Another Election = another opportunity to spot campaign trends, tactics, and approaches

So another General Election campaign has started, and to be honest I’ve not got anything more to add to previous blogs about how campaigners can use them most effectively (you can read them here, here and here).

But I do think that elections are great opportunities to be looking out for trends, tactics and approaches that will influence and shape wider campaigning in the weeks

And, unlike 2017, when the election took almost everyone by surprise, all the major parties have been planning and preparing for this election for months, so I suspect we’ll see more innovation in approaches than we did two years ago.

So here is my top list of what campaigners should be lookout for in the next few weeks;

  1. How Momentum uses Big Organising – the grassroots movement that is supportive of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. They’re the only group that I can see across the political parties who are trying to adopt the big organising approaches that have been at the heart of the success of Bernie Sanders in the US – in keeping with that approach they’ve published their whole strategy online for supporters to see.

    They’ve already kicked off the campaign with the largest mobilising conference call in UK political history which involved over 1,500 supporters, and this really site with great UX to help supporters find the key seats to go and campaign in.

  2. What issues cuts through beyond Brexit – the election might have been called because of Brexit, but don’t assume that will be the only issue the parties are talking about. Back in 2017, who would have thought at the start of the election that the Conservative’s Dementia Tax or support for the Ivory Trade would become some of the most important issues for voters.

    I suspect the same will happen this time around, and watching what topics cut through beyond Brexit will provide useful case studies for campaigners to learn from how issues rise up the agenda, how to frame a topic, built concern and keep it in the news agenda.

  3. Does this become the climate election? – awareness of the climate emergency has never been higher, thanks to Blue Planet, Extinction Rebellion, Greta and the School Strikes, but will that translate into a voting priority in December – given the science this should be the climate election, and that’s happened in other countries (more in this article) but will the same happen in the UK?

    I’d also be watching out for the way young people mobilise on the issue – youth campaigners in Canada have used their recent elections to drive up the conversation about the need for a Green New Deal, and the Sunrise Movement is doing some brilliant big organising work in the US ahead of the 2020 presidential elections.

  4. Who will produce the best video content? With more and more of us viewing video content via social media on mobile devices, and the ease of producing video content, we’re a long way from the days of Party Political Broadcast shown just after the news, but who will produce the most viewed content, and what can that teach campaigners looking to communicate using this medium.

    Beyond that, look to see what type of content gets cut through on social media – the Conservatives might have been ridiculed for using Comic Sans in Twitter posts a few weeks about, but apparently the era of political shitposting is on us.

  5. The great Facebook advert debate – The initial focus of the last few weeks might be on Twitters decision to ban political adverts (sidebar on that – the definition of political adverts that includes ‘advocate for or against legislative issues of national importance (such as: climate change, healthcare, immigration, national security, taxes)’ could catch lots of non-partisan charity campaigning – see more here) but watching how the parties are using Facebook in targetted ways will be packed full of lessons for campaigners – and how that shapes the conversation about if and how Facebook adverts should be regulated .

    Earlier in the year at the European Election, it was the Brexit Party who used Facebook most heavily in the campaign, and I’d recommend a read of this from 89Up on what they did – you don’t have to agree with them to learn from them. This is a great look from Who Targets Me at how all the parties are pushing A/B testing in their campaigns showing just how granular the parties will go in their tests, and this another good look from the team at Shape History here.

    One of the few positive steps that Facebook have taken is to open up the Ads Library, so anyone interested can just jump into to see what adverts candidates and parties are running – I’d recommend an explore.

Why you should add a campaigner to your charity board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trend watching – how technology is affecting political communications

Going away for a week has been a good time to catch up on reading and podcasts – plus the inevitable train adventures with my 4 1/2-year-old son!

One of the best podcast I listened to was this retrospective interview with Government vs the Robots host Jonathan Tanner.

Over the last 40+ episodes, Jonathan has looked at a whole range of topics about how technology is going to impact politics in the future – and increasingly already is shaping politics.

But this episode was especially interesting as it covered many themes that feel relevant to anyone involved in the work of social change, so I wanted to do a quick post about some of the big themes I took from the episode that I’m going to be taking back into the office.

Three reflections about how technology is shaping politics

  1. All the focus might be on how technology is changing the world -think about driverless cars or devices that track your health – but we should really be looking at who controls these and the power they have. Ultimately the big learning is about the increased power of the tech monopolies – and perhaps as campaigners, we should be focusing on them more and more as the targets for our campaigns.
  2. Our media consumption is getting more and more fragmented, and that’s leading to a rise in identity politics as we’re able to be served up more and more hyper-personalized content based on our interest and views, or what an algorithm thinks should be our interests + views.
  3. We’re increasingly questioning what is reality – and this is changing fast fueled by increasing awareness of disinformation by external actors and the rise in fake news. In short, we’re questioning more and more (something explored more in this episode).

