Five for Friday – 28th September

Five great articles on campaigning and social change that I’ve spotted over the last month.

1.Innovation a process, not a destination. A thoughtful look at innovation in social change from Stamford Social Innovation Review –

2. Great best practice article from the Mobilisation LabHow Greenpeace Brasil built the movements biggest twitter following.

3. I didn’t put together a summer reading list this year, but thankfully Casper ter Kuile has.

4. How did the ODI thinktank build a winning online communications strategy – lots of useful and practical lessons for those wanting to get research noticed.

5. In Praise of Advocacy Amateurs – another challenging piece by Kirsy McNell over on Global Dashboard.

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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.

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.

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.

Are you signed up?

If you’re not already subscribed to these excellent updates on campaigning, I’d encourage you to do so now;

1 – NCVO Campaigning and Influence – a good monthly round-up of news, views and training opportunities.

2 – eCampaigning Forum – a busy list of over 100+ eCampaigners from around the world.

3 – Sheila McKechnie Foundation e-bulletin – a monthly newsletter promoting the work of the Foundation with useful links to the foundations blogs.

4 – MobLab Dispatches – excellent learning from the Greenpeace powered Mobilisation Lab every three weeks. A really good read.

5 – New Organizing Institute Tip of the DaySimply brilliant.

Finally, if you’ve not already subscribed to this blog, why not have new posts delivered direct to you inbox by signing up using the box on the right!

Campaign Totals 2012 – DFID

Total number of actions received between May 1st 2011 and May 1st 2012: 172,207

Number of postcards/letters/petitions: 159,913
Number of emails: 12,294
Biggest campaign: CAFOD – Thirst for Change – 60,477 actions

Breakdown by topic and organisation:

Scorecard based on figures from 2010 to 2012;

Par score based on number of actions at 75th percentile, birdie score on the 85th percentile, and eagle score based on the 95th percentile

View the spreadsheet in google docs here. Information taken from Freedom of Information request returned in July 2012 and has been sorted by number of actions received and is presented as it was received from DFID. More about the ‘Campaigns Total’ project here.

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