What does it mean to be movement generous?

“Think of any campaign success you’ve seen or been involved in. I would wager good money – that it wasn’t achieved by one actor alone: it was collective action that brought about change” 

I couldn’t agree more than with Nick Martlew in this excellent Mobilisation Lab post on what makes for effective collaboration in campaigning.

Like Nick, I have seen throughout my career that change happens when we come together and to achieve that we have to approach our work with a ‘movement generous’ mindset.

But what does being generous mean if you’re a campaigner working in a big charity or NGO, where a focus on brand profile and achieving KPIs can often disincentivise working with others?

I’ve come up with the following, but I’d love reflections from others;

1. Acknowledge and welcome the role everyone plays – this is a theme that comes out so clearly in Natasha Adam’s review of the ecology of effective social movements which finds that;

“Multiple actors and approaches are needed to build impactful change that lasts, and NGOs must recognise that they are only one (important) piece of the puzzle. NGOs can support, seed, collaborate with and build upon the work of actors across the whole ecology of a movement”

Few campaigns succeed because of a single organisation who plays all of the required roles – instead, they need a range of actors approaching an issue with different perspectives and tactics.

That might not always make it easy to be movement generous, but starting from an understanding that the success of a movement is dependent on others can really help to shift your perspective.

That including recognising the role of more radical groups which Natasha’s research finds “playing an important outsider role, bringing fresh energy and grabbing headlines with brave, surprising, creative, disruptive and sometimes illegal activities”.

2. Being clear on your role – work in a team, and at some point you’ll probably find yourself doing an exercise that looks at what you’re strengths/weaknesses are – and it’s helpful as it means you can be honest with those you work with day in/day out about what you do/don’t find easy to do.

So why don’t we do the same in the campaigns we work on? What would it take to acknowledge the role that your organisation best plays and focusing on doing that brilliant – helping to focus resources and effort where it can have the greatest impact.

3. Freely offer insight and resources – not everyone has access to some of the resources those working in bigger organisations can take for granted. You might have a budget for insight or polling that just isn’t available to others or have intelligence from an insider contact that has built a relationship with you.

As Nick says a key element of being movement generous is by ‘sharing your intel, being proactive in connecting people, and being thoughtful in how you convene’.

This can also include how you’re generous with the assets and spaces you have – I’ll be honest I need to think more about how I can get this right, but it’s an area I’d like to think about more, but there are good examples like Friends of the Earth who opened up their office spaces for ethical start-ups to use.

4. Share learning…. – one of the things that I love to do the most is getting out and share with others – either in groups or over a coffee. It’s easy to get caught up in being busy internally – there is more than enough to do, but as much as possible I’ve tried to create the time to share what I’m learning, both what’s working and what’s not working when asked.

I struggle to think of an occasion when not sharing an approach we’ve found to be successful wouldn’t have been appropriate – and if the tactics we’re using are being successful surely we want other to use them.

If you need more convincing, spend a moment learning from how many of those who’s agenda you probably opposed, and you’ll find that they actively collaborate in sharing what’s working.

5. But be humble in knowing that you don’t have all the answer – if reflecting on the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that the way that change happens is shifting, and NGOs are increasingly being outpaced by others who are able to embrace new power approaches. So taking the time to learn from others needs to come from a place of respect – celebrating and appreciating the work of others.

6. Do the work needed in a coalition – I’ve written before about what the keys are to effective work in coalition, and for larger NGOs it can be a balancing act to not dominate.

But if you’re sitting around a table with others knowing that you can ‘carry more’ then it’s probably a sign you should. That needs to be approached with the right attitude, but for coalitions to succeed they need everyone to pitch in according to their abilities and capabilities.

What can campaigners learn from start-ups?

I’ve finally got around to reading ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Reis. It’s one of those books that has come across my radar from time to time, and I ended up buying it after an impromptu book buying visit to my nearby book shop.

I can’t say I found it the easiest book to read – not least because many of the examples used felt a long way away from working in a campaigning team at a large charity.

But the principle at the heart of the book – about how to quickly build companies or test products in times of uncertainty, which has led to the creation of the ‘‘lean startup’ movement feels like it has crossover to the world of campaigning.

