What happens when you handover a campaign postcard?

A while ago, one of my colleagues got to speak to a former ministerial Special Advisor (SPAD) to find out what really happens to all those campaign postcards we send to a government department.

My experience from running the Campaign Totals project over the last few years indicates that every department does things slightly differently, but here are five useful reflections from that conversation;

1. All correspondence goes to the correspondence unit. There’s no mechanism to make anyone outside the unit aware of it. However SPADs and Ministers can enquire about what the public’s writing in about, and SPADs in particular are likely to make sure they do as a good way to keep in touch.

2. Ministers will sign and read replies to letters or emails from MPs, and usually from directors of NGOs (sometimes from other senior staff) and will also read the incoming correspondence at the same time. That’s the only correspondence they’ll usually see.

3. The department may choose to post a reply to a public campaign on its website, usually if a SPAD says they should. That’s a good way to see what they think is worth taking notice of.

4. It works well for an NGO CEO to write to a minister to say how many campaign messages they’ve received and say what they’re asking the minister to do.

5. Hand-ins are a very good way to get a minister’s attention, if something is personally handed over to them. They’re more likely to agree if they think the photo will get good media coverage, and if there’s a celebrity involved, or someone who is seen as a celebrity by a particular audience. A hand-in with no minister present won’t come to a minister’s attention (unless you got media coverage for it).

What other insights do readers of the blog have about how to ensure your campaign postcards get noticed after a handover? 

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?

Can these tools help to make campaign evaluation interesting?

Let’s be honest. Evaluating campaigning is a subject that excites few people, but it’s a really important part of the campaigning cycle.

Over the summer, I’ve been trying to think and learn more about campaigning evaluation, looking at the reports of other organisations that are available, like this one on Oxfam GB’s climate campaign, and learning about the favoured tools of funding institutions.

As you’d expect there are a wealth of approaches, but I wanted to share three tools that I found especially interesting;

Basic efficiently resource analysis – I came across this tool in the Oxfam evaluation where it was used to compare the perceived resourcing of activities to their impact on policies, political agendas or legislation. It seeks to identify the most efficient activities, in terms of achieving political impacts with the least resources.

The obligatory table in a post about evaluation.

It seems to be a really excellent way of engaging an organisation in a discussion about what works. As I understand it the report used it by surveying 200 individuals, both within and outside Oxfam who were involved/targeted by the campaign to share their opinions, so it was able to draw on the reflections of various groups. More on how the approach was developed for Oxfam here and here.

Bellwether methodology determines where an issue is positioned in the policy agenda queue, how lawmakers and other influential are thinking and talking about it, and how likely they are to act on it.

Developed by the Harvard Family Research Project, “bellwethers” are influential people in the public and private sectors whose positions require that they be politically informed and that they track a broad range of policy issues.

Bellwethers are knowledgeable and innovative thought leaders whose opinions about policy issues carry substantial weight and predictive value. The approach uses semi-structured interviews and the data helps to data indicate where an issue stands on the policy agenda and how effectively advocates have leveraged their access to increase an issue’s visibility and sense of urgency. More here.

The intense-period debrief is another tool developed by the Harvard. I thought that this tool would be especially useful, as so often in campaigning the evaluation gets left until everything is done and dusted.

The tool recognises that many advocacy efforts experience periods of high-intensity activity. While those times represent critical opportunities for data collection and learning, advocates have little time to pause for interviews or reflection. The unfortunate consequence is that the evaluation is left with significant gaps. Using focus groups or interviews its able to capture key information that might otherwise be lost in an end-of-campaign evaluation. More here.

For those interested in more on evaluation methods and approaches, BOND has produced this great list of tools that can be used. I’d also recommend this document from the Innovation Network on some more unique methods and this paper from the Harvard Family Research Project.

Making the most of Freedom of Information

I spent time on Friday sharing some of my experiences of using Freedom of Information with members of the Campaign Forum.

