Organising during Lockdown – some reflections from the last year

It’s about a year since we all went into lockdown here in the UK – an anniversary that coincides with about the same period of time we’ve been putting organising at the heart of our campaigning approach at Save the Children UK. 

As I wrote last January, the addition of organising alongside campaigning in our organogram was about a deliberate intention to move ourselves as Save the Children to focus much more on building the power of others in our campaigning approach – than simply focusing on mobilisation that perhaps we’d most comfortably focused on for much of the last decade. 

And no sooner that we got started, many of the plans and intentions that we had for our organising work had to adapt – as it was clearly not going to be possible that a vision of getting out and about to meet with those who wanted to connect with our cause, or traveling up and down the country to build leaders, all had to move online.

So as we’ve come to the end of a year of lockdown – it’s been a useful moment to take a step back and reflect on our organising journey over the last 12 months, and ask what I’ve learned from that.

So what’s worked and not worked? 

1. It’s put organising as the first thing on the list – We started last year with a couple of organising programmes going, but we now have so much more- a new programme now piloting working with students, some amazing work with parent campaigners – building on the brilliant Mums on a Mission community – which is at the heart of our work on UK child poverty, exploring work with diaspora communities after a number of years of ad-hoc work, and a more active network of Campaign Champions – our core organising role for those who want to stand with us for child rights that at any point in my time at Save the Children.

It feels like the decision to put organising at the heart of our work, has I think helped to remind us that this is core to the campaigning we’re looking to do – something to think about first, not something to add on. 

2. It’s transformed our engagement – driven by lockdown, but going digitial has totally changed who from our networks has been able to get involved. Before lockdown, despite recognising it, we were frankly too London centric.

Training days would typically happen near our London offices, but by moving everything to digital has removed that overnight – and as we’ve all grown more used to catching up with friends and family on digital platforms- so attendance at many of our online sessions has ballooned. 

But that’s not been without challenges, for some of those we’ve been working with, especially through our parent’s campaigning programme, access to digital devices or data has been a barrier, and we’ve not been as quick as we can be to resolve that. 

3. We’ve seen the community grow and leaders develop –  If the heart of what we’re trying to do is ‘build power’ through the leadership of others, then across the year I’ve seen lots of that starting to happen – individuals want to step up and take on responsibility.

But it’s also interesting that when I talk with colleagues I think that people still find the idea of being a ‘leader’ as something that fits a little uncomfortably, that they’re excited to be invited to step up to do the work and to given space to develop, but not sure about the label we put on that. 

4. It’s (obviously) been tough to do none of this ‘in person’ – sure we’ve seen lots of benefits from being able to digital, but there is still something that’s lost from not being able to have a chat over a cup of tea in the fringes of a meeting, or being able to celebrate with a high-5 or simillar.

The future might be more online, but it’s not going to be able to replace the fact that growing leaders is about connecting in person. 

5. It’s allowed decision-makers to decide who they want to meet with – we’ve had some amazing doors open for us in the last 12 months, with more people getting involved and taking to Zoom to meet with their MPs or directly with officials, but the big change has been that it’s further allowed decision makers to be the gatekeeper on who they do and don’t meet with – and that depends on both the interest in the topic or often just how organised their office is.

Gone have been many of the more informal spaces that you can use, or the formal mechanisms like pitching up in Westminster to ‘green card’ your MP. In the long run I’m not sure this healthy for how we engage with our decision makers – as I suspect they won’t be enthusiastic about returning to how it used to be.

The same for media, now little happens in the studio, it’s much easier to get a leader you’ve been working with to share what they’re doing as opposed to someone from our organisation who can easily get to a ISDN line. 

6. You can’t stop telling the story – often, in conversation, one of my team will share the most amazing story of what one of our volunteer leaders has done, but it’s been really interesting how hard it’s been to translate that into indicators to share with the rest of the organisation – it’s amazing how strong the muscle memory is, pulling you in the ‘comfortable’ direction of what you’ve always done.

