What is campaigning?
Rating statistics for this page
3.2 out of 5 from 85 votes
Campaigning: a definition
You may call it campaigning, activism, advocacy, influencing, voice, lobbying, policy work, protest - but these words are drawn together by the theme of ‘change' and how people achieve the change they want to see in the world.
The Good Guide to Campaigning and Influencing (NCVO, 2011) defines campaigning as: 'Organised actions around a specific issue seeking to bring about changes in the policy and behaviours of institutions and/or specific public groups…the mobilising of forces by organisations and individuals to influence others in order to effect an identified and desired social, economic, environmental or political change.'
Campaigning for change
Campaigning is how people, communities and organisations have created and continue to create a world that is more in line with their views of ‘the good society’. This can involve targeting decision-makers such as politicians, civil servants, or directors of corporations, as well as behaviours and attitudes across a wider section of the population.
Some campaigns will work to achieve improvements for ‘the general public’, for example, Greenpeace's Say no to a third runway at Heathrow campaign.
Other campaigns may focus on changing people's behaviour, such as committing to buying fair trade.
There will always be people and organisations whose views of ‘the good society’ are at odds with the objectives of a particular campaigning group. Sometimes these divides can be very clearly defined, such as groups advocating directly for or against women’s abortion rights. More often they are much more subtle, such as the debate amongst environmental groups on investment in green energy versus a broader reduction in energy use (for example, Energy Bulletin).
Types of campaign
Campaigns can be classified in several ways, including:
- by type of target: for example, National Health Service; Somali women in Southwark; board members of an international corporation
- by geographic scope: for example, Yorkshire, England, UK; EU
- by tactics: for example, protest, lobby, direction action, advocacy
- by desired outcome: for example, policy change; policy implementation; behavioural change
- by theme or issue: for example, child poverty; human rights; public health.
Anyone can campaign, from a parent who wants to save a local park from private developers, to international human rights organisations challenging the legality of anti-terrorism legislation (for example, Amnesty's campaign against 42-day detention). Some campaigners are paid employees, but most are volunteers who have made the choice to ‘do something’ to improve a situation that is important to them.
Campaigning is a diverse area and there are many different ways to campaign. Commitment to the cause or issue is the only fundamental requirement for a good campaigner – the rest can be learned, created and adapted along the way.
Be inspired by other campaigners - such as the winners of Sheila McKechnie Awards 2009
The methods you use to campaign can be extremely varied. What’s important is to think about the impact – the change in the world - you want to achieve and then the possible methods you could use to achieve that, rather than thinking of a method first. Campaigning can be classified as 'insider' and 'outsider' campaigning.
Insider campaigning refers to approaches that work with the targets through established channels (lobbying, public meetings, consultations).
Outsider campaigning refers to pressure exerted through more public channels (protest, direct action). There is a grey area that exists, which can include informally established public pressure tactics, such as letter writing and petitioning.
General traits of ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ campaigns
|collaborative – working together with those in power to achieve something||oppositional – fighting to make your viewpoint heard or change opinions|
|based on establishing shared goals||based on pushing a particular goal|
|mutual compromise||consistent stance on issue|
|more evidence-based arguments||more emotion-based arguments|
|less reliant on public opinion||more reliant on public opinion|
|more reliant on political environment||less reliant on political environment|
|less publicly focused||more publicly focused|
|often based on ‘who you know’||open to anyone|
|systematic process-based||creative and changing methods|
|direct access to decision-makers||indirect access to decision-makers|
The term ‘campaigning’ is sometimes associated with images of marching protesters and waving placards. This is often described as ‘outsider’ campaigning. Those who are able to engage directly with decision-makers sometimes see this type of campaigning as counter-productive. They argue that outsider campaigning increases tension between two opposing sides, when the aim should be to build mutual dialogue.
The kind of campaign exemplified by public protest is not always appropriate for every cause or organisation. The association with protest has come to cast a negative shadow over campaigning in parts of the professional voluntary sector. For example, those who are concerned about the image and legitimacy of their campaigns with government or funders.
However, there have been countless examples throughout history of major victories that have been won through the use of outsider campaign tactics. There is no clear ‘better’ option, only options that work more effectively in particular situations.
‘Insider campaigning’: Working ‘with’ your targets
Under New Labour, many campaigning organisations have developed closer relationships with a range of government departments. Greater access to power has created new opportunities for organisations whose objectives overlap with current government priorities.
Lobbying and consultation have become crucial campaign tools for many organisations in the voluntary sector, such as the Foyer Foundation. Previously, outsider approaches would have been required to achieve change.
Perceptions of campaigning may be changing. National government has begun to use the term openly in recent years and has encouraged the voluntary sector to campaign in pursuit of their organisations’ objectives (as exemplified by MP Phil Hope at TheyWorkForYou.com).
Because it works! Many of the laws, policies and standards of living that we take for granted would not have been possible without the efforts of previous campaigners. Without campaigning, it is unlikely that women would have the right to vote in Britain and elsewhere, that apartheid would have come to an end in South Africa, or that same-sex couples would have won the right to civil partnership.
Campaigns, services and your mission
Much of the voluntary sector is divided between organisations who deliver services to address immediate need and those who deliver campaigns to bring about broader change. Those involved in service delivery may see campaigning as outside of their organisation’s mandate. Similarly, organisations involved in both areas of work may isolate their campaign work from their services.
Another approach is to view campaigns and services as parts of a cyclical approach to achieving an organisation’s mission. If your services address the immediate concerns of your beneficiaries, the learning and evaluation from their delivery can, in turn, serve as the evidence base for a campaign to change the issues that created the initial demand for the services. The changes achieved through a campaign (to policy or behavior) can then influence the quality of services you offer your beneficiaries. This is illustrated by the following diagram.
Description of diagram
Three activities are shown in a cycle with arrows connecting them: service delivery - practical learning - representation/campaigning.
Campaigning as part of your core work
Recent changes to charity law mean that all charities are now clearly within their legal rights to campaign on issues that fall within the scope of their overall vision. This has increased the confidence of many charitable organisations to develop campaigning as part of their core work.
Campaigning and democracy
Campaigning is a crucial check-and-balance of a healthy democracy. It is a key way in which politicians are held accountable to their constituencies in-between and during elections.
Campaigns provide voice or representation to people and causes with less access to the forums where decisions affecting their lives are made. They help to keep important issues on the political agenda when they might otherwise be overlooked, ignored or dismissed.
In the words of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation:
'For many [people]… it is campaigners who make the crucial connections between politics and problems in their everyday lives. It is campaigners who can stir people into action to tackle injustice. We believe that campaigners have the capacity to connect with peoples concerns and mobilise individuals and communities - making them the crucial connection between politics and finding solutions to the problems in everyday life.'
- Good Guide to Campaigning and Influencing, NCVO, 2011
- Do it yourself, A handbook for changing our world, 2007, edited by the Trapese Collective, Pluto Press.
Have your say
What methods have you used to campaign - what worked and what didn't? Have you run a particularly innovative campaign? What were the key factors that made it a success? What inspired you to campaign?
Have your say on the Campaigning and lobbying forum.