I am delighted to be here today to acknowledge that Scope are the 2018 winners of #wcoctwf. The World Cup of Charities to Work For! – a Twitter poll of 32 major charities in the UK.
It was a tremendously exciting competition, even though it was basically just touching a screen to vote.
The final – Scope versus Islamic Relief Worldwide – captured the imagination of its staff, past and present, and this turned into a great competition. In the final, Scope won with an impressive 2125 votes, beating Islamic Relief Worldwide 78%-22%.
I am pleased that Scope won for a few reasons: professionally, personally and also ethically.
I was professionally pleased as Scope has been a regular client of The Right Ethos over the years, and the other finalist had not.
I was also personally pleased because of the connection of two births. In 2006, I worked at Scope in Market Road for three months on a short-term contract. It was during my time here that I started planning The Right Ethos. I left Scope in 2007, the same month that I registered my company and so The Right Ethos was born. My wife, Catherine, was already working at Scope as a full-time employee when I arrived and it was across the desks at the offices that she gave me a nod of her head to confirm that she was pregnant with our daughter.
But I am also really pleased that Scope has won from an ethos perspective. From my understanding of the recent changes of Scope, it is now focussing on its core activity of gaining long-term and real change for disabled people. While other charities empire build and measure success in terms of size, Scope appears to be focussed on success in terms of improving the lives of disabled people by concentrating on a quality of opportunity. For me, this shows that Scope has The Right Ethos.
And I am sure this is a major reason why Scope has won the World Cup of Charities to Vote For!
That’s true, but don’t start the great seasonal tidy up just yet. Candidates do have other things on their minds but they aren’t looking because they think you aren’t recruiting!
However, it’s the most wonderful time of the year to work with The Right Ethos. He would say that wouldn’t he, I hear you say. But let me explain why. Advertising doesn’t work at this time of the year (although you’ve probably also heard recruitment advertising doesn’t work anymore either and there’s also an argument for that)
But, candidates are keen to hear about jobs and we contact them right up to a few days before Christmas. They pick up their phones or meet with us because they’re keen to advance their career. If you think about it, you would too if you were about to find out about a great job from an agency which always gets it right for you.
Sourcing candidates is particularly good for us at this time of year as we cream off the best candidates before the mad rush of adverts which inevitably hit the job boards in January.
We have the largest database in the UK of external affairs, communications and campaigns staff. That, together with our extensive networks built through my 24 years employed in External Affairs for organisations including Shelter, Amnesty International and Save the Children allows us to identify and contact candidates quickly and efficiently, whether they’re actively looking at job adverts or not.
We have a range of successful recruitment methods and prices, including a reduced service at only 7.5% of salary, and collaborative working which comes with a 12 month guarantee on our candidates.
I recently helped to run an advocacy workshop on migration in Dakar, Senegal. It was a great event with representatives from African, European and Middle Eastern countries.
Unlike many events that I’ve been involved in running advocacy training this event seemed really special because the vast majority had little or no prior experience of advocacy. So therefore the initial focus was a lot about de-mystifying the concept of advocacy.
This involved trying simply to define advocacy in terms of problem, solution, target and then seeking to influence that target. We then introduced some basic advocacy tools such as the influence tree and the theory of change, and then we supported delegates to begin to develop their own country specific advocacy strategy.
I was really struck by a woman from one North African country, who said to me that all of these ideas had been in her head and that she had wanted to do things in the past, but a framework approach to advocacy had helped structure her thinking to move things forward.
As these advocacy strategies began to develop, a colleague came up to me concerned about the development of one particular country specific advocacy strategy. This country’s representatives were focusing on the need to develop a migrant reception centre, and my colleague was concerned that this was not an appropriate response to the advocacy question.
I was interested nonetheless that this was their initial humanitarian concern and their preferred response to this particular crisis. I suggested that this was an appropriate response, but having developed a reception centre and having begun to provide support in the reception centre that such an operational service could then provide the essential ingredients and evidence for advocacy on this issue.
So that a theory of change could initially include their aspirations to get support for a reception centre and then to begin to run a reception centre, but I would then like to think that the theory of change would include the opportunities for advocacy based on the operational experience of running that reception centre.
I am continually interested at the overlap and interplay between delivering direct operational services and the need for advocacy. I often talk about them being two sides of the same coin. This is hardly a unique insight, but it is really important to see them as being and having a very close relationship. At the Red Cross we talk about our preferred instinct to respond to an operational crisis is to get directly involved and to deliver direct humanitarian support; however when those services alone are not enough to deal with the problem that is when we will advocate and push for policy and practice change.
I was really interested to see at such an advocacy workshop on migration how many people’s understandable first preference was to deliver direct services to help people in crisis; however the challenge has to be that very often direct services are not enough to deal with the problem, certainly when they are as big as the current global migration issue, and that is why advocacy campaigning is so, so important.
