How a professional NGO campaigner think

Tord Björk | Uncategorized | Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Quite often I wonder if NGO campaigners at all think. Looking at one more antipoverty website with a single child with hungry eyes begging for a gift I sometimes wonder if they want poverty to continue for ever. The same goes for climate campaigners wishing us all to take our individual consumer responsibility and pay some lobbyists to do the politics for us.

So I was gladly surprised when I found a professional environmental campaigner who had some qualified thoughts about campaigning. His name is Chris Rose from UK. He has been working for many of the main stream environmental NGOs as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

One of his main points is that campaigning is about motivation and not education. That is a point which can equally be made towards both the main-stream NGO campaigner and the left-wing activists. This when the NGO-campaigner stresses how complex the situation is and how many new words and abbrivations it is necessary to learn to be able to participate in his campaign or when the left-winger sees spreading anti-capitalist ideology as more important than to take action in conflicts with the aim to win. Education and ideology is of course of importance for a movement, but we shoud use them in campaigns to guide us towards choosing the right conflicts to address, not to make ideology and education the dominating part of campaigning.

Rose tells us:

“Environmental campaigns are like a game in which rules are a matter of opinion; where you have to attract and hold support and build the team by persuasion; and in which people join, or leave, as they like. Campaigns are conversations with society, wars of persuasion, and a politics of the people, for the public good, by the people.

Yet campaigns usually fail. A few change outcomes, more achieve publicity but little else, and most splutter out quietly or stagger on ineffectively.”

He do not believe there is a single formula to for success but gives us 12 ideas to think about:

1 Reality check

“Do you really need to campaign? It can be fun, but it’s often hard, dull, frustrating and unsuccessful.”

2 It’s motivation, stupid…

“… not education. Education, while good in itself, is a broadening exercise. It uses examples to reveal layers of complexity, leading to lower certainty but higher understanding. Don’t use it to campaign. Campaigning maximises motivation of an audience, not its knowledge. If campaigns have an “educational” effect, it’s through doing, not being given information.”

3 Analyse the forces at play

“You know what needs to change (that’s the easy bit). Ask: “Why hasn’t it happened already?” Map the forces for and against what you want to happen: people involved, organisations, institutions. Work out exactly what the mechanisms are for the decisions you want to change. Identify allies and opponents. Work out your target audience for each step to your objective. Look at it from their point of view.”

4 Make it simple

“Campaigns are needed if an urgent problem has to be made public to be resolved. Non-urgent problems are unlikely to justify campaigns. Motivation needs simplicity in message and purpose. Communicate one thing at a time. Use an unambiguous “call to action” that needs no explanation.”

5 Get the right components in the right order

“A more typical campaign plan might look something like this, introducing both the problem, the “enemy” (the responsible agent of the problem), and the solution. The campaign involves a deliberate series of revelations to take the “audience” from ignorance, through interest and concern (components of awareness), to anger and engagement (motivation), and finally into a state of satisfaction or reward.

If that happens, the campaign’s participants and supporters will be ready for more. On their own, these components do not make sense: they’ll get a “so what?” response. Communicate them all at once and there’s no involvement in the “story” of the campaign. A campaign has to be like a book or drama – the outcome must be important but unknown.”

6 Start from where your audience is

“An old dictum of marketing. A salesman tries to get you to buy something by adding value – extra features, extra benefits. A marketer finds out what you want, what you already do and think, and creates a product to fit you.”

7 Make a critical path

“All issues are complex, but your campaign must not be. The politics of your town or street are as byzantine as the UN’s, but that’s no excuse for communicating complexity. Complexity demotivates. It makes people feel confused, and if they feel confused, they will think you are confused and not worth listening to.”

8 Campaign against the unacceptable

“Most campaigns need to attract broad support. To do that, narrow the focus. It is better to campaign against a small part of a big problem unacceptable to 99 per cent of people than a large part of the problem unacceptable to only 1 per cent.”

9 Make events happen

“Events, my dear boy, events,” said Harold Macmillan when, as prime minister of this country, he was asked what he was most worried about when running the government.

Don’t argue, do. Events are the stuff of all kinds of politics – formal politics, business politics, personal politics or even the politics of the dung heap.

News is not about ideas or concepts – it is about things that happen. Ask yourself every day: what is this campaign doing? What’s the verb? Is it starting something, publishing, blocking, rescuing, occupying, marching, lobbying, painting… What exactly are you doing?”

10 Say what you mean

“Directly or indirectly, a campaign consists of persuading others not just that you are right, but that you are so right that they must take some form of action.”

“The simplest thing you can do to help your message get across is to be direct and straightforward. Forget being “clever”. When all else fails (as it probably will), say what you mean. Try telling a member of your family, and when they “get it”, use their way of saying it.”

11 Find the conflict in events

“This is often misunderstood. Conflict is inherent to campaigns. Without a conflict of interest, a campaign would not be needed.”

12 Make the news

“Conflict signals outcomes someone cares about. To launch the London Wildlife Trust, we wanted to plant wild primroses on Primrose Hill. Not news – until the Royal Parks refused permission. Officials even asked: “How tall is it?” (apparently thinking it was a tree). We made the front page of The Observer.

Here was a story the press could handle: bureaucracy vs the little people. There was a conflict and “human interest” – a formula the paper recognised. News is often a new twist on an old story. Your campaign will be in conflict with someone, somewhere.”

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