So the book got me thinking about the way I’ve approached creating a campaign strategy, and if a ‘lean’ approach could offer some clues to doing that differently. Here are some takeaways from the book;

  1. Test assumptions – identify the elements of your plans that are based on assumptions rather than facts, and set out ways to test them. That could be through polling, talking to others with experience of the issue your working on, canvassing perspectives, looking at previous patterns, putting out a minimum viable. Don’t build your strategy on your untested assumptions.
  2. But sometimes be prepared to take ‘leaps of faith’ – not all assumptions can be tested, sometimes you need to be prepared to take a jump into the unknown based on your assumptions. When you do that, be clear that’s what you’re doing.
  3. Genchi Gembusu – Go and see for yourself – as your developing your strategy or plan, don’t just do it in the conference room of your office. Get out and about to go and see firsthand the problem that you’re working on. Visit supporters, spending time understanding your opponents. Don’t rely on others to tell you, create time to see it and understand it first hand.
  4. Perform a smoke test – this is apparently a ‘classic marketing technique’ where you ask supporters to preorder a product. How many times do campaigns come up with great ideas in a brainstorm, develop them and launch them to the public without any sense of if there is demand for them?
  5. Focus on validated learning – avoid after-the-fact rationalisation – the stories we often tell ourselves about why an approach worked or didn’t work, but focus on proving with evidence of which elements of our strategies are/aren’t working.
  6. Avoid vanity metrics – don’t just record the number of people involved in your campaign, unless that’s telling you something about the cause-effect of your campaign. Vanity metrics are too easy for everyone to claim they’ve contributed to. The subject of the danger of vanity metrics is a topic covered brilliantly in this Mobilisation Lab report.
  7. Ensure you meet the 3 As of Metrics – they should be;
    1. Actionable – to demonstrate the cause and effect of your activity so people can clearly learn from their actions.
    2. Accessible – ensure your reports are simple enough for everyone working on your campaign to understand them.
    3. Auditable – ensure that the data is credible to the team working on your campaign. That everyone can accept how the metrics are derived.
  8. A/B test as much as you can – Campaigners have grown accustomed to using A/B testing in emails and digital campaigning, but Ries suggests that should apply to as much of your product (campaign) development as possible. Use the information to tell you what’s working.
  9. If you’re going for growth, understand where your growth is coming from – there are 4 drivers of product growth, being clear which is helping to drive any growth in your campaigning approach can be helpful in developing your plans.
    1. Word of Mouth – because your campaigners are telling others about your campaign. It’s going ‘viral’
    2. Funded advertising – by paying to acquire new campaigners.
    3. Through repeat purchase – you’re retaining loyalty and getting the same campaigners to return
    4. A side effect of product usage – harder to see how this applies to campaigning, but for example when you send money to someone on PayPal they have to start using PayPal as well.
  10. Get everyone in the room to understand the root cause – Reis advocates using ‘5 Whys’ to get to the root cause of a problem. I think you could expand that out too when something in a strategy isn’t working, he also suggests it’s important to ensure everyone involved is in the room.
  11. Move from ‘waterfall’ development to small batches – many developers are moving from a waterfall approach where everything is released in a single go, to small batches where updates and new products are released continually. Could the same approach work for campaign strategy – rather than focusing on a long strategy process that can take months before being released/launched, developing and iterating it in small batches going forward adapting to what’s changing.
  12. Appreciate, then challenge ‘organisational muscle memory’ – the hardest barrier to moving to a more lean approach is the muscle memory which makes it hard to unlearn old habits. Recognising these and challenging them is key to changing. Sound familiar? The concept of organisational muscle memory got me thinking about many campaigning organisations that fall into the approach of trying the same thing over and over again because ‘that’s what we always do’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a big deal for campaigners perhaps, but with Facebook still an important channel for acquisition and sharing of content the threat of the platform continuing to tighten its editorial policies on what is and isn’t allowed on social media. It’s something that other campaigning organisations have also spotted, for example, this PS in a recent email from 350.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When companies start to campaign

Starting out as a campaigner it often easy to take the position that all companies are your opponents – and on some issues, they remain the major perpetrators of human rights abuse and environmental destruction.

But that assumption can prevent campaigners from exploring how companies are getting more involved in campaigning – and potentially missing opportunities for creative partnerships to secure change.

Without looking for it, here are 6 (and a half) ways that I’ve spotted the companies are starting to campaign that have crossed across my Twitter feed in the last few weeks;

1.The Activist CEO – primarily a phenomenon in the US, as this article suggests an increasing number of CEOs are speaking up on ‘thorny social and political discussions about race, sexual orientation, gender, immigration, and the environment‘. Active at suggesting that they will move their companies resources or investment decisions away from states where they disagree with specific policies – for example PayPal decided not to locate  a new global operations center in Charlotte when North Carolina passed a law requiring people to use the bathrooms corresponding with the gender on their birth certificates, which became a referendum on transgender rights.

2. The Activist Employees – seen most recently when a group of over 4,000 staff at Amazon came together to add their names to an open letter calling on the company to do more to respond to climate change, but it’s a trend that is growing, as this graphic from Wired magazine at the end of last year shows.

With companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon all being on the receiving end of its employees, but as this amazing documentary, which tells the story of the Rolls Royce workers in Scotland who refused to service the engines of jets used by the Chilian dictator, General Pinochet, shows its not a new tactic, but it can be a very effective one.

3. The Mobiliser – I’ve written about this before, an approach which sees companies like Uber, Airbnb and others turn their customers into campaigners for them – apptivists, or as this article explores, brobilize — thousands of people via a simple email or push notification to blast targeted messages to their elected officials

Using the relationship they have to invite customers to take action to help to further a companies goals – seen for example in 2018, when Uber asked London based user to petition. Rarely (if at all) have we seen companies use their platforms to advocate for causes beyond those that will benefit them, although, in the US, Uber and Lyft have both offered ‘free rides’ to polling stations during elections. 

4. The Partnership – perhaps the most traditional approach that sees a corporate partner of a charity endorse or supports a campaign by promoting it, for example, Malaria No More have used their partnerships with companies like Rentokill and Fever Tree to promote their latest voice petition to a wider audience.

A more integrated example of this might be Scope’s partnership with Virgin Media, as part of its Work With Me campaign where as well as leveraging the marketing channels that Virgin, it was also able to work alongside them to look to implement their campaign calls for employers to think and act differently about disability in the workplace.

Linked to this is a variation, The Platform, for example, Netflix recent partnership with WWF to produce the One Planet set of documentaries seems to be a perfect example of this, where a company is able to use the platform it has to provide start a conversation on an issue.

5. The Funder – when a company makes supporting activism around a specific issue or set of issues an explicit part of its mission. Good examples of this would be clothing brand Patagonia which has been an active funder and supporter of environmental campaigns for years (I remember collecting a vote for the environment sticker when I visited a store ahead of the 2004 US elections) but something that is has increased since the election of Donald Trump and as this article explore its a very deliberate strategy.

In the UK, the handmade cosmetics brand, Lush is probably the closest equivalent which has a long history of both funding activism, but also using it’s stores and platform to push campaign messages and has built campaigning into the heart of its brand as a company.

6. The Policy Pioneer – when before launch or early during a campaign a company comes out in support of a campaign ask, helping to split the pack on an issue, and providing the opportunity to demonstrate to others that it’s possible to be achieved – for example, when Sainsbury’s first committed to Fairtrade Bananas it was seen as a significant or Starbucks introducing a charge on paper cups it showed support for a ‘latte levy’.

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?

How should you prepare for a 'snap' General Election?

Your guess is as good as mine as to if a General Election will be called in the coming weeks or months – if you want to follow the betting markets you can get 7/1 that it’ll happen this May, but with the possibility that it could happen what should campaigners being doing to get ready?

Be prepared – we’ve all got a story of where we were when Theresa May called the 2017 election – I was at a petrol station outside Ledbury on the way back from the Easter weekend with my parents where I’d said how much I’d enjoyed an Easter without an election – it came as a surprise, but no campaigner can use that excuse this time around.

The election is a possibility, so starting conversations with others in your organisation and putting together a ‘best guess’ plan of what to do in the event it is called seems like a smart thing to do.

Prepare for a short election – I have a largely useless knowledge of election timetables – but an election will be most likely run on the shortest possible timetable – 25 working days from the dissolution of Parliament. There will be no ‘long campaign’ – the period before the official campaign start.  That means having a plan for the first 24, 48 and 72 hours after the election is called as it’ll be moving quickly. The full timetable is here if you’re interested.

For those looking for candidate lists they’ll be available about a week later when all the nomination papers are in – although, in previous elections sites like Democracy Club have collected that information more quickly, however it’s worth being aware that the main parties have already selected their candidates for the majority of their target seats, so that provides an opportunity to start to identify potential supporters of your issue now – as Ali says says don’t leave it until the election is called.

Think like a candidate – If you’ve never spent time chatting with someone whose run for election, try to find someone and ask them about their experience. I suspect they’ll tell you about a frantic few weeks with multiple demands being made on their time.

For a ‘snap’ election it’ll likely be even more frantic, with candidates starting from a standing start, having to quickly get the infrastructure in place to run a campaign, raise money and motivate volunteers.

So start to think about approach based on what will work for candidates who have limited time and will be thinking about what matters to the 70,000+ electors in their constituency – look to provide them with useful information and localised briefings on your issue – as Sue Brown suggested on Twitter ‘they want things to help them get elected not information about what you want them to do if they get elected’.

Chose the right tactics – I’ve long been skeptical of the value of email to candidate actions – in my experience candidates aren’t spending much time looking at emails, but perhaps more aware of what they’re seeing on social media as they might flick through Twitter on the way from one event to another. 

