Looking ‘down under’ for campaign inspiration

When it comes to elections, campaigners in the UK get very excited about the one happening ‘across the pond’ in the US.

I’m one of them, and even 6 months later give me an article on data driven campaigning that helped Obama to win and I’ll be the first to read it.

But is it time for us to stop looking west for campaign inspiration and instead start looking ‘down under’?

The Australian elections might not have the glamour of the US but in many ways the comparisons between our political systems are closer, two main parties but plenty of feisty smaller ones, a constituency system with the leader of the biggest party in Parliament forming a government and an active campaigning sector.

While there are clear differences, most notably in Australia voting is compulsory, any smart campaigner could do worse than follow the soap opera down under for the next 4 weeks ahead of the polls on 7th September to get some clues about how we might plan to influence the 2015 election here in the UK.

Here are 3 things that have already caught my eye in recent days;

Screen Shot 2013-08-05 at 21.54.07GetUp! Live Webcast – The Australian equivalent of 38 Degrees are, as expected, making a big deal of the elections. I’m sure we’ll see lots of new ideas from them in the coming weeks, but I love how they’re starting by hosting a nightly weekly live webcast for their supporters to bring them the latest on what they’re doing and how the community can get involved (you can watch at 9.30am here in the UK).

Learning from failure – The Centre for Australian Progress is playing a key role in coordinating groups and organising war rooms to help bring campaigners together. They’ve already planned to organise a FailShare to bring together groups that have been involved in campaigning around the election to learn from what didn’t work. The appetite to learn from what didn’t work as well as what did is brilliant.

Engaging the grassroots – I’m biased on this, because I’ve been working with groups like Micah Challenge Australia for a number of year, but as well as the exciting and responsive digital campaigning, development groups have been coming together to form ‘Movement to End Poverty‘ with the aim of getting the issue of development aid on the agenda of the parties, focusing on local events as well as petition signatures.

I’ll be keeping an eye out from other campaign lessons from Australia in the coming weeks. Do share what you’re discovering.


What I learned at Campaign Bootcamp…

Last week was one I won’t forget in a long, long time. Together with a group of wonderful friends, I helped to organise and run the first every Campaign Bootcamp (the video below shows a little of what we got up to).

It was a dream that took almost a year to bring together, and is one of the main reasons that this blog has been so quiet in the last 6 months!

The idea was simple, take 30 of the most talented and energetic emerging campaigners committed to building a more just, fair and sustainable country from across the UK and give them a week of training from some of the very best in the campaigning business, but also allow them to put those skills into practice in real-time.

We had so much fun, and I’m incredibly excited about what we’ve started, but being at Bootcamp also taught me some invaluable lessons that I think might be useful for other campaigners to reflect upon.

1 – Let’s talk about power. It’s all too easy to dive right into learning about exciting new tactics. But we devoted the first day to understanding power and how change happens. It’s an issues I know that is a critical part of any training you might do with those involved in community organising, but something that I know I’ve been guilty of rushing over when I’ve run campaigns training before. Ensuring every campaign has a clear and robust theory of change is critical, but something we perhaps incorrectly leave to those who are more senior or have greater experience.

2 – Practice makes perfect. One of the central components of Bootcamp was running a scenario which participants had to run a campaign on. In real-time they we’re expected to write emails, build websites and consider how they should adapt their strategy to changes in the scenario.

Some might see it as a giant game, but last week I saw it as an invaluable way of learning how campaigners react and respond under pressure. I saw it teach valuable lessons, and would encourage any campaigns team to put time aside to learn from the experience and ‘stress test’ there systems and structures before a real campaigning example does.

3 – Being deliberate about building community. Nothing builds a sense of community like going away together for a week. Now that might not always be possible but the value of eating, learning and relaxing together, rather than all packing up at 6pm each day and heading our separate ways built a real sense of community. As a team we were also deliberate about wanting to ensure we had a cohort of participants from across different campaigning communities together. It stuck me of how often campaigning happens in silos here in the UK.

