Find the next generation of campaigners >> Campaign Bootcamp 2

One of the reasons that this blog has been so quiet over the last few months is that I’ve been busy working to get Campaign Bootcamp going.

We ran the first Bootcamp back in June and it was AWESOME. Since then we’ve been working to try to do it again, and we are in March.

I’m excited about the opportunity to build something that trains the next generation of campaigners and the community we’re creating (who were responsible for creating the film above).

We’ve just 5 days until applications for the next Bootcamp in March close, so if you know up and coming campaigner, especially if they live outside the M25, please encourage them to apply.

Deadline is 09.00 on Saturday 21st December. Please also tweet and share on Facebook.

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Remember Kony2012?

It was less than 6 months ago that everyone was talking about Joseph Kony.

The result of the unprecedented success of Invisible Children’s Kony2012 film that was viewed by millions. Now the dust has settled what can we learn from the success of the film?

The International Broadcasting Trusts report, ‘Kony 2012 – Success or Failure’ is one of the first pieces of research that I’ve come across that have spoken to those behind the film and looked at the reasons for its success.

I was able to attend a presentation by the report’s author Sophie Chalk earlier in the month.

Here are few reflections.

1. Know your grassroots, know your message – Invisible Children did up to 3,000 presentations to colleges, churches and youth groups in the year leading up to the release of the film. It provided a huge grassroots already motivated and prepared to share the film.

Repeated over the last 7 years, it means that the organisation had a very finely tuned message, a result of speaking to over 3 million people face-to-face and knowing exactly what would work with their target audience.

How many other organisations have that level of knowledge about their audience built over such intense engagement?

2. Word of mouth matters – Sophie shared figures from SocialFlow, who found that in the first week of the video being launched that the ‘average’ viewer was a 14 – 18 year old girl, but by the end of the first week it was men over 40. Her theory is that this was the result of daughters sharing the film with their parents at the weekend.

Sophie also suggests that one of the reasons for its success was that sharing and talking about the film was seen as a ‘cool’ thing to do, as Ben Keesey from Invisible Children says in the report it got ‘hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young people around the world having conversations about international justice’.

3. Follow up matters – Given the success of the film, the follow-up action to ‘Cover the Night’ on 20th April was a flop. 300,000 people registered to go out into their communities and make Kony famous by putting up posters in their communities, but in the end this hardly happened at all.

I was in Washington DC at the time, expecting to see hundreds of posters on the Saturday morning, but in reality only encountered a handful of them.

The report shares firsthand some of the challenge that Invisible Children faced. That they found that they couldn’t maintain electronic communications because their servers literally went into ‘meltdown’ as a result of the number of requests that they received.

As a result, they weren’t able to keep even some of the momentum behind the film going, sending out only a handful of communications in the weeks after the film was released. A stark demonstration of what happens when you can’t keep following up with those you’ve got interested in your campaign.

4. Keep innovating – Sophie concludes that one of the lessons behind the success of Kony 2012 was tactic of getting people to ask celebrities to send it round. It was one of the first time this tactic had been used. But as the report points out it really worked, for example on the day that Oprah tweeted the film the viewing figures jumped from 600,000 to 9 million,

Karin Brisby who was interviewed for the report says ‘It was not only sharing with friends but also with online celebrities… people like sending things to celebrities on Twitter, it’s like “I’m talking to this person”…..It’s not something NGOs do a lot – like send this message to a particular celebrity because that gives the power to the celebrities.’

5. Save the surprise – Kony 2012 was the only major film that Invisible Children planned to release in 2012, they spent over $1 million in producing it, but saw it as central to their campaigning strategy for the year, thus justifying the investment. They hoped that 500,000 people would watch it by May 1st.

Benjamin Chesterton quoted in the report suggests that others could learn from this selective approach warning of social media fatigue suggesting ‘I don’t think NGOs have an understanding and respect for audiences and they don’t value properly social networking in the way they should…..In the social media sphere you just create noise and people are trying to get away from noise. They are trying to decide whose information they want to receive. So NGOs need to be careful.’

6. Unleash the passion – Sophie mentioned in her presentation that after spending an hour on the phone with Ben Keesey she came away with a new appreciation of the campaigns passion and enthusiasm. Can we say the same in our organisations?

