing

Lockdown and Social Distancing have meant that some campaign tactics and approaches aren’t now possible – but as campaigners our craft is always about looking at what else is in our tactics toolkit.

Thinking about this challenge, I took to looking at legendary campaign strategist, Gene Sharp’s list of the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action for some ideas and inspiration about what approaches to take.

Sharp put this list together saying ‘Wise strategy, attention to the dynamics of nonviolent struggle, and careful selection of methods can increase a group’s chances of success’

The full list is available here from the Albert Einstein Institution that Sharp founded and I’ve used it in this post with gratitude – https://www.aeinstein.org/nonviolentaction/198-methods-of-nonviolent-action/. You can learn more about Sharp here.

The idea of the original list was simple, with Sharp arguing that far too often activists weren’t aware of the full range of methods possible to achieve change.

Although the list was written in 1970, so well before digital campaigning became an approach, it’s still very relevant and helpful, and something I’ve found to be a good source of inspiration.

Looking at his list around 30 methods are very hard or impossible to do in a period of a lockdown or social distancing, for example, marches, parades, or group lobbying is difficult when there are limits to the number of people who can gather together on the advice of health authorities.

Another 50 or so would need to be adapted to work in an age of social distancing, for example with schools closed a traditional School Strike isn’t possible, but as Friday for Future has shown it’s not stopping them continuing to highlight the climate emergency each Friday as they have been doing so for over a year, or teach-ins which need to move online, as Mobilisation Lab have done.

But that means over 100+ of Sharp’s proposed methods are still possible – indeed, at this time many of the methods that Sharp suggests around ‘Symbolic Public Acts’ or ‘Communications with a Wider Audience’ could be especially effective, as we’ve seen with actions like Clap for Carers every Thursday.

I’ll aim to get a thread going on Twitter of examples of different approaches, but the full list revised to take account of social distancing is below. I’d love to know what approaches and methods you’re thinking about using.

Why you should add a campaigner to your charity board

I really love being on the board of trustees of both Campaign Bootcamp and Results UK, but as I look around I don’t see lots of other campaigners on charity boards.

I wonder if it’s because board chairs don’t always appreciate the skills and experiences that a campaigner might bring onto a board when they have a vacancy, or they’re not seen to hold the same status as those with professional skills like lawyers or accountants.

So to mark Trustees Week – I’ve quickly come up with a list 10 reasons why you might want to look to add a campaigner on your charity board;

  1. Relentlessly ask you about impact – campaigners are changemakers, motivated and driven by what will have the biggest impact to deliver the change that they’re looking for. They’ll bring that focus to your board – asking if what you’re doing is having the impact it should.
  2. Bring an external perspective – campaigners spend their days scanning what’s happening around them to shape campaign strategies, so you’ll get someone on your board who can help you think through what’s happening around not just in Westminster, Whitehall and beyond.
  3. Help you to focus on the ‘root cause’ – campaigners spend their time asking the ‘why’ question – why is something happening, but why is that happening, but why. They’ll bring that perspective to some of the strategic challenges your charity faces, and might help to uncover the root causes at the heart of them.
  4. A healthy understanding of the law – In my experience, charity board can often be conservative when it comes to interpreting the law, campaigners are often experienced in navigating some of the key legislation that impacts charities, on issues like data compliance or the Lobbying Act. But they also have a healthy attitude to exploring how to work within that – they won’t ask you to do anything outside of the law, but they might challenge some of your assumptions.
  5. New connections that you might not expect – too often charity boards aren’t about what you know, but who you know. Campaigners might not have a Rolodex – does anyone still have one of those – of high-net-worth individuals, but through their work, they’ll likely have a network of contacts and colleagues across the charity sector and beyond.
  6. An audience-first attitude – campaigning is often about trying to put yourself in the shoes of your support or campaign target and think what will motivate them to act. Expect that perspective to come into the conversations you have about your charities’ work.
  7. Passionate about volunteers – rarely as a campaigner can you achieve your outcomes without working with and alongside amazing volunteer campaigners. So you’ll have a natural champion for your volunteers on the board.
  8. Messaging insight – Thinking about how to framing messages and developing narratives is a central tool for campaigners – so you’ll be inviting someone to join your board who can really help you think about how to ensure you’re communicating with impact.
  9. Trend watching – who on your board is looking at the key political, social or economic trends that might impact the work of your charity in the years to come – campaigners are always looking out for what’s happening and changing in the world around us.
  10. Cross-organisational experience – want someone who is able to be involved in as you review your fundraising, advocacy or programs work? Chances are that a campaigner is working alongside colleagues from across these areas in their work.