4 – We need to teach the habits of highly effective campaigners. It would have been easy to fill the programme for the 6-days with learning on strategy and tactics, but as a team we wanted to put aside time to ensure that those attending left with habits to ensure they’re brilliant campaigners in 20 years rather than burnt-out ones. We didn’t always get the balance right (11am finishes anyone!) but I think everyone walked away with ideas and strategies to keep running the campaigning race for years to come.

5 – Everyone needs to learn code. For an afternoon, it felt like being back at school again, everyone in rows like in a classroom, laptops out and a teacher at the front as we followed exercises to help us learn HTML. It’s easy for many campaigners to assume that someone more technical can worry about the code, but with the web and email being key tools for our campaigning, having a basic understanding of HTML is a key skill to learn. I’d recommend Code Academy as a good place to start. It turns out that many of the problems can easily be solved with just a little expertise!

6 – Our sector is a hugely generous one. Throughout the week I was overwhelmed with the generosity we saw from existing campaigners. From sharing time as trainers and coaches, to donating money to joining our seed list and providing feedback on the emails that participants sent we experienced extreme generosity from others. It was something quite phenomenal and very special. Thank you to everyone who supported us in so many different ways.

I know that I won’t be able to recreate that Bootcamp feeling again any time soon, but the lessons that I learnt along with the amazing energy that the participants I hope will stay with me for a long time.

A creed for campaigners?

After rediscovering ‘ten positive, proactive steps to build a movement‘ by Michael Pertschuk last week, I’ve been sharing them with anyone who might be interested.

I find them challenging, inspiring and deeply practical. I’m journeying with them and trying to reflect on what I need to differently every day as a result. They’re wise words for anyone in the business of trying to achieve social change.

1. Remember where you come from, that you are part of something larger. Celebrate your origins and roots.

2. Listen to the insights and experience of people who are affected by the issues and participate in the efforts. They are the real experts – amplify their voices. Keep professional experts “on tap, not on top.”

3. Keep balance in your work and personal life. Work hard, yes. Meet responsibilities, yes. Make an extra effort, yes. But also add humor and rest. Avoid pessimism and martyrdom.

4. Recognise human frailty and accept it. Set the example by not holding yourself – or others – to rigid or impossible standards that drain the organisation’s energy.

5. Motivate others by sharing responsibility, paying attention to others, and encouraging those who make the extra effort. Give praise when it is merited.

6. Model behavior, or set a good example, by fostering cooperation, sharing information with others, and encouraging others’ leadership. Don’t dominate. Leave space for others to share their knowledge and skills.

7. Insist on a calm approach to solving problems. Set real deadlines. Avoid a crisis mentality.

8. Share credit generously within the organization, sector, and among allies.

9. Be equally civil to those who share your views or tactics, and those who do not. Agree to disagree and do so without personalising disagreements.

10. Recognize that there are incremental steps in the advocacy journey. Celebrate how far a group has come and what it means to the lives of people. New experiences – like meeting with a bureaucrat, politician, or editor – are as much a success as winning a favorable policy. They build confidence and empowerment that, in many ways, are the most profound and lasting changes. Savor them.

While I’ve been away.

I’ve been in self-imposed blog exile for the last couple of months.

A combination of running a small part of an election campaign, two trips to the US for work, participation in an amazing action learning process hosted by the Common Cause team and a number of other commitments have meant that I haven’t been able to blog.

Here are a few things that caught my eye while I’ve been away;

1. Avaaz 2.0 – The global campaigning movement has launched a platform for its own members to develop and run their own actions. It’s still in beta mode at the moment but I’m sure that will change in the coming months. Also Change.org has launched its own UK platform with some great coverage. I’ve written before about how I really like the model that Change.org uses providing campaign organisers to help increase the impact of online petitions created by members. I hope that both will be successful.

2. Right Angle – The platform aims to be ‘a grassroots community. We exist to stand up for ordinary families – Britain’s silent majority’ and is supported by a number of Conservative MPs.  So far, they’ve not had the same impact that 38 Degrees had in their first few month, although they were able to generate over 100,000 people to join their Facebook campaign against cutting fuel duty, so it’ll be interesting to see how the grow over the summer.

