Archive for the ‘campaigning’ Category

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#Newpol: wrap-up of a great day

January 27th, 2010 by Jadis Tillery

Wow. We made it. We managed to get through two panel discussions, 12 workshops, an inspirational keynote speech and drinks in the Lords’ in one piece.

We want to say a big ‘thank you!’ to everyone who came along to yesterday’s event and helped make it happen. Our Twitterfall has even caused a bit of a stir over at Civil Society magazine!

If you couldn’t make it – and even if you did – we really recommend taking some time to check out all the great content that was captured from around the conference and published on this site. There’s loads of images, audio interviews and comment and analysis from our live reporters so take a look.

Here’s our highlights to get you started:

Steve Lawson from the Amplified team posted some great content live from the event and his analysis of how Social Media is leading to Social Action is good starter. Steve also gives a good overview of some of the key trends he saw emerging from the event in this post.

Off-site, Ian Noon from the National Deaf Children’s Society has already posted his thoughts from the day and highlights an inspiring quotation from the keynote speaker, Peter Tatchell:

      it’s good to take risks, be provocative and stir up trouble once in a while

      Maybe he was referring to our now famous Twitterfall! :)

      For a visual rendition of the day, make sure you take a look at the Flickr stream of photos from the day with the tag #newpol – and don’t forget to add that tag when you upload your pics. Ben Ellis’s Posterous blog also has a nice slideshow of his photos from the day too.

      The Amplified team also recorded a series of Audioboo interviews with speakers. Here’s Stella Creasy, Labour PPC for Walthamstow & the Scout Association’s Head of Campaigns talking passionately about the power social media offers campaigners (all the audioboo’s from the day can be found here).

            Speaking of Peter Tatchell: without shadow of a doubt he was the most inspirational speaker of the day.

            Founding member of OutRage!, regular contributing blogger on the Guardian and member of the Green Party , Peter Tatchell  is one of the country’s most well known campaigners.  He’s actively campaigned for more than 42 years and has proven fearless in the face of the world’s most notorious human rights abusers (as his two attempted citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe attest too). Peter was also named campaigner of the Year 2009 by The Observer.

            We’ll have video footage of his speech up on the site very soon indeed.   In the meantime, you can read a timely profile of the great man, published in this week’s Third Sector and listen to him chat to Steve about the best and worst of the web for campaigners

            Big Ideas For Changes In Campaigning.

            January 26th, 2010 by Steve Lawson

            So much of what’s being expressed today at this conference will be outlining where we are in terms of the relationship between campaigners and the political structures in the UK, and where we’re likely to be in the near future. People who make futurological predictions about what’s going to change tend to be fairly fatalistic about the potential for change – it’s built into the kind of observational science that they indulge in.

            So this post is intended to be a place where we will pull together your suggestions for transformative change in the way that campaigning organisations are formed, managed and maintain their radical edge, but still manage to access the kind of funding they need to keep going. Please do post them in the comments, cross post good things you’ve found elsewhere and discuss the potential.

            It would be great for this to be the place for some big thinking, big ideas, hopes and dreams for how we can make sure that campaigning organisations don’t get sucked into a government funding vortex that removes any power they have to be the thorn in the flesh of the political establishment where required.

            Over to you – please post your ideas and comments below:

            Political Campaigning with Facebook

            January 25th, 2010 by Marcus Hickman

            As we are all keenly aware this year’s general election is a watershed for social media and the UK’s political process. The last general election was held when Youtube was a mere 3 months old and Twitter hadn’t even been launched. A year on from observing Obama’s successful campaign in the American presidential election British MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates are keen to get in on the action.

            2009 was the year of Twitter; Labour appointed Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy as its resident Twitter Tsar while the website Tweetminister was launched to keep the corridors of Whitehall, journalists and the public up to date with the latest tweets from MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates (PPC’s). Even David Cameron felt it necessary to make this now (in)famous etymological comparison.

            However a much larger social network and community building platform is Facebook, and with over 23million UK users I’d argue it’s a much more effective campaigning tool for political parties ahead of the next election. But how can parties make the most out of Facebook? And more specifically, what’s the answer to the eternal questionFan Pages or Groups?