So next time you have a vacancy on your charity board, why not consider recruiting someone from a campaigning background onto it – feel free to reach out on Twitter and I’d be happy to see if I can share your advert.

If you’re a Campaigner/Campaign Manager/Head of Campaigns reading this, I’d really encourage you to look for consider joining a charity board. You’ll find that there is loads from your work that you can contribute as well as getting the satisfaction helping to  – and it’s also a really great opportunity to learn more about how a charity operates.

When 'normal' resumes what could be different for campaigners?

I’m not sure when the General Election is going to be, if we’ll leave the EU by the end of October, who’ll form the next Government.

Politics is unpredictable at the moment, and like most campaigners, it can be hard to look up from preparing for the next key moment or just keeping up with the latest twist and turn in our current political saga.

Take a step back, and I’ll make one prediction.

Whatever happens in the next few months, when we’ve passed through this current period of uncertainty we’re not going to be returning to politics as it was.

So what does that mean for campaigners, and what are some of the new norms that we’ll need to respond to in our campaigning?

  1. Uncertainty in UK politics is the new normal – Forget predictable election timetables and long periods of government with the same minsters in the same post. It’s time to start to prepare for uncertainty – fragile coalitions, changing ministerial teams, picking up or abandoning policies at a moment’s notice and MPs swapping parties could become the new normal.

    What’s does that mean for planning, as this note about how to approach strategy from the team at Firetail outlines, it’s time to move away from just doing strategic planning which is based on certain assumptions with strategic thinking with an emphasis on insight, adaptation, responsiveness, innovation, and creating synergies.
  2. An electorate split along new dividing lines – we’ve often worked on the assumption that the electorate splits either economically right and left or between those who hold different perspectives on social issues so that you could plot most voters into these four quadrants of the Political Compass.

    To win, campaigners needed to find a way of building power within that dynamic to secure change, but the evidence suggests that now we need to look at a new way of plotting the electorate, with Brexit likely to be at the center of it.  

    As the graph below, from the NatCen Social Research, shows far more people feel a strong attachment to Remain or Leave that consider themselves to be a supporter of a political party, so that presents new strategic challenges for campaigners thinking about where and how they build power at a time of increased polarisation – although John Harries argues that perhaps this sense of polarisation isn’t as acute as the media might like to argue.
Taken from The Emotional Legacy Of Brexit: How Britain Has Become A Country Of ‘Remainers’ And ‘Leavers’

3. The main parties will be even further apart than before – A Conservative Party being influenced by members of the European Research Group, and the well-reported growth of Labour Party membership under Jeremy Corbyn with a more active role in setting party policy, coupled with lots of retirements at the next election (whenever it happens) it’s likely the partisan make-up of our political parties will mean that they’re even more entrenched in their positions.

That might create both opportunities for campaigns, as can be seen in this article by the impact of grassroots organising within the Labour membership have had on advancing Labour policy agenda on issues like the Green New Deal, four day week and free personal care for the elderly.

But for those campaigners who’ve sought to ensure their issue holds cross-party support from both politicians in both parties that could present new challenges at a time when there could be fewer politicians looking to occupy it.

4. A decline in civility at the heart of how we do politics this blog outlines some of the trends that we’re seeing that have not simply crept into our common political life, but seem to increasingly dominate it – from the promotion of conspiracy theories to the increasing normalisation of dehumanising language and imagery in our political conversations, it’s noisier and uglier out there than it has been, and often increasingly hard to cut through with considered and balanced content.

And the implications of this aren’t just that it’s harder to cut through, it also means an increasingly hostile atmosphere for those who choose to engage. The result, many decide that they’re less prepared to do that and as this fascinating research from a few years ago in the US shows those who are least engaged in politics are often from those who find themselves in the political middle ground

5. A new role for the judiciary? – perhaps it’s too early to tell but it feels like the focus on the work and role of the Supreme Court over the last few week could mark an important shift in the way and role this institution, which has often been overlooked by those focusing on what happens on the other side of Parliament Square.