I’ve learned this year, that you can’t just make the pivot and then hope that everyone will behind what you’re doing. You’ve got to keep finding the stories of leaders, sharing those stories, putting them into context for others, reminding everyone why you’re doing this and explaining how this approach. Building power takes time, and often we can be impatient for quick results. 

Who knows what the next 12 months are going to hold – hopefully, we’ll soon be able to get out and about again, building an organising approach that allows us to mix the benefits we’ve seen from lockdown, but bringing in-person relationships back into the heart of what we’re doing. I’ll report back next March with some more reflections.

How do we measure if we're having an impact?

NoteI wrote this post on the excellent report when it first came out in March 2020, but posting it got delayed by lockdown, and since then sadly MobLab has had to close down – but although the context for some of our campaigning has changed, the themes in it feel as important as ever.

The team at Mobilisation Lab has done a huge service to the campaigning community, by bringing together the ‘Measuring People Power in 2020’ report that has surveyed 500+ changemakers to look at the metrics that they’re using in their campaigning, and it’s an important read for any campaign leader.

(full disclosure – I was involved in the advisory group for the report)

It’s full of takeaways but for me, one that it’s got me thinking about is how it’s time for us to drop the vanity metrics and really push into finding measures that capture the depth of our work.

We’ve known for years the limits of vanity metrics – which look at list size or page views – and focus on the breadth of activity happening, but can often have little bearing on the depth of our advocacy or the impact it’s happening,

But the report finds that most of us are still using them, with 91% of respondents saying they use them, and importantly for leaders, that as senior management we might be perpetuating this by suggesting an ongoing interest in focusing on them.

The report finds that others perceive there is only a moderate or small amount of support for measuring people power from senior leaders.

So if we’re to change that, we’ll need to be part of leading it. 

Now I know from my own personal experience, leading campaigning and organising work at Save the Children UK that’s it’s easy to get enthralled with vanity metrics – they’re easy to report on, stand up against similar figures that are presented by other colleagues and make you feel good when explaining them to the CEO – who doesn’t want to be able to report that the number of campaigners you’ve had sign your latest petition. 

But they’re limiting the story that we can tell about what it takes to create change and prevent us from doing the hard work that’s needed to find new measures of people power – of course, I’d love to be able to say that the report has found a single unifying metric that we can all use to explain the impact of our campaigning but we don’t have that.

So where do we go next?

‘The holy grail of people power is a measurement that captures (a) the breadth of a campaign or organization’s reach, (b) the depth of sustained supporter engagement and leadership, and (c) the impact these factors have on achieving the mission’.

https://mobilisationlab.org/resources/measuring-people-power/

Well helpfully the report has some thoughts about what we can do differently, and how we might be able to start to search for people power metrics that help to reflect the ‘The holy grail of people power is a measurement that captures (a) the breadth of a campaign or organization’s reach, (b) the depth of sustained supporter engagement and leadership, and (c) the impact these factors have on achieving the mission’.

1. We need to talk about power in our measurement – the focus of our work as campaigners is about change, a good day is when the work you’re doing comes together to win change, but how many of our metrics reflect this. Are they rooted in an understanding of power as something that is dynamic, that changes, and that needs to reflect the theories of change that we’re using? Are we adapting our measures to how our campaigns are seeing how change will happen?  

2. Look outside our organisations to learn from others – the report highlights how some organisation are experimenting with different approach to measuring people power, focusing more on the depth and impact of their movements, for example Friends of the Earth in the Netherlands on how they’ve moved to focus on measuring the leadership capacity within their movement.

Or some interesting literature coming out of academia looking at the evidence for the approaches that work – the report is full of useful snippets of insight from academics, for example, this work that finds that volume of contact might not be the most important way of influencing decision-makers, but the quality of contacts is. 

3. Make it playful and fun – there is a brilliant quote in the report from Rachel Collinson who says ‘a measure is good if it is precise, practical and playful’. That resonates as it’s easy to see our conversations on measurement feel like a chore at the end of the process, but how as leaders do we ensure that we supporting the creation of measures that bring joy to the process, as well as reflection. How do we draw from others who are using behaviour insight to create ways of capturing information and using measures that are fun.

