Category Archive: Archived blogs

  1. Obstacles to effective campaigning with some answers

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    Last time I wrote about my new area of interest in campaigning – the internal obstacles to effective campaigning. I have been struck how over the past few months running training courses in Berlin and Dublin as well as here in London
    about how often this issue crops up.

    So what are those obstacles? Why don’t more people and NGOs run campaigns? What do you think? On a long journey recently I tried to list the obstacles that I had either experienced or heard of – and then I tried to sketch out a possible answer.

    I think that I could have stumbled upon a big issue here and what I offer now is just work in progress – but what do you think?

    Have I missed any obstacles? I will recap on the obstacles from last time and
    now also try to suggest some possible answers.

    Lack of research

    I have seen this happen so many times – people say we would love to campaign but we need more research. Yes, research is vital for effective campaigning but it is also a major delaying tactic. Be wary of the call for more research? It can just push your energy into the long grass. I have launched campaigns with precious little evidence, just moral outrage. We then went back and got the evidence but it did not stop us speaking out, seizing the moment and developing campaigning momentum.

    Nervous leadership

    Here the campaigners are ready, but the organisation’s leadership is nervous and the campaign stalls. An explicit risk assessment can be a great tool to confront this nervousness and show how you are going to minimise any risks. Also Brian Lamb’s
    excellent NCVO campaigns guide for trustees is another great tool to minimise
    campaigning nervousness.


    This is a classic. We would love to campaign but we need a full-time campaigns post. What rubbish! I say give me an hour a week and we can begin to make things happen. With a clear focus and plan, you can achieve so much with so little – if you have the will.

    Lack of shared values

    This is a sad one. The obstacle to campaigning comes down to a not having a shared value set. Again as with earlier obstacles, it can help to be explicit about these values and not to be base actions on assumptions. Are we really a campaigning organisation agitating for change? Or are we not? But initiate this conversation – do not assume that you are all on the same page.

    Lack of common understanding of advocacy

    This is another classic. With almost all of the advocacy campaigns consultancy work that I have done over the past 5 years or so this issue comes up. I find myself saying I really don’t mind what your definition of advocacy campaigning is but I wish you have a common one. A definition that the communications, research, policy, marketing, fundraising or supporter relations people all sign up to. Is that really so hard?

    Lack of a theory of change

    Have you seen this one? I know I have been guilty of this. So much effort goes into producing the research report and maybe getting some media coverage and then you just collapse exhausted with little idea of all this action happening so that something else happens. But without your theory of change at least sketched out, there is a good chance that your report will just be filed and all momentum lost. The answer is I think simple – write out your theory of change using the simple ‘so that’ formula. I am going to do something so that something else happens. And then review what should be no more than a couple of sides of paper on a regular basis. Simple but it does makes you think about momentum which is so vital on an effective campaign.

    Individual agendas taking over 

    Here campaigning is undermined because individuals have their own agendas and seek opportunities to develop their agendas. This will always be tricky when you are dealing with passionate campaigners but I think an astute organisation will try to work with those individual passions to energise the wider campaigning effort.

    Internal disharmony

    This is another sad one. Here the team or organisation is undermined by internal conflict. Sadly this can be a problem specially in small NGOs but it does undermine effective campaigning. Clearly this disharmony need to be tackled before the campaigning can take off. This disharmony just has to be tackled and not avoided. You just cannot build a successful campaign on such a platform, or if you are able to do so why you adding to your own stress and diverting energy from your campaign?

    Lack of a common goal

    What is the point of your campaigning? Is it policy change? To recruit new  supporters? To raise your profile? To raise money? What is your goal – effective campaigning needs focus and a clear goal. All good campaigns need a clear focus and goal. And this is time well worth spent to be clear about your answer to why you are campaigning. Don’t assume – be explicit.

    We are too busy to campaign

    Have I left the best until last? I see this so often – we are so busy delivering services meeting the need that we can’t make campaign. So that nothing ever changes so that you stay busy. I just get excited by those smaller NGOs who can both deliver services but also embed their campaigning into the soul of their organisation. They do both activities because they know they need to do both – but one fits seamlessly into the other – they see these actions as being on one continuum.

    If I have made overcoming all of these obstacles sound easy, then I apologise – I know that it is far from easy. After over 10 years’ experience of campaigning with NGOs plus my freelance work internationally I am convinced that these internal obstacles represent some of the biggest hurdles we campaigners face. If you disagree, then I am happy for you and get on enjoying your campaigning.

    But if you agree with me – what do you think about my answers? And do you have anything better to offer? It would be great to hear your views.

  2. Influencing the faces of power

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    A few months ago, I was in Haiti where I spent 5 days running an advocacy training course for community organisations from Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

    Despite the language barrier, with everything needed to be translated into Creole, I was really interested in how some of the core advocacy campaign techniques seemed to resonate in this challenging campaigning environment. Since the earthquake in January 2010, there has been a huge challenge to meet the need from this disaster and to ensure that all of the international aid effort is used in the most effective way for the local population.

    The community groups that I was working with were very interested to apply the advocacy campaign techniques in their own context to strengthen their advocacy work and ensure that community voices were heard in the policy debate.

    And this interest translated itself in some extremely interesting and challenging questions. My favourite question must have been asking how using an influence tree works with a power analysis where you look for the three faces of power: public, hidden and the insidious. The public face being possibly the government minister in charge of the issue; the hidden face being possibly the Treasury minister; and the insidious face being possibly cultural or religious influence in the country.

    I thought that this was a great question. When we cover the influence tree technique, we talk about the importance of identifying one target that has the power to make the change that you are seeking. In addition to the direct route to your target, you also identify the other possible channels that you can use to seek to influence your target.

    But how do you respond where there are different faces of power? How does an influence tree work then? Do you need to have three different influence trees to contend with the public, hidden and insidious faces of power? Or can you prioritise the different faces of power? For example if you identify from your power analysis that the most important face of power is the hidden face of say the Treasury Minister, then do you use the public face and the insidious faces of power as routes on the way to influence the hidden face?

    Such that you know that you need try to influence, or at least try to neutralise, the public and the insidious faces of power en route to influencing the hidden face of power.

    A great question – but what do you think is the answer?

  3. The campaigning staircase

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    I have written many times before about how important I think a theory of change is when you are developing your advocacy campaign. And while that may sound complex, it can be as simple as just developing a ‘so that’ chain of events. Using the words ‘so that’ to show how your actions are going to help your campaign take off, build momentum and deliver impact.

    When I am running training courses, I am also keen to use the ‘but why’ technique. Again this is an incredibly simple tool to get to the root cause of a problem.

    You start with your problem driving your campaign and ask ‘but why’ is this a problem? And you keep asking ‘but why’ until you get to the real cause of the problem. This simple tool, while it can be irritating, can be a great way to ensure that you avoid focussing on the superficial causes to your problem and that your campaign can tackle the real issues.