            A quick search for UK political Fan Pages comes up with Boris JohnsonGeorge Galloway and Dave Cameron as the top three most popular (i.e. have the most fans). Add to that heady mix BNP leader Nick Griffin and Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan and you have the top five.

            All these people benefit from one unifying factor: they offer fans the cult of personality. Their brand and image can be held as a key indicator of who they are and what makes people identify with them. As a result, fans will revisit their Pages, interact with other fans sharing a like-minded passion, read and interact with their idol’s content and even submit their own. The key thing here is that the established offline identity-forming brand of iconic or (in)famous politicians is being reflected online.

            However, while political icons may offer fans the cult of personality, the vast majority of political parties, politicians and PPCs don’t have this established social capital. In fact, to help campaign for votes at the next election, political parties, MPs and PPCs are going to have to succeed at building and mobilising vibrant communities of local supporters as well as starting and joining hyperlocal conversations with electorate to win on polling day. To achieve this, candidates need to use Facebook Groups.

            Facebook Groups offer candidates two key benefits over Fan Pages;

            1. Accountability and Transparency – Group admins are public, they’re group members with a verifiable background. Group members know they’re a real person, in return they see your profile; members feel connected and social capital starts to accumulate.
            2. Messaging & Events – crucially unlike Pages, Groups allow you, with a single click, to invite all the members to attend an event or send them all a message. This has clear benefits when organising and mobilising supporters for door-to-door canvassing, streetstalls, etc

            It is this additional communication functionality offered by Facebook Groups that galvanises supporters in a way Fan Pages can’t.

            Although Pages allow you to send updates to Fans via the Page wall, I would assume, personally from use, and have seen from experience, that combinations of inbox messages and event invites are much more effective at mobilising.

            Additionally if all candidates created Facebook Groups based on their political party and election campaign it could build a vast network of supporters who would be contactable via Facebook messages or events within a few clicks. This would give parties the power to reach and engage the electorate in a trusted social space without needing to phone canvass or door-step – mobilisation tactics form the traditional marketing textbook which are becoming increasingly intrusive and redundant.

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            Engaging the public

            January 22nd, 2010 by Andy May

            Many of the blog posts here make reference to the difficulty of the current climate for campaigning. A cynical public saturated with media stories about the expenses scandal and dampened in mood by the longest economic downturn in decades do not make for an easy audience.

            In addition to engaging the public, every organisation is looking for ways to influence the politicians and get their voice heard over the competing chorus of other pressure groups in the short window before the election.

            Power2010 has taken a unique approach in order to make democratic and political reform part of the context of the next election. Being a new campaign whose origins lay in the 2006 Power Enquiry we seek to harness the apathy and lack of trust in politics and turn it into a force for change. The inception of the campaign in its current form occurred directly after the expenses scandal and it’s been clear from the response we’ve got so far that people have not forgotten this. They are innately aware that there are wider systemic problems with UK politics underlying the scandals and cynicism.

            So where did we start? To remain true to our values we couldn’t just go and ask the public to sign up to a set of pre-conceived ideas on how to improve our democracy. The only way to engage a public fed up with not being listened to by the establishment was to engage them in a deeper and different way than the other campaigns out there. We wanted the public not only to be supporters, but to be agenda setters. That’s why every stage of the process has been as open and democratic as possible.

            First of all we had a 2 month consultation phase where we received over 4000 submissions from members of the public on democratic and political reform. These included far reaching reforms on voting systems and a written constitution right down to simpler more symbolic ones such as a ‘None of the Above’ option on the ballot paper.

            The 57 core ideas that came out of this then went to a Deliberative Poll of 130 citizens scientifically selected to form a microcosm of the UK population. After a weekend of debate and discussion 29 reform ideas received majority support and these have now been put to the public vote. We are currently working with individuals and organisations across the country to encourage as many people as possible to vote and have their say. The 5 ideas which receive most support will form the Power2010 pledge, the centrepiece of our campaign aimed at candidates and political parties during the election.

