by | Mar 11, 2021

Helping you hit the ground running

I am hugely excited about the recent launch of SMK’s Campaign Carousel training programme for new campaigners and have written this blog to tell you why.

How the Carousel helps new campaigners

An opportunity to take time out and reflect on the bigger picture.  A route into building new networks.  A chance to work through practical approaches.  A place to learn about doing campaigning differently.  These are all things that the Campaign Carousel™ offers participants, who SMK prefers to call its Carousel ‘riders’.

The current group of riders reflect a tapestry of issue backgrounds from conservation protection and rural community development to championing refugee women and good childcare provision; fighting for the rights of public sector workers and against financial hardship. This rich mix of rider experiences fuels lively discussions. I’m still buzzing from a thought-provoking chat with current riders earlier today. Talking about communications got us thinking about where old power (held by traditional institutions) has given ground to new power (more nimble and reactive), which led to us thinking through how we as campaigners need to equip ourselves to respond to fake news and misinformation.

Campaigners have already highlighted how being on the Carousel helps them in a range of ways. One rider reflected, ‘campaigning can sometimes feel overwhelming – this course forces me to stop and reflect’.  Another rider talked about the isolation associated with being the sole staff member in her organisation who focusses on campaigning. For her a key bonus of the Carousel is joining a community of campaigners facing similar challenges that they can talk through together. Other riders say the course has allowed them the space to be creative and they appreciate SMK’s active learning methodology, in helping apply what they were learning through practical scenarios. One rider shared how she simply couldn’t find the time to think through how to build in a new communications channel, so the group made sure to work through the challenge with her.

An engaging approach to workshops

Learning about recent campaign experience is a pivotal part of each workshop, so case studies are presented to illustrate workshop tools before riders are set loose on practically applying the tools themselves. The Social Change Grid is introduced to set the scene on recent approaches like the dynamic community-led campaign that led to the government’s U-turn on A-level and GCSE algorithms. We dig deep into the root causes of issue problems like ending fuel poverty using the Problem Tree, and then work through how to prioritise responses using mapping and ratings tools. Key components of our communications toolkit include a positive narrative framework and an audience-led approach to strategy. Riders are encouraged to analyse communications channels that directly contribute to social change, and how and where to build in creative tools. Case studies range from Black Lives Matter UK protests, on igniting civic debates to tell a new story of our cultural history, to Bloody Good Period’s tongue-in-cheek approach to galvanising young women activists. Each workshop has a blend of interactive breakout sessions and opportunities for quieter reflection.

Understanding and responding to the current climate

The course has to be relevant to campaigners, so a key part of my role as Course Director is to regularly horizon scan for new content and tweak in real-time to keep things dynamic. I also provide course cohesion though greeting Carousel riders on arrival, running the foundation workshops and providing mentoring to help riders leave with an action plan for the road ahead.

Campaigning is a tough environment not set to get easier anytime soon. We were still reeling from the impact of austerity on already vulnerable communities, when the pandemic hit full throttle. The sector is facing a crisis of trust as a result of data misuse and concerns over safeguarding and CEO pay.  Alongside this, millennials and Generation Z are rightly demanding a more active role in the causes they feel most passionately about. Understanding the current campaigning context is key to having impact. The Carousel helps new campaigners better understand the external environment through a step-by-step approach to examining key challenges.

Drawing on external current thinking

I’ve drawn on current campaigning resources to inform the Carousel approach including ‘New Power’ which heralds the arrival more nimble online organising approaches that are taking ground from old style institutional power.  A good road map to achieving campaign success on a single issue is the book Be The Change which focuses on the upskirting campaign. The Networked Change report is a useful guide to how recent progressive campaigns have been won in the US and the Talking about Poverty Toolkit is a great guide to creating uplifting communications narratives with a vision of a better future. Gone are the days of myth busting! And last but not least, No Royal Road is a razor-sharp read on new ways to analyse and measure impact.

A bit about me

School years were for me, a hard introduction to the haves and have-nots.  I vividly remember the stigma associated with standing in the free school meals queue, my face burning with shame. I guess I’ve wanted people to have unequivocal access to basic needs like food, shelter, education and healthcare ever since. I cut my campaigning teeth at Oxfam as part of the global campaigns team to achieve a primary education for all and to control the arms trade. My campaigning experience since varies from championing the rights of older people to protecting the right to strike as part of the trade union movement. I’m drawing on all this experience and more to inform my role as Course Director. I only wish this course had existed when I was starting out.

I’m always interested in hearing about other campaigning resources and happy to have a more general chat about the Carousel if that’s useful. Contact me via Twitter @kathchristie3.

Kathleen Christie
Kathleen Christie is an independent consultant and SMK senior associate @kathchristie3

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