Learning from the ‘Countdown to Copenhagen’ campaign

Evaluation might be the last step in the advocacy cycle, but from my experience it’s often the one that we’re quickest to overlook, moving onto the next campaign as opposed  to spending time reflecting on what’s happened.

It’s great to see Christian Aid make an evaluation of their ‘Countdown to Copenhagen’ campaign available online for others to learn from, as well as a management response to it.

It is an interesting (and short) read which gives an insight into the campaigning that the organisation did in the run up to the critical climate talks in December 2009.

It’s full of useful lessons for any campaign, and I hope it might encourage other agencies to make similar documents available. Here are the 5 things that I’m taking away;

1 – External moments need to be seen as commas in a campaign as opposed to full-stops. The evaluation makes a number of references for the need for the COP meeting in Copenhagen to be seen as a key moment in the ‘trajectory of the campaign‘ as opposed to the end of it. A good reminder that we can become too focused on an external moment and overlook the longer process of change that will be needed whatever the outcome of it.

2 – Involvement and participation of partners takes time. The report rightly recognises the way that the campaign looked to engage southern partners, saying ‘Christian Aid is clearly close to southern advocacy groups and networks and more ‘true’ to their approach and position than others‘ but also acknowledges the time that it can take to ensure effective participation from southern partners and allies which mean that time needs to be built-in to do this otherwise this engagement doesn’t become meaningful.

3 – Building in space for learning. It’s often the case in a busy campaign that it can be hard to feel that you have the space to think about what’s happening  in the external environment. The evaluation suggests that time needs to be protected to ‘allow for reflection to take place‘ and ensuring the tools are in place to capture progress and achievement. A good reminder for anyone who hasn’t taken the time to review where their campaign is at recently.

4 – Know your core audience – The evaluation asks why the campaign ‘under-utilised church constituencies‘. I don’t know the reasons this decision was taken, but it seems to me this might have been a missed opportunity for an organisation that draws its support primarily from churchgoers. For me, it’s a reminder of being sure of the core audiences that your organisation can reach.

5 – Seeing the global – The report has lots of praise for the work that Christian Aid did with allies in EU recognising that ‘Countdown to Copenhagen was a unique advocacy initiative at the European level in terms of both the scale and sustained nature of joint working amongst Aprodev’ and encouraging a broader focus looking towards the US and others. A lesson in the rapidly changing nature of global decision-making and the need to be much more proactive at looking beyond the UK in the alliances we build.

What have you learnt from this evaluation? Have you seen other organisations make evaluations available online?

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May the Force be with Greenpeace

Greenpeace have launched a fantastic new campaign today (Tuesday) – ‘Volkswagen. The Dark Side’ targeting car manufacture VW to ‘turn away from the Dark Side and give our planet a chance’.

It’s been going less than 12 hours, but already they’ve had over 38,000 people send a message to VW bosses, over 10,000 likes on their Facebook page, #vwdarkside has been trending in London for much of the days and thousands have viewed their excellent video spoof of hugely popular VW Star Wars film.

Here are the five reasons why I think it’s been a fantastic campaign launch.

1 – An inspired location – Old Street has also been trending all day as well. Why? It was the location that Greenpeace chose to launch the campaign. No VW garage in sight just the home of Silicon Roundabout and undoubtably more tweeters than any part of London. Dot a few Stormtroopers around the place and you’ve got lots of digitally connected people talking about your campaign on twitter.

2 – A competitive edge – The campaign doesn’t simply want you to send a message to the VW CEO, it wants you to recruit more friends (or Jedi’s) to join the campaign. You’re given your own training page and the more friends who join, take action on your recommendation or view your special page the more points you get, which helps you unlock new characters from Star Wars. The element of competition is inspired, and has meant that its been passed on a huge number of times.

3 – A everyday brand – No doubt a multitude of other targets who could leverage the changes that Greenpeace would like to see, but VW are a globally recognisable brand and one who have tried to build a green image. Thus they make ideal targets. Moreover the launch is showing that the decisions that need to be made to stop climate change are, in part in the hands of companies like VW. The campaign also makes a direct pitch to those who drive VWs in the sign-up page, a really nice touch.

4 – A great message – This isn’t simply a ‘aren’t VW really horrible and nasty’ campaign, rather a campaign to persuade VW to play its part in helping to save the world. The language that the website uses it’s all about encouraging VW to stop ‘using its influence to prevent us getting the laws we need to protect our planet and boost our economy’.