It’s something that is very evident in the film, as Benjamin Chesterton says in the report ‘he (Jason Russell, Co-Founder of Invisible Children who features in the film) is really passionate about this and that is what comes across and very rarely do NGOs allow individuals within their organisations to become so powerful as spokespeople.’

What else can we learn from Kony 2012? What other reports or blogs are worth reading about learning from the campaign?

Happy Birthday to the Government e-petition site

The Government e-Petition site celebrated its first birthday last month, and the team at the Government Digital Services released figures about usage in its first year.

In short;

  • 15,600 petition were opened, but a massive 47% of petitions submitted were rejected.
  • 6.4 million signatures were collected from the 13 million unique visitors to the site.
  • Only 10 petitions reached the 100,000 target that allows them to be discussed in Parliament, and all have been or are due to be debated by members of the House of Commons.
  • 97.7% of e-petitions receive less than 1,000 signatures.

I had mixed feelings when the site was launched a year ago, so a year on has the site proven to be a good addition to the campaigning landscape?

Here are a few observations;

It’s got people signing petitions – I’ve not been able to find any figures for the number of individuals who’ve signed a petition and I suspect some significant duplication, but even with that included getting millions of people used to taking action has got to be a good thing.

If you’ve signed a petition here, I think it makes you much more likely to sign a petition sent to you from 38 Degrees or others. Anecdotally I’ve seen a number of the petitions shared on my social media channels beyond those who normally express an interest in campaigning.

It’s provided a clear outcome to those petitions that reach their target. Their was some concern at the launch of the site, that Parliament wouldn’t have time to debate all the petitions that reached the 100,000 signature target, but until the recent rejection of the petition launched by Virgin Trains against the loss the franchise to run the West Coast mainline, it has.

Whatever you think about the topics that have been debated as a result, its good that they’ve been debated by Parliament, and in the case of the petition to get ‘full disclosure of all government documents relating to 1989 Hillsborough disaster’ helped to push an important issue that had been largely forgotten by much of the media back into the public consciousness.

However as the Hansard Society point out ‘the system is controlled by government but the onus to respond is largely placed on the House of Commons’ and many people might be disappointed to learn that the majority of petitions are debated in Westminster Hall, where votes cannot take place and are therefore held on non-votable ‘take note’ motions. As the case of the Virgin Train petition shows, it’s an especially ineffective tool when Parliament isn’t sitting and a petition responding to a current issue gains traction quickly.

It’s disempowering for the majority who have signed a petition. A handful of petitions have been debated, but many more have fallen short. At present there are 12 petitions with between 30,000 – 80,000 signatures on them, perhaps a few of them will make the 100,000 target but most won’t. My Campaigns Totals research has shown that 50,000 actions is a significant number, but the e-Petition site doesn’t provide those who create the petition with many tools to keep those interested in the topic engaged.

They get to send an email at the close but that’s it. I’m concerned that for most they sign a petition hopeful that it’ll actually change something, but that when that doesn’t happen they’ll start to question if other forms of campaigning actually work. As the Hansard Society point out ‘if an e-petition does not achieve the signature threshold but still attracts considerable support (e.g. 99,999 signatures) there is no guarantee of any kind of response at all’. The rigidity of the system means that many are going to be disappointed.

Most campaigning NGOs haven’t launched petitions on the platform, looking through the petitions that have reached the 100,000 target they’ve appeared to have provided an opportunity for individuals or very small campaigns with fewer resources to generate support for their issue . This has often come on the back of an effective social media campaign but the number of ‘failed’ petitions should add a note of caution that this is a high-risk strategy for organisations with limited resources.

Other successful petitions have been those backed by media organisations, for example the ‘Make financial education a compulsory part of the school curriculum’16 was backed by Money Mail, a sister paper of the Daily Mail, and the ‘No to 70 million’ petition on immigration has been heavily mentioned in some parts of the media.

So what next?

