Reflections from campaigning in Brussels

Last week I spent a fantastic three days with campaigners from across Europe in Brussels calling on the MEPs and representatives of Member States to help to unearth the truth. We were calling on them to pass legislation that would require all oil, gas and mining companies registered in Europe to be open about the payments they pay for access to these valuable resources to governments.

The group outside the Danish Embassy to the EU

It was the culmination of months of campaigning across Europe and we had a hugely productive time together, meeting with dozens of MEPs, handing over 10,000 actions to representatives of the Danish Government who currently hold the Presidency of the EU and holding a well-attended briefing in the Parliament.

I came back with lots of great memories and some reflections on campaigning towards the Brussels based institutions;

1 – Time – I was struck how much time many of the MEPs gave to the campaigners they were being lobbied by. Meetings of up to an hour happened on a number of occasions and it struck me that the pace of the debate is perhaps slower and more deliberative, coupled with the fact that MEPs are perhaps not as bombarded casework requests that they have time to invest into the issues that they’re interested in, which is predominately shown through their involvement in the different committees and groups.

I also got the impressions that although the political groupings were important they were far less controlling than in the Westminster system where the ‘whip’ is used to ensure MPs vote the right way and as such a space for discussion and agreements amongst those MEPs with similar political views as opposed to rigid voting blocs.

2 – Complexity – The European institutions are very confusing and eyes will often quickly glaze over when you start to explain the difference between the Council of Ministers and the Commission, but its worth investing the time in understanding how they’re meant to work and also the dynamics of how they actually work. I found reading this guide from BOND hugely useful. There are a huge number of opportunities for campaigners to utilise to push their issues.

3 – Importance – In the UK perhaps we’re guilty of disregard MEPs as having limited influence in comparison to MPs but the reality is that they have a significant amount of influence on certain issues. For example, if our campaigning is successful the legislation that we’re asking for will be implemented in all member states, achieving the same using a country by country would take much longer. On issues where the European Union has exclusive or shared competency we shouldn’t overlook the importance of engaging with Europe.

4- Absence – Many of the MEPs that we meet with remarked how much they valued hearing the views of civil society on this issue we were campaigning on as they’d already been lobbied by business groups. I heard one estimate that Brussels is home to 15,000 – 30,000 lobbyists, most of whom are employed by corporate interests, and that clearly presents a challenge for civil society which is likely to be unable to match that level of personal resource!

However, I didn’t get the sense that most MEPs have come under similar campaigning influence to their counterparts based in national capitals, as I walked around I saw lots of posters publishing the European Citizens Initiative (see my post on it here), which I sense is one way that the Commission hopes to engage citizen and civil society, but I also wonder if as organisation we need to be doing more. Perhaps it’s also time to create a pan-European equivalent of 38 Degrees focusing on activities in Brussels?

5 – Being European – Our campaigning was successful because we were able to build a partnership with colleagues from across Europe at the outset of our campaign, it meant that our supporters were lobbying in Brussels alongside campaigners from Portugal, Germany, France and the Netherlands, plus we were able to handover campaign actions from 22 member states. As UK campaigners I think we need to be doing more to help create these partnerships where they don’t exist.

6 – Using constituents to drive attendance. We were involved in hosting a very successful briefing event in the Parliament on Wednesday, with one civil society representative saying that the 15+ MEPs in attendance was unusual. I think this happened in part by asking our supporters to message their MEPs and invite them to come along to the meeting. It’s a tactic that I’ve seen used before in the UK and one that worked well in Brussels as well.

Have you been involved in campaigning in Brussels? If so, what insight would you share? If you haven’t, what are the barriers that stop you? 

Reflections on my Daily Mail diet

Regular readers of this blog will know that over the last week I’ve been on a Daily Mail diet.

After realising that I’m living in a bit of ‘media bubble’ getting my news and opinion from very different places from most of my supporters, I’ve been focusing on getting my news from the one most read newspapers amongst the supporters of my organisation. I wrote more about why I thought this was important to do.

So for the last week I’ve been buying the Daily Mail alongside my regular paper of choice (The Guardian) and in the process trying to better understand how the paper approaches issues and stories, and think how I might be able to get my campaigning into the Daily Mail, and in front of thousands of my organisations supporters who read it every day.

