7 Cs for a successful campaign + why not to “win at all costs”

Martha Mackenzie is Head of Government Relations at Save the Children and has been taking part in the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect Programme. These are edited highlights of her blog series, which WonkComms is publishing as part if our #RouteToTheTop series. They were first posted at: https://futureleadermusings.wordpress.com

My day job is to encourage politicians to deliver change for children. To me, successful political influencing requires you to create one of three conditions. If you are defending the status quo, you must 1) make the pain of changing course worse than any potential gain. If you are seeking change, you must either create 2) a politically exciting and rewarding opportunity; or 3) extract a political penalty for not taking action (or in some cases, a bit of both).

The ‘Seven Cs’ below provide a guide for those seeking change.

I’ve used the 2016 ‘Dub’s Amendment’ as a case study. After a year long campaign, this resulted in the UK Government offering sanctuary to hugely vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees who had fled to Europe. Save the Children worked on this campaign alongside a number of other organisations – including Unicef UK and the formidable Safe Passage.

1) Be compelling; find a way to captivate your audience early on.

Our decision to call for the UK to relocate a specific number – 3,000 children – gave journalists a clear headline and made the ask tangible and specific to the public and politicians: just five children per parliamentary constituency.

2) Be credible; have the evidence, coalitions, and front-line experience to backup your call.

Throughout the campaign, our front-line work with child refugees was at the forefront. The specific number we called for was based on the UK’s ‘fair share’: the number of unaccompanied child refugees in Europe compared against our relative GDP and population size. And we built coalitions with other credible partners.

3) Inspire compassion; build public support by appealing to hearts as well as minds.

We built pubic momentum behind the cause by using language that, based on evidence and insight, we knew resonated with them – e.g. focussing on children’s individual stories instead of the scale of the crisis. We reminded the public of their human connection with refugees, and encouraged them to take pride in individual acts of British generosity – such as Karen, an incredible mum who fostered a child refugee from Afghanistan, and Awet a child refugee from Eritrea, who had suffered enormously but found a home in Britain.

4) Build cross-party support for your issue by identifying influential champions from across the political divide.

Lord Dubs himself was pivotal, as a well liked and respected parliamentarian and as a child of Kindertransport. We also worked closely with the influential chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Yvette Cooper who was trusted by Parliament and a powerful media spokesperson.

To build additional champions, we identified parliamentarians and journalists who both had influence over the Government and were amenable to our cause. We took these individuals to see the crisis first hand and meet with refugees. This gave them the credibility to challenge those who were against further action and made them personally committed to the cause.

To ensure the issue did not become politically toxic, we built champions from across the political spectrum. And we connected these champions with one another, so they knew they weren’t alone. This gave them the courage to speak out.

5) Build and deploy specific constituencies as a route to influence.

We built support amongst the public constituencies who were most likely to have an influence on decision makers. In this case, centre-right swing voters. We worked with the media outlets they listened to, and used these outlets as a proxy for public opinion.

We also mobilised the public in the constituencies of key MPs – ensuring their postbags were full of letters from concerned constituents.

6) Provide cover for decision makers – ensure they are rewarded and supported for taking action.

When politicians took a political risk and supported our cause, we used the media and our supporters to give them credit. Combined with constituencies, this made our call the right political choice: political stakeholders not only felt pressure from voters, they could also get credit for taking action.

7) But don’t be afraid to challenge – you build political capital in order to spend it; if you know you’re in the right stick to your guns and wield your power.

We stuck firmly to the principle that everything we do is driven by the needs of children. When key political stakeholders did not act in their best interests, we held our ground. This made it clear that we were a serious actor and forced the Government to meet us halfway.

But should you try to ‘win at all costs’?

When pressed on their conduct during a campaign, “winning at all costs” was the answer from one of the speakers at Future Leaders Connect, in Cambridge.

While the honesty is admirable, I have to disagree with the sentiment.

I am more convinced than ever that the means really does matter just as much as the ends.

This is primarily because how people are involved in a campaign, in policy development, or in delivering a specific outcome, determines the success and durability of that outcome.

This is especially important for policy development. Far too often we design solutions without understanding people’s real needs, or with little comprehension of how these solutions work in practice.

The current chaos surrounding the roll-out of Universal Credit is a clear cut case of this. Families are destitute because politicians could not comprehend the impact of taking money away from those who are already struggling.

During our time in Cambridge, we ran a ‘Design Thinking’ simulation – a process to design policy solutions based on asking people what they want, crowd-sourcing ideas, and then testing the outcome of these ideas before roll-out. Far more policymakers could learn from this.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), an independent organisation working to solve poverty, recently took this approach in Leeds, a city in the North of England. Job Seekers were being penalised for repeatedly missing their JobCentre appointments. The JRF spoke to these Job Seekers to understand why this was happening, and found that it was because local buses were regularly late or cancelled, leaving it impossible to arrive on time.

The solution was a local transport one, not a national Work & Pensions one. This was discovered because the JRF took the radical approach of actually talking to people.

The how also matters as much as the what because of the power of human relationships.

Both trust in your fellow humans and the institutions that govern you, and a belief that you have the power to shape these institutions, are utterly critical to a flourishing society.

This is something I have strongly believed since my time as a trainee community organiser with Citizens UK. Saul Alinsky, arguably the father of community organising, built his method around the principle that the way you engage people in change matters just as much as the change.

Our journey towards a better world is not linear. If we win, but everyone around us is miserable and angry, what kind of future is that?

Martha Mackenzie is Head of Government Relations at Save the Children and has been taking part in the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect Programme. These are edited highlights of her blog series, which WonkComms is publishing as part if our #RouteToTheTop series. They were first posted at: https://futureleadermusings.wordpress.com

I am trying to build a better world for children. I am currently leading UNICEF's global humanitarian advocacy and communication strategy. Before this, I led UK poverty campaigns and government relations at Save the Children. I share thoughts on good leadership and how to deliver social change. I'm an optimist, who believes in people and the power of love (combined with an effective strategy, of course).

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: