by | Dec 18, 2023

Campaigning in Solidarity: How Change Happens

The first in a four-part series that brings together theory and practice, to explore the building blocks of effective campaigning through a solidarity lens. First up, SMK share our innovative Social Change Grid, and staff and peers from Groundswell share their approach to campaigning together.  

This series offers insights from Solidarity in Social Change, our programme for Oak Foundation’s UK Housing and Homelessness partners.  

Many ways to make change happen 

There are many different approaches and tactics for social change. To navigate this complex terrain, and make strategic decisions, we need a tool to help us see things more clearly. That’s where SMK’s Social Change Grid comes into play. 

The Social Change Grid helps you organise campaigning activity – from the individual to the society-wide, and from the formal and measurable, to the informal and less predictable. This creates a grid with four quadrants. On the left, are the realm of ‘Personal’ experience and the collective interests of local or interest-based ‘Community’ groups. On the right, are the larger-scale realms of ‘Public’ debate and opinion and the ‘Institutional’, where traditional decision-making power resides. 

Click here for a larger version of the above image

Kath described how the Social Change Grid can be used in different ways, including to:  

Map the activities of your campaign 

  • Map how your whole organisation is working  
  • Map a broader coalition or field of work, such as tackling housing injustice  

Groundswell: Campaigning in solidarity 

Learning the theory is one thing, but on the Solidarity in Social Change programme we’re keen to hear how these ideas work in practice. Jo, Joanne and Jamesy, Groundswell’s Research Manager and peers, were here to tell us about just that.  

For Groundswell, there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ – only us. Many of Groundswell’s staff and peers have first-hand experience of homelessness. Their innovative Listen Up! project trains community researchers with experience of homelessness to gather stories of people’s experiences from across the UK, elevating voices of people with experience of homelessness, challenging stereotypes and informing decision makers, to end health inequalities. 

The #HealthNow campaign, is a fantastic example of a dynamic campaign that brings together all kinds of knowledge and experience. Groundswell peers, Joanne and Jamesy, brought their own first-hand experience and that of others, to shape the research question. They knew that, in Newcastle, people leaving prison were more likely to experience homelessness. They wanted to understand why, and what could be done to help. Partnering with a researcher from Durham University provided technical know-how about ethics and research, while Groundswell brought oversight and resources, and helped keep momentum.  

After a year of research, the team put on a play and invited decision-makers – including those from the prison service, pharmacists and others – and created a campaign video (content warning: this video contains mention of suicide and abuse).  

Beyond simply sharing their stories, Joanne, Jamesy and others were active contributors through the entire process – in both the research and the way insights were shared.  

Jamesy and Joanne’s top tips for working with people with first-hand experience include: 

  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. It won’t go right all the time, but when it does go right, it goes RIGHT! 
  • Be aware of people’s journeys. Those closest to the solution are often the furthest away from power and resources. 
  • Think outside the box! Using the arts in these projects was a different way to engage people. 
  • Just do it! 

The #HealthNow campaign has had a big impact. More than 300 pharmacists have seen the play. The team have set up a doctors’ advisory group and are helping them understand the changes they need to make. Others have picked up the research, leading to more research on this issue.  

Linking theory and practice 

Kath used the Social Change Grid to analyse this dynamic campaign in real time. She noted how this single campaign had engaged all four quadrants, with people with first-hand experience at the centre of them all: 

Personal: Involving people in peer-led research supported their learning and development and led to changes in personal health care provision. 

Community: Focusing their research on a single local area – Newcastle – meant they could engage closely with local pharmacies. 

Public: Using creative approaches to share insights widely (such as a play, video, and a podcast with Prince William!), meant they could contribute to shifting public opinion more broadly. 

Institutional: Inviting policymakers to watch the play, taking insights to a conference for healthcare providers, and setting up an advisory board for doctors, are all ways to influence institutional decision makers.  

As Jamesy pointed out, “It’s great to see we’re getting it right. It’s a good tool for seeing good practice!”.  

Kath agreed. “The key thing is agility. If you’re working a lot in one way but not having success, how could you switch to working another way? How might you work in another part of the grid? Try to stay agile and don’t give up if your first approach doesn’t work.” 

As we closed the session, one of our guests asked Joanne and Jamesy why they felt this project was an example of “co-production in its best form”. Here’s what they told us:  

“Sometimes people get strung up on making work co-produced. Is it the best way? It’s good to have co-produced elements. I don’t think things can be co-produced always. We got the best things out of the organisation to do this (money, taxis, a meeting room…). We came up with the ideas but didn’t have to think about the running day-to-day. If we tried to do this alone, I don’t know how likely it is we would have got this off the ground…  

If you use people with lived experience, they might not have experience of doing research, but they’ll have the drive and they’ll know why this is needed. You need people who understand and can support you to do this work.” 

It’s clear that working alongside those with first-hand experience can take a lot of work and support. But, if we can stay curious, think creatively, and value all the different kinds of knowledge and experience each person brings, exciting and impactful change can happen. 

Thanks to Joanne, Jamesy and Jo from Groundswell for sharing their insights at our event. 


Further reading 

SMK’s Social Change Grid was developed as part of our Social Change Project. Read more here. Read the report from the #HealthNow campaign here. 


Shaan Sangha

Shaan is SMK's Knowledge and Insight Manager



Sign up and get our newsletter

To be part of a more powerful civil society, sign up for news, upcoming events, training and consultancy.   

We will always respect your privacy. Read our Privacy Policy or click here to unsubscribe