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Campaigning is all about failure?

Last month I did a session on INTRAC’s advocacy and policy influencing training course. I do enjoy getting involved with these sessions as they attract NGO delegates from across the world and you get a real sense that campaigning is a truly international language.

I had been asked to say a few words about running a campaign in terms of both success and failure, and I am always interested in how different groups will pick up and explore different elements from my presentation.

This time the group was keen to explore and discuss the issue of failure in campaigning. Maybe in an environment of tight finances and funders ever more focussed on impact,  there isn’t any room for failure and we just have to, as campaigners, get it right first time? Or is there still room to try things and fail?

I was struck by an email that I received from one of the delegates once he had returned to his home continent. He quoted me as saying:

‘Campaigning is all about failure, learning from the failure and building on the learning from the failure’.

Now I am not entirely sure that I used those words because campaigning is not all about failure – as success is also important, but campaigning is certainly about learning from that failure. As campaigners we need to have both the courage and space to try things, assess how they go, learn from this activity and try again.

For me campaigning has always been an art and not a science. Yes, you can attend training sessions and read books and case studies, but campaigning for me is all about an instinctive desire for change rooted in a curiosity, leading to an understanding, about the external environment.

Despite the internal and external pressures at the moment, do not be wary of trying new things. The advent of a new Parliament in the UK with a large number of new MPs after 6th May gives us as campaigners a great opportunity to try new things, reflect from that activity and keep moving forwards.

So do cherish failure in campaigning. When I have done research on campaigning in the past, I have found that people were very happy to talk about their successes but less so their failures. But we have all made mistakes, I certainly have, and I think that we should cherish this failure (unless we keep on making the same mistakes!). But do you cherish your failure in campaigning?