Sue Tibballs: Distinguish between the three campaign models

Our columnist considers what makes for effective campaigners and campaigns

Summer can be a good time to step back and find space and time to reflect. I've been doing this around one central question: what makes for effective campaigners and campaigns?

A new report that has prompted some thinking is Networked Change from an American consultancy called NetChange (and thanks to Bond's Tom Baker and his The Thoughtful Campaigner blog for bringing this to my attention).

The authors distinguish between three models: institutional heavyweights: traditional top-down and centralised models of campaigning; grass-roots upstarts - the digitally enabled, decentralised campaigns; and directed-network campaigns.

Really, what the authors are recommending is a blend of the old and the new, or horizontal and vertical approaches. Today's most effective campaigning organisations cede central control to work to a more networked model where supporters and partners are given more permission to organise their own activity. Importantly, this isn't the same as a brand - the central narrative is the idea or the story that sits at the heart of the campaign. So these campaigns open up to the opportunities of grass-roots activism, but they provide clear direction and focus.

These ideas are not unrelated to those in Hahrie Han's book How Organizations Develop Activists. She draws a distinction between organising and mobilising, with the organising approach decentralised and focused on encouraging relationships and individual development. Mobilising as an approach is more centralised and focused on encouraging discrete, transactional encounters with as many people as possible. As with NetChange, her recipe for success is a blend of the two.

Both these books are from the US, as are their case studies. It is interesting to consider what the equivalent British campaigns or campaigning organisations might be. Is anyone working to a directed-network model here? Citizen's UK might be an example.

While their training model is common across all their chapters, local members decide campaigning priorities and are given autonomy in how they want to organise. Friends of the Earth similarly offers tools and support to local campaigners, but does not insist they work to its script.

The other thing I am struck by is the fact that almost all of the thinking about campaigning and social change seems to come out of the US. There are numerous think tanks, but nothing equivalent in the UK.

Post-Brexit, all the evidence suggests civil society will be doing more campaigning, not less, in the future. We can keep borrowing from the US, but wouldn't it be nice to have a dedicated resource of our own?

Sue Tibballs is chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation

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