    I was running a training session for refugee supporting NGOs in South Africa a few months ago when a participant asked what you should do if the answer to one of our ‘but why’ questions was ‘maybe’. I thought that this was a great question. If your answer is maybe, then it shows that you do not really know and that you need more research and evidence before you can launch your campaign. The ‘but why’ technique can be a great way to check if you are ready to launch your campaign.

    And it is so much better to find out that you don’t really know the answer to ‘but why’  in private as I have found that politicians and journalists are very skilled in asking the ‘but why’ question. Time spent on this exercise is priceless as part of your initial campaign planning.

    It is also a great exercise to do with your campaign team and to repeat at regular intervals using any new campaign intelligence.

    But it was only when I was running a training course for Christian Aid in Haiti last month that I really began to see the connection between ‘so that’ and ‘but why’. Once we had covered these two tools, one participant offered the following insight: “these tools are like a campaigning staircase. You need to go down the staircase to find out why you are in this position and to do that you ask ‘but why’? But you also need to go up the staircase to find out where you are going with your campaign and to do that you repeat ‘so that’.

    I loved that insight – these two tools allow you to move up and down the campaigning staircase. Maybe something to think about next time you are doing some campaign planning?

  4. Informal influencing

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    A few months ago I was running an advocacy and policy influencing course in West Africa for a group of doctors who wanted to run a national campaign on maternal health in order to tackle the horribly high number of women who were dying when giving birth.

    The course seemed to be going well until we got onto influence, and I began to explain how to use an influence tree. I started off by focussing on their target of their advocacy campaign and then began to talk through possible routes of influence to get to this target. I used an example from another advocacy campaign to get them thinking about how the influence tree might be applied in their cultural context.

    Then one of the group interrupted me and asked me – what about GFs? I was stumped. I have run similar courses around the world and no-one had ever asked me about GFs. My mind raced – what could GF stand for in an advocacy sense? I didn’t have a clue.

    The group then laughed realising that I didn’t understand the question. Don’t you know what GFs stand for? I had to admit that I didn’t. They then took great delight in telling me that GFs stood for girl friends.

    This answer this opened up a new area of discussion around informal routes of influence. In this country the identities of girl friends of leading politicians were public knowledge, so if you were planning an advocacy campaign on maternal health and were targeting a politician who had a girlfriend, then she could be a potential route of influence. This point then got the group thinking much more broadly about other sources of informal influence on their target. Their influence tree suddenly expanded dramatically with a whole array of other routes of more informal influence.

    It made me reflect that sometimes we focus only on the formal and established routes of influence in developing advocacy campaigns, when very often those in power are also influenced by informal sources. In the context of your campaigning work are there any informal routes of influence that you might be missing?

  5. Getting the right balance

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    Over the past five years or so I have had the chance to do a regular session on NCVO’s certificate in campaigning. I always enjoy these sessions as NCVO attracts a diverse group and their questions are guaranteed to be good and do make me think.

    Last time there was a question about public campaigning – how much control should an NGO seek to exert when trying to mobilise the public – should you go for control or be more relaxed? This is an interesting question and has come up a number of times in campaign training sessions here in the UK and internationally.

    My NGO campaigning started by being schooled in a very rigid approach to campaigning. You knew when you wanted public involvement and you told them what to say and when.

    In recent years I have moved away from that school of thought. Possibly the one event that forced my shift in thinking came out of the lessons from Obama’s first Presidential election campaign: to lower the barriers to entry and to encourage supporters to use their own words and reasons to explain why there were supporting the campaign.

    I was very taken by these two ideas – lowering the barriers and encouraging people to do campaigning in their own way with their own words. But were they applicable in the UK?

    I got a speedy answer to this question during my time at the British Refugee Council. We had been running a national campaign to allow asylum seekers to work. This right had been taken away in 2002 and there was a strong argument for allowing asylum seekers to support themselves as opposed to having to rely on state support. At a national level we forged a strong campaigning alliance with the TUC and endeavoured to push this issue at a national level.

    A while later I met the Regional Refugee Forum North East – an inspiring refugee-led group based in Gateshead. I was enthused by what they had done with this campaign. They had taken our national campaign and made it their own in the North East forging their own link with the regional TUC. They put their own branding on their materials, used their own words but the key message remained the same. I just loved how they had taken the national NGO’s campaign and made it their own at a local level. And it was so much more powerful as a result. When they met with the region’s MPs they were talking as genuinely concerned local residents running their own campaign – not as local voices for a distant national campaign.

    I would love to take the credit for this powerful regional campaign but I can’t – it had nothing to do with me. The regional forum had just taken our campaign and interpreted it in their own local context. And it was so much more powerful.

    The more I think about public campaigning and the role of national NGOs, the more I come back to Obama’s key principles and this example from the north east of England. I think national NGOs should instigate and drive national campaigns based on their evidence and local evidence from their partners. They should get the evidence out and promote campaign materials and ideas for actions before letting local groups interpret this material in their own way to run their own campaigns.

  6. Bringing your theory of change to life

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    I’ve written before about the importance of developing a theory of change as part of your campaign planning. There has been a lot written about this approach to campaigning, but stripped to its most basic I think it centres around two words: so and that.

    You do something so that something else happens so that something else happens, and before you launch your campaign using this tool, you can show how your campaign is going to take off. I wish when I had started out campaigning someone had told me about this simple tool and how important it was to write it down and then regularly review it.

    I was out in Tanzania recently doing some work with the Africa team for the World Society for the Protection of Animals. We had spent two days together covering  the basics of campaigning, and then we had the luxury of two more days to put this learning into action.

    They were keen to use the theory of change model on one of their campaigns. As a trainer I was intrigued to see whether this tool would be useful for them and how they would use it. So it was great to see them work as a group developing their theory of change. But what most struck me was how they were having robust arguments for each stage of their model.

    One colleague would suggest a next step, another would question whether that would actually follow, and then the originator of the idea would have to justify their thinking. We ended up with a theory of change on their issue on which they  had robustly challenged each other through every step. I was really excited to see  how they had worked to together to build a cohesive plan.

    I am also doing some work in the UK with a group of small charities working in the refugee sector. Here again we have been developing a theory of change to help them to develop their campaigning agenda. We are beginning now to come up with an interesting theory of change that we have tested with each other internally. Yet we know we need to test it still further.

    So we are going to talk to a few friendly politicians across all the parties to test out our theory of change model with them. We may have convinced ourselves that this theory of change will work, but will people working in different sectors and especially those working within the political sphere agree with our thinking or will they challenge our way of thinking.

    I know that you can never second guess the future, but an effective campaigner  surely needs to see where their campaign is going and then is ready to test their thinking with their colleagues and with key external partners. I think one part of successful campaigning is a readiness to challenge your own thinking – how robust is your theory of change?