3. Twitter – It’s been great to see organisations engage with twitter in more and more innovative ways, two particularly impressed me. The Twobby of Parliament by members of the Care and Support Alliance, and the development of this tool by ONE which allows users to send messages to David Cameron on food security.

credit - www.fairsay.com4. People’s Pledge – This sneaked under the radar , but I think the ability of an organisation to mobilise 14,000+ people in a constituency to vote for a local referendum on membership of the European Union is an impressive feat. With the introduction of the Localism bill, I wonder if we’re going to see more of this community level campaigning that leads to local ballots on issues.

5. The next Make Poverty History – It was confirmed that development organisations are coming together to launch another ‘Make Poverty History’ style campaign in 2013. I’m sure this will be huge in the next 12 months, and I’m hoping that all those involved read this about lessons learnt and ensure that the next campaign is designed to avoid them.

6. KONY 2012 – I wrote before my blogging break about why the video had such a phenomenal response when it was first released, however the campaign wasn’t able to sustain the initial interest with the ‘Cover the Night’ event in late April failing to take off in the way they’d originally hoped.

7. US Election – Lots more great articles about different techniques and tools being employed in the campaign. I’d highly recommend every campaigner keeps an eye on the articles by Sasha Issenberg over at Slate, which I’ve found to be the most insightful into the approaches the campaigns are taking.

Life is returning to normality, so I plan to write some more on these topics and others in the coming weeks, as well as share the initial results I’m getting in government departments about the number of actions they’ve received in the last 12 months.

How will campaigners remember 2011?

A combination of holidays and overseas travel with work have caused posts to dry up on the site over the last month or so, but with 2011 coming to an end it’s time to ask how will the year be remembered for campaigners and reflect on a few of the posts that I’ve written.

Much has already been said about 2011 as a year of the protest. Time Magazine has nominated ‘The Protester‘ as its person of the year in response to the momentous changes that we’ve witnessed as a result of the Arab Spring and column inches continue to be written about the Occupy movement that has captured the imagination of many in the UK and US but beyond that what might 2011 be remembered for?

1 – If you snooze, you loose!  Time and time again this year I’ve been struck by the importance of campaigning organisations having the ability to respond quickly. Indeed one of my posts back in February was about the way that WWF had failed to respond to the campaigning that had started around the sell off of the UKs forest. Those organisations that have succeeded in the last year are those that have been able to develop structures that allow them to quickly respond to a campaigning opportunity and be ‘first to market’. In an increasingly dynamic campaigning environment where loyalty to one organisation is declining, actions can easily be shared via twitter and an increasing number of ‘platforms’ for campaigning exist it’s hard to see this trend changing anytime soon.

2 – Movements don’t need (visible) leaders. Examples abound about leaderless campaign, with Occupy London being one of the most prominent recent examples, but dig a bit deeper behind most of the campaigns and movements that have been successful in the last year and you’ll find an often complex web of individuals playing different leadership roles. In the last year I think we’ve seen a shift in the way we need to see and understand campaign leadership from the strong figurehead (which I wrote about here) to a more nuanced and networked leaders, making things happen in the background but not always leading from the front, this post I wrote back in June reflects on some different leadership roles needed in campaigns.

3 – The coming of age of 38 Degrees. It’s amazing to think that it’s just a few years since 38 Degrees was established, but this year it’s had a number of high-profile campaign victories most notably on stopping the privatisation of the UKs Forest and also causing a huge amount of bother with its ‘Save the NHS’ campaign. But in the process of establishing themselves as key players has led to the start of a backlash about its campaign approach which is heavily reliant on generating large numbers of emails actions, with some MPs going as far as refusing to respond to campaign actions from 38 Degrees. Will a trend to watch in 2012 be increasing questions raised about the sustainability of the approach they take?

