The last day of the NCVO Campaigning Effectiveness project


I’m sad to see the end of the NCVO Campaigning Effectiveness project (which has included the Forum for Change site) which closes today as the current funding streams that sustain it come to an end.
While it’s perhaps inevitable in the context of reduced funding to the sector, it’s going to be missed, and it leaves a void as it was the only project or organisation in the UK looking to capture and share best practice and upcoming trends across the sector.
I’ve been following its work for the last 3 years or so, and think that the project has made a huge contribution to the work of campaigners in the UK, it’s been a much-needed resource as the sector has made the journey to increase professionalism. I’m sure that not everything that the program set out to do has been achieved, and it’s encountered challenges on the way, but I’m certain that the legacy of the project and the work of the staff will go on.
Across the sector, we should be really appreciative of the work the project has done, so thanks to all those who’ve worked on it, and a personal thanks to Nicola Gilbert and Philip Hadley who I’ve had most to do with on the project.
I know personally how much I’ve benefited from the resources that they’ve produced, which I’ve literally sent around the world to encourage others to use, and I’ve had many colleagues who’ve enjoyed the training and networking events they’ve organised. But beyond that it’s been great to be able to have a space to share learning across all those within the voluntary sector who’ve been involved or are looking to get involved in campaigning. I suspect that some of the smaller organisations will feel the impact of the projects end the most.
As Philip writes in his last blog post, the legacy of the project is going to be carried on via a forum on the NCVO website, so although no new publications will be produced, it’s encouraging that a space will continue for discussion (if you haven’t already do consider engaging in some of the lively debates that are starting on the forum).
By way of marking the work of the project, and doing my part in ensuring its legacy, I thought I’d share the 4 resources they’ve produced over the lifespan of the project that I’ve found most useful.
1. Tips on Good Practice in Campaigning – this was one of the first resources I came across from the project. The guide, written by Tess Kingham and Jim Coe is a treasure trove of useful information and ideas about effective campaigning. Ever since I first found it, it’s been the document I’ve recommended to those looking to understand campaigning. In short, it’s excellent.
2. Inspiring Supporter Action – Part of a series produced in conjunction with BOND, an excellent tool in thinking about how to engage supporters. Another document I’ve shared with lots of colleagues who’ve been thinking about getting started in campaigning.
3.  Campaigning for Change: Learning  from the USA – I’ve not blogged on this yet, but by commissioning this research from Brian Lamb, which looks at some key thinking about measuring the impact of advocacy coming from the US, the Campaigning Effectiveness project has helped to introduce and expose UK campaigners to some fascinating new thinking which the sector would do well to consider how it could implement.
4.  Future Focus 7: What will campaigning be like in 5 years’ time? – a great document which makes you think about how the campaign landscape might change in the coming years, and what the sector might need to do to respond to these challenges and opportunities.
How about you? Which NCVO Campaigning Effectiveness resources have you found most useful?

Can we ever hope to influence Beijing?

China officially became the second biggest economy in the world last month overtaking Japan for the first time, and while the influence of China over most international processes has been clear for a long time, can we ever expect to influence the Chinese government?
Both Oxfam and Greenpeace must believe so, as they’ve expanded out of Hong Kong to open offices in Beijing and include advocacy as one of the priority activities that they’re involved.
However putting the words ‘China+advocacy’ or ‘Influencing Chinese government’ doesn’t come up with many useful results.
No doubt that’s partly down to the lack of documents in English and the unique political system in the country. But even so the material about doing so seems to be very scarce, so I hope that this post will be an opportunity to learn from others about how organisation have gone about starting to think about the opportunities.
Here are two example of advocacy in or towards China that I’m aware about.
What others can you add? And what, if anything can we learn from them?
Greenpeace East Asia – Last year, Greenpeace alongside ad-agency Ogilvy turned 80,000 pairs of used chopsticks into trees which were displayed in Beijing in an attempt to highlight the impact of using disposable chopsticks was having on the countries forests, and encouraged people to sign a pledge to carry around their own pair of chopsticks. However, the focus of this campaign was on raising public awareness and personal action rather than political action.
Avaaz – In 2007/08 the online campaign movement repeatedly asked its supporters to send messages to the Chinese government over the situation in Burma. It collected an impressive 800,000 names on its petition which called for an end of the oppressive crackdown on demonstrators, including placing an advert in the Financial Times asking ‘What Will China Stand For?‘.
For me, these two examples raise as many questions as they answer. Do our traditional models of ‘northern’ advocacy need to change if we want to be effective in China? Is ‘quiet’ advocacy more likely to work than public mobilisation? What’s the role of the international media? Does China worry about the way its perceived by others around the world?

