The last day of the NCVO Campaigning Effectiveness project

I’m sad to see the end of the NCVO Campaigning Effectiveness project (which has included the Forum for Change site) which closes today as the current funding streams that sustain it come to an end.

While it’s perhaps inevitable in the context of reduced funding to the sector, it’s going to be missed, and it leaves a void as it was the only project or organisation in the UK looking to capture and share best practice and upcoming trends across the sector.

I’ve been following its work for the last 3 years or so, and think that the project has made a huge contribution to the work of campaigners in the UK, it’s been a much-needed resource as the sector has made the journey to increase professionalism. I’m sure that not everything that the program set out to do has been achieved, and it’s encountered challenges on the way, but I’m certain that the legacy of the project and the work of the staff will go on.

Across the sector, we should be really appreciative of the work the project has done, so thanks to all those who’ve worked on it, and a personal thanks to Nicola Gilbert and Philip Hadley who I’ve had most to do with on the project.

I know personally how much I’ve benefited from the resources that they’ve produced, which I’ve literally sent around the world to encourage others to use, and I’ve had many colleagues who’ve enjoyed the training and networking events they’ve organised. But beyond that it’s been great to be able to have a space to share learning across all those within the voluntary sector who’ve been involved or are looking to get involved in campaigning. I suspect that some of the smaller organisations will feel the impact of the projects end the most.

As Philip writes in his last blog post, the legacy of the project is going to be carried on via a forum on the NCVO website, so although no new publications will be produced, it’s encouraging that a space will continue for discussion (if you haven’t already do consider engaging in some of the lively debates that are starting on the forum).

By way of marking the work of the project, and doing my part in ensuring its legacy, I thought I’d share the 4 resources they’ve produced over the lifespan of the project that I’ve found most useful.

1. Tips on Good Practice in Campaigning – this was one of the first resources I came across from the project. The guide, written by Tess Kingham and Jim Coe is a treasure trove of useful information and ideas about effective campaigning. Ever since I first found it, it’s been the document I’ve recommended to those looking to understand campaigning. In short, it’s excellent.

2. Inspiring Supporter Action – Part of a series produced in conjunction with BOND, an excellent tool in thinking about how to engage supporters. Another document I’ve shared with lots of colleagues who’ve been thinking about getting started in campaigning.

3.  Campaigning for Change: Learning  from the USA – I’ve not blogged on this yet, but by commissioning this research from Brian Lamb, which looks at some key thinking about measuring the impact of advocacy coming from the US, the Campaigning Effectiveness project has helped to introduce and expose UK campaigners to some fascinating new thinking which the sector would do well to consider how it could implement.

4.  Future Focus 7: What will campaigning be like in 5 years’ time? – a great document which makes you think about how the campaign landscape might change in the coming years, and what the sector might need to do to respond to these challenges and opportunities.

How about you? Which NCVO Campaigning Effectiveness resources have you found most useful?

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Useful insight from BBC4 series ‘The Secret World of Whitehall’

I’ve posted a few thoughts for campaigners on the excellent BBC4 series ‘The Secret World of Whitehall’ over on the NCVO Campaign and Influence Forum.

The three-part series, which finishes on Wednesday night, has been a revealing look at some of the key departments at the heart of Government over recent decades, and I think it has some really useful insight for those looking to influence government.

If you’ve been watching the series do share your thoughts over on the Forum. If you haven’t watched it so far I’d encourage to catch up on iPlayer.

From Serbia and beyond – FT profile of Canvas

Last weekend’s Financial Times has a wonderful article about Canvas (the Centre for Applied NonViolent Strategies), a Serbian organisation that trains activists around the world in how to successfully overthrow a dictatorship. Formed by a group of students who were involved in the overthrow of the Serbian Dicator, Slobodan Milosovic, in 2000, the group has gone on to train activists in Egypt, Zimbabwe and Burma.

Like many I was aware of the role that students had played in the campaign back at the start of the century, but the article shares not only the tactics they used then but sheds lots of insight into the legacy of this work. The article can be read in full here and I’d recommend it.

The five tips that the article outlines about ‘HOW TO TOPPLE A DICTATOR PEACEFULLY’ also serve as good reminder about core principles for anyone involved in campaigning, even if you’re not trying to topple a dictator! Analyse the problem, identify and agree a clear vision, build and maintain a strong team, with perhaps the exception of tip 4 which isn’t a risk in most campaigns in the UK.