  7. Obstacles to effective campaigning

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    Much of my writing and training on campaigning over the last five years or so has been around the theme of successful campaigning and I have tried to use my time to encourage others on what is possible for them to campaign about.

    But in recent months, I have begun to wonder if in fact by taking such a route I have ignored one of the biggest issues in ensuring effective campaigning – by which I mean spending time looking at the internal obstacles to effective campaigning.

    So what are those obstacles? Why don’t more people and NGOs run campaigns? What do you think? On a long journey recently I tried to list the obstacles that I had either experienced or heard of.

    I think that I could have stumbled upon a big issue here, and what I offer now is just work in progress – but what do you think? Have I missed any obstacles?

    Lack of research

    I have seen this happen so many times – people say we would love to campaign on an issue but we need more research. So the campaign stalls. While research is important, it can also be a huge reason for delay in starting a campaign.

    Nervous leadership

    Here the campaigners are ready, but the organisation’s leadership is nervous and the campaign stalls.


    This is a classic. The argument goes – we would love to campaign but we need a full-time campaigns post. And that nothing is possible without such a post. Really?

    Lack of shared values

    This is a sad one. The obstacle to campaigning comes down to not having a shared value set within the organisation.

    Lack of common understanding of advocacy campaigns

    This is another classic. With almost all of the advocacy campaigns consultancy work that I have done over the past 5 years or so this issue comes up. The issue of a common definition within the organisation is so important. I often find myself saying I don’t care what your definition is, but I would like you to share the same one within the

    Lack of a theory of change

    Have you seen this one? I know I have been guilty of this. So much effort goes into producing the research report and maybe getting some media coverage and then you just collapse exhausted with little idea of all this action happening so that something else happens. But without your theory of change at least sketched out, there is a good chance that your report will just be filed or thrown away and all momentum lost.

    Individual agendas taking over

    Here campaigning is undermined because individuals have their own agendas and seek opportunities to develop their agendas.

    Internal disharmony

    This is another sad one. Here the team or organisation is undermined by internal conflict. Sadly this can be a problem specially in small NGOs and it does so undermine effective campaigning.

    Lack of a common goal

    What is the point of your campaigning? Is it policy change? To recruit new supporters? To raise your profile? To raise money? What is your goal – effective campaigning needs focus and a clear goal. And agreement on the goal is so important.

    We are too busy to campaign

    Have I left the best until last? I see this so often – we are so busy delivering services to meet the need that we can’t campaign. So that nothing ever changes so that you stay busy. I just get excited by those smaller NGOs who can both deliver services but also embed their campaigning into the soul of their organisation. They do both activities because they know they need to do both – but one fits seamlessly into the other – they see these actions as being on one continuum.

    So that’s my initial list. I am sure that I have missed loads. What do you think? It would be great to hear from you with other obstacles and we could then publish them in a fresh blog. And I will try next time to tentatively suggest some answers to these obstacles.

  8. Campaigning in Somalia

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    One of my recurrent themes for this blog over the years has been my fascination and amazement at the fact that the language of campaigning is truly international.

    I recently put that theory to the test again by undertaking an assignment for Saferworld in Hargeisa, capital of Somaliland.

    Over a five day period I ran a two day advocacy course followed by a three day train the trainers’ course so that the participants could take the training out to their communities and inspire advocacy action.

    The audience was representatives from the three non-state actor platforms in Somaliland (SONSAF), Puntland (PUNSAA) and South and Central Somalia (SONSCENSA). These platforms consisted of member organisations ranging
    from community groups to business associations.

    On my trip out to Somaliland via Nairobi I did feel somewhat apprehensive. This was one of the most challenging environments for advocacy campaigning – would my messages resonate with them?

    But my feelings of apprehension were soon swept away as a focus on problem and solution, evidence, messaging, allies, influence trees, using opposition and a theory of change seemed to work with them.

    Even the elevator pitch – 15-30 seconds to convey your key campaign message – seemed to work although we struggled for a while with the Somali translation for elevator pitch.

    Then the train the trainers section proved to be inspiring to me as the platforms began to construct their own training in their own words so that they could take the training out themselves.

    But above all I was left with an overriding impression of passionate and committed people driven to promote the role of civil society in making a difference to people’s lives and futures and committed to using advocacy methods to achieve this change.

    Advocacy campaigning really is an international language.

  9. So what next?

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    I recently returned from Germany where I led an advocacy capacity building session for an NGO, and as I have often remarked in the past in a room full of different nationalities, there really is a common international language of advocacy campaigns.

    I was also struck at how the big challenges in this work are also common. For me in my day job at the Refugee Council I am forever boring my colleagues about the importance of momentum in successful campaigning. Getting a sense of momentum and progress with a campaign is just so important but also so hard sometimes to achieve.

    During the session in Germany, we talked about the huge internal effort that can sometimes go into producing a report, developing key messages and then maybe holding a press conference. Once that has been achieved and a few press headlines garnered, it is tempting just to collapse with all of the energy used up.

    But this is just the start of something in advocacy terms – how is the report, messages and press coverage going to be used to energise the broader campaign for the impact you are seeking?

    I have been heavily influenced, as I have written before, about the importance of a theory of change in advocacy campaigning. Now this sounds really complex but it can be as simple as developing a road map for how you want to see your issue take off. And you can be helped by those two little words ‘so’ and ‘that’.

    So I found towards the end of the session that people were talking about an advocacy activity like a press release or a lobbying meeting, then pausing before linking up the sentence with a ‘so that’ and going on to list future advocacy activities.

    I know it all sounds so simple. So simple that I know myself from my own practice that we don’t always get around to doing so.

    At the Refugee Council we have identified our four key advocacy priorities for action (and in case you’re interested they are: destitution, detention, housing and legal support to asylum seekers.) And we are now beginning to develop our theories of change for each issue, fuelled by some research and beginning to map out how we want these issues to take off.

    So next time you find yourself talking about an advocacy activity don’t just stop there – pause, say ‘so that’ and then continue with your aspirations. I am convinced that one enemy of effective advocacy campaigning is a lack of momentum – but a persistent use of ‘so that’ can be a very powerful remedy. What do you think?

  10. Building capacity for advocacy campaigning

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    What is the best way to help train campaigners? Is it a week long course? A day course at regular intervals? Mentoring support? A peer group?

    There is clearly no one answer but it is one question that has been much on my mind recently. A year ago at the Refugee Council, we ran a campaign training course for refugee leaders in London. We got good feedback for our training but despite this feedback, the course participants then found it hard to develop their campaigns. We offered mentoring support focussing on the individual organisation and the campaigning activity took off.

