A new blog ….

A New Year comes and I am trying out a new blog. I am fascinated at how many cases of injustice I come across in my work and how so often there is little or no change happening. My new blog injustice – but why? seeks to highlight such cases of injustice and asks why is there this injustice and change is not happening? Do let me know what you think of it.

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Can we agree that ….?

I recently ran an advocacy workshop in Pakistan. Having identified our priority issue, we then set about developing our message and working on the opposition messages on our issue. In two groups, we then began to develop a theory of change on our issue.

I was intrigued to see that the two groups took very different approaches to how they saw change happening: one group assumed activity had to start at provincial level to begin the change process; the other group assumed activity had to start at the district level and work upwards to influence the provincial level.

We then had a robust discussion in the full group and slowly a consensus emerged that what was really needed was for activity to be undertaken at both district and provincial level simultaneously.

I then witnessed two very skilled facilitators work with the whole group to begin to build a new theory of change merging both approaches. I was very struck by one of the facilitators’ approach. He used a great form of words for each stage of the theory of change. He would start by saying “can we agree that..” and then would offer a suggestion. It was a great way to frame the discussion, keep moving things forward but also to invite additional comments, suggestions and challenges. His form of words worked a treat, and, despite the strong views held on both sides of the debate, they were able to forge a consensus theory of change with broad support from the whole group.

He didn’t impose his views, but offered thoughts and asked if they could agree with them. It allowed a good debate, but also an agreed way forward from the whole group. I’ll certainly use his words when I’m next developing a theory of change ….

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10 What does good look like? Next steps …

A key challenge in the voluntary sector, where our mission is all about change and where campaigning is so vital to this mission, is how do we, in traditional organisational structures, allow this enabling environment for campaigning? One key answer to this challenge must be clarity on what good looks like in campaigning, being able to compare where you are now with what good looks like, and then discussing what needs to change to encourage campaigning in the organisation. I hope this perspective encourages debate in voluntary organisations so that we can unleash the latent campaigning energy in so many places. And I stand ready to do what I can to make that possible!

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9 What does good look like? Theory of change

And there is one missing ingredient here – your theory of change. I remember doing a workshop in Sofia recently, and I did a session on the importance of having a theory of change. Later that day I was talking to a workshop participant; she told me that her heart had sunk when she heard me begin talking about a theory of change. She told me that she had heard so much useless information on this subject that she had rejected this concept as having any use to campaigners.

But she then kindly said that my simple approach to theory of change in campaigning had made her think again. Basically your theory of change is your compelling story of how you see change happening on your issue. I think the key ingredients for a successful campaign are a combination of a clear message (problem + solution) together with your theory of change (or your compelling story for the future development of your campaign). For more information check out the momentum page on this website.

I relish meeting a campaigner who has both a clear message for their campaign and a robust story of how this change is going to come about – these are essential elements for any good campaign.

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8 What does good look like? In conclusion continued…

For me that is what campaigning is all about – that is what good looks like. It is not just about having a plan or providing regular updates. It is a living, breathing series of connected activities in the outside world all designed to build support and momentum for your issue. It requires you to leave your office and your computer. It needs you to speak to people, to listen to people, to travel widely, to be prepared to work at inconvenient times – all so that you can build support for your issue.

When you are working like that you will know that you are campaigning. This is not just a job or an activity. This is a mission. A mission to build support for your issue using both time honoured methods as well as the latest technology to build support.

When you are working like that you find that it energises you. Despite it being exhausting, you will want to do more. You will need to find ways to protect yourself from being burned out, but if self-managed well, you will be enriched by this way of working. But when you find you are being prevented from working in this way you will inevitably feel frustrated. Yet this memory of what it did feel like when you were on a roll will help you to stay motivated and keep going. That is campaigning!

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7 What does good look like? In conclusion

So in conclusion: you have your foundation of a clear message with compelling evidence for your campaign. You are then totally focussed on building support both internally and externally for your issue.

You take every opportunity to:

engage with your supporters; to develop new allies and sustain existing allies; have sustained media coverage on your issue both yourself and through your allies; build your online presence to amplify your activities and sustain connections; speak in public to engage with people directly with your message and are prepared to travel widely; engage with politicians of all parties and reflect on their feedback to strengthen your message; engage directly and indirectly with your campaign target; and look to support people with lived experience of your issue to undertake all of these activities themselves.

