Key Campaigning Gaps in 2006 (Part 3)
Part III: The FairSay 2006-7 Campaigning Review2006-7 Review Contents: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Key Campaigning Gaps in 2006
I have been working with campaigners to help them make full and effective use the Internet and New Media (aka e-campaigning) since 2001. In that time it has exposed many gaps in how campaigning is managed that limits not only e-campaigning, but general campaigning effectiveness. Here is what I think the gaps were in 2006 that need to be addressed in 2007.
- Strategy: Surprisingly, many organisations seem to lack a campaigning strategy at all. They have their campaigning objectives, but little beyond that guiding them in their ongoing activity. Some have documents they call a strategy, but on inspection they are closer to a list of aspirations and aren't that useful in guiding or reviewing campaigning.
- Influence Research: While most organisations do an excellent job researching the issues and what to do about them, the next step for campaigning is to research how the campaigning objectives can be achieved.
This generally involves:
- A power analysis: where and how are decision made and who makes or influences them.
- Identifying strategies and tactics to apply the pressure needed at the right place and time.
- Identifying specific targets and researching what their position is on the issue and what strategies and tactics are most likely to influence them (and help them influence others).
- Setting goals that relate directly to the strategies, tactics and targets
In too many cases this impact research is simply not done at all. Since campaigning is part art and part science, intuition is useful. But undertaking and implementing influence research (the science) helps campaigns achieve better results for the time and budget they spend on achieving their objectives.
- Creative Actions: All to often, the usual suspects and usual methods are used for campaigning actions (offline and online): standard petitions and letters to targets. The result is bland actions which doesn't appeal to journalists or the public.
Where possible, creative actions need to:
- Make it clear during planning if the action priority is mass participation, media coverage or campaigning impact. All three are important but what is most important for this action as part of the overall strategy?
- Pick targets that serve the priority identified. A public figure, company or brand that is widely loathed or divisive is good for getting people to take actions, but if they won't listen then impact is low. A less 'public' target might be more easily influenced.
- Use innovative, but simple, ideas that capture the imagination of the public, journalists and your target. Either be more creative with petitions or letters or go well beyond them with competitions, phone-ins or other ways for people to participate - not just support.
- Tell a story. Be specific and personal. Using a specific situation to demonstrate the larger issue is far more effective than bland general issues. Mixing that with a personal story - a real person with a name - further increases its effectiveness.
- Deliver the results in an unusual way. More like GetUp's purchase of billboard space.
- Participation is surprisingly rare, in many campaigns. Yes, people can support the campaign, but can they influence it in any way? Organisations like MoveOn and GetUp are succeeding because they operate on the basis of participation. Many people only want to support campaigns, but many others want to so much more and will work with those who provide that opportunity.
- Segmenting is a powerful way to:
- Get and keep people involved in a way that is relevant to them and
- Predict who is most likely to be a potential campaigner for an issue so they can be approached.
- Coordinated actions using a range of approaches simultaneously are also rare. Media, Internet, demonstrations and other tactics should be planned and used in combination - not independently as currently happens far too much.
- Learning isn't happening: Every time a new campaign is launched, or a new coalition formed, it seems everyone forgets the lessons from the last time. Both within organisations and within the sector, silly mistakes are being made again and again that prevent the campaign being as successful as it can. Seems the sector needs to learn how to learn.
The reasons these gaps exist ranges from overworked campaign staff, short lead times, low budgets, shifting priorities and many more. However the point of naming the gaps is so that the areas of improvement are identified. While the constraints will not go away away, some may find they can address one or two to give them the space to be even more effective at campaigning.
My work over the last two years on reviewing organisations' e-campaigning performance and developing their e-campaigning strategy with them has provided me with the opportunity to identify issues that all organisations withint to campaign via the Internet and new media seem to face.
- Skill and Knowledge Gap
- The most significant gap in making full and effective use of the Internet and new media for campaigning is the skill and knowledge gap
- There are too few people with a full grasp of e-campaigning and the skills to achieve it. While this number is growing, acquiring these knowledge and skills through experience can take years
- Those that do acquire them are then in such demand they can move to better opportunities in other organisations and thus significantly set-back an organisations e-campaigning activities.
- Persuasive analysis and reporting: practitioners are not doing analysis and reporting that persuades senior management and trustees of the importance and potential of e-campaigning activities. As a result, the necessary extra people, budget and authority is not allocated - perpetuating the cycle of under-investment and under-achievement. This is partly due to:
- Inadequate reporting tools
- Un-integrated advocacy tools which make unified reporting difficult
- The lack of widely accepted best practice performance levels
- Confusion over key performance indicators, how to calculate them and what they mean
- Lack of time, skills and/or knowledge to integrate, analyse and report on results.
- Promotion to acquire new participants: tends to be poorly planned, with most energy going into a campaign launch rather than promotion. Even when it is considered, it is rare that a promotion strategy is formulated or budget is allocated. While promoting actions through existing participants and prominently placed on one's web site is essential, more forethought on promotion and support acquisition can help ensure a campaign has well informed goals and a plan to achieve them.
- Knock-on impact of the general campaigning gaps raised above:
- Without a clear and specific strategy, e-campaigning practitioners must make a range of decisions without the benefit of guidance from a unified approach.
- Without influence research, e-actions are often ineffective
- Without creative e-actions, the action fails to attract new or existing participants
- If people can't participate online, the most valuable volunteers will go elsewhere and your campaigning will have less impact. The issue of participation is campaigning organisations' single biggest mental obstacle to moving from the first major phase of the web (aka Web 1.0) to the emerging phase of the Internet (aka Web 2.0)
- Without segmentation, the email communication is less relevant to everyone
- If the Internet activity coordination occurs in isolation to other campaigning approaches, then the impact of e-actions is diminished
- Without the ability to learn from past campaigns and not repeat the same mistakes, e-actions are less effective than they could be and thus the campaign underperforms.
If the e-campaigning seems to be ineffective, it may well be that it has more to do with the campaigning gaps than anything specific to the Internet or your technology.
- Organisational Issues: A range of organisational issues present major barriers to making full and effective use of the Internet and other new media even when people have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience. These include:
- eCampaigning practitioners are involved late to the campaign planning process
- The lead time is too short for implementing a campaign on the Internet and with other new media
- The budget allocation is insufficient for delivering the part of the campaign using the Internet and new media
- There are not enough people with the right skills to do a 'best practice' e-campaigning
- IT staff are a bottleneck (when they exist) to implementing new tools since campaigning has to compete with other IT organisational needs and getting IT staff time requires longer lead-in times than campaigning allows
- The perception that eCampaigning operates independently of other forms of campaigning like media, local groups, face-to-face advocacy and direct mail actions.
These issues are not new. I raised them in the Make Poverty History New Media review in early 2006, and even then there were well established. The only change since then is even more organisations are trying to do eCampaigning and the Internet gone mainstream.
- Best practices are difficult or impossible to implement (unless you build your own technology, and that is expensive and time consuming)
- Integration with key systems (email, supporter databases, tracking) is almost non-existent (unless you build your own technology, and that is expensive and time consuming)
- Tracking and Reporting is terrible (partly due to the integration issue), providing little of the real information you need to make organisational decisions
How is This Helpful?So far I haven't seen an inter-organisation campaigning assessment, so hopefully this can help to identify the issues common to almost everyone and thus to help resolve them for those that are proactive about it. However it can also be useful because you and others can point out if you think:
- I am missing anything
- I am wrong about something
- I am over simplifying or over complicating anything
- I am right and this is helpful