            The vote has already seen massive participation with 20,000 votes cast in the first week of what will be a 5 week drive to mobilise popular support. We are now rolling out our regional campaign, using organisers across the UK to get as many people as possible to participate. If we achieve critical mass with the numbers voting the Pledge will be a powerful tool to wield at candidates still acutely conscious of public anger over the expenses scandal and the hunger for reform. At the NCVO workshop on local campaigning, I’ll talk more about how we plan to move on from this broader participation to get politicians to sign up to the 5 key reforms that come out of the process.

            In the meantime, being a campaigner I never miss an opportunity… You can participate right now in our campaign by voting on our shortlist at www.power2010.org.uk/votes

            Andy May is Local Campaigns Coordinator for Power2010. He will be speaking in the ‘Going Local’ workshop at the Campaigns Conference.

            In defence of campaigning

            January 21st, 2010 by Chloe Stables

            Over recent months, there has been a steady drip feed of articles and posts criticising the voluntary sector for its cosy relationship with government.

            Many of these posts point to the large swathes of government money received by the voluntary sector and its perceived lack of independence. Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome argued that the “voluntary sector has become so dependent upon government funding that it is hardly voluntary at all”. A recent article by Ed Howker at the Spectator also laments that many charities have now become “quasi-governmental organisations.”

            The vast majority of these articles also express a preference for smaller, locally based charities undertaking frontline work, and are highly critical of larger, professionalised campaigning organisations.

            These articles undoubtedly raise some important points – as campaigners we must not let our relationship with Government cross over from critical friend to paid lackey; we must be ever mindful of talking on behalf of people rather than enabling them to talk for themselves; and above all else, maintain a clear focus on the needs of our beneficiaries. Only through due care and attention to these issues will we be able to stay the right side of the dividing line between political organisation and seeking to influence in order to fulfil our charitable objectives.

            There remains, however, much to refute within these articles. Campaigning should not be a dirty word. As a sector, we need to mount a robust defence of campaigning and the role that it plays in our democracy. It is legitimate and valuable activity.  Campaigning by charities across a broad range of issues has often energised and provoked public debate in a way that has left traditional politics in their slipstream. Many would point to the successes that campaigners have made over many years – slavery, women’s rights, the increased profile of climate change, the smoking ban. I could go on and on. At a time when trust in politics has hit an all time low, and the Westminster bubble becomes more self-absorbed by the day, campaigners have an essential role to play ensuring that a diversity of voices are listened to, and not just those who find it easiest to make their voices heard.

            I would also argue that making a case for small and local versus large professionalised charities is a false dichotomy.  It goes without saying that we need to preserve strong grassroots, but it is essential that larger charities can continue to giving a voice to the excluded and deliver key services. Being professional does not automatically result in a disconnect from our beneficiaries, instead it helps create a powerful combined voice.

            In the words of Reverend J. Graham Smith “for too long society has expected, and restricted, charities to providing the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. With expertise in their field, they should be permitted to erect the fence at the top. “

            This issue will undoubtedly arise at the Campaigns Conference next week, where both Ed Howker and Tim Montgomerie will be present. It’s important that we do not allow this outdated philanthropic view of the voluntary sector to go unchallenged.

            Chloe is Parliamentary Officer at NCVO. Ed Howker and Tim Montgomerie will be speaking at the Campaigns Conference next week.

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            Who wants to be a politician?

            January 20th, 2010 by Rosemary Frazer

            I don’t recall a period in which people have felt so angry with politicians and so removed from the political process itself.  Over the past 50 years turnout at elections has steadily declined from over 80% in the 1950s to just 60% at the last election.  A much more worrying fact is that areas of social deprivation tend to have the lowest turnout.  The people who are in most need of social change and improvements in their lives don’t feel politicians can deliver and therefore don’t see the point in casting their vote. Why is this?  Is it the nature of the political process or is it the politicians themselves which put people off voting? I would argue that it is a little of both. 

