modest suggestions for anyone trying to save the world
Campaigning is a creative and a technical process - an art and a science.
It's all too easy to get 'too close' to the subject and to lose perspective.
Sometimes it's good to step back and reconsider, to try a different tack, to go round an obstacle instead of through it - and even, when you're winning, to remember that running the current campaign is not an end in itself.
In the words of my friend Steve Shalhorn, then Campaign Director of Greenpeace in Canada "Don't let the campaign get in the way of the objective".
This section contains three things you might try in self-diagnosis of your campaign if it 'isn't working'
Ideally no campaign should be started until you have tested your strategy.
In reality campaigns often 'just grow' and the opportunity to properly test them never arises.
I recommend testing a strategy with two types of research - qualitative research to investigate language, and 'political' research to investigate obstacles, decision-making, attitudes of key individuals, potential allies and opponents.
Qualitative research should not be confused with quantitative opinion research conducted by groups such as Gallup, NOP or MORI (MORI probably has the largest amount of specifically environmental 'tracking' and attitudinal research of this kind, and Environics probably conducts the best global surveys). Quantitative or 'polling' research tells you how many people think something. Qualitative research tells you why they think something.
The best known (but not the only) type of qualitative research is 'focus groups' - ie mediated discussion groups run by a skilled mediator. This research is essential for getting beneath the skin of 'issues' and past the initial responses people will give based on trying to 'be helpful' to the questioner, what they've been 'told' to think about it in the press, or the influence of the group. In my experience good qualitative research (which takes time and hence money) invariably throws up major challenges to any campaigner's assumptions about what messages or arguments are 'effective'.
An example of qualitative research: Greenpeace discovered that (especially for women) the most motivating consequence of destruction of the ozone layer was not the usual issues mentioned in policy debates (eg skin cancer incidence, damage to fisheries, Antarctic wildlife, even whales) but the idea that it could threaten holidays. If ozone destroying chemicals made it dangerous to spend two weeks in the sun, then they ought to be banned. Another example: if you ask men why they buy fish fingers they will say 'because' they are convenient, healthy, covered in golden batter, tasty etc. But the real reason - which takes longer to get at - is that it enables them to be like children again by sitting down with their kids.
You can do your own research of course but like diagnosing your own illness or piloting your own aircraft, it is usually better to hire a professional, or get their help. A company with extensive experience of qualitative research on environmental issues is KSBR at www.ksbr.co.uk.
Most campaign groups ought to be able to conduct their own 'political' research. It is mostly a question of gaining access (often this just involves a phone call and a visit) to the people who know, and following up every lead. A huge 'public affairs' industry exists to help businesses do such research but public interest organisations ought, with common sense, to be able to use goodwill among politicians, business people, journalists and officials to find out what they need to know. But don't take what anyone tells you as gospel - always try to check it yourself, and beware the old journalistic saying "This story is too good to check" (attributed to Richard Ingrams, then Editor of Private Eye).
Does your campaign rely on a sense of scandal or outrage?
Often this is the case - or the campaigners think it ought to be.
American public affairs adviser Peter Sandman sells businesses his own 'outrage' analysis to help them defend themselves against environmentalists and others. Here is my version (which of course I think is better) - the Scandal Equation.
If your campaign 'isn't working' consider changing your focus. Which parts of this equation can you change best?
Note that scandal is not just composed of awfulness. This is the thing journalists and the press usually focus on. 'Just how bad is it ?' they ask as they try to turn a disaster into a more newsworthy claim of 'catastrophe'. Campaigners who are seduced into that game are asking for trouble. But by showing convincingly that the problem is getting worse, you can increase the sense of scandal.
On its own though, an awful problem can be a tragedy but not a scandal. To be a scandal it has to be avoidable. This is the component which campaigners more often overlook. It has two parts - what can be done about it, and what is being done about it. The more that could be done, and the less that actually is being done, the greater the scandal. If nothing can be done, or if everything possible is being done, it's not a scandal at all.
Lastly, 'immoral profit made from it' is a compounding factor. If someone is making a profit from a terrible problem - such as knocking holes in the ozone layer - that makes the scandal a whole lot worse.
Do you understand your opponent well enough?
In the 1990s a senior British mandarin (civil servant) in the then Department of the Environment, used to tell incoming officials that there were 'three types' of environmental organisation. 'Those you need to take notice of because they know what they are talking about; those you must take notice of because they can do real damage, and those whom you just have to be nice to'. I think he probably said the same thing to incoming Ministers.
Broadly speaking - and without revealing which groups were in which categories - the way officialdom (and some companies) will try to deal with non governmental organisations, is to marginalise those who can cause real 'damage' to their interests , use those who have uniquely useful information or expertise, and simply patronize the rest. The latter two are both forms of co-option, which for most groups is the main danger.
Ask yourself these questions. Is your campaign regarded as 'constructive' and 'responsible' by your opponents? Do those with power to make the decisions you want to change, give you grants or other help ? Do you rely on them for information ? Has your campaign resulted in greater access to officials or politicians or executives but still no real result ? Have you been invited to join a task force or working group or commission (etc) in which time no decision will actually be taken ? If the answer to any of these is 'yes', then you may well be on the way to co-option.
A campaign should get its resources - its capital of funds and information and support - from the public, not from other institutions. It needs to remain free to act and with the legitimacy that comes from expressing a public sentiment rather than an institutional interest.
Learn the ways of your opponent. Learn their language - get to know ex -politicians or ex- officials or people from inside a company who understand the culture and way of thinking. In this way you can learn to interpret the signals when your campaign begins to have some effect.
For British politics the best and certainly most enjoyable source of wisdom is found in the "Yes Minister" books based on the 1980s BBC TV series. Here are the '5 Excuses' of Sir Humphrey (the archetypal civil servant) for example.
On the subject of smoking, the fictitious Minister Jim Hacker of Yes Minister finds himself obstructed by the civil service (who want to retain tax income from cigarettes). One civil servant briefs another about the 11 stages that any idea for doing something new has to go through before the Cabinet decides to do it (Yes Prime Minister, Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay eds, Guild Publishing London 1986):
Such a process can of course, last longer than the lifetime of a government. These and many other types of delaying mechanism were used by the British civil service to stymie attempts to discourage smoking in the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed under 1990s Conservative administrations it not was even permitted to say that nicotine was addictive.
All too often, the government is acting not in the public interest but to keep the public from affecting some entrenched commercial interest or to defend the power of officials or politicians.
Here's the diary for March 22 (The compassionate society - Yes Minister, The Diaries of A Cabinet Minister, Jonathon Lyn and Anthony Jay eds, Guild Publishing London 1984):
Minister Jim Hacker - 'Humphrey' I began, fully armed with chapter and verse, 'the National Health Service is an advanced case of
galloping case of bureaucracy'.
Humphrey [senior civil servant] seemed unconcerned. 'Certainly not' he replied. 'Not galloping. A gentle canter at the most'.
I told him that I knew instances of idiotic bureaucracy flood in daily.
'From whom ?'
'MPs' I said. 'And constituents, and doctors and nurses. The public.'
Humphrey wasn't interested. 'Troublemakers' he said.
I was astonished 'the public ?'
'They are some of the worst' he remarked.