Are we seeing the first 'twitter' revolution – a campaign reader

For the last month my trending topics have included terms which relate to the events in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and now Libya, but can the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt be described as the first ‘twitter revolution’?  Here are some useful articles about the role of social media in the recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.
Please do suggest additional articles that help to understand the role of social media.
The Guardian’s Peter Beaumont in The truth about Twitter, Facebook and the uprisings in the Arab world attempt a fairly objective look at the use of social media in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and the contribution they may have made to recent events.
Malcolm Gladwell has taken some flack recently for suggesting that the revolution won’t be tweeted, an argument he picks up again for Egypt in his regular column in the New Yorker. Perhaps more interesting Wired UK writes David Kravets also argues it’s too early to call this a ‘twitter revolution’.
Charlie Beckett, Director of POLIS at LSE agrees that social media didn’t cause the revolution, but suggests that it ‘is now a useful indicator, if not predictor, of political change’. He has makes some important observations about the role of citizen media in telling the story of recent weeks.
Jay Rosen pokes fun at The “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators” Article and suggests that they avoid looking at the bigger question about ‘how does the Internet affect the balance of forces in a contest between the state and people fed up with the state’. Over at Huffington Post, Jose Antonio Vargas has long article entitled Egypt, The Age Of Disruption And The ‘Me’ In Media which explores some of these questions.
Finally Oxfam’s Duncan Green had a go at looking at the broader drivers of change at work, including the importance of technology on his Oxfam blog and then followed it up with reflections on some of the comments.
h/t @timsowula for some useful links.

What’s stopping NGOs speaking out against the cuts?

‘The Insider’ is turning into a must read blog for those involved in the Third Sector. Written by an anonymous individual in a major NGO, the blog last week dwelt on the challenge of speaking up in the new political landscape.
‘The problem is that as a charity we have a mission to campaign as well as to serve….we are making some noise about this threat but not quite enough to upset anyone, just in case we fall out of favour. It’s an old argument but still a relevant one’
It picks up on a theme that Polly Toynbee explored in the Guardian last week on the back on Jonathan Porritt’s criticism of environmental NGOs for not speaking out on the sell off of the forests, Toynbee quotes Debroah Doane from WDM who said;
“The same is happening with development NGOs – there is a fawning attitude over this government which defies belief. Many are acting in their own self-interest, at the behest of government, fearing cuts if they raise their head above the parapet. So professionalised have they become that they’ve lost the view of the role they’re meant to play – to uphold the public good, and fight for the rights of the commons, by keeping government held to account”
I think it’s wrong to suggest that the whole NGO sector has totally lost its collective voice since the new government came into power.
Sir Stephen Bubb, head of ACEVO (Association of Chief Execs of Voluntary Organisations, so hardly a radical bunch) wrote in response to criticism from Big Society Ambassador, Shaune Bailey who suggested that charities are simply ‘a few people with their vested interests who think they were going to make a lot of money’ that his statement was ‘a disgusting slur on the work of some of our countries most loved and most effective institutions. Our ” vested interests” are the most vulnerable, the most needy and the most damaged parts of our communities’
But I do recognise a hesitance from some to get stuck in to criticising the programme of cuts outlined by the current government.
So what’s could be stopping NGOs from speaking out?
The common argument is that it’s about NGOs worrying about loosing their funding, and there is certainly truth in that, especially in the sectors that are most reliant on large amounts central or local government funding to provide core service.  The new government has come to power at a time when voluntary income in scarcer, and many organisations are worrying about future funding.
But I don’t believe its simply balance sheets that are driving the debate.
Waiting to make a ‘big’ impact?
For some, I think its about choosing the right moment, there is no doubt that when some of the big NGOs come out and critique the actions of the government it’ll be big news. It is if you like a nuclear option, and a tool that can perhaps only be used once (perhaps twice) before it becomes ineffective. Are some NGOs waiting for the ‘right’ moment to go public with their concerns and if so how many have thought through what the red lines are that would lead them to do that? Equally, I imagine that many NGOs are making their concerns known privately to MPs and minister, but will it get to a point when they feel the need to go ‘public’.
Legal Restrictions
For others, it’s the restrictions that charitable status places on them (something that doesn’t for example cover organisations like WDM or Greenpeace who have been set up to be largely free of these restrictions). According to the NCVO website, charities are allowed to campaign, providing it is ‘trying to change a law or government policy’ and can keep going ‘until its goal has been met, but political activity can not become the only activity of a charity, indefinitely; it should be a means to an end, rather than the end itself’.
Are NGOs concerned that statements against particular cuts, could be threaten their need to remain independent and politically neutral’ and be interpreted as ‘seeking to persuade people to vote for or against a candidate or political party’? Is this concern especially acute given the coalition government, which means that the Labour Party is the main political party speaking out against most of the cuts? However, if NGOs believe that the cuts are seriously undermining their ability to fulfil their overall objectives at what point do the restrictions need to be challenged?
Understanding the landscape
Finally, are some NGOs still trying to make sense of how to influence the new government, and until they do that they’re going to be reluctant to burn their bridges by being seen as overly critical.  The sector has become used to a certain level of open door access to minister and decision makers within Whitehall, but that’s appears to has somewhat disappeared (evidenced by the records released by Tom Watson before Christmas about who was getting meetings at No 10).
Combine that with a scepticism that NGOs are simply lobbying outfits by part of the new intake of MPs and a growth in ‘crowd sourcing’ policy initiatives that appear to leap frog one of the more traditional roles that NGOs have played, are some still trying to work out the most effective ‘insider’ approach before resorting to an ‘outsider’ strategy?

How are new MPs adjusting to campaign tactics?

Parliament rose for the summer recess this week, and it’s been interesting to see how the new (and some returning MPs) have responded to all the campaigning actions that they’ve been on the receiving end of.
Exhibit A is an Early Day Motion (EDM) from the new Conservative MP for Weaver Vale, Graham Evans, who ironically used an EDM to criticise the effectiveness of them. Evan’s argues that;
this House regrets the continuing decline in importance of Early Day Motions which have become a campaign tool for external organisations; notes the role of public affairs professionals in drafting Early Day Motions and encouraging members of the organisations they represent to send pro forma emails and postcards to hon. Members; further notes the huge volume of correspondence that this generates and the consequent office and postage costs incurred; believes that the organisations involved derive little benefit from Early Day Motions, which very rarely have any influence on policy;
Only 22 MPs signed onto it although many of them are from the new intake of Conservative MPs, which might signal a disinterest in using them as a tool to register their support for an issue in the future.
Many campaigners have long discussed the effectiveness of EDMs, described by some MPs, who refuse to sign onto them viewing them as a form of ‘parliamentary graffiti’, but others see them as a useful way of demonstrating support for an issue, and a way of giving MPs a specific action to take to demonstrate support for an issue. ConservativeHome has more on the EDM and a counter one from another Conservative MP, plus an interesting case study of how an EDM started a campaign to keep the General Election Night Special, although this came as a result of a campaign that was initiated and of particular interest to MPs.
Exhbit B is this recent report in Third Sector magazine from a Media Trust event at which Charles Walker MP, a backbench Conservative MP commented that ‘Charities often write to MPs asking us to write to ministers to express their disquiet. They assume their concerns must be our concerns. That’s almost bullying, to be honest. Lots of the lobbying MPs are subjected to is blunt and cackhanded’
Going on to say that some charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Support and a local hospice charity in his constituency, were very good at communicating with him. Inviting him to events they are holding locally and saying “It’s almost impossible for an MP to turn down an invitation from a charity that is doing good work in his or her constituency.”
It’s too early to tell if the new batch of MPs are going to be more or less receptive to popular campaigning, but these two examples should perhaps challenge campaigning organisatons to think afresh about the tactics and approaches that are going to use to influence the new (and old) intake.

Top 50 Political Influencers

I’m a big fan of Total Politics magazine. Every month its full of articles that are invaluable to campaigners. This month it profiles the ‘Top 50 Political Influencers’, those key influencers who don’t hold a political office but have an important role in shaping government decisions.
I don’t necessarily agree with the whole list, I think it’s a bit light on influential business leaders, and a bit too full of directors of think tanks, but it’s a useful reminder of the importance of considering the role of those who aren’t elected when looking at ‘routes to influence’.
Spending some time considering ‘routes to influence’ is a key activity in planning a campaign. If you’re stuck for ideas, you could do a lot worse than having a look at some of the lists that Total Politics have produced.

Getting to know the Conservatives

Whatever happens in the upcoming General Election (and as a personal disclaimer at this point I’m doing what I can to get as many Labour MPs elected) it’s clear that while many campaigners have got comfortable working with a Labour government, but know less about how to effectively influence the Conservative party.
Here are my 3 suggestions to campaigners wanting to get to know the party that might form the next government.
1 – Get the daily lowdown on what’s happening
Signing up for the Conservative Home daily e-mails is the best place to get the intelligence on what MPs, councillors and activists are thinking and doing.
A day doesn’t seem to go by without the site featuring an announcement from a front-bench minister or the release of a new report or study. A valuable investment of 5 minutes each day and it costs nothing.
For other useful Conservative blogs to look at have a look at the top 100 right-of-centre blogs as voted by the readers of Iain Dale.
2 – Get to know the key players and who influences them
Being able to do an effective power analysis is central to good campaigning, and once again the people behind Conservative Home have excelled themselves producing this excellent wall chart which helps you understand who’s who in the Conservative Party. If you’ve got more money to spend, they’ll also provide you with a whole host of other useful resources.
Useful books to read include the very accessible ‘Cameron and the Rise of the New Conservatives‘ by Francis Elliot, the more academic ‘The Conservatives under David Cameron: Built to Last?‘ edited by Simon Lee and ‘Cameron on Cameron‘ by Dylan Jones.
3 – Find out about the fresh intake of MPs
Lots has been written that one of the defining features of the next Parliament will be the large number of new MPs. The Conservative website has a decent list of all its PPC, and a number of polling companies have put together reports profiling those that are most likely to get elected, like this one from Insight PA.
Even better more and more are embracing social media and have their own blogs, facebook pages and twitter accounts (here is a list from tweetminster). A quick search and you can find out all sorts about what they think on your campaign issue.

Jenni Williams – a thorn in Mugabe's side

The Observer today has an inspiring interview with Jenni Williams of the leaders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), a campaign group which has been doing amazing things in Zimbabwe. 
It’s a humbling read and a reminder of how fortunate we are to be able to have the right to free expression in the UK.