            The expenses scandals of 2009 saw public opinion of politics and politicians at an all time low.   Claims for moat cleaning, duck houses and non-existent mortgages followed by the mantra ‘I followed the rules’ infuriated the British public.  At a time of economic turmoil when many people lost their jobs and homes we witnessed one politician after another justifying expense claims, failing completely to take on board public anger.  Are politicians so far removed from their constituents that they feel that they are entitled to operate under different rules than the rest of us?  And if this is the case, how has that happened?  I would argue that the nature of the parliamentary process itself is largely to blame for the failure of politicians to engage with their constituents and the same outdated procedures put people off voting.  

            The rules and procedures of parliament have their origins in the days of rotten boroughs when democracy was only for rich men.  The present rules and procedures do not seem in keeping with a system of universal suffrage.  The complex stages of the passage of a Bill, Select Committees, the language used by ‘Honourable Members’ and costumes worn by officials really do make the palace of Westminster seem so remote.  To many people, our politicians appear to go to work in the 17th century. 

            But Parliament and the work that goes on there has got to be relevant and understood by the voters and they have got to feel that they can engage with politicians and that their views and interests will be taken on board.  For that to happen we need to change how Parliament works and that means a complete overhaul of outdated procedures, language and dress. 

            But the changes shouldn’t end there.  We need also to look at how people are selected to stand for election.  Many people will know individuals in their community who show great leadership and have wonderful communication skills and really engage with their communities and actually get things done.  Why then do we not see more of these people entering politics?  I toyed with the idea of getting involved in local politics and attended some meetings at my local council.  I can’t find the words to describe how awful such meetings were.  How many people have had that same experience and been put off by the overly complicated procedures and party bias? 

            Things have got to change otherwise there is a danger that voters will completely turn away from conventional politics and move towards the extremes, a worrying trend we are seeing with the success of the BNP.  Unless mainstream parties learn to communicate better with their constituents and people from a more diverse background stand in UK elections, then we are going to continue down this worrying path of extremism and people are going to feel that politics is not for them when it should be for us all.

            Rosemary is chairing the ‘campaigning in a cold climate’ session at the Campaigns Conference.

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            Campaigning in a cold climate

            January 14th, 2010 by Jonathan Ellis

            The Refugee Council, an independent human rights charity, has always operated within a challenging public policy context; yet the current external environment presents a unique combination of challenges for us. The context for our work is the worst economic recession, arguably since the 1930s, and dramatically increased levels of Government debt with the associated detrimental impact on public spending and in public sympathy for supporting asylum seekers.

            On the horizon we have a General Election looming with the likelihood of a change of government or possibly a hung Parliament being the most likely outcomes at the moment based on current public opinion polling.

            Yet in the context of these challenges, we also need to be aware of the impact of political messages around ‘British jobs for British workers’ and ‘local homes for local people.’ In our work to help refugees find employment and move into decent housing, and in our associated policy and campaigning work, this rhetoric provides the context within which we have to operate. This challenge will be compounded in the post election environment of public spending cuts, where we will need to fight hard to secure provision of services to our clients.

            In addition we have the public unease at the impact of Eastern European immigration into the UK following the accession of the Eastern European states. This development, fuelled by the insistence of the media to describe all new entrants to the UK as ‘migrants’ including our clients, has seen growing public opposition to immigration across the board.

            Furthermore within a European context, and the Stockholm Programme in particular, we see the continued momentum towards a Common European Asylum Policy and the perennial danger of harmonising asylum systems at the lowest common denominator.

            The UK has a long and proud tradition of offering people protection from tyranny and abuse; despite the political and economic challenges, the Refugee Council, working with its partners, is focussed on continuing to make the case for asylum and ensuring that the voices of refugees are heard.

            Jonathan Ellis is Policy and Development Director at the Refugee Council, he in the ‘Campaigning in a cold climate’ workshop at the Campaigns Conference.

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            Does it matter what politicians do with social media?

            January 12th, 2010 by Liam Barrington Bush

            There’s been a fair amount of discussion about the impact new technologies will have on the upcoming UK general election.  There is widespread belief that social media sites, mobile phones and online video will impact the ways people vote in May (or June) of this year, but as to how these gadgets will influence people’s voting patterns, is still up for debate.

