I’ve just come back from Sofia where I was running an advocacy workshop for the Romani Early Years Network (REYN), which has members supporting Roma communities in 11 countries across Europe.
I was struck during the first session at their insistence that the people in the room were practitioners not advocates. Yet over the course of the workshop their passion and experience on the issue just shone through. As we began to cover some basic campaigning tools such as the elevator pitch, it became very clear that they were also excellent advocates on their issue.
I have often come across a view around the world that advocacy campaigning is done by experts in advocacy campaigning. My experience in Sofia has only served to re-enforce my alternative view that the best advocacy campaigners are people with experience on their issue and a real burning desire for change.
I was delighted by the positive and enthusiastic response at this workshop. When I reflected on this response, I did conclude that I did not do anything differently, but what was notable at this workshop was the burning desire held by the participants for change on their issue.
You can offer all of the advocacy campaign tools in the world – but to make real progress you also need a burning desire for change. Put practical campaign tools together with a burning desire for change, and I think you are really onto something!
Over the past month I have been running a series of workshops for small charities supporting refugees and migrants to help their volunteers and staff develop their confidence to speak with impact in public.
I do think that the ability to speak with impact in public is so vital for any campaigner. Yes you do need other skills too, but at the end of the day the ability to be able to speak with passion on your issue in public – ideally with little or nothing by way of notes – is just so important.
I have constructed a very simple step by step approach, very similar to my approach to campaigning, to help people develop their public speaking skills. While some may be born with an instinctive ability, I have long maintained that it is a skill that can be taught and which then needs to be practiced.
And my experience running these workshops for diverse audiences gives me even greater confidence that you can support people with this skill. I am now considering the best way to share this approach to help more people speak with impact in public. Watch this space ….
Since March of last year I have been running a series of posts on my blog about the obstacles to campaigning. If campaigning is as simple as I try to make out, why is it often so difficult to campaign?
I’ve suggested that there are a number of obstacles that campaigners need to be watching out for … but what do you think? Do you agree with me or do you think that I have missed some? I’m keen to know what you think!
My advice here – and it is pressure that many advocacy campaigners are up against to come up with their indicators – is the same as I offered to the bureaucratisation challenge.
It is so important to show that you are committed to being held accountable and to showing what progress, if any, is being made by your campaign. But far from being pushed into proxy indicators, make the case for reporting on your theory of change. If the pressure for numbers is intense, then maybe there can be a compromise whereby you agree to indicators for certain phases of your theory of change. So for example as you launch your campaign, you may see the benefit of having a target for the number of new allies; you might then move on to the number of supportive meetings with MPs; and then as you build up Ministerial interest you might report on the number of meetings with key officials.
The crucial point is that each indicator is based on your theory of change; you are reporting on something you both want and need to do.
Otherwise you run the risk of developing proxy measures as you feel you have to offer something to be measured, and then these measures could completely deflect your responsiveness by making you undertake unnecessary actions.
But the critical reporting element must be your theory of change. If you can maintain this focus internally, you will be so much better placed to deal with these internal challenges.
Ultimately you want your colleagues to be enthused by both your advocacy campaign message and your story for the campaign (or your theory of change). If you can stay focused on your message and keep people updated on your theory of change, then your momentum and enthusiasm should carry people with you!
The final obstacle that I have observed is the internal pressure to develop key performance indicators for advocacy campaigns.
Now don’t get me wrong – targets can be very important for advocacy campaigns at the right times of the campaigning cycle. But rigid targets often set for years to come with no flexibility to allow for external changes can be the road to madness.
If one were building a hospital one might develop targets over a three-year period of the number of people you were looking to support; it would be helpful to have such a target to see if you were making the desired progress.
But if you were running an advocacy campaign to set your targets for the next three years would be challenging, and you may well end up developing what I would call ‘proxy indicators’. As you would not be too sure of how your campaign might develop over three years and what external changes you might be exposed to, if you were under pressure to develop indicators, you might then pick ‘proxy indicators’.
So you might say you want to contact 10% of MPs each year. For the purposes of the indicator this would be fine; you could monitor the performance and report each quarter on the number of MPs contacted. Yet to what point? Pressure to agree an indicator might well lead you to investing time and energy into an activity that was not required by the campaign. You would be contacting MPs when in fact your time might be much better off doing something totally different.
So what is the best way to respond to pressure to develop such ‘proxy indicators’?
And my new online training course on the Udemy training platform – Campaigning for Change – uses the same structure as the book and takes you through the process of building your own campaign with practical exercises long the way.
I really do hope that both new resources will help to encourage more people around the world to start campaigning for change!
I’ve just come back from running an advocacy workshop for the Red Cross in Nepal, and I know that I have written about this before, but I am yet further enthused that advocating or campaigning for change is one vital part of our common and shared humanity.
Despite having to rely on translation, the participants in the workshop showed an eagerness to define their key problem and solution, to debate the realities of their own external context, discuss how they might influence their target, analyse the most effective response to opposition, and bring it all together in one strategy.
We may speak different languages and have different cultures, but that common human desire to challenge the status quo and push for change to help other people cuts across our differences and shows our common uniting humanity. All I did was to offer some tools and a framework – they then did the rest to take ownership of their issue and debate how they might go forward to push for change. This gives me such a sense of hope for our world – working together we can make a difference!
I think that it is so important first of all to show as an advocacy campaigner that you are committed to being held to accountable and that you want no special favours.
But you want to work in an environment that encourages responsiveness and innovation and allows you to ride the waves coming towards you.
Part of your coping strategy must be to invest time in educating colleagues in advocacy campaigns and how this discipline does differ to other disciplines as it is so bound up with changes in the outside world.
And linked to that education must be a focus on the theory of change. When I have run advocacy campaigns, I have yearned to be held accountable to my theory of change – let me set out how I think my campaign is going to take off, let me show how it is rooted in the realities of the outside world, let me report on this theory of change, show my progress and my blockages, and allow me then to craft my new theory of change. So that over time you can chart my progress by monitoring the changes in my theory of change. Is that too much to ask?