    Our reflection on our learning was that while our training had been ok, it had been offered at an abstract level and had not been rooted in the daily experiences of the organisations. We are about to engage in year 2 of this project and this time around we will be focussing both on developing the capacity of the organisations as well as developing their campaigning skills.

    Campaign training cannot exist in a vacuum – it has to be applied to the reality of the campaigning environment, both internal and external, which is facing the organisation.

    It did make me reflect that as an activist learner, I was far more focussed on running campaigns and delivering campaign training than on the practical day to day realities for the organisation. But when I paused for thought it has always been the internal dynamics that have presented the biggest challenges to my campaigning.

    So when I had the chance to hear Chris Stalker talk about his new praxis paper for INTRAC on capacity building for advocacy, I knew after my recent experiences that I had to be there to hear his conclusions. His presentation was very helpful to my thinking and his paper has just been published – see Intrac

    Do make sure that you have a look at this paper; it contains plenty of food for thought and has helped me to think about this issue.

    And a few months ago when I ran the advocacy and policy influencing course for INTRAC to an audience of NGO staff from across the globe, I was keen for Chris to come along as a guest speaker. I was interested to see how his message went down so well with such a diverse audience. From their positive feedback this is clearly an issue whose time has come.

    How are you approaching capacity building for your advocacy work?

  11. Don’t lose the fire in your eyes

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    A while ago I led an advocacy campaigns training course about how to work with the UK Government and Parliament. As part of that course, the group went across to Parliament and met with a Conservative MP to hear directly from him about the role of the MP.

    One of the questions that the group asked the MP was: what do you look for when some-one comes to see you? His reply was interesting. He said firstly he would look for a local connection to his constituency. Fair point. And then he said something that really surprised me. He said that he also looked for fire in some-one’s eyes. And if they had passion about their issue, he was more likely to engage with them and to take them seriously.

    Fascinating. A lesson there for all of us campaigners and certainly for me. I just know if you are working in a large bureaucratic organisation, it is sometimes easy to lose that passion and sink into the reality of working in a complex organisation. Yet there is an irony here because for all these large bureaucratic NGOs, they all started small with a burning desire to achieve change – that is why they were formed.

    So while we talk about the need to professionalise campaigning, and I have been very involved with many others in developing campaign training, one thing is central and should never to be lost: don’t lose your passion and the fire in your eyes. It is one element that makes me love working for the voluntary sector – that you can show your passion.

    I started my career in the NHS. And towards the end of my time there, I received an unsolicited piece of career feedback from my boss. He said to me if I was going to get on, I would need to leave my conscience at home. I decided I couldn’t do that and it led me to leave the NHS.

    But after all my years in the voluntary sector, bringing my conscience to work with me, this was a real reminder and a note to myself: don’t forget to keep the fire burning in your eyes!

  12. Developing your theory of change

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    A couple of months ago I was involved in running the residential weekend for the Sheila McKechnie Foundation award winners.

    We had gathered the award winners together and over the course of a long weekend attempted to cover some of the key points in campaigning – reflecting on both success and failure. I am always struck when doing these events at what things work with different groups.

    This time talk about developing a theory of change for a campaign seemed to resonate with people. This was nothing complicated but using the simple device of ‘so that’ to create a chain of events to demonstrate how you see your campaign unfolding. Those two little words ‘so’ and ‘that’ can help you link your campaign actions together and show how your issue can take off. Basically, it works in this way… we are going to do something so that something else happens so that etc. Simple, but effective. Try it on your issue.

    When I started off campaigning I think that I created a theory of change chain in my head; what I have come to realise is how important it is to write it down and then use your words to review progress and reflect on your learning. Indeed one of the most simple monitoring and evaluation approaches for campaigning is to spend time reviewing your theory of change:

    • What happened?
    • What was different to what you expected?
    • What have you learnt from this experience?
    • What will you do differently?

    And then a while later I was involved in an advocacy training course for INTRAC – the international NGO training and research centre. What I love about these courses is that INTRAC is able to pull together people from across the globe, who have a common interest in campaigning and seeking policy change. We had people from Thailand, Middle East, Timor Leste, Tanzania, Ethiopia to name just a few places. Again I was struck by how the theory of change model seemed to help people.

    We discussed how to pick the right issue to run with when you are developing an advocacy campaign, and our conclusion was that if you can develop a good theory of change chain of events, you stand a good chance of developing a real sense of momentum on a campaign. And campaigning is nothing if not developing real momentum.

    If you are interested in reading more about this issue, and many other things as well, you should take a look at Brian Lamb’s new ‘Guide to campaigning and influencing’. I should add that I am not on commission, but I did read this book recently – and it does pull together all the key elements of campaigning information very neatly. It’s well worth a look!

  13. Definitions

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    When I have run advocacy campaign training in the past, an early obstacle can be the issue of definitions.

    So when I was at a conference recently in Manchester, I was very taken by the definitions offered by Justin Nsengiyumva from Refugee Action who runs their TRIO project.

    Firstly he suggested that a policy is a plan, course of action or set of regulations adopted by government, business or an institution designed to influence and determine decisions or procedures. He argued that a policy is what a government or institution decides to do or not to do.

    He then suggested that advocacy is the deliberative process of influencing those who make policy decisions.

    Within this definition, he suggested that there were several key ideas:

    Advocacy is about influencing those who make policy decisions by making full use of all the advocacy tools available. It is not always just about being confrontational.

    Advocacy is a deliberative process involving intentional actions and therefore you must be clear who you are trying to influence and which policy you wish to see changed.

    The policy makers encompass many types of decision makers and we should never forget in our advocacy strategies that policy makers are human beings too.

    Finally Justin highlighted three concepts that underpin the need for advocacy campaigns:

    1.      To create policies where they are needed or none exist

    2.      To reform harmful or ineffective policies

    3.      To ensure that good policies are implemented and enforced

    What do you make of this approach? Is it helpful to your planning?

  14. The need for campaigning focus

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    Last month I had the opportunity to go over to Warsaw to run a two day training course over a weekend for Polish NGOs.

    The brief for the workshop was fairly clear: to run an introductory session on campaigning to inspire and motivate the NGOs. As ever with these international workshops, and as I have blogged about before, I was slightly apprehensive – would my campaigning rhetoric resonate in a Polish context?

    Yet as ever I found that the language of campaigning is truly global; it really is an international language. I found people who had a burning desire to achieve change, were focussed on the problem and the solution, knew who their targets were and were keen to think about relevant campaign messages. And when I talked about planning for that moment of campaign success, they were with me again and were keen to think about how they could build in such planning to their overall campaign planning.

    But on the second day, one of the delegates came up to me and said that I had changed her thinking about campaigning. I was surprised as the group had seemed to be with me, but I asked her what she meant by that phrase. She said that she had been challenged by my insistence that campaigners needed to focus – to pick an issue and then stick with it to achieve change.