            Some people have pointed (cringingly) to Gordon Brown’s YouTube address, the increasing number of MPs and government departments with Twitter profiles, and the online blogging platforms of the major parties, as evidence of an increasingly tech-savvy political class that will wage it’s election battles on virtual platforms, rather than in constituencies and on television debates.

            But the problem with this is that most of government (with some important exceptions) just don’t get social media!  If it’s seen as a free broadcast channel, it is unlikely to have any additional impact, beyond that of the traditional press, and may further disconnect them from the people they represent, if used solely to disseminate messages.  The groundbreaking nature of these technologies is in their ability to connect people and facilitate conversations, two traits which have traditionally run against the grain of mainstream politics.

            Technology will have some impact on this coming election, but not (primarily) because politicians are starting to get on-board.

            Technology will impact the election most significantly because of what is being said by those using it outside of the political institutions.  The fundamental shift that social media is starting to enable, relates to what blogger and academic Hannah Nicklin describes as a ‘wikipolitic’; the process through which public opinions develop a collective expression via various online platforms, and are then manifested in action – by people themselves or the politicians who are mandated to represent them.  Fundamental to this, is the breakdown of the interface between people and political institutions (initially through online technology) and gradually, the connection of people – including politicians – to each other in the development of the policies that impact our lives. (Read Hannah’s blog for more on ‘wikipolitics’).

            My thoughts on David Cameron (or Gordon Brown, or Nick Clegg, for that matter), can now float into cyberspace and immediately connect with the thoughts of those who agree with or oppose them – on a truly mass scale.  For that matter, if I was to capture a video on my mobile of one of the above leaders contradicting a key campaign message, or come across an email that included potentially offensive language about a particular people or constituency, I could share them with the world within minutes … or say, if I – or you – had an especially relevant take on one party-or-another’s election manifesto, we could become the tipping point of the 2010 general election!

            …Or… Or… Or…The list could go on…

            So when we talk about the impact technology will have on the upcoming election, I recommend turning our social microscopes away from the press-released YouTube videos of Parliament and Downing Street, and towards the places where people are discussing the issues that will affect them.  To the Twitter feeds, blogs and viral videos that are increasingly providing the narrative of life in Britain in 2010 and what we want the people we vote for to do with the power we have given them.

            Of course, ‘wikipolitics’ and ‘e-campaigning’ only matter, insofar as they can enable greater communication and discussion of political ideas; we can’t let new technology sweep away the importance of sound policy.  Many factors will influence this – like every other – election; I’m interested in how we, as people, can play a more central role than we are often credited in playing, as we decide who will lead this country into this next phase of history…

            Liam is Learning and Development Officer (Campaigning) at NCVO, he is chairing the Social Media workshop at the Campaigns Conference

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            Is anybody listening?

            January 11th, 2010 by James Thirtle

            If your campaign isn’t Emotionally Intelligent, then no.

            With the general election campaign gearing up we are seeing a vast increase in political communication.  But how much of it is effective?  Given its aim is presumably to make us vote for our party or change allegiance to another, how often does it succeed?  In fact, how many of the words filling the airwaves, adverts, newspapers and blogs are even received, let alone acted upon?  The most common reaction to political communication at present seems to be a tired shrug, or an irritated closing of the ears.

            We have all become adroit at shutting out messages we don’t wish to hear.  Campaigns aimed at changing lifestyle behaviour or shifting opinions get lost in the background noise of society.  In fact, the ability to shut out this noise so you can form your own thoughts and opinions is a necessary skill for anyone living in the communication age.

            Campaigners of all stripes face a significant and yet horribly simple problem – how to communicate, how to be heard, how to reach people.  If you fail in this your campaign fails at the first hurdle.  We all have filters to keep information out.  If we still lived in a tribal culture of around one hundred individuals then our instinct would be to listen carefully to all of the information that flowed our way.  But our virtual tribe – the number of people who wish to communicate with us – now reaches the tens of thousands.  Filters are necessary.