Three places campaigners should be learning from

  1. The Brexit Party – as they’ve realised that they don’t need to go via traditional media outlets to get their message out they can create their own channels to broadcast directly, for example launching Brexit Box, a TV channel broadcasting content via YouTube, and when appearing on traditional media they’re focusing on getting a clip that can be shared on their social platforms.
    Jonathan in his interview gently challenges many of us in the development sector who are more interested in an article in Devex or the Guardian, arguing that there is a lag in the received wisdom of what’s effective amongst too many NGO communicators. If you’re interested in more of how the Brexit Party use Facebook then I’d recommend this from 89Up.
  2. Love Island – which has created a community of unofficial, but perhaps in reality officially sanctioned, social media accounts that can push out content linked to the show which the official channels can’t.
    They’re creating a community, some might say a movement, around the program. It’s a similar phenomenon that can be seen in the ‘leaked’ lines to take by social accounts that support Jeremy Corbyn around the recent Panorama election. In a new power world to succeed we need to let the movement create its own content and give away control – something explored more in this episode.
  3. US Presidential Candidates – perhaps less unexpected but a reminder that as the US election gets into full swing we’re likely to see a bunch of innovations coming from the candidates – especially those looking for the Democratic nomination. Here is an early look at how they’re using digital adverts, and this is a topic I’ll be following over the next 18 months, but it’s also a reminder that following trends from elections across the world can be a good place to look for new trends (for example in Kenya explored more in this episode)

Three opportunities for changemakers

  1. What could a new model of online organising look like? We’re still used to focus most of our volunteer time on traditional ways of getting our message out, but what would it look like to build a program that focuses on putting volunteers time to use online, engaging in the comments in articles, sharing content and calling into phone-ins. You can see some clues in how to do this in this Changemaker podcast looking at how Amnesty harnessed its members to review abuse on Twitter.
  2. What would effective messaging on Facebook really look like? Jonathan asked what would it look like if progressives put out their best data-informed messaging on Facebook how would it perform? Are we using the tools and approaches that we know would work to maximize the algorithms?
  3. Building a narrative of hope and empathy – building on the thinking and work that Alex Evans (interviewed here) has done to on collective psychology and how we could be creating a narrative and story about a ‘larger us’ that brings us together.

A toolkit for playing defensive advocacy

A new Prime Minister, a possible General Election and Brexit continues to rumble on.

In our current, politically uncertain times do we need to start to reconsider what campaign success looks like?

That’s why I really enjoyed the latest paper from the team at the Centre for Evaluation Innovation which looks at how to define what successful defensive advocacy looks like (and is summarised in the short video below)

I’ve written before that sometimes campaigners should focus on ‘keeping the keep’ rather than expecting that they can move the ball down the field , so the report ‘When the Best Offense is a Good Defense: Understanding and Measuring Advocacy on the Defense’ provides a really helpful framework for what successful defensive advocacy, which they define as ‘a “win” can mean avoiding a disadvantageous policy or holding the line on past wins’, might look like.

Here at my top takeaways;

  1. Start to reconsider what success looks like – the whole premises of the report is that too often we spend our time focusing on advocacy that leads to how new policy changes that occur, but do we spend enough time. The report reflects that ‘one of the challenges for advocates on the defense is accurately describing and exciting funders about impact that doesn’t necessarily match up well with ingrained ideas of success: i.e. a pronounced and consistent upward trajectory of positive change for certain populations or environments’ but I think that’s also true within our organisations as well. Too often we’ve premised our narrative on progress, rather than highlighting that sometimes ‘holding the line’ is a success in itself.
  2. Understand the reactive approach you need to take – the report highlight that defensive advocacy can take on different approaches to ‘stop making bad stuff happen’, it can include;
    1. Maintaining a past win or preserving the status quo – is defined by advocacy to defend or maintain an existing law, act or policy.
    2. Lessening the blow – focusing on modifying or removing the most disadvantage aspects of a new policy.
    3. Killing the bill – when the focus of advocacy is preventing the adoption of new policies or laws.
  3. The importance of the inside game – having good relationships with those working inside Government or Parliament. They can informally alert you to possible threats before they’re publically known, as it can often easier to stop a proposal or approach being introduced before it is known publically as it’s easier for a target to ‘walk back’ their position without being perceived as having publically lost because of your pressure.
  4. Playing the long game – although most defensive advocacy is often in the moment responding to a threat, others are involved in ‘proactive defense’ – long-term defensive strategies that can focus on;
    1. Pre-emptive defense – building or maintaining capacity so they’re able to react quickly to foreseen defensive needs when a proactive approach is unfeasible.
    2. Long-term restoration – winning back previous losses over time when reactive efforts have failed.
  5. Being prepared – none of this work is possible without advocates having taken the time to think through what will be needed to play defense and built the standing capacity ready to respond as needed – it’s a theme I find myself coming back to, are we doing enough to plan and prepare for these moments, and do we test our processes to ensure we’re able to respond.
  6. Hold ourselves to the same standards – doing defensive advocacy isn’t second-order work, if it’s the approach that is needed, then it needs to be approached with the same thoroughness of thought, analysis of targets and opportunities, and consideration of a theory of change as advocacy that is pushing an agenda forward. The report also has some useful reflections on what tools we can use to evaluate our approaches.

But as I’ve reflected on the report I’ve also has been wondering if ‘offense is the best form of defense’ that our most successful advocacy is when we’re pushing forward a positive vision and agenda, so while we should be equipped with the tools to run defensive advocacy, we shouldn’t lose sight of the need to present a bigger vision in our advocacy.

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

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?