    She said that she was now going to have to go away and re-think: what was their focus going to be? But she also knew that this concept of focus would be hard to promote in her NGO.

    I was keen to respond that it is good to have your menu of things you want to see changed – never lose that policy shopping list. And always be on the look-out for opportunities to raise any of these issues. But focus is so important for effective campaigning. By all means use opportunities but do not lose sight of your primary focus and keep chipping away. There is always such a temptation to run with a variety of issues – but remember to focus.

    And focus was also the key theme when I was in Manchester recently running a campaigning workshop for a dynamic group of refugee campaigners. We listed all of the injustices facing asylum seekers at the moment and came up with a long list of issues. In the refugee sector we are not short of things to campaign on – the challenge that they were left with was: what would be their campaigning focus?

    So what is your campaigning focus at the moment? Do you have a focus for your campaigning or are you trying to run with a basket full of campaigns?

  15. 6 pathways

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    In my last blog, I wrote about my new interest in London Citizens and their approach to organising taken from Chicago and the work of Saul Alinsky.

    But as I finished last time, despite my enthusiasm I was left wondering where this approach fitted with other forms of campaigning the like of which I was more familiar.

    Then I had the good fortune to attend a presentation by Chris Stalker on the work that he has been doing on advocacy capacity building. In his thought provoking session (and his forthcoming paper on advocacy capacity building written for INTRAC will be well worth reading), he referred to a report that has come out of the States: Pathways for Change: 6 theories about how policy change happens by Organizational Research Services.

    The report sets out, you will not be too surprised to hear, six theories for how policy change happens – one of which includes organising. I have been sending this report out to loads of people since I heard Chris speak; what I like about it is that it shows campaigning as a spectrum with an array of approaches but different situations and issues will call on different approaches. It is good to see these different approaches laid out so clearly and with academic references and the relevant academic discipline – there is no one right approach.

    So what are these pathways?

    1. ‘Large Leap’ – where large scale policy change is the goal. How about the campaign against apartheid?
    2. ‘Coalition theory’ – co-ordinated activity among a range of individuals with the same core belief. How about the campaign for a smoking ban in public places?
    3. Policy windows – advocates using a window of opportunity to push a policy solution. How about the current initiatives to use the government review of child detention to push for an end to all asylum detention?
    4. ‘Messaging and frameworks’ – the key issue for influence is how issues are framed and presented. How about campaigners at the moment trying to re-frame their issue in the language of the Big Society?
    5. ‘Power Politics’ – where policy change is achieved by working directly with those with power. This made me think about my own campaigning with the last government on tackling empty homes.
    6. Community organising theory – where policy change happens through the collective action of the members of a community who work on changing problems affecting their lives. How about the London Citizens Living Wage campaign?

    But don’t take my interpretation of this paper – take a look yourself! If you read one thing over the next few months as part of your own professional development how about you take a look at this article and see how you respond to these six pathways?

  16. Citizens – real activism

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    In the run-up to the General Election, it was hard not to hear about them. James Purnell resigned from the Cabinet to become one and they organised one of the most dynamic leadership hustings during the campaign.

    I am of course referring to London Citizens. I was intrigued as to what they were all about, and they generously allowed me to participate in one of their organiser training sessions recently even though my employer is not yet a member of London Citizens.

    I went on the training session slightly sceptical but became more and more interested as we worked through the concept of organising. Yet by lunchtime on the second day, I was yet to be totally convinced by it all.

    And then one thing changed my mind – we did an activity. There must have been over 70 people on this training course and most of us stayed on for the Saturday afternoon for the promised activity.

    It was all linked to their Living Wage campaign.

    What I love about this campaign is that they have focussed on the core problems of their members – one of which was the difficulty of living in London on the national minimum wage – but developed a local solution: the living wage. This figure currently stands at £7.60 some £1.87 higher than the minimum wage.

    And then instead of waiting for a national campaign to unfold, they targeted local employers, initially in the banking sector, to pay all their staff including contract staff the Living Wage.

    And since its launch in 2001 an estimated £24m has been put back in the pockets of low wage workers. Remarkable – what impact!

    On that Saturday afternoon, in the rain, they got us all to visit three shops on Oxford Street and ask to see the shop manager. With my three shops, I was amazed how easy it was to see the manager, to make my case about the Living Wage and to hand over a letter to their Chairman. And all of us did three shops and we covered the length of Oxford Street from Oxford Circus to Bond Street.

    I just loved this idea of using activists on a training course to do some real activism. It is a lesson to all of us involved in running campaign training – are we missing a trick by not getting the participants involved in some real action?

    I just could not ignore the power and energy behind this training and this action – Citizens are clearly offering a very powerful methodology to civil society in this country. If you don’t know about them and you are interested in campaigning, you really do need to get to know them.

    But despite my increasing personal enthusiasm for London Citizens, I was left wondering where they fit in with other approaches to campaigning.

    Next time I will try to address that question ….

  17. Which campaigner inspires you?

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    Who inspires you in your campaigning? Who do you look up to? Who motivates your campaigning?

    I may have struggled to answer that question until recently when I attended the Sheila McKechnie Foundation campaigners’ conference and heard Kumi Naidoo speak about campaigning. Kumi was recently appointed the executive director of Greenpeace International and has an awesome campaigning background

    He gave the key note speech at the SMK event and I could have listened to him all day. If you do one thing this year as part of your development I urge you either to hear him speak or read his writing.

    There was so much to take from his speech. I was taken by him saying that the core principles of campaigning are still valid. He appealed to a sense of history for our current campaigning. History tells us that decent people must stand up and put their life on the line. In saying that, he added that he felt that campaigners put too much emphasis on the insider track. Food for thought.

    He spoke of two tribes in campaigning – one internally focussed and one externally focussed – but his key message that struck a chord with me was that these two tribes need to work together. He pointed to the success of the landmine campaign that led to the Ottowa treaty, where the insider and outside campaign strategies had worked together.

    He also said that the struggle was a marathon, not a sprint, and that we need to offer a lifetime of commitment. Maybe this is a message that we could take to our funders?

    But above all his passion and his commitment shone through for me from his words. In all of our talk about professionalising campaigning, we must never lose sight of why we campaign. We must never lose sight of the injustice and the change we seek in our world. Yes, we should be professional – but professional with passion and spark – without that we will never achieve our goals in our lifetimes of struggle.

    For more information about Kumi Naidoo:

  18. Campaigning is all about failure?

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    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?

  19. Using Opposition (part 3)

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    In my last blog I described a technique to utilise the opposition arguments against your campaign.

    Let’s take an example of this method being used in practice. I used to campaign against the scandal of empty homes at the Empty Homes Agency. And a few years ago we were campaigning for new powers to tackle empty homes.

    The key arguments against such new powers on empty homes were that owners should be free to do what-ever they wanted with their property, that these powers would undermine this freedom and that there was not a problem with homes being empty.

