by | Jan 17, 2023

Fresh perspectives on campaigning to end water poverty

As part of its consultancy role, SMK was delighted to collaborate with the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) this year – helping the organisation to take its first steps in its campaigning journey to affect social change 

CCW represents water consumers – including households and businesses – across England and Wales. Importantly, it helps people who face ‘water poverty’ through struggling to afford their water bills and supports those at risk of slipping into crisis. 

Jenny Suggate, Head of Policy Delivery at CCW and Kath Christie, Head of Programmes at SMK recently caught up to reflect on key learning from the partnership. 

KC: What inspired you to consider developing campaigning within CCW? 

JS: I saw first-hand the impact grassroots groups were having through watching the Annual Campaigner Awards during lockdown. It helped me appreciate the power of campaigning as a route to achieving social change.  

CCW didn’t have any direct campaigning experience at the time, so we approached SMK to help us understand how to go about it. Initial conversations led to two groups of interested staff attending SMK’s Campaign Carousel training programme. We later organised two in-house workshops to introduce a wider group of staff to the principles of campaigning. Over 20 staff have now undergone SMK training. 

KC: What were the most useful parts of the training? 

JS: Staff liked being part of the Carousel programme alongside people from other organisations, as this gave them fresh perspectives. They also appreciated the new tools provided as part of individual workshops. The problem tree and stakeholder mapping were useful components of the planning for social change workshop. CCW as an organisation is still learning to unpack the root causes of our potential new campaign’s problems and what our contribution to solving the problem could be over a campaign lifecycle. The tree is a useful visual trigger for our discussions about new campaigns. Alongside this, the stakeholder mapping exercise made us critically think through who might support our cause or be sitting on the fence. Whether we could shift their stance to a more active position was a valuable consideration. 

KC: What’s your approach to considering innovative ideas at CCW?  

JS: At any one time, CCW could be running a big issue several-year campaign such as ending water poverty alongside a series of 3-month mini-campaigns on topics like ending sewer flooding misery. Staff are encouraged to be professionally curious as we need to keep generating new campaigning ideas. We regularly welcome input from across the organisation and incubate any ideas with potential in our Campaigns Lab. We do an initial quick assessment to assess whether the issue has legs and if it doesn’t, we shut it down quickly. If the issue is approved at the end of the first-stage assessment, we run a ‘task and finish’ group to probe the issue more deeply using the problem tree approach.  

Alongside this CCW runs periodic insights sessions to unpack policy issues and consider what the evidence is telling us. Sometimes campaign ideas start popping as a result and end up in the Campaigns Lab too. 

KC: Can you describe CCW’s approach to campaigning? 

JS: We tread a delicate path to achieve results. We don’t often make a big splash in a national newspaper, although we are getting better at that, often we use more nuanced insider approaches get better results.  

In May 2021, policy recommendations from an independent review of water affordability were unveiled, as part of a plan to lift 1.5 million households out of water poverty. CCW want to ensure that no customer spends more than 5% of their income on water bills. Behind the scenes, we have been working with Defra (the government department for environment, food, and rural affairs), the Welsh Government and other stakeholders to explore how a single scheme to replace the various water company social tariffs could be structured as a route to lifting households out of water poverty. CCW also plays a convening role in bringing water companies together to trial innovative approaches to solving water poverty and celebrating best practice behaviour. Over time, small steps add up to something bigger.  

KC: What’s next in campaigning terms for CCW? 

JS: We’re busy developing a more focussed and analytical forward approach. We’ve produced our own campaigning booklet with key tools to signal a process for staff to follow. Our next challenge is to think more deeply about how we identify our impact. 

This interview was co-written by Jenny Suggate and Kath Christie.

Kath Christie

Kath Christie is Head of Programmes at SMK.



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