I was asked a great question the other day: who needs to know about the impact of your advocacy campaigns?
It stopped me in my tracks, and did give me food for thought. When I started my campaigning work at Oxfam, I remember being keen for public recognition of the role that Oxfam was playing in any campaign. I was involved in the campaign to abolish supermarket vouchers for asylum seekers almost 15 years ago now, and while it was a successful campaign involving many organisations, I still wanted some public recognition along side others of the role that Oxfam was playing.
I wasn’t that obsessed by the need for profile, but I did want some degree of external recognition for Oxfam. Although I remember some of my colleagues wanting more profile for the organisation. I will never forget the degree of concern there was when I arranged a press conference on the issue, which included the British Medical Association and the Transport and General Workers’ Union – but without Oxfam. I do think that there will be stages of a campaign where you will make judgments that your organisation is not needed. But not withstanding that point, I still wanted recognition for Oxfam.
Now at the Red Cross, I am interested to observe how, with the benefit of age perhaps, I have changed my thinking. We are seeking to influence government policy on the section 4 azure payment card for asylum seekers – a sad carry-over from the former vouchers scheme.
I now find myself less concerned about public recognition of the role played by my organisation. My increasing focus is on the humanitarian suffering caused by this payment card and pushing for a return to cash payments for this group of people.
Yet I do realise that there are important audiences from whom I do still want some recognition for the role of the Red Cross. Chief amongst that audience are our staff and volunteers – and indeed our wider supporter base. I would also be keen for the key Parliamentarians to know about our work to help us build credibility for future engagement.
The information that I would like to convey is less about our impact but more about our progress with our theory of change. By this piece of jargon I basically mean telling the story of the campaign. The more I do this work the more I see successful campaigning is about being able to tell the story of your campaign. Such a story will include both the past and the future.
So I hope to convey to my key audience the journey that we have covered to date and then the future direction we plan for our campaign. And with any such story there will be breakthroughs and set-backs – the campaign story needs to include both but always with a focus on the new future direction.
For me now in my campaigning, recognition is less important, but the significance of telling the campaign story is even more needed that ever. Do you involve story telling in your campaigning?
Whenever I have run a training session on advocacy campaigning, I have felt a loss of energy and momentum when I have turned to the subject of monitoring and evaluation.
As an activist, very often training a room full of fellow activists, I am most interested in sharing the tools that will encourage people to tackle injustice and develop campaigns. But I also know that campaigning is not just about doing stuff, but it is about making a difference.
So I was really interested at the British Red Cross, when we started to discuss as a new advocacy team how we would want to approach the monitoring and evaluating of our own advocacy. I have written before about the power of using a theory of change approach – a simple chain of events connected by the words ‘so that’ – and then regularly reviewing progress against this theory of change.
But I was challenged by one of my research colleagues to take a look at the UNICEF monitoring and evaluating advocacy guide – seehere.
I began reading it with a feeling of ‘I’ve seen all of this before’, but the more that I read, the more interested I became – in particular I was interested in their development of a log frame for advocacy. Part of me rebels against a chart with a series of boxes – advocacy cannot be tied down to just one page, surely?
But the more I looked at their log frame and began to apply it to one of our own advocacy issues, I was surprised at how easy it was to complete and that it was actually a very useful exercise. I liked the structure of goals, interim targets and activities, and I liked how the log frame made you think about how you wanted to move your issue on. I found that the answers to all of these questions were in my head anyway, so it wasn’t too hard to put it all into the log frame.
But above all I felt that this log frame structure fitted with my own approach to advocacy – it didn’t feel contrived or an add-on. We are going to use this approach more at the British Red Cross – do take a look yourself at the log frame approach – and I’d be interested in what you think.
I am just back from a week in Dar es Salaam, where I was running an advocacy workshop for an INGO and its partners across East Africa. We had eight nations represented from across the region. This workshop was following on a year after a similar workshop I had run for their Asian region in Bangladesh. The training had worked in Asia but would an advocacy campaigns framework also resonate in East Africa?
What was really impressive about this workshop was the degree of preparation that delegates had to do prior to coming to Tanzania. I have run some courses where people have given little thought to the issue that they might want to use for advocacy. This workshop had case studies from each delegate submitted before the event. So we had an impressive course reader detailing each person’s advocacy issue against a suggested framework. We had issues such as trail bridges, self-help groups, disaster risk reduction schemes and much, much more. What did interest me was that in the main they were projects where an idea had been made to work on a pilot basis. At the end of each case study was a short section entitled next steps. Generally this section was very brief. The purpose of our workshop was to help people to develop their next steps and therefore have more impact.