The Hansard Society has some good recommendations about how the procedure of dealing with the petitions in Parliament could be improved, for example;

  • The creation of a Petitions Committee with staff which would tasked with sifting petitions that secure lower levels of support to ensure that, where appropriate, relevant petitions are, for example, still tagged to debates, that MPs are made aware of their existence, and petitioners receive some form of feedback.
  • The Petitions Committee and its staff should respond ambitiously and flexibly to petitions, embracing the full range of parliamentary processes for consideration of them.
  • Using petitioner postcode registration data to develop heat maps on the website to help MPs and others identify issues of specific concern to a community.

I’d also suggest that while the site has seen some innovation to it since it was launched, for example the inclusion of a ‘trending petitions’ section on the homepage to help you identify those that have been most active in the last hour, lots of other changes that were suggested at the launch haven’t been included which would help to make the site more engaging for petitioner to use.

Finally, I think as a sector we need to be doing more to help provide those looking to take action with information on if this is the most effective tool to use, this is in part being done by organisations like Change.org and 38 Degrees who allow people to create their own petitions, but others can do more to help inform these decisions and support the many campaigns that don’t actually need 100,000 signatures to deliver change.

Looking beyond the usual corporate suspects

I was struck by this comment in a great post by David Ritter on campaigning trends that corporates need to be ready to respond to in the coming year;

NGOs are increasingly looking beyond the usual corporate suspects for campaign targets.

Ritter goes on to cite the example of ‘the global management consultancy McKinsey has been targeted by Greenpeace and the Rainforest Foundation for its ‘bad influence’ on deforestation. In McKinsey’s case – and to be brutally frank – for a global management consultancy that makes its living telling other people what to do, they’ve made a real mess out of how they have responded to being a campaign target.

Another great example of this approach, has been the campaigning that Sum Of Us have been doing toward the corporates that support the work of the Heartland Institute, a US think tank that has spent millions promoting climate scepticism.

The online movement has  focused on those corporates that fund the foundation and seen a number respond as a result putting real pressure on the ongoing funding of the Institute. It’s a great campaign, using an innovative approach which exposing the large sums that corporates spend rather than simply opposing the activities of the Institute, which would likely be futile.

I think campaigners could learn from both examples. What other examples of  campaigning beyond the usual corporate suspects have impressed you?

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?

Monitoring our campaigns in real time…

This post has an excellent description about how one think tank, the Overseas Development Institute, constructed a dashboard to better monitor and evaluate how it’s outputs were being shared through its main communication channels.

Reading it got me thinking about what an equivalent campaign dashboard would look like.

I’m not aware of any campaigning organisation that uses such a dashboard, so I’ve put together my ‘wish list’. I’ll leave it to the IT experts to let me know what’s possible.

1 – Actions Taken – Most campaigning organisations have a bar which indicates the number of actions that have been taken, often in the context of a target that’s been set, but I’d want to the tool to go a step further and tell me about the trends. How many actions have been taken in the last hour or day and how this compares to other actions and trends across the sector. If I was focusing my campaigning on MPs I’d like to have some indication of the number of MPs my campaign had reached.

2 – Social Media – I’d want to know figures about how my campaign was being talked about on Twitter, statistics about Facebook interactions, number of views of relevant YouTube clips, etc.

3 – What people are saying – Pulling in relevant hashtags from twitter, plus blog and media mentions using Google Alerts, along with mentions in Parliament (if relevant) using TheWorkForYou. If possible, I’d try to draw this into a ‘favorability’ rating to indicate if people were positive about the campaign.

4 – What supporters are saying – Depending on if it would work organisationally I’d want to have a stream that was telling me about what our supporters were saying about the campaign through their interaction with our supporter enquiries team. Perhaps in a Wordle like that used by the DCMS in their reporting to Ministers.

5 – Open Rates for emails – Drawing in the information on the latest e-actions that I’ve sent out. Using dashboard information like that presented in MailChimp.

In addition, I’d like the dashboard to be able to record, when appropriate, the number of supporters who’d signed up to come along to a mass-lobby or demonstration that I was organising, but recognise that ‘s harder to capture in a dashboard.

Does anyone know of an organisation using a dashboard like this? Would it be possible to develop something like this? 

The US Presidential election and the future of campaigning?

It’s the US election season, and suddenly anyone who’s watched an episode or two of the West Wing will become an expert on the best approach to win the 270 Electoral College seats needed, the opportunities presented by the Michigan Primary and the role of Super Delegates in a tight convention.