1. Do your homework: analyse the pillars of support you want to pull on your side (“pillars” refer to institutions and organisations that are crucial for non-violent social change)

2. Come out with a clear vision and your strategy for your struggle – and don’t listen to foreign advice

3. Build a unity within a movement – unity of purpose, unity of people and unity within the organisation

4. Maintain non-violent discipline – one single act of violence can destroy the credibility of your struggle

5. Keep on the offensive, pick the battles you can win and make sure you know when and how to proclaim the victory

I’d also recommend having a look around the Canvas website for some interesting resources, including Nonviolent Struggle – 50 Crucial Points (reviewed here) which is a primer that drew on the lessons of the revolution in Serbia and this set of resources about recruiting and building a team of activists.

Three questions ahead of @fairsay’s clicktivism debate

Fairsay are holding what looks like it’ll be a fascinating debate on Monday night in Oxford around the issue of Activism vs. Slacktivism, with a great line up of speakers.

I can’t join in, but here are the three questions, that I’d be looking for answers to if I could make it along.

1 – What are the best examples of coordinating on and off line activism? I think most agree that ‘on-line’ activism alone won’t always lead to change and that it needs to be a key tool which is deployed as part of a wider strategy. If this is the case, what are the best examples of linking this together, and what do organisations need to be doing to harness the benefits of both?

2 – Have we convinced decision makers about the power of e-actions? I’ve written about this before but I worry that some decision makers see e-actions as a nuisance, rather than a legitimate campaign tool that allow large numbers of constituents to register their views. Is this the case and if so what more do we need to do to challenge this understanding?

3 – Have we convinced the public about the power of digital campaigning? Should the figures in recent surveys from organisations such as Theos, which show relatively low numbers of people think that e-campaign is actual likely to lead to change be a cause of concern? What do we need to do to address this?

If you’re new to the ‘clicktivism’ debate, do have a look at this comprehensive list of article’s that Jess Day has put together. Some good articles to start with would be;

Clicktivism is ruining leftist activism by Micah White, which kicked off much of the recent debate.
Small Change – Why the revolution will not be tweeted by Malcolm Gladwell
The case for online organising by Ben Brandzel
Exactly what role did social media play in the Egyptian revolution? on Social Media Today which looks at a very contemporary case study.
Finally, Study Finds the Internet Makes Youth More Engaged Citizens which injects some much needed academic rigour into the debate.
Clicktivism – will we acknowledge its impact by Brie Rogers Lowery reports on a similar discussion at the recent 6 billion ways conference.

Great free daily organising tips from @neworganizing Institute

I’ve just signed up to get ‘Tip of the Day’ from the New Organising Institute. They’re based in the US and every weekday they send a free tip about organising, many of which would be relevant to campaigners in the UK. How brilliant is that?

This is my favourite so far (which I’ve reproduced in full to illustrate how brilliant they are*). I can’t encourage you enough to sign up for the tips….

The difference between goals, strategies and tactics by Nick Gaw
I see so many campaigns get excited about a new tool, and then use it without considering how it impacts their strategy. There are some really sexy organizing tools out there. In the midst of some amazing innovation, it can be all too easy to get excited about using a particular tool and forget to think about where it fits in to the grand scheme of your primary objective. Unless you can use it to reach your goal, it’s not worth spending time and money on. So, here’s an example to demonstrate the difference between goals, strategy and tactics.

Your Goal: Getting backstage at a Justin Bieber concert.

Possible strategies, with accompanying tactics bulleted:

Strategy 1. Become friends with Justin Bieber’s mom

  • Join her book club
  • Join her church
  • Get your mom to introduce you

Strategy 2. Get Justin to notice you from on stage and invite you back

  • Procure front-row tickets
  • Coordinate posters and outfits among other attendees
  • Throw something attention-getting onstage

Strategy 3. Become friends with the bouncer

  • Dress in a way that he notices
  • Buy him beer
  • Date his best friend

Notice that the tactics for each strategy are unique, specific, and don’t fit any of the other strategies. If you can stay committed to your goal, put creative strategies into place, and use tactics that are effective in your specific situation, you’ll be in good shape!

And remember, if a tool or tactic helps you implement your strategy to reach your goal, you should use it (Justin Bieber’s mom probably appreciates a nice young person in her book club). If it doesn’t, then it’s only going to be a distraction (throwing something attention-grabbing on stage at her church is probably counter-productive).

If a tool fits your strategy and tactics, use it! But make sure you know why you’re using it, and how it benefits your work.

Go to http://neworganizing.com/tag/noi-tips/ for more and to sign up.

* if you’re from the wonderful folk at New Organising Institute, firstly thanks and secondly let me know if you don’t want this tip to be published in full here…

What the public really think about campaigning

NCVO have just launched a new set of discussion groups about campaigning over at www.ncvo-vol.org.uk. I posted  on the ‘Campaigning Landscape’ board last week about recent research into public attitudes to different campaigning tactics carried out by the think-tank Theos.

Do visit the discussion group to read the full post, including some reflections on the implications for campaigners.