    Historically our key campaign message had been around tackling empty homes as a solution to tackling homelessness. That was the campaign message that motivated me. But it didn’t resonate with the owners of empty homes who we were trying to get on board.

    So we used the opposition matrix technique described in my last blog. And we began to change our campaign message having reflected on the opposition to our campaign. We began to address the concerns by talking about the impact that empty homes can have on neighbouring occupied property. A survey from Hometrack (June 2003) found that empty homes can devalue neighbouring property by as much as 18%.

    We also talked about empty homes attracting crime and vandalism in an area; the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) had referred to empty homes as being ‘honey pots for crime’. These were reasons to support our campaign on empty homes and specifically to address the concerns against our campaign. We found that these new messages resonated much more with our target audience and helped to us to attract new media coverage.

    This method was useful for us to think about our opponents’ concerns and use public messages that would address those concerns, as opposed to using our normal messages about the need to bring these homes back into use to help homeless people.

    I had learned a useful campaign lesson – it is often more important to use the campaign messages that resonate with your target audience than the messages that motivate you. This was hard for my ego but good for the campaign.

  20. Using Opposition (part 2)

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    In my last blog I wrote about the importance of taking time to collect the arguments that are used against your campaign, and I suggested in your campaign planning team to list all of the arguments that you have heard used against your campaign.

    So you list, on the left hand side of a page, all of the possible concerns that may be expressed about your campaign. What might be said by others about your campaign? And then list, on the other side of the page, the key reasons in support of your campaign. (See chart below)

    The next step is to see whether at least one of the reasons for supporting your campaign provides an answer to each of the concerns – is there a reason to address each concern. Or are there outstanding concerns that your reasons do not address?


    Concern about the campaign Reason to support the campaign


    As your campaign develops you should be able to identify which of the concerns feature highest with your target or your wider target audience. With that knowledge, you then need to ensure that your campaign message addresses that concern. In many respects this is a statement of the blindingly obvious, but as campaigners we are often guilty of just running with the messages that motivate us. I know that this is true for me!

    We are already motivated by our campaign as are, hopefully, our supporters. This technique is all about building wider support.

    In my next blog I will explain how I sought to use this technique in one of my campaigns ….

  21. Using Opposition (part 1)

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    A few weeks ago I was running a session for some community organisations on developing a campaign message. We had covered the key ground of highlighting the problem and the solution, as well as spending some time testing the message using the elevator test.

    I have found this test to go down really well in campaign training – you act as though you have just stepped into an elevator and meet the person that you have spent weeks trying to speak to as part of your campaign – and you have 12-15 seconds to make your campaign pitch. It’s a bit of fun but also a great way to hone your campaign message).

    Anyway we had covered some of the basics and the session seemed to be going well, when one of the participants lobbed in a question – “this was all well and good,” he said, “but how should you use what your opponents say about your issue? Or should you just ignore it?”

    Good question – and it opened a good debate amongst the group. Opinion was split as to whether opposition should just be ignored and that you need to stay focussed on your campaign ask, or whether you should analyse any opposition and seek to use it in your campaign planning.

    I must add that I used to be firmly in the former camp. When I started out campaigning, I had very little interest in what opposition there was to my campaigns. I knew what I was trying to achieve and put all of my energy into trying to build an alliance to achieve this campaign goal.  I had little time for thinking about any opposition to the campaign.

    Then a few years ago, I went on a media course and as part of this course we were asked to brainstorm all of the arguments that we had heard used against your campaign.

    Have you ever done this exercise? It is a great thing to do in your campaign planning group – just spend a bit of time listing all of the arguments against your campaign. And if you do it in a group you will find that you will come up with a longer list of arguments as different people will have picked up on different points against your campaign

    In my next blog I will describe how we were encouraged to use this list of arguments to help us strengthen our campaign message….

  22. Young Uprisers

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    Oh the apathy of youth! I well remember when I was a student and my generation was slammed for being apathetic and I hear similar calls today. Any maybe it has always been this way? Each generation despairing of the next generation.

    But it was rubbish when I was a student and it is clearly rubbish today. There is a huge amount of energy and creativity among young people. This fact was powerfully re-enforced to me when I was invited to speak at a session being held by the UpRising programme at the Young Foundation.

    If you haven’t come across this programme it is well worth a look:

    The official blurb is as follows:

    “UpRising is a new leadership programme being developed by the Young Foundation to support and train a new generation of public leaders. UpRising identifies, recruits, develops and supports 19 to 25 year olds to enable them to play a greater role in politics and public decision-making.

    The aim is to create a pool of talented young leaders from a range of backgrounds who can transform their communities for the better and take up positions of power in public institutions. UpRising was launched in 2008 and is being piloted in the East London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Newham and Tower Hamlets. It will then spread across London and into other major cities across the UK. The programme has cross-party support with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg serving as its patrons.”

    In reality this is true and so much more! I was so impressed by the uprisers that I met. What marked them all out was their individual campaign that they were running and their sheer passion for changing the world. It was an incredibly energising evening just to be in their company.

    I was fortunate enough to attend their last graduation event, and it was very evident that all of the course participants had gained so much from this programme and from each other.

    The Young Foundation has started something very special with this UpRising programme, and I hope that they are successful in rolling it out beyond East London – I think our country would gain massively from an UpRising programme in every part of the UK. We need to encourage these passionate young leaders who want to change the world!

  23. Campaigning using New Media

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    At the last few campaign training events that I have attended, there seems to be a constant theme emerging – we must make more use of new media. And there are campaigners scratching their heads as they muse over how they might use these new techniques to advance their campaigning.

    I must confess that my heart just sinks when I hear such talk. For me campaigning is all about people inspiring people to get involved and take action. Successful campaigning is all about the human touch, and we will never be able to motivate campaigners by just relying on new media.

    Or at least that is what I used to think, but I hope that I am big enough to realise when I am wrong, and there has been one web site that has made me re-think my traditionalist outlook.

    I would urge you to visit this website:

    This campaign is being led by Searchlight to counter racism and fascism with support as I understand from ‘Blue State Digital’, which was involved with Obama’s successful campaign last year.

    I registered a few months ago and I have been bowled over by their approach to new media campaigning. Their upbeat emails present a clever mix of campaigning asks and funding appeals, and they are excellent at giving you feedback on your actions using each action to build momentum for the next action.

    So if you share my traditionalist approach to campaigning, just check out this website and you will see an energising 21st century approach to campaigning. And I for one now need to re-think my view on new media with its genuine potential to harness campaigning energy.

  24. Support for campaigners – better than ever

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    I well remember how it was when I got my first job as a campaigner for a charity.

    I was hugely excited at the prospect of having a campaigning job, but we were more or less thrown into the deep end and expected to pick it up as we went along. It was just the way it was! My key way of learning was just to try things, dust myself down when they failed, learn from the experience and try again.