5 – Everyone loves Star Wars – With over 40 million views, the original VW advert has been hugely popular so by basing a campaign on this Greenpeace is already tapping into popular culture. It’s also a huge amount of fun and its impressive how Greenpeace have carried the Star Wars theme through every element of the launch (for example their policy report is entitled ‘The Dark Side of Volkswagen’ and is introduced by R2D2!).

What do you think? Are you as enthused about the campaign launch as I am? Have you seen it all before? 

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From Across the Pond – Leadership within an Advocacy Movement

American’s love the concept of leadership. Go into any bookshop and you’ll find shelves dedicated to the subject, attend a conference and you can guarantee that the word ‘leader’ will have been used a dozen times before the lunch break.

So perhaps it’s no surprise to find that it’s our colleagues in the US who have been thinking about leadership models and advocacy.

The Institute for Sustainable Communities – Advocacy and Leadership Centre has produced ‘Leadership Roles within an Advocacy Movement’, a short and readable paper in which they identify 11 different types of leadership needed within a movement arguing that ‘a movement must have a plurality of leaders, filling a cabinet of distinct, yet complementary, leadership roles.  By utilizing a diverse cabinet of leaders, a movement develops a powerful dynamic that strengthens and emboldens, bringing the movement closer to optimum gains and successes’.

The list looks like this;

  • Visionaries who raise the view of the possible
  • Strategists who chart the vision and achieve what’s attainable
  • Statespersons who elevate the cause in the minds of both the public and decision-makers
  • Experts who wield knowledge to back up the movement’s positions
  • Outside Sparkplugs who goad and energize, fiercely holding those in power to account
  • Inside Advocates who understand how to turn power structures and established rules and procedures to advantage
  • Strategic Communicators who deploy the rhetoric to intensify and direct public passion toward the movement’s objectives
  • Movement Builders who generate optimism and good will, infecting others with dedication to the common good
  • Generalists who anchor a movement, grounded in years of experience
  • Historians who uphold a movement’s memory, collecting and conveying its stories
  • Cultural Activists who pair movements with powerful cultural forces

I don’t disagree with any of these but wonder if they’ve missed out a couple of key leadership approaches;

Pioneer – Someone who pushes the movement to make use of new tools and tactics. Most recently they would have been engaged with making the most of digital tools to further our campaigning, but throughout the history of campaigning we’ve had individual leaders who have been prepared to push into making use of new tools and tactics. This is different from the ‘visionary’ because they’re defined by the tactics they use.

Administrator – Too often forgotten but every campaign needs a solid and dependable administrator. This is not simply a service function, but a leadership function, someone who is their to ensure that the organisation of the campaign keeps pace with the growth of the energy behind a campaign issue. Too often campaigns fail because they don’t have the material resources or the structure to sustain them.

I was also thinking about the idea of adding in a ‘visualiser/designer‘. Someone who use creative tools to help communicate the essence of the campaign. Someone who harness the notion that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, but I’m not sure if this is more a branch off from the ‘strategic communicator’ role than a stand alone approach.

What do you think? What else has been missed out? Are my additions justified?

O.A.Ps = Overlooked Activist Potential

Older people are an often overlooked but vital group of activists so it’s great to see the Sheila McKechnie Foundation launch the ‘Take Action’ award supported by Age UK to ‘recognise and encourage older campaigners who are aged 60 or over who campaign about issues that matter to them’.

In my own work, I’ve often been inspired by the commitment that some of our older activists have played in our campaigns, so its great to find an opportunity to acknowledge the key role they play.

Here are a few reasons why I think campaigning organisations shouldn’t overlook the valuable role that older campaigners can play;

1. Engaged – From voting to participation in voluntary groups most surveys show that the over 60s are more likely to get involved, so if we’re looking for people who are likely to get involved on a regular basis older people are likely to be a reliable source. Add to that the fact that they vote means that they’re a group that politicians like to listen to because they’re more likely to turn up at the ballot box when it matters.

2 – Well networked in their communities – Many older people have lived in their communities for years and are often active members of community groups, faith communities, etc. So if we’re looking for people who know other people to get involved in our campaigns using the networks that many have could be an effective way of doing just that.

3 – Professional experience – This is a theme that Duncan Green picked up in a post entitled ‘Are Grey Panthers the next big thing in campaigning?‘ at the end of last year. If we’re looking for people who can talk about the importance of health systems in developing countries, should we be looking to get retired nurses and health workers from the UK involved? Will they be able to speak with an authenticity born from years of working in the health sector that others can’t?

4 – Time rich – One of the criticisms of the current debate about ‘clicktivism’ is that it’s campaigning for the time poor. That it’s suited for people who don’t have the time to do anything more than send an e-mail or click ‘like’ on a Facebook page. Many older campaigners have time to devote to other activities, so perhaps they’re the group we should be focusing on to take part in high-level campaign activities.

So how should we respond to working with older campaigners? Here are a few thoughts;

  • Build alliances with key gatekeepers – I remember being told once that the government really started to take notice of the Jubilee 2000 Campaign when it started getting messages from local WI groups around the country. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s a useful reminder that coalitions could do well to reach out to and engage similar groups.
  • Profile them in our materials – Too often our annual reports have pictures of enthusiastic young people on a demonstration, perhaps it’s time to start to profile some of the activities of our older campaigners.
  • Remember to go beyond philanthropy – One of the untold stories in development over the last 20+ years has been the role that the Rotary Club International has played in the fight to eradicate Polio worldwide. Through its branches it raised over $900 millions, but more than that it’s advocated to raise over $8billion from governments, but you probably haven’t heard much about it. A great example of using a network, which has its fair share of older members, not simply to raise money but also advocating for change.

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 working with think tanks enhance our campaigning?

This was originally posted over at the NCVO Campaigning and Influencing Forum.

Think tanks are hard to define, they’re part academic institution and part lobbying outfit. But however you understand them, I think that they could provide useful allies for campaigns.

That’s why ‘The Global ‘Go-To’ Think Tanks List‘ is an interesting report which tries to rank the ‘best’ think tanks around the world.

It shows that the majority of think tanks are based in the US, but the UK also has it’s fair share of ‘top’ think tanks. While the report doesn’t seek to rank them simply on political influence, it shows those who can be perceived as most credible.

Have you had experiences of working with Think Tanks? Do you think that they provide a place to enhance campaigns and advocacy? 

I’ve got a few thoughts about why they are and aren’t useful allies.

Firstly, they’re the home of future politicians and influencers. A quick look across at whose sitting on the benches in the House of Commons, will show that a significant number have spent time working within think tanks, they’re often the breading ground for politicians who will become the leading thinkers within their parties.

Take for example Nick Boles, now the Conservative MP for Grantham, who was former director at Policy Exchange, where he was said to be one of the most important influences on David Cameron. He might not be a minister in the current government, but you can guarantee that his views have a resonance. If you’re looking for future MPs who are going to be writing future manifesto, a quick look at who’s who across think tanks could be a good place to start!

Linked to the point above, as well as producing future politicians, lots of those working in think tanks have spent time as special advisors or other key influences within Parliament and Whitehall. I short they’re packed full of people who know people in power.

For example, in the last government, The Smith Institute was led by Wilf Stephenson, who was Gordon Brown’s closest friend from University, as such it said to have considerable sway over the views of No10, while one assumes that now The Centre for Social Justice which was set up by Iain Duncan-Smith, now Secretary of Sate for Work and Pensions, has considerable influence in certain part of the government.

But this is also  one of the weaknesses of think tanks. That they can be seen to be politically partisan, and thus rise and fall dependent on those in power at any given moment. While, a few on the list are seen as more politically neutral, most have a political leaning towards one party or another.

That said think tanks can be a useful vehicle for organisations looking to inject big ideas or new thinking into a debate. One of the roles that they can play is to provide a broader platform to spark a debate that an NGO might be more hesitant to initiate.

I wonder if one of the things stopping some NGOs from working more with think tanks is the cost of it. I’ve been on the receiving end of quotes for events at party conference with think tanks mean that they would be little to spare for anything else in the year.

Obviously think tanks needs to raise revenue to keep going, but because they’re not linked to universities they don’t benefit from academic funding. While the premium for the access/legitimacy that they can bring to a campaign is their most valuable selling point and means working with them doesn’t come cheap.

What do you think? Have you seen good examples of campaigns working with think tanks? Do they prove to be useful allies for campaigns?

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.