Who know if we’ll head in the direction of the US, where the role of the US Supreme Court appears to play a vital role in delivering change, but the role of judiciary has certainly risen in change makers awareness and I sense that the idea of using the courts to challenge or question political decisions feels like it’s not going away.

Campaigners would do well to explore the work of the Good Law Project, which is one organisation looking to uses strategic litigation to deliver a progressive society, including being behind the recent progration ruling in the Supreme Court.

6. Will anyone ever believe in petitions again? Over the last year, we’ve seen some of the biggest petitions on the Parliament petition site, over 6 million people signed to ‘Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.’ back in March, and another 1.6 million called on ‘Do not prorogue Parliament’ in September but either have directly led to any policy change.

While it’s easy as a campaigner to sit and write a critique of why those petitions weren’t unlikely to ever be successful, I have this concern. What happens if many of those who did sign believe that this could lead to change – does the failure of a petition to do that further undermine the role of petitions in delivering change, while at the same time raising the bar for what size a successful petition needs to be?

In short, if the largest petition in recent UK history can’t be successful, can any petition be expected to be?

Life long learning for campaigners

I went back to university a few weeks ago – it was really fun to be able to go back to UEA in Norwich where I studied and share as part of their annual ‘Working in Development’ forum. 

It was a bit of journey down memory lane, and as much as I enjoyed sharing some of the journey I’ve been on since graduating I also spent much of the day feeling increadibly thankful.

Thankful that I get to do a job that I love everyday – even on the not so good days, thankful for the many managers, colleagues and mentors who’ve invested in me during my career, and thankful to work alongside such great colleagues on work that I feel really passionate about. 

I was asked to share one some of the key skills that I’d picked up since graduating – because lets be honest I’m not sure how much of my Microeconomics for Development course has come in handy on a day to day basis.

So I reflected on some of the atributes that I think are important for anyone looking to start a career in advocacy and campaigning – and how you could go about developing those as part of your studies.

But I don’t think you stop needing to develop those when you stop you graduate, so thought that it might be useful to share my thoughts – not least as much as a challenge to myself to keep exploring these areas.

I’d love to get readers thoughts on what the most important areas for campaigners to focus on developing.

Curiosity – I think a curiosity about how change happens is one of the most important qualities for a campaigner – you’ve got to be interested in what’s happening around you and why.

Duncan Green writes that change isn’t like baking a cake, where you can be assured of the same outcome if you follow the receipe. You can follow the same steps, but come out with a totally different outcome – to be an effective campaigner you need to be curious about asking what’s happening to get the outcomes you’re getting. 

Duncan talks about how change is complex, and as this rather ace article from Sue Tibballs at the SMK Foundation argues it’s vital that campaigners learn to dance with the system and embrace what they seeing happening around them.

Lots of the work and thinking on this is based on the writing of Donella Meadows who really pushed the idea of systems thinking, but it feels like in the times that we live in, that embracing approaches that allow you to take advantage of the uncertain times we live in are critical.

So campaigners need to;
1. Become familiar with the ideas of complexity, systems thinking and ‘dancing with the system’ – to do that I’d strongly recommend starting with Sue’s blog or Duncan’s book
2. Continue to explore the same issues from different perspectives – look to see what clues thinking about the issue you’re working on from another viewpoint might highlight.
3. Look beyond the now conversation at what’s being discussed at the fringes and margins. Do they point to approaches and trends that might over time become more mainstream. I found this graph really helpful when thinking about this.  

Communication – an obvious one perhaps, but if campaigning is about building support for your ideas, equipping yourself with an understanding of the tools and perhaps as important approaches that lead to effective communications matters. 

As I suggested on Twitter a while back, we’ve all moved away from talking abou raising awareness to shifting the narrative, and there is something important in that approach to me – it’s accepting that people don’t just act on an increased understanding of an issue, to move them to act or support an issue it can require a more nuenced approach. 

That it’s about a recognition that the way we frame our messages, the messengers who present those messages, the images and visuals we use, the story we create and repeat across our communication channels and much more.  Thankfully there are lots of brilliant people out there thinking about how campaigners can win change.