It’s a group of campaigners from across the sector that get together every quarter to share learning from their campaigns and hear from outside speakers.

I’ve always believed that it’s an under utilised tool for our campaigning, and if used well can help us to access invaluable information that allows our campaigns to be more effective.

It was encouraging to hear that many of the organisations present had made us of Freedom of Information in their campaigning work.

One good recent example of this approach was by Scope who worked with Demos to put together this interactive map of cuts to disability services across England and Wales.

As well as sharing a brief introduction to using Freedom of Information, drawing on the materials from the Campaign for Freedom of Information, I also shared a few top tips for making the most from it;

My tips were;

Be specific – That it’s very easy to have requests rejected because they’re asking for too much information, and as a result fall foul of the set limits that authorities have for ‘checking whether it holds the information, finding and extracting the information’. To avoid this, you need to be specific with what you’re requesting, and make use of time scales, titles of specific organisations/campaigns or locations to help to refine your asks.

I also shared the advice that Chris Coltrane had shared at the Netroots conference, that if you find that your request is rejected because they’ve calculated that it’ll cost too much to find, ask them how they’ve come to that calculation.

Be patient – Under law you’re meant to get a response within 20 working days, but it often seems that the deadline slips. Make sure you keep a good record of what you’ve requested and when, and follow-up once the 20 days have passed.

Ask for advice – That ‘ve found that Freedom of Information officers have often been very helpful it helping to access the information I’ve been looking for, and that you can make it easy for them to get in touch with you by providing a phone number with your request.

It takes time – If you’re an organisations planning to use the information in a media report or similar, don’t expect to have it all together in under a month. Plan well ahead and realise that the process of requesting the data itself is as time-consuming as processing the data afterwards! Campaigners present shared how they’d found it to be a really good project to involve interns in.

Request the data format – This is a lesson that I’m learning the hard way, from not doing so in my last round of request. I’ve got the information back in a whole range of formats, including pdfs which are incredibly hard to extract data from. You can specify the format that you want the information in, and the authority is required to comply with your preference so long as that is reasonably practicable.

You don’t have to justify why you want the information – But I suggested if you are worried about how requesting the information might impact a relationship with an official you can always do so in a personal capacity or work with a colleague to request it.

And the useful advice from the group;

Test out your request – A couple of campaigners spoke of how when they’ve been using Freedom of Information for large-scale requests they’ve tested out the request they’re making with a few friendly FoI Officers first to check that its understandable.

Get the Information Commissioner involved – One campaign spoke of how they’d still not heard back from some local authorities after a number of months and had as a result got the Information Commissioner involved. It’s a good reminder that there is recourse available if you’re not happy with the initial response.

I’ll keep an eye out for good uses of Freedom of Information by campaigns. What tips would you add, or what questions do you have? 

Three great campaign innovations from ONE

Three really nice campaigning innovations from the ONE Campaign that I’ve come across in the last few weeks.

1 – The ONE Campaign App
Only available in the US, the iPhone app allows those who download it to stay in touch with the , access key information, connect with staff and take action. If anything it looks like the app is asking users to do much, but I love the feature that allows you to phone your Representative or Senator (complete with a script if you’re not so confident), as well as the integration that makes it easy to share the latest petition with their friends.

I’m sure the challenge of any app is to ensure that users go back to it regularly, but given the massive growth in the use of smartphones over the last few years I’m surprised that more organisations haven’t invested in similar technology.

2 – The DATA Report as an eBook
Another first? I’m not aware of other organisations that have made their flagship policy report available like this, but it makes so much sense to develop it given the environmental benefits and also the cost of sending hundreds of copies to policy makers. Be great to see more policy reports available like this.

3 – TweetNumber10
I’ve highlighted this before, but its such a great website and a really simple user experience. Just a few clicks and you’ve sent a tweet to Number 10. While its interesting that they ‘only’ persuaded 5,000 people to take action, compared to the tens of thousands that normally sign their online actions, I’m sure we’ll see lots more organisations using a similar approach.