Some of the headlines from the research include;

  • 36% of those asked had ‘signed a petition’ in the last 12 months, while another 15% have ‘contacted a politician’ or ‘started, followed or supported a campaign using social media’ in the same period. Only 2% have ‘taken part in a public demonstration’.
  • 72% of people would be willing to ‘sign a petition’, 50% would consider ‘contacting a politician’ and another 29% would consider ‘going on a public demonstration’.
  • Scepticism exists about the effectiveness of many of the most popular tactics. Only 44% thinking that ‘signing a petition is likely to change rules, law or policies’ while 37% thinking ‘a public demonstration’ is likely to be effective. ‘Contacting politicians’ (46%) or ‘the media’ (45%) are believed to be the most effective but are actions taken by much smaller numbers.
  • Domestic issues like fuel prices (52%), public service cuts (47%) and tax rises (41%) are the issues that the public are most likely to take action on, with climate change (17%) and global poverty (19%) some of the least likely.

Can 38 Degrees translate online ‘clicktivism’ success into off-line activism?

Some time last year, a friend forwarded me the following request from the campaign organisation, 38 Degrees;

We’ve decided it’s time to take this campaign offline, organising a series of meet-ups between members in and around they live. We’re looking for an experienced organiser to help us deliver on that part of the campaign over the next couple of months.

Without a doubt, 38 Degrees have been one of the campaigning successes of recent years, and in recent weeks they’ve been celebrating a ‘coming of age’ as they forced the government into an embarrassing U-turn on its plan to sell of England’s forests.

The movement has grown quickly and now counts over 500,000 members (who together have taken over 2.4m actions) and to the outsider it appears to have been able to be respond to the issues of the day quickly, while engaging its members.

But look beyond Save our Forests and you can see another interesting development. 38 degrees is going off-line, as it looks to build on the momentum it’s developed on-line to facilitate conversations and campaigning amongst its members through meet-ups around the NHS. 

Like many, I’m going to be watching to see how 38 Degrees get on with interest. Given the meteoric rise that the campaign has experienced in the last year, I have a feeling that if anyone is going to pull it off then it’ll be them. The campaign has a great group of experts advising them, energy and in the new government to act as a common enemy for many. But here are 4 challenges that I think they might encounter as they make the leap from on-line to off-line.

1 – Can they keep the conversation going? 
The language of the request seems to embrace the spirit that 38 Degrees is set up in. This isn’t about the top of the organisation decided to do something, more a genuine attempt at a more participatory approach to campaigning on a massive scale. I’ve been impressed with the way that 38 Degrees have gone about building the movement, regular e-mails asking me about my priorities and the push for ‘member get member’ recruitment to generate support for their actions.

It’s a refreshing change to see an organisation reject the more institutionalised approach that many campaign organisations adopt, but not lose its effectiveness in the process. The challenge will be to keep the conversation going, manage the tensions that are more likely to occur in the ‘messy’ reality that often exists when you throw together a group of people, while retaining the desire to continue to have impact.

2- Will it just be the usual suspects meeting in a different place?
I’d be fascinated to compare the membership of 38 Degrees to other more established campaigning outfits, like Friends of the Earth, World Development Movement, or even political parties. Have they managed to reach out and mobilise a new generation or group of activists? Or is it simply the same set of individuals who’ve already signed up to take action with the more traditional campaigning organisations just adding another outlet to their activism.

Equally, given the variety of actions toward progressive causes that 38 Degrees offer do they find tribes forming around different themes, with members only taking action on the issues that they’re interested in. Will they be able to unite them around the NHS campaign when they meet to face-to-face, or will this exclude some?

3 – Will it be as empowering?
Books have written about the success of the Obama election machine and its ability to put those who’d signed on-line to work off-line, but they came together for a reason, to get their candidate into the White House. The project was time-bound, had a clear aim and an existing structure (in the Democratic Party) to build upon.

38 Degrees have clearly built community on-line but will this come together off-line? Are the ties and identity that 38 Degrees members have strong enough to entice people with the prospect of sitting in a cold community hall to plan activities and will they be able to come up with an urgency to their actions?

4 – Can anything overcome the trend towards ‘cheque book’ activism?
The attraction of taking action with 38 Degrees is that it’s quick and easy, in a moment I can register my protest and make my views known without leaving my computer, hence the 2.4 million actions that have been taken. It’s a trend that most campaigning organisation is experiencing with the public effectively sub-contracting their activism to an organisation they trust.

This is one of the biggest changes the UK civil society has witnessed in the last decade and a trend repeated amongst the Trade Union movement and Political parties, which have also seen declining membership and engagement. Can 38 Degrees go against the flow and overcome it? I hope so, but I think they might have their work cut out.