So if you’re not alread I’d suggest;
1 . Reading up on some the brilliant and interesting work that people like Nicky Hawkins, the team at Common Cause, or the Centre for Story-Based Strategy. They all take different approaches but put thinking about how we communicate at the heart of change. 
2. Expose yourself to how those on the political right use frames and narratives so successfully – learn from their tactics. Words the Work by Republican pollster Frank Luntz is a little dated, but it’s a good primer if you want to get started. 
3. Experiment with and build skills in using different platforms – I’m struck how important visual mediums (films. photos and graphics) are now for communications – I’ve just got An Xiao Mina’s ‘Memes to Movements: How the World’s Most Viral Media Is Changing Social Protest and Power’ on my reading list to prove that point. Perhaps its time to turn this blog into a vlog?

Collaboration –  As campaigners we know that change rarely comes from the work of a single individual or a single organisation, it comes as the result of collaboration across individuals and organisations – sometimes in unlikely or unexpected partnerships that are held together just by a desire to bring about that specific change, but building those partnerships requires those who can build trust, 

So preparing for the talk I got to read one of my favourite papers on leadership again Margaret Wheatley’s ‘Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host’ which suggests that as we move into a world of complexity leadership isn’t about the old model of command and control, with the leaders as the hero with the answers, we need leaders who act as host, accepting that they don’t have all of the answers, and one of my messages to the students was to start to invest in the type of leader you want to be now. 

It’s easy to think that you only become a ‘leader’ once you start to manage people, budgets and projects – but I just don’t think that’s true I think you can start to invest in being a leader wherever you are;
1. Reading Wheatley’s paper is a great place to start – every time I go back to it I come away with something new to think about and reflect on in my approach. 
2. Reflect on the qualities of good collaborators – this is a useful SSIR article from a few years ago with some of the attributes of those who are good bridge builders.
3. Learn from past movements – just because the context was different it doesn’t mean we can learn from the approaches they took to bring together others. The Changemaker podcast has been one of my favorite for learning more about this. 

Control – so this was pushing the C theme a little bit, but the final area where I think all campaigners need to be thinking about is who is in control – who has the power.

I’ve been increasingly interested in the ideas of John Gaventa and his Power Cube over the last few years – it builds on the work of Stephen Lukes that I was introduced to when Hahrie Han came across to speak a few years ago – and got me thinking about power, but there are others who’s work on power is worth reading like the four ‘expressions of power’ developed by Just Associates, or New Power/Old Power developed by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans.

Gaventa writes about the 3 dimensions to understand – place, space, power – it’s the last one that I’m most interested in, where he argues that power can be visible – the obvious powerholders, hidden – the barriers which may keep people from engaging, and invisible – the norms, cultures or assumptions that go unchallenged.

Campaigners often just look at who has visible power but digging into that and looking at the invisible and hidden power in any campaign can help lead to different or new insights – thinking about it has really helped me to reflect more about who has control and thus power.

So spending time really understanding ;
1. Understand some of the theories above and look to apply that the next time you look to do some power mapping.
2. Start to think about more than just who has visible power when developing strategies – the diaries of and interviews with those who are no longer in power can often be revealing on this.
3. Identify the opposing forces to your issue – and deconstruct how they’d approach your campaign. What does that tell you?

Is #RevokeArticle50 the biggest petition in UK history?

As the Revoke Article 50 petition hits 5 million signatures, I’ve been looking around for evidence of bigger petitions.

So is it the biggest in UK campaigning history?

Short answer – Yes.

Longer + caveated answer – I’ve not yet found any evidence of a petition that has had a bigger overall total, but it’s still got some way to go to top the Chartist who got a third of the adult population at the time to sign there petition in 1842 – for contrast the Article 50 petition is at approx. 10% of current adult population of 52,403,344.

++ Updated list on 26th March ++
The top 8 that I’ve come up with are (links are to sources):

For those who are interested a few notes;

  • The 1842 Chartist Petition was signed by approximately one in three of the adult population – the logistics of achieving this are amazing.
  • A Chartist Petition that was handed over in 1848 with a declared 5.75 million signatures, but upon counting the Commons Committee for Public Petitions found it to contain under 2 million signatures.
  • Jubilee 2000 petition was signed by over 24 million globally.