    With this memory behind me, I spent a weekend recently helping to run a residential weekend for the winners of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation campaign awards. I found it inspiring to be in the company of these award winners.

    In the past I have written about campaigning being all about having a burning passion to achieve change – and these award winners had this passion in abundance. What really struck me about the weekend was that all the participants wanted to be there and they were hungry to learn anything that might help them to drive their campaign forward. I was envious that they had a peer group of fellow campaigners and they had access to support to help them to develop their campaigning – I would have loved to have had such an opportunity!

    If you are a campaigner and you don’t know about this Foundation, (I know that I am biased) but they are well worth a look –

    They are particularly focussed on the next generation of campaigners and provide support through training, web resources and their campaign awards. The ’09 awards should be launched soon so watch out for that.

    It does feel quite an exciting time to be a campaigner with this level of support available. When I started out, not that I’m bitter of course, there was nothing like the Foundation or indeed the NCVO’s campaigning effectiveness programme – see – again well worth a look.

    So if you are a campaigner with that burning desire to achieve change, do make sure that you make maximum use of these excellent resources and support.

  25. ActionAid’s campaigning postcard

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    I have not always been the biggest fan of campaign postcards. There are some campaigning organisations for which the campaign postcard seems to be the only possible activity – with every newsletter or magazine there is another postcard waiting to be signed and sent off.

    But just before Christmas I received a campaign action from Action Aid UK. At first it seemed as though it was just another postcard. But after a cursory glance it was more and it caught my attention.

    It was very cleverly designed and on the front cover there was a space for a 5 pence piece and on this space there was an adhesive substance that would allow you to stick such a coin. The message was aimed at Tesco and highlighted the fact that a 5 pence increase on the price paid for a kilo of apples by Tesco could allow a fruit picker in South Africa to feed their family properly.

    Action Aid’s supporters were being asked to put their hands in their pocket, put 5 pence on the card and send it to Tesco’s chief executive – or even better to hand it into their local Tesco store.

    Now I know that this stunt is not original; I can remember debt campaigners taking similar action years ago. But this action request really resonated with me, and there and then I found a 5 pence piece, signed the card and sent it off.

    I liked it because Action Aid presented a clear problem – the poor wages of fruit pickers. They then showed the solution – a 5 pence increase on the price paid for a kilo of apples. And they encouraged you to take action and to show your commitment by sending Tesco a 5 pence coin. Excellent!

    I will follow this campaign with interest to see what result Action Aid gain from this card, and it shows me that there is still a place for a well thought-out postcard campaign action.

  26. Hope for campaigners

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    As a campaigner, I always take a special interest when people are recruited to the big campaigning leadership roles in our sector.

    Therefore I was interested to see Friends of the Earth (FoE) advertise for a new Director recently – who would they appoint to this key role?

    You probably know that they appointed Andy Atkins, who had been previously Policy and Campaigns Director at Tearfund.  Now I haven’t had much contact with FoE and I have never met Andy; yet what really struck me about this appointment was the statement that FoE put out to announce Andy’s appointment. This is a big job and a complex leadership role, so it was refreshing to read in the statement the high value placed on Andy’s campaigning track record.

    FoE cited Andy’s role in initiating Tearfund’s work on climate change and his role as a key organiser and spokesperson for Make Poverty History. They highlighted his ‘strong track record of campaigning on environmental and social justice issues.’

    In our sector we rightly place much store on the importance of good management in our leaders, but we are also a campaigning sector. This is one element that makes our sector unique in this country. We need our leaders to be good managers but also to have campaigning spark. So it was so good to see FoE highlight Andy’s campaigning credentials.

    This appointment should give hope to all campaigners out there – you really can progress as a campaigner in our sector!

  27. The danger of co-option

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    I had just started my presentation on coping when you make a breakthrough on a campaign, when I was asked a killer question from the back of the room. This session was part of INTRAC’s advocacy training course. As ever the course was attended by an impressive array of campaigners from NGOs across the globe. And the killer question? “Wasn’t I being co-opted by government?”

    It was a fair point. I had been talking about the time that I had been campaigning against empty homes in England. We had been pushing for new powers for local authorities to tackle the problem of empty homes and we had managed to persuade the Government to amend their own housing Bill.

    Once these powers had become law, there then started the long process of preparing for the implementation of these new powers. As a result my colleagues and I began to attend a series of meetings in Whitehall.

    I remember walking to one such meeting and one of my colleagues asking me, “do you think that we are having any impact here?” I immediately launched into a defence of our action and cited all of the meetings that we had attended. “Yes, but have we made any impact?” was my colleague’s direct reply.

    And he was right. We had partly been seduced by the fact that we had been invited to meetings to which we had never had access before. This was an achievement – certainly for an NGO with less than 10 members of staff. But this was not an end in itself and we had confused access for influence

    When you make a breakthrough on a campaign, you need to decide whether you are going to get involved in the implementation of the issue or whether you do not want to be involved and then walk away. Either response has its merits – but you do need to decide. If you decide to engage with the government, or whoever your target is, you do need to keep that campaigning zeal.

    I sometimes think that co-option is a deliberate policy of this government – and if it is deliberate, then it is a shrewd policy. Once you are on the inside you can think that you have achieved a result. The truth is that you have only just started to achieve a result. Just being at the table is not enough. You need to use this access to get the best result for your campaign.

    So when you get an invitation to a meeting – ask yourself – are we being co-opted and neutralised or can I use this opportunity to drive the campaign onwards? This is a killer question for a campaigner, so make sure that you keep asking yourself this question.

  28. Surprising allies

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    Recently I did a session on the certificate in campaigning course. It is great to be involved in this initiative and be in the same room as a whole group of people who want to change the world. I am always interested to hear about the key issues raised in the subsequent discussion.

    Last time the key issue was the difference between marketing and single-issue campaigns, and this time the main focus was around how you can use allies in a campaign.

    It is always good when you see a group of charities in one part of the voluntary sector coming together in a common cause; for example the children’s charities producing a joint letter on an issue of concern. Yet I am always left feeling that I rather would hope that they could agree on such issues.

    What I think can have more impact is when you get organisations coming together with a common purpose but where is not an obvious connection between them – the so-called ‘surprising allies’.

    I know when Oxfam was campaigning on asylum issues in the UK several years ago, we began to make dramatic strides forward when we worked with the Refugee Council and the Transport and General Workers’ Union. This impact was further multiplied when we were able to bring in others like the Body Shop and the British Medical Association. This was a diverse group of organisations that hadn’t all worked together before; yet they were now united by a common campaigning cause.

    So when you are planning your campaign, do look to gain support from your own sector – this is a helpful foundation for a good campaign. But then think about others whom you could bring in to support your campaign. Who are the surprising allies on your campaign?