We spent a lot of time in the first couple of days getting participants to describe the realities of their external enabling environment for advocacy: the environment in Kenya, being different to Mozambique, being different to Ethiopia. We were massively helped in this exercise by the presence for a while of Maina Kiai – the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. He is an inspirational speaker with an amazing global perspective. If you ever have the chance to hear him speak, you must do so!
As with our workshop in Bangladesh, I was interested to see how the country groups of participants struggled initially to agree how to explain their external environment. There were some very robust discussions. I know that I have written before about how important it is to have these explicit conversations because the danger is that you all assume that you share the same understanding. Having secured agreement in each country group, delegates were encouraged to move around the groups and hear about the external environment in the other countries. This was a great exercise and ensured that we had a common understanding of the external environment in all of the eight countries.
Having got this understanding, we then went through defining the problem, being clear on the solution and who the target might be with the power to make this change, looking at the different routes to influence this target, assessing the degree and the nature of the opposition, before finally beginning to sketch out what a theory of change on each issue might look like.
At the end of the week, I was interested to see that energy levels were still running high. It was also interesting to see that while they were keen to take their initial theories of change back home to discuss with their colleagues, there was also a strong desire to keep the peer group from the eight nations together. There is a group Skype conversation planned for later next month. Yet what really excited me was a group of passionate individuals from across East Africa with their burning desire for change on their issue fired up with some practical tools to help energise their advocacy campaigns.
In my last blog I highlighted the plight of Sombath Somphone, the community leader from Laos who disappeared in highly suspicious circumstances in 2012. I did, as I implored you to do, and I wrote to my MP about this case. I received a very detailed answer from the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Not only did he know about this case, he had raised it on several occasions and was continuing to do so. This was really encouraging – but let’s keep the pressure up. If you haven’t contacted your MP about this case please do so. We should be prepared to stand up for community leaders who stand up for their community and then suffer the consequences.
Something a bit different for this blog…… I recently spent some time working in Bangladesh running an advocacy training course, and met some people from Laos. They informed me of the disappearance of Sombath Somphone back in 2012. Sombath is a respected community leader in Laos. He has not been heard from since his disappearance.
I understand that his wife was shown video footage by the police of him being stopped by the police, and then being put into another vehicle before being driven away. The policemen who showed her this video have subsequently disappeared. The government in Laos has refused to engage on this issue, explain this video footage or take up international offers to analyse this video footage.
This case of Sombath has really affected me. How can a citizen of a country just disappear and the government of that country show no interest in his return? I would really interested to know if our Foreign and Commonwealth Office is aware of this case, and what representations our government had made to the government in Laos and to the ASEAN nations. I have written to my MP to ask these questions – could you do the same and stand up for a community leader, who had the courage to stand up and represent his community at huge personal cost?
In recent years I have increasingly heard people talking about movements in the context of campaigning. Not content just with an organisation or individuals seeking to run a campaign, a wider more ambitious aspiration can emerge to build a movement pushing for change.
Influenced no doubt by the experience across the Atlantic in the US where many funders have embraced the rhetoric of movement building, this language has crept into the UK. Although this may be an incorrect assessment – it may be better to say this language has re-emerged into the UK. What was the pressure to abolish slavery, form trade unions, get women the vote if they were not movements? Movements have surely played a crucial role in the history of the UK.
In their article on How foundations can support movement building, Masters and Osborn look at social and political change and the role that movements can play in pushing for change. They argue that:
“While there is no formula for a social movement, we know that successful ones share some things in common. First, people become mobilized around issues they hold dear; at some level they share a powerful vision about what is wrong with society and how it must be improved; and they engage in lots of diverse activities not under any one leader’s direct control resulting political motion and its effect lead to a change in attitudes, practices and public policy.”
I am very attracted to this notion especially where you are looking for major political, social or economic change. A campaign can push for a specific policy or practice change, a movement, being more free flowing and diverse, can generate broader activity maybe harnessing different campaigns and approaches with the same over-arching goal.
In the UK context I am struck by the number of people who have been talking about the need to build a movement in defence of asylum seekers and refugees. While there have been many campaigns run on specific issues, a feeling has developed, due to the prevailing political and media environment, that we need a broader movement to offer a positive counterpoint.
For the past few years I have been involved in the City of Sanctuary movement. Starting in the great city of Sheffield in 2005, local people came together to provide welcome to asylum seekers arriving in their city. From this inspirational move, we now have over 40 cities and towns of sanctuary across the UK, we have schools and health services expressing support, more and more communities expressing solidarity and interest from across Europe.
I have been fascinated by this development. In the face of such a negative political and media environment, the development of cities of sanctuary has been such a positive antidote. You just cannot ignore local people coming together motivated to do their bit to support asylum seekers and refugees.
Yet this in itself is not enough to create a national environment for a culture of welcome across the UK. For this reason support has been building for a sanctuary summit from organisations like Refugee Council, Refugee Action, the Forum, Boaz Trust, STAR, Still Human and many more.
