Sue Tibballs: Three books signal new interest in social action

If campaigning really is more art than science, it can help enormously to have guidance, writes our columnist

Sue Tibballs
Sue Tibballs

In a new report from the innovation foundation Nesta, called We Change the World: How Social Movements Influence Health and Wellbeing, I argue that campaigning is more an art than a science. I point out that there is no fixed model, no curriculum, no rules and no guarantee. Furthermore, I say that campaigning is about reading power and understanding where change might come from.

Yet, even if campaigning really is more art than science, it can help enormously to have guidance, to learn from others and to have some suggested frameworks to follow.

Three books that aim to do this have just been or are about to be published, which is wonderful evidence of a revival of interest in social action and campaigning.

The first is Lobbying for Change: Find Your Voice to Create a Better Society by Alberto Alemanno, a Spanish-born academic, civic advocate and public interest lawyer. His book argues that the most important thing citizens can do to effect change is to lobby their public institutions and representatives. His book sets out why and then gives guidance and examples as to how best to do it. For the experienced "citizen lobbyist", as Alemanno calls them, this book will not shed much new light. But for those new to social action, it is a really good - and persuasive - primer.

The next, due to be published in September is How to Resist: Turn Protest to Power by Matthew Bolton, deputy director of Citizens UK, a community organising charity. Drawing on his experience running the Living Wage and Safe Passage campaigns, his book offers encouragement to would-be activists everywhere to get involved and offers seven practical principles that can help people effect change. There is no doubt that its model has been hugely effective, so this should be a fascinating read.

The third, due to be published in October is How to be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest by Sarah Corbett, founder of the Craftivist Collective. This promises to be the most interesting of the three because of the unique nature of the Craftivist approach. Corbett herself was raised by campaigning parents but, as a self-declared introvert, never felt comfortable with placard waving and shouting - hence "quiet campaigning", as she calls it, and the use of craft for social change. It was the Craftivists, working with ShareAction, that persuaded Marks & Spencer to pay the living wage by giving hand-sewn handkerchiefs to shareholders.

Here at the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, we are making our own contribution with the Social Change Project, a new 15-month initiative to deepen our understanding of how civil society can really create social change and turn intent into positive action. It will explore what enables and impedes social change and find the burning issues for the community before seeking to identify and develop the tools and support needed to create change, bringing together a new diverse and vibrant community of change-makers committed to working together around a common goal.

These are challenging times, but it seems campaigners are responding to that challenge. Bring it on.

Sue Tibballs is chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation

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