To reach these figures I:

It’s also interesting to note that there are some campaigns which saw significant public protest – see here for a full list of biggest protest marches – like the 2 million people who marched against the Iraq War in 2003 but for which there is no evidence of a petition of a similar size set up at the same time.

Please do use the comments section below to suggest other petitions that should be included – I’d love to put together a top 10.

What campaigners could learn from American Football

I’m fairly sure the overlap between fans of NFL and those interested in campaigning is fairly small –  in fact, I can think of only one or two readers of this blog who might fall into both categories.
But get beyond the padding and helmets, the endless breaks for TV adverts, and that you can be ‘World Champions’ of league where all of the teams are in just one country – what you’ll find is that American Football is one of the ultimate games of strategy.
So as it was the Superbowl earlier in the month and it got me thinking about if American Football is the perfect sport to teach campaigners a few lessons in strategy.

  1. You’re either playing offense or defense – Every American Football team is made up of two specific units – a team for offense, who are charged with scoring points, and a team for defense, who task is to stop the other team from scoring.
    Too often as campaigners, we want to be playing offense – moving our issue or topic forward, gaining ground and making progress – it’s a natural mindset and it’s often the right approach. But sometimes you need to play defense – those are the times when it’s about holding the line and making sure that progress that has been gained in the past is kept waiting for a more favorable opportunity to come along. Good campaigners need to be able to operate in offense and defense.
  2. The ground game and the air game – in America Football, there are two ways you can get the ball down the pitch – you can run it on the ground or throw it in the air. Running with it can end up being about just making gains of a few meters or so, where throwing it can open up the game with it traveling 20 to 40 yards towards the end zone.
    And similarly in campaigning, sometimes the campaign strategist has to make a choice about the approach – do you look to run the ball, perhaps just take a few steps forward – secure incremental change or go for something else by trying to open up more space for your issue. Judging what approach is the most appropriate one is important.
  3. Sometimes you need to go for a ‘Hail Mary’ play? The Hail Mary route in American Football refers to any very long forward pass made in desperation with only a small chance of success – it’s a play that’s rarely used but is spectacular when it does succeed, and it’s the same in campaigning, sometimes you need to do something so unexpected that shouldn’t succeed, but might just.
  4. Everyone has a clear role  – there are lots of players on an NFL team – but you can only have 11 on the pitch at any one time, but each player has a specific positional role to play – a pre-assigned task that they’re expected to deliver. And while the Quarterback – the player who directs the offense, might get most of the plaudits, they can’t succeed without the other players around them. Everyone is vital to success. In the same way, in campaigning, being clear on the specific role each individual plays is important – see here for some helpful typology of the different roles required in a campaign.
  5. Studying the opposition – American Football has been described as ‘chess on a playing field’ with the Head Coach and his team of assistants spending hours before games reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition and designing plays that will allow them to win. The opposition is meticulously studied and during the game the coaches identifying and calling plays based on what they believe gives them the best chance of winning. As campaigners, how much time do we spend reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents, and develop strategies and approaches that anticipate the approach they’ll take?

We need to talk about Twitter – the shortfalls of protest in an age of social media

