Linda Butcher: A decade of change in the campaigning world

The boom in social media and crowdsourcing are just two of the main changes in this field, writes our columnist

Linda Butcher
Linda Butcher

With the Sheila McKechnie Foundation's 10th anniversary this year, it's a good time to reflect on how campaigning has changed over the last decade. The answer is a great deal, especially with the massive growth in social media and, specifically, the widespread use of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other platforms to send mass messages to followers, post videos and photographs, and encourage others to engage with a campaign in a wide range of ways.

Another growth area is crowdsourcing, which uses online platforms to reach a mass audience, inform people and encourage support for a campaign by raising money for a specific cause or calling for change to a policy or action, often by a government or large organisation or group of organisations.

A highly effective crowdsourcing campaign in recent years was Sorry Asylum Seekers in Australia. This online platform was created by a citizen who wanted to apologise for the Australian government's treatment of asylum seekers, its offshore detention policy and a controversial campaign by the Australian authorities that used the slogan: "No way. They will not make Australia home."

Sorry Asylum Seekers was based on the philosophy that although a debate about asylum seekers was worthwhile and necessary, it needed to take place on a bedrock of humanity.

The campaign was spread through Twitter and other social media platforms, using hashtags such as #sorryasylumseekers. It encouraged people to upload photographs, hold placards, share views and offer other types of support for asylum seekers. It challenged government policy and the negative tone of the debate, and the site was visited by hundreds of asylum seekers. In the words of one, it "restored their hope in a future and in humanity".

Another successful crowdsourcing campaign, closer to home, was run by the National Autistic Society, which made legal history in 2009 when it won its campaign for an Autism Act, the first-ever disability-specific law in England.

NAS supporters were encouraged to share their own experiences and to actively support the campaign, with some of them putting forward their own ideas. The public, politicians and those affected by autism were offered multiple ways to get involved, including crowdsourcing, awareness-raising events and the charity's website and campaign microsites.

Tactics included sending letters to MPs and putting pressure on them face to face. The NAS worked with other charities and their networks of supporters. As a result of mass, grass-roots support, the bill gained backing in parliament.

SMK uses crowdsourcing examples in our training programmes for campaigners. Over the next few months, we will be running programmes across the UK, from one-day introduction-to-campaigning workshops to residential and five-day courses. We help campaigners learn from each other and think about how they might use crowdsourcing and social media as well as more traditional campaigning techniques to boost their impact. There is more information on our website,

Linda Butcher is chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation

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