Three questions ahead of @fairsay’s clicktivism debate

Fairsay are holding what looks like it’ll be a fascinating debate on Monday night in Oxford around the issue of Activism vs. Slacktivism, with a great line up of speakers.

I can’t join in, but here are the three questions, that I’d be looking for answers to if I could make it along.

1 – What are the best examples of coordinating on and off line activism? I think most agree that ‘on-line’ activism alone won’t always lead to change and that it needs to be a key tool which is deployed as part of a wider strategy. If this is the case, what are the best examples of linking this together, and what do organisations need to be doing to harness the benefits of both?

2 – Have we convinced decision makers about the power of e-actions? I’ve written about this before but I worry that some decision makers see e-actions as a nuisance, rather than a legitimate campaign tool that allow large numbers of constituents to register their views. Is this the case and if so what more do we need to do to challenge this understanding?

3 – Have we convinced the public about the power of digital campaigning? Should the figures in recent surveys from organisations such as Theos, which show relatively low numbers of people think that e-campaign is actual likely to lead to change be a cause of concern? What do we need to do to address this?

If you’re new to the ‘clicktivism’ debate, do have a look at this comprehensive list of article’s that Jess Day has put together. Some good articles to start with would be;

Clicktivism is ruining leftist activism by Micah White, which kicked off much of the recent debate.
Small Change – Why the revolution will not be tweeted by Malcolm Gladwell
The case for online organising by Ben Brandzel
Exactly what role did social media play in the Egyptian revolution? on Social Media Today which looks at a very contemporary case study.
Finally, Study Finds the Internet Makes Youth More Engaged Citizens which injects some much needed academic rigour into the debate.
Clicktivism – will we acknowledge its impact by Brie Rogers Lowery reports on a similar discussion at the recent 6 billion ways conference.

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#SaveOurForest – a campaign reader

Put a note against Thursday 17th February in your diary, as it marks an important moment for campaigning in the UK. The coming of age of 38 degrees.

Today, the online campaigning movement celebrated as it notched up its most high-profile victory yet, the government make a U-turn and abandons its plan to sell of the forests (watch the announcement to Parliament here).

Lots has already been written about the campaign, and I don’t think I can add much at present,  here is a reader of some of the top articles which explore how the campaign unfolded and the impact it’s had.

1. The Guardian explores the important role that social media played in the campaign in Forest sell-off: Social media celebrates victory

2. Johnny Chatterton, from 38 degrees writes for Left Foot Forward about the size of the campaign, with his boss, David Babbs, Executive Director saying  ‘Forest sell-off U-turn is a victory for people power

3. Chris Rose wrote last week about how ‘Clicktivism By-passes Inside Track To Harry Potter Forest‘ and also the roots that this campaign had in previous battles for forests around the country.

4.  Jonathan Porritt criticised the larger environmental NGOs by not supporting the campaign of ‘collective betrayal‘ on his blog, while this blog argued that the campaign had highlighted some of the challenges large NGOs faced in responding to an issue with the agility an organisation like 38 degrees can.

5. The Sunday Telegraph ran many articles, demonstrating the broad support the campaign had ‘Save our forests, say celebrities and leading figure’ something that was clearly important in the victory.

6. But not everyone has been so kind, with Anthony Barnett at Open Democracy, suggesting that 38 degrees shouldn’t take all the credit for the campaign victory, following up on an earlier post challenging them not to compete but campaign with others.

7. But the last word picture should go to cartoonist Steve Bell in today’s Guardian.

What other articles have you read that help to explain the story behind the campaign? Why did this campaign work when so many others haven’t?

Future of No10 petition site kicked into long grass….again!

So Martha Lane Fox has today delivered her review of digital provision in central government and the future of the No10 petition site still remains unclear.

