Top Posts for August 2011

Its been a quieter August on the blog, but still a huge thanks to everyone who has visited, tweeted a link or posted a comment.

Here are the five most read articles for the month.

1. Thoughts on the first week of epetitions.direct.gov.uk
2. Summer Reading
3. Advocacy in 2020 – future trends and how to prepare for them
4. Four exciting things happening in campaigning
5. Campaign Totals 2011 – By department

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On holiday….back in September

A Daily Tip e-mail from the good folk at New Organising Institute reminded me last week about the importance of taking a holiday. They came up with lots of useful reasons as to why we should take a break.

Back in September

With this in mind, I’m going to pause blogging until the start of September to take a short break myself.

If you’re an activist and you haven’t taken a break for a while I’d encourage you to do so.

If you have taken a break recently and are looking for useful reading on campaigning, why not have a look at;

My Summer Reading list – Lots of great books recommended by folk from across the campaigning world
The Right Ethos tweets – they’re suggesting a campaigning resource you should be reading throughout August.
These old posts that still get lots of traffic to them Best Advocacy Videos and Great Campaign Stunts.

See you in September…..

Campaign Totals 2011 – By department

Third Sector magazine have covered the Campaign Totals work that I’ve been doing in the latest edition which comes out today. So for those arriving at the blog I’ve complied the responses into one place.

In May, I used Freedom of Information to ask each department;

  1. The total number of campaign letters, postcards and emails that appeared to be part of a coordinated campaign you received from 1st May 2010 to 1st May 2011
  2. The breakdown of these numbers by delivery method (letter, postcard and email).
  3. A breakdown by topic and/or organisation(s) where you received more than 500 items of correspondence (through any delivery method) that appeared to be part of a coordinated campaign in the period defined above.

Below is a list of the departments I’ve had responses from;

Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Department for Communities and Local Government
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Department for Education
Department of Energy and Climate Change
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Department for International Development (and more here)
Department for Transport
Department of Health
Export Credits Guarantee Department
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Treasury – I’m still processing the information but click here and here for a pdf of the response.
Home Office

I’m still waiting for the Ministry of Justice to respond, while the Ministry of Defence said it did not hold this information. The Department for Work and Pensions indicated that it didn’t have any accurate information about the numbers of actions it received.

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Advocacy in 2020 – future trends and how to prepare for them

I’m not sure what caused it but the spring saw a number of  reports being produced by NGOs which looked at future trends. The two I’ve found most useful are ‘Leading Edge 2020‘ by Troicaire and ‘2020 Development Futures‘ by Action Aid.

They’re well worth a read as they provide a huge amount of insight into what might be coming on the horizon, much of which could have huge impacts on our advocacy and should also provide a challenge for any organisation that hasn’t spent a little time thinking about how it’ll respond to a changing environment.

Alex Evans who, amongst other things is editor of the excellent GlobalDashboard.org, authored the ‘2020 development futures’ paper for Action Aid, in it he makes 10 recommendations for the next 10 years.

They’re all insightful but 5 stand out as being especially important to advocates;

1. Be ready for external shocks – A reminder that external shocks are often the key driver of change, reflecting on the quote from Friedman that ‘Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around‘. Evans suggests that ‘Civil society organisations should put aside a substantial proportion of their policy and advocacy to roll them out rapidly when ten times as much political space opens up overnight, for three weeks only‘.

2. Putting members in charge – arguing that we’ve traditionally built our engagement on largely passive engagement of members who have responded by signing a postcard or donating money. Evans argues that CSOs need to ‘put their members in charge as far as possible using technology platforms to ask them regularly what to campaign on, where, how to do it, and how they want to be involved’.

3. Specialise in coalitions – but not simply civil society organisations, suggesting that power is going to become more diffuse and that it’ll be going to bloggers, citizens, NGOs, businesses and beyond. The effective civil society organisations will need to be the catalysts to create shared platforms and the glue to keep them together. Practically, Evans suggests that coalitions will need to be more diverse and will need staff within CSOs who have experience outside the civil society sector who can act as ‘translators’ in bring these diverse coalitions together.

4. Expect failure – Which is linked to being ready for external shocks, but also recognising that CSOs will also expect to find their own operations under stress. I’ve written before about how we shouldn’t see failure as a bad thing as long as we learn from it.

5. Be storytellers – suggesting ‘if diverse coalitions are key to effecting political change, it is narratives, and compelling visions of the future, that can animate networks and coalitions over the long-term‘ and calling on CSOs to be storytellers about the future.

If you’re inspired to spend some time thinking about how future trends might impact your work, here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Have a read of NCVOs ‘Making Sense of the External Environment‘ booklet.
  • Gather together some colleagues and spend 30 minutes trying to draw together PEST or PESTLE  analysis on the trends that might affect campaigning in the coming years – both are simple tools that allow you to gather your thoughts on what might be happening in key areas.
  • Based on your PEST chart, ask yourself what will campaigning look like in 2020.  Identify different scenarios and consider how your campaign might adapt.
  • Spend sometime soaking up ideas on sites like trendwatching.com or www.3s4.org.uk
  • Look at NCVO Future Focus booklet which asks what will campaigning look like in 5 years time.
  • Come up with a list of up to 5 practical things you’re going to do to respond. I’ve found it’s easy to spend lots of time thinking about future trends but organisations often struggle to start to act on them.
Do you agree with the recommendations that Evans makes? How do you go about reflecting on future trends?

Campaign Totals to DEFRA in 2007 & 2008

Back in 2009 I started to use Freedom of Information to find out about the number of campaign actions to a handful of departments that I’d been involved in running campaign actions towards.