1 – Daily Mail readers need to be treated with respect – The response of others to my diet has almost been as interesting as reading the paper itself. A number of people have in effect said ‘why are you bothering with the Daily Mail readers they’re never going to be convinced‘ and while most of the editorial positions that the Daily Mail take aren’t the same as mine with 4 million daily readers its lots of people to write off as being closed to my campaign message. We need to respect those who read the paper even if we reject the papers views.

2 – It’s all about people – Most of the main stories this week have focused have had a strong focus on the individuals at the heart of them. Most of the stories go into considerable depth, so any organisation that’s looking to get it issues in the Daily Mail will need to ensure it’s got some really strong and compelling case studies to go alongside any campaign recommendations.

3 – The Mail loves polls, surveys and putting money back in the pocket of its readers – Alongside the focus on people, I was struck at how many stories were based on the results of polls, surveys and research that had some strong and compelling empirical evidence behind it. A large number of the stories cite academic research as the basis for their stories, so perhaps this presents an opportunity for campaigners to ensure their research has compelling and accessible headline numbers to accompany it.

4 – The consumer is always right – Interesting the one campaigning organisation that seems to get regular mentions is Which?, the consumer charity, perhaps it’s because it’s able to speak to the Mail’s concern about getting good value for its readers. I was struck by how few other campaigning organisations got mentioned during the week.

5 – It’s got lots of pages dedicated to comment – This surprised me but the average weekly edition seems to have around 8 pages dedicated to coverage. You get a number of pages of columnists and editorial pieces, along with a number of commentary pieces by the papers staff. That’s lots of writers looking for stories to write about what’s happening, and I’m sure presents an opportunity for campaigns.

6 – I need to do this more often – This whole exercise of thinking about where I get my media from has been really interesting and challenging. I’ve come away convinced that I need to step outside my media bubble more often.

As a colleague pointed out to me this week, the algorithms being Google, Facebook and Twitter are all designed to expose me to more people who think share similar views/contacts/opinions to me, so I need to become more active at stepping outside the bubble (this book looks interesting on this topic).  It’s a challenge I’d encourage other campaigning colleagues to take up.

Five for Friday….KONY 2012 Special

The Kony 2012 phenomenon is still going (and growing), it’s the officially the most viral video ever.

So this weeks ‘Five for Friday’ is dedicated to some great articles reflecting on KONY 2012 that you should be reading.

1. SocialFlow have done some brilliant work looking at how online networks helped to share the campaign and then the impact of tweeting by ‘culturemakers’, while Forbes looks at who’s watching the film. Answer – they’re 13 – 17 year old females watching it on their mobile phone.

2. Jason Mogus asks Why your non-profit won’t make a KONY 2012. It’s a very perceptive look at many of the blockages that more traditional NGOs would face if they wanted to repeat the success of KONY.

3. This is a brilliant deconstruction of why the film is so successful using lessons from persuasive techniques used by marketeers.

4. Both Weldon Kennedy and Daniel Solomon look at why the messaging and narrative of the film are so compelling. Lots of really useful lessons here for all communicators. The Mobilisation Lab also asks why the campaign hooks viewers in.

5. Ross Bailey shares his reflections and reminds us that Invisible Children didn’t get here overnight.

Why has Kony 2012 been so successful?

The Kony 2012 campaign is everywhere….if you haven’t heard about it you soon will!

Since releasing their latest campaign film just days ago it’s had millions of views (the statistics on the Vimeo dashboard show the way that views of the film have grown and grown since its release on Monday), been trending worldwide all day on Twitter and was filling up my Facebook wall last night, although many of these are comments which are rightly questioning the approach of the organisation and the campaign.

In short, the campaign is about introducing the ‘world worst war criminal’ the leader of the Lord Resistance Army Joseph Kony, and calling for the US to provide troops to help arrest him in Uganda and bring him to trial at the International Criminal Court.

Both the message and organisation are proving controversial, as a development advocate I agree with many of the concerns about the approach the campaign has taken, not least as this blog describes it that ‘they take up rhetorical space that could be used to develop more intelligent advocacy’ that will lead to long-term peace in Northern Uganda and the portrayal of the solution as being delivered by an outsider alone.