4. Celebrate what we’re already doing – I’m sure many organsiations have already moved beyond vanity metrics, but when the report says that one in five recipients aren’t aware of any promising people power metric – perhaps we’ve not good at sharing what we’re doing. We perhaps feel a little fragile about sharing until their perfect, but as leaders how do we share our ‘work in progress’.

For example, I’m working on a project at the moment that’s looking to build local campaigning infrastructure using a composite metric to measure group health, in another area of our work we’re looking more at how we can measure the number of ‘youth-led’ advocacy initiatives, and with our fundraising colleagues, we’re looking at a lifetime value metric that tries to properly quantify the contribution that our supporters make via their campaigning action. It might not feel groundbreaking, but perhaps helpful to talk about more.  

(If anyone’s interested and based in the UK I’d be up for convening a session where we all bring our current ‘works in progress’ then get in touch via Twitter)

So lots to think about, and the report helps to start of more of a conversation about how we talk about and measure what’s working and not working. 

US Election tactics and strategies – approaches that might work in the UK context.

So we’ve got President Biden in the White House and a Senate controlled by the Democrats – the US election is truly over.

But, if you’re a political campaigner in the UK, you might want to think about what this could mean for May 2021 – when the Westminster government seems set to continue to push forward with many elections in England (and possibly Wales and Scotland), despite the pandemic.

It’s easy to look at the Presidential campaigns and how they’re run, but dive down the ballot, and you’ll find a bunch of candidates and state parties doing interesting and innovative work that is perhaps easy to replicate.

And with elections happening in May, and probably in similar conditions to the US, where the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is going to force campaigners and candidates to adapt, it’s somewhere to learn from.

Here are a few to start from;

1. Stacey Abraham and her Georgia GOTV effort – Abraham’s who narrowly missed out on being elected Governor in 2018, has rightly been praised for building an election machine that helped to turn Georgia for the Democrats for the first time in over 30+ years, and then picked up two Senate seats earlier this month.

Her relentless efforts on driving voter registration and then GOTV across the state certainly flipped the state, indeed there was some suggestion her team was at the impromptu celebrations in Atlanta when President-elect Biden making sure everyone was registered, but it also showed the importance of investing in long-term plans to win.

If you want to find out more about Abraham’s this film is a good place to start, but the big lesson here is that if you want people to vote for you then they need to be registered – or have a look at her detailed game plan from 2019.


2. Beto O’Rourke and how he almost turned Texas blue – An similar story to Georgia, Beto who ran for Senate in 2018 has been running a commanding GOTV operation in the state. Those efforts saw him get some huge numbers turning up for his virtual phonebanks, which saw the campaign making over 2,000,000 calls on the day before the election – just thinking about organising that makes me come out in a cold sweat!

One of the keys seems to be bringing celebrity power to the phonebanks, so you can be dialing along with the stars. With lots of UK campaigns likely to be focused on phone banking in the coming months, it’s a good reminder that making hitting the dialler a fun community experience is going to be really important. If you’re interested, more on the campaign in Texas here.

3. Wisconsin State Democrats – another state which flipped back to the Democrats last week, and this short video is a good look at how the state party, led by former MoveOn.org campaign director, Ben Wikler, adapted to moving to a digital organising program in the middle of an election earlier in the year.

The big lesson I took from this film, and also following Ben on Twitter, is the importance of letting organisers use the channels that work for those that they’re looking to engage, that could be Facebook Live, Zoom or another platform. But it highlights the importance of distributed leadership with those who know their communities left to run the most appropriate strategy.

Another cool thing that I saw the Wisconsin party do was run these virtual reunion events which brought together the casts of shows like Princess Bride, which saw over 110,000 people donate to watch the cast reunite – campaigns need money, and in an age where many of the traditional approaches like fundraising dinners aren’t possible this looks smart (and fun) to me.

