Campaigning takes time

Earlier this month the British Government announced that First Aid is going to be included in the school curriculum in England from 2020. This is huge news and could save thousands of lives in the future.

But this breakthrough made me reflect that campaigning takes time. This campaign was started by the British Red Cross, British Heart Foundation and St John Ambulance way before I joined the Red Cross and continued after I had left.

It was a campaign with a very simple message: not enough children had the chance to learn basic life saving skills and we wanted to see a generation of life savers come out of England’s schools. And it was a message that was very hard to disagree with – but nevertheless only one in five schools in England taught First Aid.

So this message was pushed persistently by this coalition of charities using opportunities such as Government consultations and Private Members’ Bills as a way of keeping interest in this issue bubbling. And finally this month the Government agreed.

This was a relatively uncontroversial message and it still took over 8 years of pushing to get a breakthrough. I think that this campaign offers a sobering message for the voluntary sector: campaigning for change takes time. Even non-controversial things can take time. More controversial things will take even longer.

But if you are serious about the change you want to see, you do need to commit for the long term. I see a growing trend in the sector towards short-term campaigns. You run an issue for 6 months or so and then move onto the next one. This is not how change happens – you need to commit to the long-term to get real change not just transitory headlines.

I remember working at Oxfam in the late 90’s on the issue of debt owed by developing countries but being very conscious that people had been campaigning on this issue for decades before. Campaigning for real change takes time – and if you are serious about getting change you do need to commit for the long-term.

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Great new report on social power

Last week the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (where I am an associate) launched a new report as the culmination of the Social Change project – Social Power: how civil society can ‘Play Big’ and truly create change.

I’ve seen many of these reports come and go over the years about how civil society can push for change, but this report is actually useful to people doing just that! I really like their Twelve Habits of Successful Change-Makers, and their thoughts on what is holding civil society back and how civil society can be strengthened.

I am going to use some of this stuff in future, and I highly recommend that you take a look at this practical and helpful report.

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World Cafe

I’m just back from running a workshop in Thailand where we were seeking to review a global campaign and discuss next steps with 40 people present. How can you do meaningful planning with so many people?

We used the World Cafe method – I’ve used this approach in a number of locations around the world and it is a great way of involving a lot of people in small discussions that build towards a cohesive picture of all the discussions. If you haven’t come across it before it is well worth checking out, and is a great way to feed in a number of views into campaign planning.

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Burning desire to campaign

I’ve just finished two assignments in Bulgaria and Thailand. Both workshops worked really well and whilst they were focussed on totally different issues, I think that their common element was that the participants all had a burning desire to campaign for change.

I’ve been running advocacy campaign training around the world over the past decade and a key consistent message from me has been the importance of having a burning desire to see change. And I see that at play now in my work for NGOs around the world. Where there is a real desire to tackle a problem and promote a solution, I find that my work takes off and people respond really well to my approach to campaigning. But when there is not that desire – maybe people have been told that they need to campaign – it just never seems to work!

And a tell take sign is when it comes to issue selection. People ready to campaign have no problem listing their concerns; their challenge is often selecting one issue to focus on for their campaigning. When people struggle to list their problems, they are clearly not ready, or even need, to campaign.

If you’ve got that burning desire for change – then you are ready to campaign. And I hope you find the resources on my website help you to get going!

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Practitioners not advocates

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!

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Speaking with impact

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 ….

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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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