But regardless, as a campaigner I also have to admire the effectiveness with which they’ve got out the message out in such a short period of time, and reflect on how I might be able to use similar approach to get what I hope to be more intelligent advocacy solutions. Here are my thoughts on why I think they’ve done so well.

1. Built and nurtured a community – I’ve not really been aware of the work of Invisible Children until today, but it seems that over the last few years they’ve been slowly building a huge online community on Facebook, with a million+ people ‘liking’ the campaign over the years as the result of showing previous films on campuses across the US, presumably much of the traction that the campaign has got is because many of these supporters have been sharing it. Cheap but effective mobilisation in action.

2. Demand the engagement of the viewer – There is a line at the very start of the film that says ‘the next 27 minutes are an experiment, but in order for it to work you have to pay attention’. At 29 minutes the film is very long and you’d expect to get board quickly, but the presentation is very engaging, well produced, fast-moving and doesn’t feel like it’s dragging at. It’s got many (all) of the elements of what a good campaign film should include, a story, a call to action and it’s emotive.

3. Communicated its theory of change clearly – It’s evident how the campaign thinks that change is going to come about and this is explained to the viewer. For them its all about demonstrating public support for action to a small group of political leaders, which interestingly doesn’t include President Obama. You may or may not agree with this approach but it’s simple and clearly communicated throughout the film.

I like the idea of influencing 20 ‘culturemakers’ who they identify as being able to spread awareness of the issues. I’ve not really seen this done in such a systematic way before, and it’ll be interesting to see how these ‘culturemakers’ will respond to the call in the coming days, presumably some of them have already indicated their support for the campaign.

4. Made it clear what they need you to do – The call to action at the end of the film is to do more than send a message to the selected targets, but it’s also an invitation be involved in making Kony known. The campaign is building on the knowledge that it’s an election year in the US and focusing on a night of action in April where supporters. It’s a bigger and bolder action, asking you to buy a kit full of posters and resource and make Kony know. It’s also again shows the high value that the campaign on individuals as multipliers of the message.

5. Put creativity and social action at the heart of the organisation – It’s interesting that the organisation isn’t one that was started by humanitarian professionals, but instead by filmmakers who were moved to respond on their first trip to Uganda back in 2003. They describe their mission as ‘using film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity’. You can see this approach is evident throughout the film, and it’s different to what you might expect from a more traditional NGO.

Thoughts? Comments? What have you learn’t from the success of the Kony 2012 campaign?

What did we really learn from Make Poverty History?

The Sheila McKechnie Foundation is running it’s annual People Power Conference tomorrow. It looks like a fascinating line up of speakers. Sadly I can’t make it in person although I’ll be doing my best to follow via twitter.

One of the sessions that stands out to me is the panel debate on ‘The Legacy of Make Poverty History‘, it was one of the first campaigns that I worked on professionally, so I’m interested in what the panel have to say about how we can still learn from the campaign.

The Foundation have managed to organise an impressive line-up of speakers who were involved in the original campaign, including;

If I was able to attend here at the questions I’d be asking;

1. If we’d had the research and thinking done by the Common Cause team around the role of frames and values in campaigning available to use back in 2004 what might we have done differently?

2. Have we done enough to capture the learning from the campaign and share it with others across civil society? To my knowledge there has only been one significant academic study of the campaign by Nick Sireau. Do we need to be doing more to encourage academics to study our campaigns to help us increase our understanding of what works?

3. Make Poverty History was one of the first campaigns that effectively utilised email as a tool for action, building an email list of hundreds of thousands of individuals. How much should campaign movements like 38 Degrees and Avaaz thank Make Poverty History for demonstrating the effectiveness of this campaign target? How much impact did the e-mail actions actually have?

4. Tony Blair wrote in his memoirs that the campaign worked because ‘Bob, Bono and the NGO alliance had mounted an effective campaign…by demonstrating the breadth of public support for action on Africa. It was done cleverly, with them always giving enough praise to the leaders to encourage them’. I’d be interested in knowing if the panel agrees with the statement and if we need to do more to praise and encourage our targets?