While predicting the result of the Primary and Presidential race, and while we’re at it I think we’re going to see Santorum push Romney all the way to the convention and Obama will win a second term, is a great conversation starter amongst the political engaged, it’s also a good time to start paying attention if you want to see the future of campaigning.

Why?

1. The election campaign is has a bigger budget than any other. This year President Obama is expected to fundraise over $1 billion and I’d expect the eventual Republican frontrunner won’t be far behind, which means it can develop some of the most powerful tools and employ the best and brightest staff.

2. It’s the most ‘important’ single political campaign in the world to win. The President of the United States is still the world’s most powerful elected official.

3. It’s got huge numbers of people involved. The Obama team already has over 200 staff working full-time in its head office in Chicago, a figure that is likely to increase rapidly in the next month, plus hundreds of thousands of volunteers on the ground ready to be engaged and resourced.

While I accept that election campaigning is different to campaigning to change public policy, and that the campaigns will make use of many of more traditional techniques like TV adverts, that are perhaps less available to public policy campaigns. I believe it’s still interesting to see how the tools used in previous campaigns have often tracked closely to the tools that are now common place in most campaigning organisations.

As Slate notes;

1996 saw the debut of candidate Web pages

2000 was the first time website were used for fundraising.

2004 saw Howard Dean pioneer the use of online tools (like MeetUp) to organise campaign events to link supporters together.

2008 led by the inspiring Obama campaign saw the emergence of socia media as a mass-communication tool, and the most sophisticated use of sites like my.barackobama.com which turned online interest into offline activism.

Add to that the resurgence of the concept of Community Organising fueled in part by the background of the current President but also the way that it was put to work to increase registration and turnout of previous under represented groups. (If you’re interested in learning more about the 2008 campaign I’d highly recommend that you read ‘Race of a Lifetime’ and the ‘Audacity to Win‘.)

So what are the early trends for 2012? Well the overriding one seems to be the most sophisticated use of data.

Slate suggest;

‘From a technological perspective, the 2012 campaign will look to many voters much the same as 2008 did…..this year’s looming innovations in campaign mechanics will be imperceptible to the electorate, and the engineers at Obama’s Chicago headquarters racing to complete Narwhal in time for the fall election season may be at work at one of the most important. If successful, Narwhal would fuse the multiple identities of the engaged citizen—the online activist, the offline voter, the donor, the volunteer—into a single, unified political profile’.

While the Guardian reported this weekend;

‘At the core is a single beating heart – a unified computer database that gathers and refines information on millions of committed and potential Obama voters. The database will allow staff and volunteers at all levels of the campaign – from the top strategists answering directly to Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina to the lowliest canvasser on the doorsteps of Ohio – to unlock knowledge about individual voters and use it to target personalised messages that they hope will mobilise voters where it counts most’

And this sophisticated use of data doesn’t seem to being the sole preserve of the Democratic Party, with Slate reporting in January about how Mitt Romney built a similar database to help him almost win the Iowa Caucus;

‘Romney’s previous Iowa campaign allowed him to stockpile voter data and develop sophisticated systems for interpreting it. It was that data and those interpretations that supported one of the riskiest strategic moves of the campaign thus far: Romney’s seemingly late decision to fight aggressively for his first-place finish in Iowa’

For more on the digital and data tactics that the campaigns are using take a look at this from the Washington Post and this from ABC News.

In the UK, we don’t have anything that comes close to the Presidential Elections. The nearest equivalent is the Mayor of London elections that are happening in May. It’s a highly personalised contest trying to reach one of the biggest single constituencies in the world, and certainly the Ken campaign is making use of some innovative tools;

1. Last week saw the launch of personalised Direct Mail which make of QR codes to invite a response.

2. The  Ken campaign has made a significant investment in using Nation Builder tools to launch ‘Your Ken’ – a community to resource and mobilise its activists which was received with acclaim when it was launched last year.

3. The heavy emphasise on the use of text and email to get the message out to potential voters across London.

I’ll be watching with interesting at how both these elections campaigns make use of new tools and tactics in the coming months, and reflecting on the opportunities they present for campaigning for social change.