If I had a pound for every time someone had said to me “we just need to put something on Twitter” as a response to a campaign problem, I could probably retire.
I don’t believe that somehow armchair activism can win change along – I believe to do that we need to build power in person.
But at the same time, its hard to ignore the role that Twitter has played in helping movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter to emerge, and it’s certainly the case that social media has transformed the media landscape and how ‘news’ is shared.
I’m torn about the role of social media in winning real change, and that’s before we get to questions about the oversized power that Facebook, Twitter, etc has one shaping the information we consume – a theme explored in Jamie Bartlett’s excellent The People vs Tech.
So found that I really enjoyed Zeynep Tufekci ‘Twitter and Tear Gas – The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest’. In fact, I’d go as far as saying its one of the books I’ve enjoyed reading the most in the last few months.
The book is a fascinating, authoritative and accessible academic read on how social media has changed the nature of protest, and the implications of that, both good and bad.
Unlike so many books and articles on the role of social media in campaigning, it manages to avoid just trying to reinforce the ‘slacktivism’ argument or suggesting that keyboard warriors will. It’s a critical look at how social media is changing the nature of protest for the good, but also some of the unexpected consequences – this is a good TED talk of some of the key themes.
As part of it, Zeynep argues that we need to watch out for some pitfalls that can emerge from movements and campaigns that form online but then transition into popular protest;
1 – Agility – social media can be led to movements forming around a specific ask or tactic at real speed, but that can also be their downfall as they can produce ‘tactical freezes’ which make it hard for movements to easily adjust tactics or approaches in light of changing external circumstances.
2 – Resilience – many movements that have succeeded have needed to come together over extended periods of time to collectively negotiate approaches and work together, through that, they have built ‘network internalities’ the ties that help a movement to keep going when they’re not trending on Twitter.
3 – Longevity – as part of her approach Zeynap reflects on the lessons from the civil rights movement in the US – reminding us that the bus boycott in Montgomery started by Rosa Parks, lasted for almost a year, sustained by those movement organisations which we’re able to provide practical, legal, logistical and emotional support throughout the period. When a protest is happening, the role of these groups can be key to sustain it.
4 – Infrastructure – something built from the work of a group or movement coming together to deliver a shared goal or activity. The March on Washington required a team to work together to plan every aspect of the day, from lunch boxes to sound systems – I’d recommend The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights by William P Jones for more of a look at the details that went into making the march happen.
It was, in part, that level of detail that ensured the day was known for MLKs ‘I Have a Dream’ speech rather than anything else. While social media can help to overcome some of those challenges through collaboration platforms, movements need to have organisers at the heart who are actively thinking about this, and are able to signal that to those in power that this can’t be a movement to ignore.
5 – Negotiation – while the lack of identifiable leaders can be a real strength, allowing a movement to stay on being about an idea, not a personality. When it comes to a need to negotiate a compromise with those in power this becomes harder, as it’s not possible to identify who the ‘leaders’ are. In some situations, negotiation isn’t an option, but in others, the energy of a protest disputes before any gains can be made due to the lack of its ability to collectively negotiate.
As campaigners, I found the themes really resonate at helping to explain both the tremendous opportunity that social media brings, but some of the shortcomings we need to be aware of.
It’s also reminder that change can’t be achieved by just trying capture the next ‘viral’ moment but instead requires investment in the slow and long work of building power, and a challenge to more formal/traditional actors in a movement to consider the role they can be playing in helping to build the infrastructure needed for movements to thrive.

After the results – a few election thoughts for campaigners

I’m still in that post-election daze, trying to catch up with sleep and making sense of what happened on Thursday. There are already acres and acres of writing about what we can make of the result, given that few saw it coming, so I’m just going to add a few reflections for campaigners as we look at what happened and look ahead.
1. Jeremy Corbyn can really, really mobilise people – I was running a Campaign Centre in Tooting on Thursday. Normally for a General Election, you’d expect a few hundred people coming through to help get out the vote. Thursday was something else. We had close to a 1,000 people come down and join us.
Whatever you thought of Jeremy Corbyn before Thursday, his ability to mobilise and energise people to get involved is phenomenal. Most of those helping out in marginal seats hadn’t ever got involved in a political party before. Lots of lessons for campaigners looking to mobilise to be learnt, but my hunch is that he’s embodied much of what’s been written about networked campaigns – a central strategic goal, but a huge amount of autonomy beyond that to allow individuals to express that in different ways.
2. Celebrate that turnout amongst young people is up – While I have a nagging concern that it might not be sustained – so I hope someone is thinking about the turnout operation for the next election – it something to celebrate. For campaigners, it’s time to identify how your issues poll with young people. This slide from a presentation I saw in Canada (which experienced a similar bump in youth turnout when Justin Trudeau was elected) a few weeks ago shows how the priorities of millennial are very different.


