Linda Butcher: Get nimble to keep up with constant change

Never accept you are not up to the fight, we can change the world, writes our columnist

Linda Butcher
Linda Butcher

In 2010 we held our first People Power conference. The former Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken spoke about how campaigning would look in the future, saying: "Campaigners must be nimble. The campaigning game is changing and there is now greater scepticism."

Five years on, I reckon being nimble is not a bad piece of advice. It's important for everyone to think about how they can be most effective at making change and learning from others. The recent Directory of Social Change campaigning conference allowed me to reflect on campaigning in general, including over my seven years as chief executive at the Sheila McKechnie Foundation.

My first awareness of campaigning was as a child, watching my father's decade-long, solo battle over local sewer taxes. My own campaigning - with charities or at the grass roots - has included direct-action campaigns, lobbying and building an evidence base to promote better policy, practice or behaviour.

There are a number of current threats or concerns relating to campaigning, many of which SMK has spoken out about. These include the external and political environment, a lack of public trust in institutions and, in some cases, charities, the lobbying act and challenges to civil liberties generally.

In my experience, the environment for campaigning never stops changing, for better and for worse. When it is worse, it is hard to know where to begin or how to make a difference. Even when it is better, those in power who open the door to us don't always make the changes we seek.

There are always opportunities to campaign, make things better and tackle injustice - we just need to respond to the current context. In campaigning, never accept that you are not up to the fight or that opposing forces are too strong. We can change the world, but we might also have to change how we do things.

Campaigns are fundamentally about influencing others, and as campaigners we should welcome a diversity of views, including those within our own sector. I, for one, will miss the very specific role the National Coalition for Independent Action has played over the past 10 years. Not everyone has agreed with its positions or style, but no one else did what it was doing, and its more challenging evidence and perspectives have been important.

The more scarce our resources, the better our strategies need to be, which can be an opportunity to refresh a campaign. Where can you make the biggest impact on your issue with what you have - locally, nationally, globally? Whose voices should be heard the loudest? Do you always focus on government? Others might be more legitimate or meaningful targets.

Work it all out, and carry on campaigning.

Linda Butcher is chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation

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