Obstacles to campaigning – what do you think?

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!

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Coping with ‘proxy reporting ‘

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!

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Free preview of my new book

Sceptical about the need for yet another book about campaigning – check out the free preview of my new book to see what you think!

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‘Proxy reporting’

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’?

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Promotional video for my new book

Just done a short promotional video for my new book ….


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New book and online training course

No blog posts for a while as I have been working to launch my new book and online training course on campaigning

I am really excited to have published my book – Campaigning for Change: an Essential Guide for Campaigning around the World, which offers a simple and practical approach to campaigning.

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!

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Campaigning for change – part of our common humanity

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!

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Coping with the ‘bureaucratising’ of your campaign

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?

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‘Bureaucratising’ campaigning

Another trend that I have observed especially in larger organisations is an increasing bureaucratisation of advocacy campaigns, by which I mean the campaign is almost suffocated by internal requests for plans, updates and monitoring.

Don’t get me wrong; the advocacy campaigner should be alert to his or her accountability and be eager to show the value that investing in advocacy campaigns is making as part of the organisation’s mission. I am not arguing for complete freedom or a lack of accountability.

But my concern focuses on where that desire for accountability and reporting loses all sense of perspective in terms of what is requested. These requests may take the form of excessive reporting formats and monitoring forms, where increasing time can be spent on reporting and not doing. These requests can also be more reactive to external changes; so where an action is not in the plan, a detailed report is requested to justify this new action.

There is a balance to be struck here. Advocacy campaigners need to be held to account. But they also need the freedom of manoeuvre to exploit changes in the external world for the campaign’s advantage.

Again a pressure to bureaucratise an advocacy campaign might suggest a lack of understanding and a nervousness about the activity. If one were to fully embrace advocacy campaigning, one would require a reporting process and a system for agreeing action changes, but these would all be light touch and the expectation would be that the campaign would continue to shift and change tack in response to the outside world. This pressure would again suggest to me that there was a need for more education in the organisation to improve the understanding of campaigning. So how can you cope with this obstacle to campaigning?

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Coping with the ‘marketising’ of your campaign

It can be very difficult to cope with this ‘marketising’ pressure on your campaign as very often this pressure will come from senior levels of the organisation.

Yet there needs to be a continued focus on what the advocacy campaign is all about; the advocacy campaigner needs to be sensitive of the wider needs of the organisation, but also needs to continually push the point that the focus for the campaign is policy or practice change. I would argue that the ‘marketisation’ of advocacy campaigns is showing that the practice and understanding of advocacy campaigns are not embedded in the organisation and more effort needs to be made to helping to educate colleagues.

The advocacy campaigner could do more to support internal communications, which embrace the whole theory of change not just the high profile impact, by offering to bring supporters along on the whole of the journey and share the whole story with them.

The advocacy campaigner could support work that gives the organisation profile, but in a way that is helpful to the advocacy campaign and consistent with the theory of change. Media coverage can often help an advocacy campaign, but push for it when the issue needs it not just the organisation.

And the advocacy campaigner could make sure that the key people know who was involved in the advocacy campaign. In the past while my organisation’s involvement may not have been always front of mind for the public, the key allies and targets all knew about our involvement.

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