4. Ed Markey sees off a primary challenge – this isn’t about a victory in November, but back in the Primary season when the incumbent Senator for Massachusetts defeated Joe Kennedy III to secure the Democratic nomination. Markey has been an elected official for almost 40 years, but his long-standing support for climate action saw the Sunrise Movement support his campaign and it’s thousands of activists to help (and also produced this brilliant advert). More on the amazing operation of the Sunrise Movement here.

As this podcast explores, he won thanks to the work his organising team did to ensure that field and digital was totally integrated, and if you want to deep dive into what that looks like there are loads more lessons in this playbook that the team have shared which could be applied to lots of local races. I’d also really recommend a read of this over on Labour Society of Campaigners site.

5. People’s Action and Deep Canvassing – lots of the talk about the election was about the role relational organising would play in the campaign – but the team at People’s Action focused on Deep Canvassing – candid, two-way conversations where canvassers ask voters to share their relevant, emotionally significant experiences and reflect on them aloud – and showed through a study that this approach was 102 times more effective than traditional electioneering efforts aimed at persuading people to change their vote.

Now as Mark Pack rightly pointed out to me on Twitter there are some questions about if you can scale this given the time it takes for the conversations, but in tight and local races, there could be some value in this approach. One to explore further?

Campaigns Resolutions for 2021

A busy end to the year to 2020, moving house, and lots (too much) happening at work meant that regular posting stopped sometime in September.

But it’s a new year, so with my usual optimism I’ve set myself a new goal to get into a regular rhythm writing blog posts.

So this first post for 2021 are some other resolutions that I’m making – lightly informed by the last 12 months.

1. ‘Don’t take a fact to a narrative fight’ – last year saw so many examples of how effective framing and use of narrative can make such a difference if you want to win – on so many issues our opponents just seem to be better at this.

The phrase, which comes from this excellent paper by Kathryn Perera and others written in 2019 about what we can learn from the anti-vax movement, I think brilliantly encapsulates what we all need to do as campaigners.

Tell stories, follow the evidence on framing, and stop trying to win simply by presenting more facts or using myth-busting (which is proven to often reinforce the existing myth you’re looking to bust).

If you’re looking for more on framing I’d highly recommend a listen to this podcast which excellently unpacks some of the key ideas. 

2. ‘There is no such thing as the general public’ – too often I hear campaigners talk about wanting to ‘engage the public’, but as I’ve written before, a focus on the general public is often a sign that a campaign hasn’t done it’s thinking and planning when it comes to identifying who is really able to help you deliver the change you’re campaigning for.

Focusing on which segment of the public is going to be most important to help you achieve your outcomes matters, and if you’ve got limited resources then being clear on the ’who’ matters.

That also doesn’t mean that you just focus on those in segments that support or already agree with you, that can be easy to do, but too often it leads to going around in a circle.

3. ‘Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves’ – the mantra of community organisers is something that I’ve come back to time and time again over the last 12 months.

During lock down, I’ve seen our community activists step up, innovate, adapt, come up with new ideas and approaches –  and there are countless other examples from other campaigns.

Our approach to organising might have had to change as we can’t meet in person, but the principles have remained. Ask people to step up and they will, ask them to play more of a leadership role and they will – step back so others can step forward. 

4. Be generous and travel with others – if we want to succeed we need to go with others. There is that phrase, ‘if you want to go fast go alone, want to go far go together’.

In the last 12 months that we’ve seen the value and importance of going together – it’s always been true, and it often takes longer, but it’s more needed than ever before, with the scale of the challenges that we face as campaigners, ensuring that we’re traveling with others and practicing movement generosity is key to change in 2021.

5. See the whole canvass – I’ve found the SMK Foundation ‘Social Change Grid’ a really useful tool to look at in 2020 (pdf here), and the reminder in it that change doesn’t just happen through one route. That the campaigns that have been most successful are those that draw from across the whole canvass (see here and here for two examples I visualised during the year).

I know how easy it can be to get caught up in the part of the grid that you feel most used to or comfortable with, but we need to challenge ourselves to see the whole grid, and SMK have provided a really useful tool to do that. Looking across the grid matters more than ever.