DEFRA was one of them and here are the results of the actions they received in 2007 and 2008 as pdfs to view through scribd.com

Total number in 2007 – 108,617 (38,191 emails and 70,426 postcards)

Total number in 2008 – 155,419 (30,429 emails and 124,990 postcards)

I also asked for information for 2005 but they were unable to provide this, and 2006 where I was informed they received 75,000 actions.

Information taken from Freedom of Information request returned on 9 March 2009 and is taken from a list of information provided by DEFRA.

More about the ‘Campaigns Total’ project for 2010-11 here. Be first to get the information from other departments by subscribing to the site using the box on the right, adding https://thoughtfulcampaigner.wordpress.com/ to your RSS feed or following me on twitter (@mrtombaker)

Thoughts on the first week of epetitions.direct.gov.uk

It’s a week since the Government launched its e-petition website, so what have we learnt from the first 7 days?

Update 12/8 – 1,806 petitions have been added in the sites first week, of those 152 have gained only 1 signature and only 28 have gained more the 1,000. 

1 – The site can’t cope with surges in traffic.
It was perhaps to be expected that the site would go down on the first day, indeed it’s almost a tradition for new government sites which have all failed to anticipate the number of people visiting. But it’s also been down for much of today (Wednesday) as people have surged to sign a petition to remove benefits from those convicted of rioting in London which has gained over 79,000 signatures very quickly. I’d be concerned that the site wouldn’t be able to cope if an organisation with big mailing list asked its supporters to take action by signing a petition.

The e-petition site has struggled to cope with surges in traffic to it

2 – The social media integration isn’t that bad…
Each petition page has buttons that allow you to broadcast the petition via twitter, Facebook and Linkedin which is good to see, but as Pete Taylor points out that site could have gone much further suggesting designed shouldbuild out the e-petition system as an API – an ‘API’ allows other pieces of software to access a system….organisations could feature the petitions on their websites and recruit activists to their own email and supporter databases at the same time’

3 – But finding a petition could be much easier
One of the most disappointing aspect of the site is the homepage, which list the petitions by most recent one put up as a default option and provides two other options which allow you to sort by title and number of signatures. The search function is satisfactory, and they’re also listed by department but it would have been nice to see other ways of finding petitions, and perhaps details of the latest, most signed and most signed in the last 24 hours detailed on the home page.

4 – It’s social media that’s driving traffic to the site.
Last Thursday was a great case study for this. The petition to bring back capital punishment, which had been championed by blogger Guido Fawkes was heavily trailed in the newspaper and TV but by the end of the day it’d only got 3,000 signatures.

Contrast that to a counter petition to retain the ban on capital punishment which was promoted almost exclusively on twitter until Newsnight covered it which got 6,000 in the first day. A week later it’s still well ahead of the supposedly ‘higher profile’ petition. Similarly, it looks like much of the traffic to the London rioting petition has come from Facebook/Twitter as the media hasn’t been interested in covering it, bit.ly suggests that its been shared over 65,000 times on Facebook.

5 – Those behind it are more agile than expected.
I wrote last week that one of my concerns was that it’d take 7 days for petitions to be approved, which would make it hard for petitions to capitalise on what’s happening in the media. Given that the first report of recent events in London came through on Saturday night, the London rioting petition shows that it’s possible for those working on it to turn around petitions quicker than that.

6 – I’m already a little bored of it.
As I write the top petitions are on very similar subjects to those that were around on the No10 petition site, it’s almost predictable and as yet it doesn’t seem to have generated any interesting new ideas for Parliament to debate.

This is perhaps in part down to the format that requires any petition to get over the 100,000 signature threshold, which means many campaigns will feel that they can’t make target but also the lack of flexibility in the system. I’m expecting some media coverage of the first petition that makes it over the 100,000 line and the first to be debated, but after that I’m not sure how much interest its going to generate.

What are your thoughts or reflections from the first week of the e-petition site? 

Four exciting things happening in campaigning

I spent some time with some colleagues last week talking about future trends in campaigning. As part of it, I was asked to share the four things most exciting things happening in campaigning at the moment.

Here’s my list, what would you include?

Change.org – Combining e-activism and crowd sourcing, change.org seems to have hit upon a great campaigning tool.

Although it’s not had a big launch in the UK yet, it did manage to generate two significant actions to Home Office in the last 12 months. Change combines a platform to allow individuals to come up with their own campaign actions and a mechanism to push those out to a wider audience, including media and organising support.

I really like the way that they’re putting the campaigning tools in the hands of individuals who are interested in running campaigns and the creativity of some of the actions that are being generated. Lots of campaigning organisations could learn from the approach that change.org is taking.

Gates Foundation – I’m not only excited by the recognition from the Gates Foundation that they need to be engaging in advocacy, and the clear theory of change they have which is to invest in research and analysis in the south, initiate a debate in the media and support public mobilisation.

I’m excited at the potential of other Foundation following them and providing a much-needed funding stream for advocacy. I also think we should be thankful for the work that these Foundations have been doing to help us measure to monitor and evaluate the impact of advocacy.
Finding Frames – Because it’s helped to spark a conversation about the language that we need to be using to win our campaigns and helping the sector to engage in the literature about frames and values. It’s sister report, Common Cause was the most recommended item of summer reading, it’s a great introduction to lots of fascinating and vital literature.

Citizens UK – Community organising seems to be making a (much-needed) comeback and this has been spearheaded by the work of London Citizens. It’s engaging a new set of activists, empowering communities that haven’t been engaged in campaigning before and having real success in changing policy. They’re reminding others that campaigning is about community, identity and empowerment.

What would you include in your top 4 and why?