How Oxfam let key activists know about its new campaign first

Oxfam are due to launch a new global campaign tomorrow (June 1st – although it seems that the BBC have jumped the gun by reporting on it a day early), and we’re promised that we should be prepared for a ‘impending wonk, campaign, celeb and media fest around Oxfam’s campaign launch tomorrow. Biggest thing ever; simultaneous launches in 45 countries; bigger (at least in ambition) than Make Poverty History or Make Trade Fair’
While it’ll be interesting to watch how the campaign develops and the tactics they use, especially with so many countries involved, as a campaigner I’ve also been interested in following the way that Oxfam GB have already soft launched the campaign to key activists around the country.
For example a colleague forwarded me an invite to a supporter phone briefing the activism team hosted on May 17th. It’s the first time I’ve come across the idea of such a call, but it seems like a really inspired and practical idea. The call involved speakers from the Oxfam GB’s Campaigns and Policy team, alongside representatives from the Events team with practical suggestions about what people could do.
Looking at the Cover It Live conversation from the call it looks like those who participated had a really lively conversation. For me, using such an innovative tool has a number of advantages;

  • It builds a sense of ownership – For those invited to be part of the call to allows them to feel that they’re the first to know, that they’ve got a responsibility to promote the campaigns to their own networks when it goes live.
  • It equips people and provides a space to ask the difficult questions – It’s easy to launch a new campaign with the accompanying policy report, but the reality is that most activists don’t have time to sit down immediately to read and digest it. A call like this allows the opportunity for supporters to feel like they’ve had the opportunity to ask before they’re hearing about it on the news.
  • It builds loyalty – by breaking down the divide between staff and supporters, especially by actively asking for suggestions and ideas, it makes Team Oxfam bigger. They also actively encouraged those on the call to join a group on their ‘enabler‘ site to keep the conversation going.
In the past, the cost of hosting such a call would have been prohibitive but here are a few ways that other campaigns looking to try the idea could do it for almost nothing;
  • PowWowNow is a free conference call service, which can facilitate ‘event calls’ for up to 300 people.
  • Cover It Live is an excellent interface for facilitating live discussion between a group. It’s free and you can use it to display images, carry out polls and can even include live video from a webcam if you’re prepared to pay a little extra.
What other free technology exists that could enhance a call like this? Have you seen other organisations use similar tools to keep key supporters informed? 

Can we ever hope to influence Beijing?

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

Progress reports – letting campaigners know how it's going!

I’ve just (belatedly) come across Oxfam’s excellent ‘Climate Change Campaign Progress Report’ it’s a simple idea, but I think that this the first time I’ve seen it used by a big campaigning organisation.
For much of the last year, Oxfam have been writing a monthly progress report on their climate change campaigning, giving themselves a score out of 5 for how they’ve been doing against their change objectives. Their isn’t much about the criteria they use for reaching the score on the site (if anyone from Oxfam is reading this I’d be great if you could share it), but its an excellent way of giving a snapshot of campaign progress.
Campaigning can be a mysterious process, with decisions made by the ‘professionals’ and requests made of supporters to take action, so I really like the way that they’ve unpacked this in such a user-friendly way. Each month Oxfam takes the time to explains to their supporters about what’s happened, what’s worked and what hasn’t worked, as well as providing more about the context about the direction they see the campaign going in.
Doing this isn’t without its risks. You’ve got to be prepared to publicly admit when you get things wrong (and explain why), you run the risk of going for months getting the same score for impact through no fault of your own (the campaign has scored above a 3 since November 200) and your targets can identify the approach you plan to take but despite that it’s a neat innovation.
Some might argue that it’s a bit too simplistic, that it’s not possible to rank the impact of
campaigning simply out of 5, but in an era where transparency and accountability are rightly becoming important things to be considered I think that view is short-sighted and Oxfam should be applauded for trying to let their campaigners know how it’s going. I hope others will follow, I know I’ll be encouraging the campaigns I’m a part of to do so.