 

The site, which has seen 5 millions people take action, was taken down ahead of the May general election, and ever since its future has remained uncertain (I’ve argued this might not be a bad thing but it’d be good to know one way or another). For the last few weeks it has displayed the following message;

November 2010 – The overall future of all HMG digital comms and engagement is bound into the Martha Lane Fox review, which will be announced imminently. The future of e-petitions will be part of that review.

But a decision is going to be hard when the report which was released today says nothing about the site, e-petitions or how the government can use digital media to engage directly with citizens on public policy issues.

I might be missing something (another report from Lane Fox perhaps), but it seems that the Coalition Government is keen to continue to kick the future of the site into the long grass.

So much for a ‘new way of doing politics’.

Twitter – here to stay

So, after a very long summer break I’m back…one of my first blogs back in February was about twitter I asked if it was going to catch on.

I was cautiously optimistic, I wanted it to work, but was wary that it could go the way of other social media phenomena. Well what a 6 months Twitter has had. The numbers of people using it are still growing, and it’s not hyperbole to say that it’s changed the face of campaigning.

Changing Policy – Lots has been written about the role of twitter in mobilising people, but last week was perhaps a high-water mark for twitter.

On Monday, we had the Trafigura story exploding on twitter, within hours of the Guardian publishing a cryptic article on its website about an injunction we saw people starting to tweet what the parliamentary question was.  Before long the story was leading on the mainstream news, and a scandal that was only going to get noticed by a few who had been following the  story was everywhere, a very public PR disaster! Liam from louder.org.uk has a good post on this.

Then on Friday, we saw twitter mobilise a record 22,000 people to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about an article in the Daily Mail on the death of Stephen Gatley.

Before that we had the organisation BeThatChange organising a day of action which saw thousands of people trying to get Gordon Brown to go to COP, the response was that Ed Miliband put up a poll on his Ed’s Pledge website asking people to vote for their political priority ahead of Copenhagen.  A few days later, and Gordon Brown announced he was going to COP.

No doubt there are many other examples that one could point to over the last few months, ILovetheNHS for example. Two thoughts about what these examples have in common, an immediacy within moments someone has picked up on the story, and in hours they’ve reached a tipping point that forces the target to respond. Secondly, few of these campaigns have been initiated by organisations but instead twitter has put the ability to mobilise in the hands of people with lots of followers on twitter.  Some more agile movements may have been able to pick up on them (for example 38degrees around Trafigura), but twitter is helping to put mobilising power to those with virtual networks.

Engaging with policy makers – Today, two people I know got responses from @EdMilibandMP to their questions/comment and I’ve seen an interesting discussion with @SadiqKhan about an announcement he was making on parking. So what? Well unlike most communications with ministers/MPs, the chances are those policy makers have actually responded themselves, Twitter has cut out the comms department, the secretary and allowed people to share what they’re thinking directly with those holding the red box. No doubt this phenomena will come to an end when the number of followers becomes overwhelming, but for the time its a great opportunity to take advantage of.

Two others useful things;
– Back in the summer the people who matter in Whitehall issued these guidelines about how government department should be using twitter, while they were ridiculed for being too long, they’re the best set of guidelines I’ve found if you need to persuade senior management in your organisation to understand and use twitter.
– I’ve been experimenting with act.ly as a way of getting supporters to use twitter to show their support for a campaign, initial experience is good.

38degrees – a new campaign movement?

Does today mark the birth of a new campaign movement in the UK? Their has long been talk of a British equivilant to MoveOn in the US or GetUp in Australia.  This afternoon I received my first e-mail from 38degrees, which is trying to follow the same path and mobilise people to act together to take actions on the issues that matter. Having assembled a team of advisors and staff from some of the most effective progressive campaign groups in the UK, you feel that this might be the one that succeeds.

The first action that 38degrees have asked people to take is to allow people to recall MPs, its a smart choice, big enough to feel that is an appropriate response to the situation, but achievable enough to actually possibly happen (as opposed to asking for electoral reform), its a timely issue and one which will resonate with people beyond those who traditionally take action. Its also something that already has seen some support from newspapers and politicians. It’s not clear from the action what they’ll do with the petition, but I’m sure they’ll report back in the coming weeks.