            The filtering process we use is sophisticated in outcome yet simple to describe: we listen to what feels right.  Above all we trust our feelings to decide which information is relevant, honest and in our interests.  The unconscious processes involved in creating this momentary feeling are incredibly complex, taking account of our experiences, values and the perceived intent behind the communication.  Put simply, if crudely, we all possess an incredibly sophisticated bullshit detector.  Campaigners, politicians, anyone who wishes to influence the decision making of the public, ignore this at their peril.

            As we become more media savvy we are learning to see through the sound bites, media campaigns and interview techniques used by those who want us to think differently.  The welcome fact is that deception is becoming less effective, spin and manipulation is being filtered out, and sincerity may be the only way to get a message across.  Campaigns must be understood in this context if they are to be effective.  The quality of an individual that makes them trustworthy, able to communicate with us, and able to form a deep relationships, is called emotional intelligence.  This same quality must be found in campaigns and communications if they are to be successful.

            An emotionally intelligent campaign acknowledges the way individuals filter information and make decisions.  This is largely not an analytic, intellectual, process – it is a subconscious, intuitive, process.  Effective communication must feel right to the person who receives it.  Firstly it must strike them as being sincere, secondly it must feel relevant; that it relates to their world and their values.  We instinctively respond positively to those people around us we feel are open hearted and demonstrate integrity.  We judge communication and campaigns in the same way.

            Here’s a simple thought experiment: two friends approach you wanting to borrow money.  The first speaks eloquently, giving facts and figures that express clearly why he should borrow your money, yet throughout you suspect these are not his own words and someone else has helped write his argument.  The second speaks from the heart, his request is simple, direct and, although not always eloquent, you recognise his own thoughts and feelings being expressed.  Which friend would you lend your money to?  So which politician will you vote for?

            James Thirtle, www.insightemotionalintelligence.com, is a Consultant and Trainer specialising in applying Emotional Intelligence to campaigning and communication.

            The Times They Are a-Changin’

            January 5th, 2010 by Chloe Stables

            Whatever the result at the ballot box, the 2010 General Election will fundamentally alter the face of British politics. Climate change, the banking crisis, social media and even duck houses and bell towers all shaped the political landscape in 2009. So what lies ahead for 2010?

            1997 saw the largest number of MPs standing down since the 1945 election, with 117 MPs retiring. In 2010, this record will be smashed with some commentators predicting that nearly 200 MPs will hang up their boots – almost a third of the House. A huge influx of new blood is bound to impact on politics – the new intake will be younger, more diverse and more technologically savvy.  But some, such as Professor Phil Cowley, argue that we will have a House of Commons which is a lot less willing to challenge the government. Campaigners may have to work a lot harder to spur new MPs to rock the boat and challenge the party line.

            At the same time, campaigners may also have to dig a little deeper in order to gauge MPs views. Allegiance to a political party may not be the shorthand it was once was for understanding their world view. Jonathan Isaby from ConservativeHome estimates that almost 20% of Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidates will previously have been candidates for other political parties and it’s likely that the trend will continue towards a rise in independent candidates.

            The campaigning environment also looks set for some major shifts, the growth of consumer action, the rise of more fluid activism, the impact of social media, an increase in competition and coalitions, and the ‘professionalisation’ of campaigns staff will all impact on the way campaigners interact with politicians.

            To take just one example, Tom Watson MP argues that the essence of social media is the ability to very easily form groups with low barriers to entry. While its not clear how social media will influence the forthcoming general election, its importance cannot be denied. As a recent piece in the Guardian notes; at the last election “social networking sites were known to few. Facebook was largely unheard of and Twitter had yet to be invented. YouTube had been in existence for only three months. Blogs were in their infancy and political bloggers, now hugely influential in the flow of news, had yet to evolve.”

            This, combined with current trends towards greater transparency, open government and the cross-party drive towards greater localism may mean that some of the old orthodoxies may be challenged – large national campaigning organisations will have to compete with smaller looser networks of activists able to mobilise quickly and gain access and influence over Parliamentarians.

            To help respond to these challenges, NCVO is launching a new kind of conference for a new kind of politics. Share your thoughts. Get involved online. Pop along if you can.

            Chloe is Parliamentary Officer at NCVO.