One of the key reasons that campaigns lose is simply not knowing how to win, by setting off on a campaign with no clear path or vision about how the actual change will happen. In fact, for some campaigns it’s not even clear what change looks like!
I recently ran a mini-workshop for a community group based in Amsterdam, where I live. They are tackling a difficult issue and their stance is not very popular. Despite their best efforts, every week seems to bring a new set-back for their cause.
However, they were not clear on what success would look like for them – or what steps to take to get there. This leaves them reacting to every event and opportunity – and they are stretched too thin.
So how could I help them understand what it takes to win a campaign? Perhaps a more global example would help.
If we want ‘World Peace’, we need to know what that means and how it happens For instance World Peace might mean ‘no more war’. And perhaps it could come about by an effective international treaty. Or maybe it will happen because there’s a mass shift in understanding and people simply won’t fight anymore. Or maybe peace-loving space aliens take over the earth…
Once you have decided how war will end, you can start your campaign – and depending on your theory of change this may mean writing a marvellous international treaty, or else holding love-ins, or building signalling stations to attract peace-loving space aliens….. but not all three of these things at once.
The community group I was working with thought that they had the answer to their issue – that is they wanted to ‘change the narrative’. Their assumption was that once more than 50% of Amsterdammers saw things in the same way as they do, then the politicians will follow.
When we unpacked this further, though, they realised this is not only a matter of a PR campaign to get their message out there. The politicians are leading the way on this issue – steering public opinion rather than simply reacting to it. The politicians are also making clever use of framing – portraying their position as a quality of life issue for Amsterdammers.
The group had not carefully analysed the frames being used, nor the motivations behind the politicians actions– including lobby interests from a business group, for instance.
When we developed a power analysis, it revealed that they were failing to take into account the possibility for other players to become involved in a positive way – to counter the voices of that business group.
By the end of the afternoon we had tipped the group’s theory of change on its head. They came away with a plan to make some more strategic alliances, to intervene on key issues and challenge the most egregious decisions by city politicians.
This will give them the opportunity to shift the frame – so it’s clear that politicians’ actions are harming ordinary people in Amsterdam. The approach also directs what it is most important for them to do, so they are not in constant reactive mode.
Through this they will build their own power as a group. And in this context, not only will the narrative begin to shift, but the politicians will have no choice but to change their tune. It may not mean world peace just yet, but maybe it’s a first step.