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6 What does good look like? Key activities continued

And here are some more key areas of activity to help you build momentum for your campaign….

  • Public speaking: you accept every offer to speak in public on your issue. You see every external opportunity as a chance to enthuse more people and get them taking action to build more momentum. While you embrace an on-line presence, you also relish the ability to meet people directly. You are prepared to travel and show your support for people around the country who are using their time in support of the campaign. But you also show your readiness to engage with people who are less supportive and welcome the challenge to your campaign, which you see will only strengthen your campaign messaging.
  • Politicians: you take every opportunity to engage with politicians of all parties on your issue at what ever level your campaign is focused on. You place a high priority on such encounters, but always ensure that you do your homework first so that you understand where they may be coming from, and endeavour to make your pitch in the most engaging way for them whilst staying true to your campaign message.
  • Campaign target: you seek to engage directly and indirectly with the target of your campaign to ensure they are aware of your issue and to understand their position on your issue.
  • People with lived experience of your issue:and I have left the most important element until last. All of these activities are great but if you can be working to give people with a lived experience the opportunity themselves to engage authentically in these activities that is the highest point of campaigning.

So what does all of this mean for campaigning?

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5 What does good look like? Key activities

I’d like to suggest some key areas of activity to help you build momentum for your campaign. I haven’t been able to use all of these activities on all of my campaigns, but I have aspired to use them. So what are they?

  • Supporters: you take your message out to your supporters both volunteers and staff, ideally face to face but also then with written updates, to enthuse them and keep them enthused but also to gain their feedback. This takes up lots of your time but is vital to ensure that your home base is with you.
  • Allies: you take out your message to other organisations you feel may be minded to support you. Initially that may be some of your existing partners, but over time you will be looking for surprising allies to show the wider support in society for your issue. The fascinating element here is exploring how you can communicate your issue to find common ground with these new allies so that they feel moved to start raising this issue in their own way. This work can be never ending as there are always new allies to cultivate, but you use these new allies as evidence of growing support for your issue.
  • Media: you look for every opportunity to raise your issue in the media. You are not content with just one-off coverage, but you are constantly looking for ways to get your issue on the radar. You do that by proactive media work but also by reactive media work offering comment on topical stories and by letters to the editor. You seek coverage both from your own organisation but also you work to ensure that there is coverage from other organisations too. You develop and hone your media skills by accepting every invitation to do media interviews so that you both spread the word and become ever more effective in your communications.
  • Social media: you use your social media accounts to show the growing momentum and interest in your campaign. In addition your blog takes people on the journey with you – you openly share your theory of change and invite comments and challenge. Your on-line presence breathes energy and momentum, and in particular you relish the use of video to inject that passion into your communications both from you and your allies.

And next week I will suggest some more key activities to build momentum for your campaign …..

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4 What does good look like? Building momentum

But then what do you do with this clear message and compelling evidence of the problem? Well I think you then look to build momentum and support for your campaign. Having secured your campaign foundation, you then look to get it rolling and build interest – and get other people and groups talking about your issue.

For me this is where campaigning gets really interesting, but it can also be quite hard to spring off from your foundation into this momentum building stage. Indeed I have seen many people get paralysed at the foundation stage and never really move on to build momentum.

In my next blog post I will explore some key areas of activity to help you build momentum for your campaign.

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3 What does good look like? The foundation

To start off I think that a clear message is vital: embracing both a problem and a solution. Whenever I have been running a campaign, which has really been on a roll, there has been a very clear message or elevator pitch that not only my colleagues and I have been using, but all people supportive of the campaign. There was no ambiguity at all about the message; indeed I like to talk about the importance of an absence of ambiguity in campaign messages.

I also think that a clear understanding of the problem is vital. Now I have launched some campaigns with no clear evidence just a sense of outrage, but we have always then gone onto collect the evidence to justify and energise our campaign. The more that I have built evidence for campaigning, the more that I have liked the macro/ micro approach; whereby I mean you collect both big picture statistics (ie: the number of people destitute) as well as the individual human stories (ie: individual people’s own account of being destitute). I feel that this combination can be compelling for effective campaigning.

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