4 – Measuring impact matters more than ever. In a year of tightening budget ever organisation is being asked to demonstrate the impact of its advocacy and the contribution it’s making through its campaigning, but despite some efforts that I’ve written about (here and here) I don’t think that anyone has cracked this yet with an approach that quantifies our impact as opposed to simply our outputs or outcomes. This is another debate that isn’t going to go away and one that every organisation is going to have to grapple with in 2012.

Those are my observations from 2011. What do you think it’ll be remembered for?

Review: Counterpower by Tim Gee

This book will make a bold claim: that a single idea helps to explain why social movements past and present have succeeded, partially succeeded, or failed.

So begins, Tim Gee’s new book Counterpower, released last week which asks the question. Why do some movements bring about transformational change while others fail?

It’s a question that many campaigners grapple with and the book provides much food for thought about what might be the key to success, looking back at the experiences of campaign movements from the last 100+ years.

For Tim, the answer is a clearly articulated theory of change that runs through the book, the idea of Counterpower. Tim argues that change happens when people use;

  • Idea Counterpower – challenging accepted truths, refusing to obey or finding new channels of communication.
  • Economic Counterpower – exercised through strikes, boycotts, democratic regulation and ethical consumption.
  • Physical Counterpower – which can mean both fighting back, or nonviolently placing our bodies in the way of injustice.

Tim suggesting that many of the most successful movements for transformational change have used all three kinds of Counterpower, while those that have fallen by the wayside have only used one or two.

It’s a sweeping statement and one that’s perhaps unfair,  for example the anti-poverty movement in the UK has achieved much in the last 15 years, perhaps the most high-profile example being the Jubilee Debt Campaign that saw the cancellation of billions of dollars of debt, with most of its tactics focusing on Idea Counterpower, but his theory is well argued.

The book explores how to apply these Counterpower principles to a number of successful campaigns in the last century. Ghandi’s camapign against British rule in India, the Anti-Apartheid campaign in South Africa, Universal suffrage in the UK and most recently the Arab Spring in Egypt. Each of the case studies are well researched, approaching the information from a new angle and helping to provide fresh insight to even the most well told of campaign examples.

I would have liked to have seen the book make an attempt to apply the principles of Counterpower to some less obvious contemporary movements, perhaps struggle for gay equality in the last 30 years or the anti-roads protests of the 80s or even some smaller scale campaign for justice at a local level.

I’d also like to have seen some analysis of why other campaigns have ‘failed’ because they haven’t made enough of Counterpower. One movement that comes to mind that would be fascinating to explore would be those working for climate justice, where has it failed to make use of Counterpower? I’d also have welcomed to some more reflection on what impact that current trend for ‘clicktavism’ might have on the use of physical Counterpower.

Tim presents a challenge to those campaigning organisations that focus on idea counterpower or perhaps dabble with economic counterpower by encouraging boycotts to consider if ‘stronger’ tactics need to be applied for change to be achieved. However I wonder at times if he’s too dismissive of the role that these organisations can play in helping to bring about change, overlooking the fact that many campaigns are ‘won’ by coalitions of organisations who employ different tactics, although as Tim points out in the introduction these ‘traditional’ organisations have often found ways to support more , citing the example of WWF helping to pay for the first Rainbow Warrior. But even with that the book lays down a challenge to these organisations to consider if the current suite of tactics they are using are working.

The other thing that I really enjoyed about the book is that its written by someone who’s a campaigner. It means that this isn’t an academic text, but you sense a living account of a campaigner grappling with ‘how change happens’.

In summary, I’d highly recommend this book. It’s a great read, well written, excellently researched and provides much food for thought for all campaigners, not simply those who would consider themselves ‘radical’.

With the birth of UK Uncut in the last year, events in the Middle East & North Africa and the #OccupyWallStreet demonstrations, Counterpower provides a timely and fresh look at how change can happen when we reexamine our understanding of power.

Counterpower: Making Change Happen can be purchased here. The author, Tim Gee, is currently on a speaking tour around the UK, dates available here.

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?