The other good news about the increase in turnout is that, as this Economist article suggestsone of the strongest determinants of a person’s likelihood to vote is whether they voted in the previous election‘ so that bodes well for future elections.
3. Targetted is the new broadcast – While been lots written about the Conservative’s use of Facebook targeting at the election, much less has been written about how Labour used social media. This Guardian article suggest Jeremy Corbyn also benefited massively from lots of content that was shared across the internet, again often outside of the view of commentators and many others who weren’t the target for it – I didn’t see any because I’m clearly getting old. A reflection for me that while as campaigner we can often obsess about getting mainstream media coverage, lots of campaigns can now be hugely successful by reaching the right audiences through social media.
4. Welcoming new players to electoral politics – I wrote in my pre-election piece about the more active role campaigning groups like 38 Degrees was planning to play. I don’t think these can be underestimated in the final results. For example in one of the seats that 38 Degrees focused on turning out the vote, they saw an increase of 6.6% in Hove – that’s well above the 2.3% increase in turnout across the country.
Avaaz is reporting that in focusing on 50 key constituencies it saw them ‘flood them with 1.9 million Facebook ads, sending 3 million emails with voting information, reaching 737,000 people, 48% of women voters on Facebook, and making sure young people turned out to vote. Finally, Avaazers SMSed 50,000 people on polling day’. 
Beyond that, the existence of organisations like More United who were able to quickly provide funding to pro-Remain candidates can’t be underestimated. Unexpected elections cost money and those donations would have been invaluable. Zoe Williams reflects more on the role of these groups here.
5. To influence you must build local power – I’ve written before about why marches aren’t going to stop Brexit. Given the new political arithmetic, I’d argue even more strongly that those who want to see a ‘soft’ Brexit need to look to build power in the places where they can have the most impact – but it’s the same for all topics.
Right now over 50 MPs sit on majorities of 2,000 or less, so for those concerned about their issues need to demonstrate pressure in the right places. With such a small overall majority, just a few dissenting voices from the Government benches and you could have a huge amount of leverage, but that needs local pressure to make it happen.
6. The Lobbying Act needs to change – if I’m correct, given the fact a Hung Parliament could mean an election at any time, we could be living in a state of a perpetual Lobbying Act, as the rules regulate any activity that happens 12 months before an election could be seen as regulated activity. That doesn’t seem like a sustainable situation, where campaigning charities are going to have to influence, especially when the Parliamentary maths means that smart campaigning is going to have to make the most of the different parties positions.
7. Don’t assume anything and prepare now for the next election – It’s easy with hindsight to suggest it would have been sensible to plan for a Hung Parliament, but as campaigners sit down to think about the possible scenarios for the next election, if we’ve learnt anything from the last few years is the importance of gaming out all possibilities from a Labour or Conservative majority, through to another Hung Parliament.

Preparing for June 8th – some quick thoughts for campaigners

Like many others, I didn’t wake up expecting that a General Election would be called today – but it has been.
I wrote this ahead of the 2015 General Election (and perhaps as importantly this after the 2015 election) which contains lots of advice and ideas that I think are as relevant today with the prospect of a ‘snap’ election than back in early 2015.
But here are 8 things I think campaigners need to be thinking about ahead of Thursday 8th June;
1) Check the law – As charities, you can’t engage in party politics, that is supporting one candidate over another, or providing an endorsement to one but not another, but we can, indeed we’re encouraged to engage in politics. Every campaigner should check out the guidance from the Charity Commission on campaigning in election periods.
As I write, I’m still not clear what happens with the timescales of the Lobbying Act, which was set up to work around the timelines of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, but also places further limits on what you can/cant’ do – I’d keep an eye on the NCVO or Electoral Commission website on this. But make sure that you’re checking in with legal experts who know what they’re talking about before you plan activities.
2) Read your evaluations from 2015 – As campaigners, we often love to dive into new plans, without considering what we learned from the last time around. While the political context has changed, May 2015 really wasn’t that long ago, so undoubtedly there are useful learnings from evaluations. Now is the time to dig them out!
3) Message discipline – If Trump with ‘Make America Great’ and the Leave campaign with ‘Take Back Control’ have taught campaigners anything, it’s the important to message discipline. Elections are times when more people are switched on to politics, but they’re also nosey times as well. So it’s much harder for your ten well reasoned and evidenced policy points to cut through! Focus on a single key message and keep talking about it!
4) The gift of time – The most precious commodity any candidate has between now and election day is time. You can’t create any more of it! You can always try to recruit more volunteers, raise more money, but you can’t create any more time. The polls close at 10pm on Thursday 8th June. Think about this in the design of the activities that you’re planning. If you want to get a candidate aware of and involved in your campaign think about how you can do that.
Provide candidates with something in return for engaging with your campaign, the opportunity to meet local voters, a photo they can send to the local paper or thanks on twitter. Also, think about the medium of your message, most candidates will tell you that they’re already being inundated with emails and briefing papers, so what about video messages or infographic.
5) All politics is local – It’s an old adage, but it’s totally true. Candidates are running to be MP for a constituency so that that means the campaigns that succeed do so by making the campaign local, that could be making connections to local figures or events, ensure your statistics are localised or finding local figures to speak out in support of your issue.
Also, think about what you can do to demonstrate the breadth of local support for your campaign the better. Remember most candidates are thinking about events to attend alongside two axes the likelihood of those present actually voting and the likelihood of someone in the room voting for them, so make sure you
6) But be aware of the national context – the graph below shows the top 10 issues in voters minds ahead of going to the polls in 2015. It’s an important reminder that while the issues we campaign on ‘day in, day out’ are top of our mind, for many voters they’re not. So think about that as you design your tactics – given the speed the election has been called quickly, you’re unlikely to be able to push your issue into the top 10. So how do you fix it to something that is already in the list, or being realistic about what you can expect to achieve.