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.

Understanding Campaigning – 4-week learning and development syllabus.

For those on furlough at the moment, or anyone looking to sharpen their skills and knowledge, I’ve put together this Understanding Campaigning syllabus. It was inspired by wanting to provide some useful learning resources for colleagues on furlough

The aim of the syllabus is to provide some recommendations of resources to help you understand more about campaigning – with recommendations of online courses that you can enroll in, talks and films to watch, podcasts to listen to, and useful documents or reports to read.

It was designed to be followed over 4 weeks, but in reality, it can be followed over any time period.

Each week is themed and was developed from recommendations from colleagues at Save the Children. It’s still a work in progress, and I’m aiming to add new content and material to keep it current – do add your recommendations in the comments.

COVID-19, volunteering and learning for campaigners

What campaigners can learn from the different approaches to coordinating volunteering during the coronavirus lockdown.

COVID-19 has seen an enormous groundswell of interest in volunteering, with the different approaches to how you can get involved in volunteering to help those in your community who are vulnerable or isolating are good examples of how volunteering and community activism is changing.

You have the decentralised, distributed, new power approach of local Mutual Aid groups, supported by a team of volunteers behind the https://covidmutualaid.org/ site.

Then the centralised, controlled, old power approach of NHS Volunteer Responders, run by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS).

Both have been successful at getting people to volunteer.

Over 500,000 signed up to volunteer as an NHS Responder in the first few days, and research back in April suggested that 22% of us have signed up to be part of a community support group.

And both have encountered some challenges.

There are stories of how those who signed up to be NHS Responders haven’t been called upon, while I’ve heard more anecdotal stories of how Mutual Aid groups have fractured over political difference or the reluctance of local authorities to work with them.

Thinking about the two models, I’ve put together this table that looks to reflects the differences in approaches;

But what lessons should campaigners take from the two approaches? Here are a few, some new, some old;

  • Always ensure you have tasks for volunteers to get involved in – the iron law of volunteering that you should always give those who sign-up to help something to do or those who’ve signed up risk not staying involved.
  • Use the tools that people are already using – having signed up to be an NHS Responder, the GoodSam app that is behind it feels clunky to use and not intuitive for the mass volunteering, while everyone is already on WhatsApp which has powered many Mutual Aid groups (or can quickly learn to use Slack) which has good UX at the heart of it.
  • Think about how you build leaders – that’s easy to do for Mutual Aid groups and replicates the lessons we’ve seen in political campaigns which make big asks for volunteers, I’ve seen in my local community how individuals have been able to actively offer skills they have to help the group, and then take on more significant roles in a community response.
  • Allow for local knowledge and adaption – When I signed up for the NHS Responder role it looked like I needed a car to do pharmacy deliveries, despite living in London and not regularly using a car, and it being possible to do it on my bike, it’s a tiny example, but shows how’s a centralised approach can often miss local knowledge/ which can lead to changes to improve the experience (and impact). It’s a theme picked up more in this article.
  • Make it about more than the task – my sense is that many Mutual Aid groups have grown to become more than just about helping others in the community, they’ve been places to organise other activities. It’s a reminder for me of the findings of Hahrie Han, who found that many of the most successful chapters or groups in her studies are those that combined political and social activities, deepening commitment and a sense of shared values. The ‘what’ of that might be different in an age of social distancing but the premise remains true.

I’d be interested in your thoughts in the comments on what else campaigners can learn, and for a brilliant deep dive into wider lessons for campaigners from COVID-19 I’d recommend a read of this by Natasha Adams.

How could the pandemic change our future approach to campaigning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jubilee 2000 – five enduring lessons for campaigners

For the last few weeks, I’ve been spending some of my time as a debt campaigner.

It’s been important work on a professional level, working with colleagues from across Save the Children and many beyond to push the World Bank and IMF to provide debt relief to the world’s poorest countries so they can spend it on their COVID-19 response (more on why and what needed to happen here).