On 15th November 2014 people will gather in Birmingham from across the UK for the first Sanctuary Summit. The criteria for attendance will be simple: the power to represent a community and/ or the energy to campaign. Grounded in eight policy concerns, we hope to bring a diverse collection of people together to encourage their own local expressions within a loose national movement. We aspire to offer the space and structure to inspire activity but for it all to be linked up.
We got a taste of what is possible in Parliament earlier in September when local groups from across the UK came to Westminster to meet their MP and talk about how they welcome asylum seekers in their community. The Sanctuary in Parliament was a great success.
These are lofty aspirations to build a movement for sure but also exciting – will this Sanctuary Summit succeed in bringing people together united by a common vision, encouraging local and national actions all pushing to achieve the change for a culture of welcome in the UK?
Recently I ran Bond’s UK Corridors of Power course. I always enjoy this course as it combines a lot of theory around government and parliament in the UK with meetings with MPs, officials and NGO staff. At the end of the last course, one of the delegates said to me that even with a degree in politics that they had struggled to understand how the British UK system worked and that this practical course had helped.
This comment made me reflect on the importance of political education for campaigners. This is an issue I know that Titus Alexander at Democracy Matters has been pushing for a long time – see http://www.democracymatters.org.uk
Where do campaigners get their knowledge of politics from? In my younger days I was very involved in party politics and learnt a lot by doing roles such as a constituency chair, council candidate and parliamentary candidate. It was a great way to learn about the realities of British politics by actually getting involved myself.
Yet from all of the training that I do across the UK on campaigning, I am struck at the degree of dislocation that there is between NGO people and party political people. Twenty or so years ago there was I think a stronger cross over between NGOs and different parties, which does not seem to be the case so much now.
I sense a great dissatisfaction with party politics. And I can sympathise with this feeling. But if you are not involved where do you get your political education from?
I was hearing about a colleague recently working for an NGO who had been encouraging the NGO to lobby government and parliament on an issue. The response to this pitch was a somewhat frosty – ‘we lobby government…. we don’t lobby parliament.’ I thought this was a great response revealing a lack of knowledge that the UK does not have a rigid separation of powers’ doctrine between the legislature and executive. In the UK government is drawn from parliament. You cannot talk to a government minister without talking to a parliamentarian.
But with the huge array of fascinating political biographies and diaries available, you do not need to engage with party politics, you can read all about it. Just starting with the superb diaries from Chris Mullin should be enough to really get you going.
So as campaigners all of us should be questioning how we are continuing our learning as part of our political education to make us more effective campaigners and to play a vibrant part in our democratic structures.
After a period away from blogging last year, I am keen to kick-start this occasional blog reflecting on the realities of advocacy campaigning based on my own current experiences at the British Red Cross and from the training that I am able to lead for NGOs across the world. All of these blogs are my own personal views…..
Recently I had the good fortune to be in Bangladesh running an advocacy and policy influencing training session for an international NGO. We had representatives present from across the region including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Vietnam and Laos.
The first day we covered the basics of advocacy and began to present a framework for advocacy. Right from the word go, whilst there was interest in this framework, there was a much stronger interest in asserting the differences in the external contexts for advocacy across the countries represented on the training course.
This interest was really welcome as on the second day, we invested a lot of time in focussing on the realities of the external environment for advocacy. Initially there was some resistance when we asked them to get into their country groups to define their external environment. There was a common view that they had done this before. But we persisted in our request. To add a bit of extra spice to the exercise, we asked them to present their analysis of their external environment on a flip chart page.
Then the discussions started. While they may have thought that they had done it all before, I was interested to note some of the robust discussions in some of the country groups. Maybe they didn’t all have the same understanding after all? After some time, they started to portray their external environments on a flip chart page.
One person said to me that the exercise had been useful because in their country office they had all assumed that they had the same understanding, but that this exercise had made them see that maybe they didn’t, and that they needed time to come to a consensus.
Having got the flip charts ready, we then encouraged one member of each country team to stay by their flip chart, and the others then to do a tour of the room and explore the other flip charts. It was great to see the country representative trying to explain the realities of their external environment to people from other countries.
For me this experience showed how important it is to base advocacy campaigning on the realities of the world outside, and that assumptions on these realities should be tested and made explicit.
There is such a danger with advocacy campaigning that we are enthused to campaign on an issue, develop a strategy and then launch with little or no reference to the outside world. I do think that curiosity about power and how change happens should be a vital part of any campaigner’s approach.
So I would say be curious about power, make your assumptions explicit, challenge yourself and others to develop a robust view of the external environment – and then build your advocacy strategy on that understanding. I know that sometimes we are just too busy to do this – but we omit at our peril.
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