How great research reports can help a campaign

Some of the wonderful policy colleagues I work alongside are going to be spending time today considering what makes a good research report.

Which has got me thinking about how a great policy report can really help a campaign.

Clearly, the general public aren’t the primary audience for a policy report. They’re normally written to influence key decision makers or technical experts within a government department and as such rightly have an appropriate style and tone.

But I’ve seen how a good policy report can be a massive benefit to a campaign, providing evidence, facts, recommendation and information that is critical to engaging the public.

So here are my thoughts on how policy reports can really help a campaign:

1 – Tell some great stories – Sure, policy reports need to focus on the findings of field research and draw out overall trends and issues, but I’m convince that in the hard work of collecting this information most researchers come across some brilliant stories. Sharing a few of these in your report can help to make the recommendations come alive.  They bring a human face to the recommendations, and my hunch is that even policy makers enjoy reading them.

2 – Use some killer facts – Duncan Green has written about this, but facts that stick can really help to bring the injustice of a situation in one memorable statistic. Invest time in thinking about what these are, perhaps brainstorm with some others to identify them.

3 – Invest time in the Executive Summary – Sure it’s the last thing that get’s written and when you write it your fed up with the research, but often the part of the report that gets read the most. For campaigning having an accessible executive summary can be something to share with those supporter who want to go further or need a little more convincing.

4 – Consider writing that seminal policy report  – Especially useful at the start of a campaign is the report that helps to frame the issue and provide the campaigner. This is the type of report that gets referred to over and over again, and probably means that the campaigner will end up asking the researcher/policy officer so many questions! A great example is Oxfam Make Trade Fair report launched to coincide with the start of their campaign in 2002.

5 – Work in collaboration – It’s great to be able to quote in presentations to supporters that research by x NGO and y University has found that. If it’s possible work with other organisations, think tanks or institutes it’ll give the research even greater legitimacy.

6 – Tell us about it before you write it! We’ll be interested in it and perhaps we can help to provide some ideas about how to communicate your research beyond the usual suspects.  Consider using an info-graphic to communicate the main message of your report.

Campaigner – Do you agree? What else would you add?
Researchers – What have I overlooked? Have I hideously over simplified the process?

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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?

From Across the Pond – US approaches to planning and evaluating campaigns

I’m in the US this week linking up with various advocacy organisations, so I’m going to use the posts this week to highlight some the interesting work that’s coming out of the US about planning and evaluating advocacy.

Much of it has been driven by a desire by some of the large foundations (who are major donors to the work of US charities) to develop an approach that helps them to asses the quality of the applications they receive from organisations.

The first resource I’d flag up is ‘Campaigning For Change; Learning from the United States’. I’ve read it twice now and I have to confess to still not understood it all, but that’s not because it’s badly written, but simply because of the complexity and breadth of the topic it’s trying to address. Proving if you’re campaign is making a difference.

But I’m going to persevere because I think so much of the insight and the models it shares will be invaluable to UK campaigning. I know that I’ve lost count of all the times that I’ve been asked the question ‘is your campaign making a difference’ and then struggled to answer it, and I think this tool could help to answer that. The report shares lessons about how US organisations have used a ‘Theory of Change’ model to inform their advocacy planning over a number of years.

A Theory of Change (TOC) can be defined as ‘laying out what specific changes a group wants to see in the world and how and why a group expects its actions to lead to those changes’

A TOC is built on the basics of the Logic Model, but encourages organisation to develop an understanding of what is required for change to take place and what strategies will be used along the way, and to think about the links about how the activities undertaken and the end goals based on insight from political and social thinking. The main elements are;

1 – Stating a clear aim
The TOC encourage you to start with a clear aim, which should be seen as the overall purpose of the campaign, the change a organisaiton wishes to see and the impact it wants to make.

2 – Mapping activities to achieve your campaign aim
Examining what activities will bring about the campaign aim, and being clear how they link to the end goal you’re looking to achieve. At this point it’s about considering activities, like a creating the political will for change or developing of alliances as opposed to considering the detailed tactics (holding a march, running an advertising campaign, etc).

3 – Outcomes and how to get there – Using ‘so that’ chains
This stage of the process is about being clear about how each of the activities will link together, it encourages the use of ‘So That’ chains to check the validity of a set of specific assumptions by looking at the logical links between the different steps of the campaign. This allows you to link specific activities with the expected effect or outcome in the journey towards the desired result, and provides a space to challenge the assumptions that you might make.