  29. Campaigning is just about stunts

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    I recently found myself talking to a chief executive of a leading UK charity, and I asked about her view of charities campaigning. Her response surprised me – she replied by saying, “oh, we won’t be doing much of that – campaigning is just about stunts.”

    Campaigning can certainly include stunts. I remember when Tony Blair was proposing to reform the House of Lords, and his preferred route seemed to be, at the time, an appointed second chamber. As a result of that decision, Charter 88 arranged a brilliant photo shoot on Palace Green with loads of people in robes all with masks of Tony Blair. Yes it was a stunt – but what a powerful way to challenge a policy decision.

    Yet campaigning is so much more than stunts. Whenever I have done campaign training within an organisation, I have always started by asking people how they define campaigning. When you pose this question you will always get a wide array of answers, and that is not a problem – campaigning is firmly an art and not a science. What I think is important is not that there is one universal answer to this question, but that the organisation has a common definition that everyone signs up to.

    For me campaigning is about having a burning desire to achieve a policy or practice change. Once you have identified the problem and the solution, a campaigner then assesses the political environment and decides which campaigning tool (or tools) to use to drive the campaign forward. These tools can include media work, lobbying, supporter action, work with allies and even stunts.

    The critical point is that the choice of tool is made in the context of both the political environment and the goal of the campaign.

    So campaigning stunts will always have their place – but let’s start with that burning desire to achieve change – and the rest should then follow!

  30. Another postcard?

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    I am a member of more campaigning organisations than is probably good for my health.

    One trend that I have noticed, which is really welcome, is an improvement in communications between these organisations and their campaigners. From small to large organisations, there has been real investment made in developing communications with their supporters, who are prepared to take campaigning actions. So I now receive a steady stream of newsletters and updates – all tailored around campaigning. Excellent.

    Yet there is another trend that I have noticed which is not quite so welcome – the irrepressible campaigning postcard. While it has been great to see more voluntary organisations embrace campaigning as one of their key activities, sometimes this enthusiasm for campaigning seems to manifest itself in a campaigning postcard.

    I just cannot believe that the world needs as many campaigning postcards as I seem to receive month in month out. For some organisations the regular newsletter or update just has to be accompanied by a campaigning postcard. You know the type – a pre-printed postcard, where you sign your name, add your address and send to the chosen campaign target.

    For me campaigning is all about having a burning desire to achieve a particular change. You work out the problem and develop a clear solution. You then assess the political environment, analyse who has the power to implement your change and consider the different influences on your target. You then develop a campaign plan and use the most appropriate methods – media, lobbying, allies, or supporter action – to develop momentum on your campaign.

    I find it hard to believe that, having undertaken the above exercise, that the answer is always a campaign postcard. There may well be stages on a campaign where a mass generated postcard may have some impact. Yet one would need to be clear on the reasons for such a postcard, and not say a personal letter or other activity.

    I am not against campaigning postcards per se – I just see them as one campaigning tool. And just because you have a quarterly newsletter it does not mean that you have to have a quarterly action. Campaigning is about timely action – not regular action to meet printing schedules. It is ok to send a campaigning update without an action – if there is not a need at that time for an action, and if you explain your thinking to your supporters.

    So here is a challenge to campaigning organisations – keep up the great communications with your supporters, but let’s see fewer campaign postcards.

    Let’s ensure that our campaigns are sensitive to their political environment, that we explain our campaign strategy to our supporters, and that we ask them to take action when it is right for the campaign in a manner that is helpful. And if we did that, I reckon we might see less postcards!

  31. Marketing campaigns – is it really campaigning?

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    Have you ever wondered where marketing campaigns fit in with campaigning on single issues?

    By the term marketing campaign I mean campaigns like Oxfam’s ‘I’m in’ and the NSPCC’s Full Stop Campaign. Such marketing campaigns have been great for awareness raising and recruitment. The success of such campaigns is clear.

    I have run a number of training sessions recently on running single-issue campaigns and there is often confusion about where such campaigns fit in with broader marketing-type campaigns.

    Well for a start I think that there is a clear difference between such campaigning. A single-issue campaign has a clear goal of achieving a policy or practice change such as the campaign to end hunting with dogs or for a Children’s Commissioner. A broader marketing campaign is about raising awareness, recruiting supporters and possibly also raising money.

    I think that single issue campaigns should recognise the value of such marketing campaigns. Just look at the profile of the Full Stop campaign – quite awesome. They can create an awareness and an environment for change,

    Within such marketing campaigns there is a huge potential to run campaigns on specific issues.

    I would not argue against running a broader marketing campaign. They can help to create a very positive environment. But they’re not an end in themselves. I would urge organisations that consider running a marketing campaign to think as well about the issues that they have a burning desire to change. Then they should try use the interest generated by the marketing campaign to channel into a specific issue campaign.

    A marketing campaign is not a campaign as I understand the term. A campaign is about achieving policy or practice change. An organisation that just runs a marketing campaign is not really campaigning, but it has a great opportunity to do so.

    Marketing campaigns can be a great launch pad for a campaign on a specific issue. I think that the test for any marketing campaign is what change has it created for its beneficiaries – if no change was sought then that is a wasted opportunity. So don’t dismiss such marketing campaigns – but I urge all campaigners to capitalise on their campaigning potential.

  32. Is campaigning a global activity?

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    Is campaigning a global activity? Can campaigning ideas be shared across the globe? Recently I had the chance to find out as I led a day at the International NGOs Training and Research Centre’s (INTRAC) summer school on advocacy.

    In the room that day were an impressive array of campaigners from across Europe, Asia and Africa. They were united by two things: their ability to speak English and their burning desire to campaign to change something.

    I had been asked to lead a day on my book, which looks at how you cope once you have achieved a breakthrough on a campaign. I had done similar sessions in the UK, but this was my first international audience. Would my ideas resonate with them?

    I started with a degree of trepidation. I talked about how very often a breakthrough comes and campaigners aren’t ready for it – that was certainly true for me. How you need to plan for success and even after you have made a breakthrough you need to keep making the case for change. I talked about how relationships with your target, especially if it is the government, will change, as will your relationships with the media and your allies. We also covered the prospect of being campaigned against.

    These messages had all come from my own learning from campaigning and the mistakes that I had made as well as the case study campaigns that I had interviewed for the book.

    Slowly across the room I could see the delegates engaging with these issues. The lessons that I had reflected upon in a UK perspective seemed to echo with campaigning across the continents. ‘We had never thought about planning for success’ said one delegate. I had to confess that it had never occurred to me either until I had been caught out by not doing so.

    This day had a profound impact on me. Yes, there are cultural, social and political differences in campaigning around the globe, but there are some key principles, which seem to apply wherever you are based. Campaigning truly is a global language.