It remains to be seen if 38degrees will have the same impact that MoveOn and GetUp did. I hope it does, but the UK is a crowded campaigning marketplace with lots of organisations offering similar products and campaign methods, so they could struggle to differentiate from others.

MPs and digital media

Using supporters to engage and influence MPs remains the core work of many campaigning organisations, and many organisations have chosen to make this easy for supporters by investing in software such as Advocacy Online, but what do we know about how MPs use technology and respond to eCampaigning. Two reports might help.

How MPs use digital media.
The Hansard Society has recently released ‘MPs Online – Connecting with Constituents‘ which explores how MPs use digital media to communicate with constituents.  The finding are useful for campaigners, as it gives an insight into what MPs are themselves doing, and provides ideas about how organisations can increase their digital engagement with MPs.

The report finds that almost all MPs are using email, most have personal or party run websites but the numbers using other forms of electronic communications is smaller. Social networking, blogs, twitter and texting is used by less that 20% of MPs.  The overall picture seems to be that MPs, much like many campaigning organisations, have started to adopt digital media as a way of communicating out to constituents, but less have been able to make a leap into using using web 2.0 tools which might help to ensure a more meaningful conversations with constituents.

Their are some interesting differences dependent on party membership (Lib Dems are the positive about digital media, Conservative the least) and age (younger MPs are more likely to use it, so as older MPs stand down we’re likely to see a bigger take up of digital media ), but little difference dependent on marginality of seat.  The report suggests that their is potential for greater engagment and closer ties in the future.

MPs also make useful observations saying that email has been great for them to communicate with constituents but the immediancy of the tool means that people often assume that they’ll be able to engage in a ongoing discussion that MPs simply don’t have time for, indicating that their office staff often struggle to cope with the volume of emails recieved (an increase which hasn’t been accompanied by a fall in the number of letters) , and the challenge of  identifying if the correspondent is from their constituency.

Attitudes towards eCampaigning
In 2006, Duane Raymond at Fairsay was comissioned to carry out some reasearch about MPs attitudes to eCampaigning, the whole report can be read here.

Although its a few years old, the findings from the Hansard Society would indicate that many of the key learning probablly still remain true. The main findings of the report is that every MPs is very different in how they respond to and engage with eCampaigning, but that most organisations still offer their campaigners a one-size fits all approach to commnications.

This means they’re not  having the biggest impact they could and the findings encourage organisations to be much more savy at how they segment their communications to MPs, for example by segmenting the message that they ask supporters to send.  Many MPs report that quality is as important than quantity when it comes to messages.

Another finding that stands out is the need to show that MPs that the person contacting them is actually from their consituency. The internet may have in many ways removed geographical barriers, but they are still of considerable importance to MPs.

Some conculsions
For me both reports indicate that it makes sense to have an online campaigning presence, but also reinforces that this shouldn’t simply replace more traditional low tech campaigingng method but should work in tandem.

Organisations should remember that n individually composed letter (or email) is better than an automated one – many organisatiosn know this, but perhaps more needs to be done to encourage people to spend the extra 5 minutes to write it.

Individual constituency level activists will always have a value, the MPs indicate that those people who have the time to write a hand written or visit an MP are ‘worth their weight in gold’. Organisations should do all they can to encourage, support and inspire these people.

Actions of the fortnight

Actions that have arrived in my inbox over the last two weeks.

Action Aid – Stand alongside campaigners in India calling for mining in the Niyamgiri Hills to be halted. In the UK, you can support the campaign by sending an email via the Indian High Commissioner in London

CAFOD – Calling on mining companies to listen to communities in the Philippines.

Practical Action – Urge Gordon Brown to strengthen EU climate proposals.

RSPB – Urge the government to switch to green energy

WDM – Stop the EU’s Great Train Robbery