7) Don’t forget June 9th – The election may be over, but the hard work for whoever is elected has just begun. Be ready to follow up with those who’ve been elected, politicians are often accused of only appearing near an election, but can the same be said of campaigners?
Offer to come to meet with them to brief them on the issue, write to them, reminding them of what the said in the campaign and don’t overlook getting in touch with the candidates that weren’t successful – remember that they might be candidates in another election.
8) Look after yourself – With 24-hour news, social media, the endless speculation, and the looming urgency of polling day,  elections can be exhausting. Make decisions today about how you’re going to look after yourself during an election, perhaps write it down, or check out this advice from Daniel Hunter. For me, as I’m getting ready for the next few weeks I’m already thinking about the habits I need to keep to!
And finally, as I’ve written before about getting involved in a party political campaigning, and now is a great time to do that. Go and offer to campaign for the party that you most closely align with, go and knock on some doors to find out what voters are thinking!

What academics can tell us about why some protests succeed (and others don't)

With the rise of protests in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in the US, it’s been interesting to see the emergence of articles looking at the findings of academic studies into protest movements and campaigning. Because they’re not tied to a single issue, they’re able to step back and look at the trends and evidence of what works.
Here are a few key lessons from the evidence that might be useful in the campaigns that you’re running – some of them are more obvious that others!
1. The size of your protest matters, but so does who is involved – Erica Chenoweth has found that active and sustained participation by 3.5% of a population is often enough, but Chenoweth writes that her research finds that ‘An increase in the number and diversity of participants may signal the movement’s potential to succeed. This is particularly true if people who are not ordinarily activists begin to participate — and if various classes, ethnicities, ages, genders, geographies and other social categories are represented’.

2.  Make your protest appeal to othersResearcher Robb Willer looked at what happened when three different types of protesters—animal rights, Black Lives Matter, and anti-Trump—used either moderate or extreme protest tactics, and found ‘the reason the extreme protesters were dissuasive is that less-radical bystanders couldn’t identify with them’. So if you want to grow your movement, think about how others view your tactics.
3. Be innovative and flexible – Academics write that those campaigns the adopt a “repertoire of contention” (or use a range of different types of strategies to you and me) are more likely to succeed. The work of Kurt Schlock suggests that movements that adopt a range of approaches, including a focus on centralised efforts like demonstrations and dispersed methods – are more likely to be successful. So if you over-rely on a single method, you’re less likely to win in the end.
4. Academics can’t decide on the best form of organisation – Academics agree that internal cohesion and collective vision are needed to success and resilience, but also warn against concentrating leadership into a single figurehead.
5. People will get involved for surprising reasons – I’ve mentioned the work of Zaid Munson before, but his research on the pro-life movement in the US is a reminder that people often get involved in movements without having particularly strong ideological commitments to them. Munson found that up to half of those who got involved in pro-life activism were indifferent to the issue when they first got involved.
6. Prepare for the day after the protest – The work of Madestam et al looking at the impact of the initial Tea Party protests in 2009 found that large protests were most effective at shaping ongoing policy when they could continue to demonstrate the concerns of those who attended the initial protest to decision makers.
7. All movements need to overcome the ‘coordination problem’ – People only want to show up to a protest when they know others will participate. Social media activity dramatically speeds up coordination — and helps actions to snowball much quicker than in the past, but you still need to convince enough others that they should attend!