This section covers campaign basics such as what a campaign is and advice on how to choose the issue you want to campaign on.
A campaign is an effort to achieve tangible change to law, policy, behaviour or practice through persuading and influencing others, sustained beyond a single activity or event.
Fundamentally, campaigning is about achieving change by influencing decision-makers. It is not mainly about raising awareness, though this is usually an important part of a campaign.
The decision-makers you need to influence will depend on the change you aim to make. If you want to change other people's behaviour, then the key decision-makers for you to influence will be those people whose behaviour you want to change. By contrast, if you want to change the law, the decision-makers to target will be politicians; if you want to change a University policy or practice, the key decision-makers will be senior managers in the University.
Broadly speaking, campaigns will use two different types of influencing: persuading and pressuring. Persuading is about giving the decision-maker new information, or showing old information in a new light. It involves convincing the decision-maker to make a change by showing, through storytelling or research, that the change fits with their interests or values. Pressuring, on the other hand, is about creating a new incentive for the decision-maker. These incentives are usually negative, aiming to create financial or reputational damage through, for instance, strike action, consumer boycotts, or demonstrations.
If you're reading our campaigns toolkit, you probably already have an issue that you're passionate about and want to campaign on. You might be thinking, "I can just skip this section..." Don't do that! You need to reflect on whether your issue is a good one to campaign on.
First, think about your issue: what is the problem you're trying to solve? Try to be as specific as you can.
Next, map out the causes of this problem: why does this problem exist? Who or what is responsible for it? Are there deeper-rooted causes which need to be tackled in order to solve it? Are you able to evidence this?
Finally, map out the problem's consequences: why do you think this is a problem in the first place? What are its negative effects? Who does it affect, and how does it affect them? What evidence do you have of this?
Mapping out your problem like this should give you a clearer picture of the issue you want to tackle, and how you want to tackle it. The causes you have mapped out should give you clues about what the solution could look like and who could plausibly solve it. The consequences you have mapped out should give you some pointers for communicating your campaign - these are the reasons people should be motivated to solve your problem!
Finally, reflect on a few questions about the problem itself:
- How many people are affected by the problem?
- Is it a problem which a lot of people are likely to feel determined to solve? (Does it arouse people's passions?)
- Is it a divisive issue? If so, are there ways which you could overcome those divisions?
- How likely is it that the key decision-maker will put up resistance? How difficult do you think it will be to win agreement from the decision-maker?
Your answers to these questions will give you a better idea of the kind of campaign you will need to run. If the problem you want to tackle is both widely and deeply felt, you will have more scope to bring pressure to bear on the key decision-maker. However, if it is not, you will most likely have to rely more on your powers of persuasion.
Try to set objectives for your campaign. Although they may change as your campaign progresses, having clear objectives helps to focus your strategy and gives you a framework for assessing whether you are making progress with your campaign.
Try to make sure your objectives are SMART:
Try to avoid being vague when setting objectives. Rather than “increase engagement with campaign”, specify who you want to be engaging, and how. For example, you may set the objective of increasing engagement amongst students in privately-rented accommodation with a survey about housing conditions.
Try to create a metric for your objectives. For example, you might want to aim for a certain number of signatures on a petition. Setting a measurable goal means you can easily see whether your campaign is on track. This way, you can track your progress and make adjustments if you’re not hitting your targets. Don’t arbitrarily set targets, though - they’re only useful insofar as they are a real measure of progress.
Your objectives should be achievable with the resources you have and in the timeframe you have set yourself. At the same time, though, don’t be afraid to be ambitious! Try to be realistic about the amount of time, energy, and resources you will be able to put into your campaign.
This is about how well your objectives fit with other considerations, such as your broader aims, the political context, and your own expertise and connections.
Set a target date for your objectives. Deadlines help you and your campaign team to focus.
Place your allies and opponents on the spectrum where you think they sit in terms of support for the campaign and how active they are.
Use this to target your activity thinking about how much allies and opponents can be moved along the spectrum. As a guide, you should be aiming to move the most powerful or influential allies and opponents.
There may be community leaders who you know are passively supportive: you should aim to bring them into your team and get them active. (See “Building your team” below for advice on how to do this).
Active opponents won’t usually become your supporters, particularly not if your campaign aims are against their interests. You should try to neutralise these people through persuasion or public pressure
There may, however, be community leaders who would benefit from your campaign but, for whatever reason, are currently opposed. Try to win them round through persuasion.