On a personal level, it’s been enjoyable as it’s been a very short journey down memory lane, because the Jubilee 2000 campaign was the first campaign that I  was involved in.

But also because I know that so much of the campaign that I’ve been able to be involved in since have been able to build on the rich legacy of the Jubilee movement – without Jubilee 2000, you wouldn’t have had Make Poverty History in 2005, without that you’d not have had a campaign for 0.7% to be enshrined in law, and so on…..it’s the starting point for so much of the campaigning on international development that’s happened across the last 20+ years. 

Jubilee 2000 was a hugely successful campaign, seeing the world’s richest countries agreed to the cancellation of more than $100billion of debt owed by 35 of the poorest countries.

(As an aside, if anyone ever asks me if campaigning works I’ll take them to this school that I saw built in a rural community in Ghana that was built thanks to the money released through the campaign).

However, because the campaign happened 20 years ago, just before the age of everything being captured on YouTube, or perhaps because many of the leaders of the campaign have moved into other roles the campaign isn’t often discussed.

It should be, so here are my five quick lessons on what campaigners can still learn today from the original Jubilee 2000 campaign;

1. The best campaigns are powered by a simple idea – back in the 90s, Martin Dent, a retired lecturer in politics at the University of Keele, had the idea behind what would become the campaign. To use the biblical principle of Jubilee (the canceling of debts every 50 years) and call for the cancellation of third world debt by the year 2000.

A lot of strategies were built off that idea in the subsequent years as the policy work around the campaign was developed, but that simple, core idea was never lost. It was always going to be possible to say if the campaign had succeeded or not. It captured perfect what Purpose articulate in their theory of change for impact, with a clear target, goal, and impact.

2. Never underestimate the power of unusual alliances – throughout the campaign, you had unlikely or unexpected alliances coming together. Religious leaders, including the Pope, joining with Bono, Muhammad Ali, Youssou N’dour, economists, trade union leaders, healthcare workers, and many others coming together.

It was possible to put the campaign in a box, and that mattered as it made for unusual and unexpected partnerships, as this paper recalls the role that Bono played in convincing conservative US politicians. That unusual coalition, although I suspect at time fractious to hold together, was critical for the success of the campaign.

3. Don’t overlook the role of faith communities in helping to secure change – As a Christian, I’m biased in this, but it feels that the hundreds of thousands of members of churches and faith communities who came together to demonstrate to political leaders that they wanted to see action taken, for example, the 50,000+ who joined the human chain in Birmingham when the G7 met in 1998, was integral to the success of the campaign.

Drawing on communities of faith (and their traditions – in this case, the idea of a jubilee) can bring something powerful into any movement.

4. To achieve your change you (often) need allies in power – evaluators are undoubtedly divided on how much it was public campaigning that drove the decision to cancel the debt versus the political factors that led to it – and indeed that will always true in evaluating impact.

But as my boss Kirsty is always quick to remind me, campaigners can create the conditions for change, but it’s politicians who act to ensure that happens.

Undoubtedly the debt campaign needed the, then UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, to act as an advocate for it inside the G7 – he famously received a campaign action from his mother with a note to not “waste your money on a stamp to reply”, and as this film explores also the important role of leaders of some of those countries who were set to benefit from the relief package in pushing for action as well. 

5. Petitions can play a key role in your campaign – a staggering 24 million people across the world signed the Jubilee 2000 petition for debt cancellation – it was at the time a record-breaker and remains so. Something that is even more remarkable when you consider that it was gathered together in the days before digital campaigning.

The petition was used as a calling card for the movement, that behind it was support from so many, a reminder that a petition – if effectively used can help to demonstrate support for the change you’re calling for.

If you’re looking for more comprehensive document looking at learnings from the campaign – I’d strongly recommend reading Cutting The Diamond by Ann Pettifor who was one of the key leaders of the campaign.

Updated on 21st April to reflect helpful comment that it wasn’t economists that came up with the idea, but Martin Dent, a retired lecturer in politics at the University of Keele.