Involving beneficiaries in campaigning

How can campaigners involve 'real people' in a campaign? Katie Turner and Lee Webster summarise the learning points from a discussion at the 2010 eCampaigning Forum about how technology can help, and ways to make sure involvement is effective and ethical.

Most campaigns aim to bring about change or benefits in the lives of a particular group of people.  Whether you're campaigning for more accessible public buildings in Sheffield, or to stop a proposed dam which would flood people’s homes in southern India, if you win your campaign, people's lives will be directly affected.

This is why our ECF discussion agreed that all campaigns should begin with the beneficiaries. We need to ask ourselves who we are aiming to benefit and why? Has the need for the campaign arisen from the people affected by the issue? Have they contributed to its design and planning? Do they even know you are campaigning ‘for’ them? And would they want you to?

These issues are at the heart of setting up accountable, meaningful campaigns.

Sometimes they are straightforward. A local campaign to install a pedestrian crossing, led by parents and involving other members of the community, could be a shining example of inclusive campaigning, driven by the people directly affected by the issue. For national, or international campaigns, aiming to bring about benefits to huge numbers of people, largely unknown to those running the campaign, this can be a sticky area.

But for campaigning to be inclusive, meaningful, and effective in the long term, these are exactly the issues we have to face. 

One way of ensuring that campaigns are accountable, and driven by the needs of people affected by the issue, is to have the ‘voice’ of the beneficiaries at the front and centre of your campaign. Using modern, and, in some cases, more traditional technologies, can help.

Getting beneficiaries involved

It's important to think about the context of your work before you consider what methods you will use to encourage and enable beneficiaries to get involved.  For example, think about the technology available to them, whether it’s the internet, radio, tv, mobile phones or a landline phone. 

Beneficiary voice ipadio
Screengrab of the ipadio website


A growing medium is the use of phone casting, where all the participant needs is access to a landline or public payphone.  Oxfam GB has successfully used radio to broadcast live interviews with participants in the Afghan Voices campaign.  They use a tool called ‘ipadio’  which allows you to broadcast from any phone to the internet live.  These broadcasts can also be saved as mp3 clips and sent out to other radio broadcast stations. Oxfam has started to develop its use of this tool to include voice recognition, so that it can easily identify and map participants' locations.

Ipadio and blogging tools such as Tumblr also allow people to post telephone messages onto blogs and other social media sites.  Oxfam GB successfully used ipadio to broadcast updates from Haiti via a satellite phone and put out phone blogs which were promptly picked up by the national media. 

For those participants with access to a computer or iphone, they can download Tilimi, an application which allows you to have your own radio channel.  There is also Tinychat a site which enables individuals to host live video groups and discussions.

Protecting participants

It is important to also be aware of the potential impact that speaking out may have on the individual.  For example, if the individual is in a vulnerable situation, could speaking out  lead to them being further isolated or attacked within their community? There may be ways  to counter this, such as using a person’s recorded statement and coupling it with animation to secure their anonymity, but also ensure they have a real voice within the campaign. 

The BBC’s Digital Stories do this very effectively, using good quality voice recordings of people’s real-life experiences, combined with photos or animations provided by the individual.

Real involvement

Participants are often asked to give their voice to a campaign to give them direct ownership over the campaign message and add to its credibility. However, it would be easy to use beneficiary voices to add an illusion of authenticity, with no real accountability, so think about how your campaign can continue to remain in touch with the community it's aiming to benefit.

It is also important to manage the expectations of the individual. You need to be clear from the start how their testimony will be used, and not abandon them after their initial involvement. This can be as simple as staying in touch with participants and giving them updates at regular intervals as to how their testimonies are being used and who they are being distributed to or, where possible, through more actively involving them by inviting them to a screening event or live debate where they can meet with other participants. 

Providing training to participants in public speaking, media training, podcasting, confidence building etc. can also help to facilitate their continuing and genuine involvement in a campaign, so that they are left with the skills to become independent campaigners and spokespeople.

Top tips from ECF 2010

  • Build ‘beneficiary voice’ and inclusiveness into the plans of your campaign at an early stage.
  • Better still, think of ways to include people affected by the issue in the earliest planning stages and throughout the campaign.
  • Use appropriate technology for your intended audience – eg consider the growth of mobile phone usage versus internet usage in Africa.
  • Invest in beneficiaries, train and empower them to use new technologies.
  • Avoid missing links – people giving input but  getting no feedback, and seeing no improvements in their life is demotivating, and not empowering.

We are interested in keeping this important conversation going, if you would like to join in, please contact Lee Webster on

Katie Turner is National Campaigns Officer at Leonard Cheshire Disability. Lee Webster is Campaigns Manager at CARE International UK.


by Lee Webster, CARE International published Jun 03, 2010,
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