4 – Understanding how social change happens
Central to TOC is an understanding of what strategies bring about what types of social change. Ensuring that the types of activities being undertaken match the overall strategy being pursued is important. The paper draws out a number of different reasons for how change happens based on academic studies and approaches. This can be used for the basis of a diagrammatic strategy to show the journey that you believe your campaign will undertake.

5 – Capacity of the organisation to achieve change
By doing the above, a TOC can help to illustrate the elements that an organisation will need to ensure they have the capacity to carry out their strategy.

6 – Evaluation built into the model
By articulating the change desired and the anticipated process that you’ll undertake to achieve it, you’re able to evaluate throughout the process, and also provide a space to question if the assumptions that were made are correct or not.

It’s hard to summarise the model in a few hundred words, so I’d strongly encourage you to read the report, or look at the  Brian Lamb’s presentation at the NCVO Campaigning effectiveness conference.

Part of me really likes this approach;

  • It ensures that assumptions about the value of a specific tactic or approach are discussed and understood by all involved.
  • Requires organisations to consider how they understand about what brings about social change, especially important when trying to communicate about the rationale behind the tactics that have been selected in a large organisation, where not everyone is an advocacy specialist.
  • Challenges a ‘one size fits all’ approach to deciding on campaign tactics because they’ve always been used.
  • It puts evaluation at the heart of the process, so it’s easier to monitor the ‘impact’ that the advocacy is having.

But I’ve also got a few reservations about it;

  • The model isn’t the easiest to get your head around which might turn some away from looking to use it. I hope that NCVO are considering offering further training about implementing it.
  • I’m not clear from the report what about the role and place for considering the external environment is. It seems that the model doesn’t have an obvious space for exploring what’s happening outside of the organisation/campaign. I don’t think we should be putting down the PEST charts yet!
  • Will it work for national advocacy campaigns? Most of the models quoted in the report are based on statewide or local public awareness campaign, where the required outcomes and results don’t require the activities

Have you used this model in your advocacy planning? Does using such a tool appeal to you or does the complexity make you switch off?

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.

Campaigning in 2015

What might campaigning look like in 5 years time? NCVO have set out to answer the question in their recent paper ‘Future Focus’.

It’s an interesting paper, and its a useful exercise to take a step back and consider some of the broader trends that influence our campaigning.

The introduction argues that the context for campaigning could change significantly under the next government, as we see a change of government, new MPs and potentially a different culture amongst decision makers towards campaigning. Only time will tell on that.

The paper, produced by NCVO’s ‘Third Sector Foresight’ team then argues that there will be 6 drivers that will change campaigning in the next 5 years. Below I’ve summarised the arguments the paper puts forwards, I hope to add my own reflections in the next few days.

Driver 1 – Growth of consumer activism
We’re seeing a blur between lifestyle choices and what has traditionally been perceived a ‘campaigning’. With people increasingly taking ‘me’ actions, like boycotting products at the expense of ‘we’ actions like demonstrations. The paper argues that in a ‘time poor’ society these are easier to fit into people’s lives.

Driver 2 – More fluid activism
People wish to engage in a broader range of issues, moving regularly from one cause and organisation to another. This means some of the more traditional membership models that campaigning organisations have employed may no longer be viable. People are less likely to feel affiliated to a cause or a political ideology.

Driver 3 – Growth of New Technology
E-campaigning reaches more people, its easier to get involved in, but it also raises the number of people you need to get involved to get noticed (does it? I’d argue if you’re more creative you can still make your point). Moreover the collaborative nature of the web challenges the more traditional hierarchical structures of many campaigning organisations. People organise themselves they don’t need someone to do it for them.

Driver 4 – Professionalisation
The push from funders to make campaigning more effective, means that people are learning a set of skills rather than being compelled by an issue. Some argue this is detracting from the radicalism once found in movement. More funding is now available for campaign training/capacity building.

Driver 5 – Increase in competition and coalitions
The sector is experiencing a growth in single-issue campaigns, and technology makes it easier for more players to get involved. The growth of campaigns like Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ have started to blur public understanding of the issue, and encourages short-term engagement in issues. Trend that the private sector is increasingly collaborating with VSOs (voluntary sector organisations).

Driver 6 – Marginalisation of dissent
More laws and increased surveillance make campaigning harder to do. On the one hand there is a growing awareness that non-violent direct action can get media coverage that can provide a seat at the table, but one the other many organisations adopting a more ‘insider’ approach as the current government has made it easier to influence policy.