by | Aug 17, 2021

What makes a campaigning organisation ‘people-driven’?

In our conversations on the Power Sharing Project we’ve heard there are no straightforward answers to this question, and no ‘one size-fits all’ approach. But there are some key principles that can make all the difference.

Lots of campaigning organisations strive to be ‘people-driven’, but how do we make this real in a meaningful way? How can we ensure that our work is led not merely by the interests of funders or staff, but by the needs and priorities of the people who matter most, whether they’re members, supporters, or the people who use our services?

Lianna Etkind has experience in two quite different user-led campaign organisations – London Community Land Trust and Transport for All. Drawing on her experiences, and informed by a background in community organising, she sets out four recommendations for organisations shifting power in a meaningful way.

1. Ensure that your staff (especially campaigning and policy staff) are meeting and talking to your members every day. Dial down your meetings with colleagues and dial up your one-to-ones with members and your time out in the community. How many meetings you have every month with your members should be a metric of success, ensuring you’re really in touch with what they are thinking and doing, and vice versa. You can’t be people-driven unless the majority of your meetings are with those people.

2. Schedule regular forums for your people. It might be a quarterly forum, or a monthly working-group meeting, but it’s vital to have collective spaces where the people who drive your priorities and campaigns can discuss, share ideas, successes and concerns, compare notes on how things are going in different places and form a sense of ‘us’. People-driven doesn’t work if staff are connected as a hub to your people as spokes (‘spiderweb’) but will work if you’re connected to each other as a network.

3. Bring your people into meetings with decision makers, and into media appearances. Provide coaching and support for them to feel confident with this. If you’re speaking on behalf of them, or if repeatedly telling their stories is the only thing they are doing, you’re doing it wrong.

4. Make sure your governance structures support people-driven campaigning. Where does control lie within your organisation? Who is on your board, and how did they get there? If there’s a disagreement, where does decision-making power ultimately lie?

‘Ownership’ and ‘accountability’ are common buzz-words in the campaigning sector, but if your organisation is to be accountable in a real, constitutional way, that accountability needs to be written into governing documents and to have teeth.

Putting these four recommendations into action and embedding a ‘people-driven’ culture into your organisation will, like any culture change, take time. It’s not quick or easy, but it’s very important work. If this is a path you and your colleagues are taking very best of luck.

This blog grew out of a discussion on the E-Campaigner’s Forum email list. Thanks to all who contributed.

Lianna Etkind
Lianna Etkind is the Community Engagement Lead at Civic (civic.co)

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