I asked a few others on Twitter and got some really helpful advice from those who’ve been involved in campaigns supporting candidates and campaigning on issues that I’d recommend you follow;

It doesn’t have to just be about Brexit – just because Brexit will be the main focus of the election doesn’t mean it’ll be the only topic of the election, as Pete has written Brexit isn’t an excuse for not planning activities, it just requires campaigners to think differently.

Do you focus on building alliances in some key seats, or on working with candidates who might be supportive of your issue, or getting your issue in the manifestos, or perhaps use the election as an opportunity to try some new approaches or tactics?

Sure, most of the noise will be about Brexit but look at campaigns, like School Cuts, that got traction at the last election for ideas – see here for a few other lessons from 2017.

Use it as an opportunity to engage your supporters  – as campaigner we often live in a political bubble, assuming the majority of people around us are thinking about politics all of the time. They’re not. Election periods are a time when people more so than any other time are engaging with politics.

I’ve certainly seen an uptick in activism from my supporters in the past, and the evidence from post-election periods is that many organisation see a surge in people signing up. That’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be overlooked.

What are you doing to prepare for a possible election? What are your top tips? Use the comments below to share them.

What my tweets could tell us about the political, economic, social, technological landscape for campaigners…

Doing a PEST (political, economic, social, technological) analysis can be a great way for campaigners to look at the external landscape that they’re campaigning in – so as we head into a new year I decided to look back through the 100s of tweets I’d written in 2018 to see if there were some trends that might be emerging.

    • Brexit – enough said perhaps, and there are lots of great articles out there on the topic, but it’s going to dominate politics over the next 12 months, taking up the bandwidth of Parliament and Government to push forward other legislation, and also the need to shape new policies if and when we leave the EU. But the campaigning over Brexit also shows the new realities in how to use framing, narratives and targeting to win, for those who are looking to stop Brexit it can’t be through using facts alone.
    • The fallout from Brexit – it’s not time for predictions of what will happen, but the end of 2018 showed that events can move quickly, we could get a Conservative leadership election – and a reminder here that favorites don’t always win so look out for outside candidates, or a General Election which means that parties are preparing for it, both by selecting candidates for target seats and starting to think about their manifestos.
    • Metro Mayors – 2019 will see an election for a North of the Tyne mayor to join the existing 22 directly elected Mayors, and with increasing powers being devolved to Mayors they can be powerful advocates to push for issues at a time when Westminster politics can appear gridlocked.
    • A decline in the traditional way that we have engaged and communicated MPs. More and more research is showing MPs saying that they don’t find emails an effective way for supporters to be in touch, so what other approaches should campaigners be looking at?
  • The new divides – it’s been labeled open/closed or anywhere/somewhere but the last few years have highlighted the new fractures in British politics, for campaigners they present a challenge in an increasingly polarised country and show that there are some important strategic choices to be made in who you are trying to engage with your issue and a question of is single issue campaigning is contributing to polarisation.


    • How we gather – While attendance and membership of traditional institutions that have been at the heart of many movements like the church and trade unions might be declining, but that does mean that new spaces are emerging, from activities like parkrun to Crossfit we’re finding new ways to gather together.  


Economics – Interestingly I didn’t tweet much that would end up in the economic section, but here are a few reflections from the few tweets I did send;

Updated list of training for UK Campaigners

I got lots of positive feedback on the list of training for UK based campaigners I put together last year, so I’ve updated the list to include some new courses or more information where it’s available. I hope it’s helpful if you’re looking for opportunities for personal development in 2019.
A few things to note;

  • Information is taken from the website of the organisers and I’ve focused on training that’s specific to campaigners/change makers.
  • The comments are based on my experience attending or what others who’ve gone along have told me.
  • I’m happy to add in other relevant courses or training – the focus is on training for campaigners, so please do use the comments below to make suggestions, or update on the information I’ve provided.
  • For training that don’t appear to be running in 2019 I’ve struck through, but do get in touch with the organisers to confirm that’s the case.

There are lots of ways to learn how to be a great campaigner – formal training or conference can be as a useful way to pick up new skills, dive into understanding strategy or make more connections, but if you’re not someone who enjoys training I’ve made some suggestions here of what else you can do, and a list of some great campaign reads here.
And finally, I’ve found inviting other campaigners in to share with my team a really great way of learning so why not reach out to campaigners who’s impressed you, and shameless plug – I’m always happy to share what I’ve been learning at Save the Children.

For full disclosure, I helped to found Campaign Bootcamp (and still serve on the board), worked at Bond when they designed the latest training content and have spoken on the NCVO Certificate in Campaigning.