Campaigners responded in a beautiful and creative way when the authorities stopped demonstrations at the UN climate discussions following the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Thousands of climate activists had expected to march in Paris to put pressure on governments to end reliance on fossil fuels. Following the decision to ban on protests in public spaces campaigners had to think quickly, respectfully and imaginatively to make their “voices heard”. Instead of marching thousands of shoes were placed on the Place de la République in a ‘silent march’.
An innovative response to a different challenge was the Spanish Hologram protest in 2015. Reacting to the ‘gag law’ that was passed to prevent public protest and mass gatherings outside government buildings, activists staged the world’s first virtual hologram protest.
What these two examples illustrate is ‘reading the weather’ (Rose, 2010), understanding the ‘zeitgeist’ or context (Yaziji & Doh, 2009; Krznaric 2007) is important to the success of campaigns. And sometimes the political or social context can shift rapidly or unexpectedly. However, as Green (2016) observes, often activists can spend more time discussing their own strategy rather than the broader context and the political, economic and social shifts and jolts in the wider world.
Given the need for campaigns to respond to uncertainty or sudden change it was interesting to hear how one organisation is applying agile ways of working to campaign management. The technique first used in complex software development projects with many unknowns and moving parts is an iterative, non-linear way of working – its basis is to “embrace change”. Mayne et al. ( 2010) believe the idea that change happens in a direct way, through a series of linked events is very much a Western way of thinking. Perhaps reinforced with the professionalisation of campaigning and organisations tending to draw on linear models of change (Mayne et al., 2010) and using step-by-step campaign pathways.
Green (2016) proposes a systems approach that could also be described as agile and enables faster adaption to shifts and developments in the external ecosystem. His guidance on how change happens encourages a non-linear approach, with an emphasis on failure, iteration and adaptation.
As campaigns continue to be scrutinised and expectations around outcomes and effectiveness rise campaigners will need to balance the need to develop clear effective strategies (Lamb, 2011) with more instinctive, intuitive and responsive approaches that have been used in the past. It will be interesting to see how formalised agile and systemic ways of working develop within organisations and whether they help more campaigners turn and face the change (or the strange…).
Krznaric, R., 2007. How Change Happens, Oxford University Press. [Available at: http://fdslive.oup.com/www.oup.com/academic/pdf/openaccess/9780198785392.pdf]
Lamb, B., 2011. Campaigning for Change : Learning from the United States, NCVO: London
Mayne, R. et al., 2010. Power and Social Change, NCVO: London
Rose, C., 2010. How to Win Campaigns, London and Washington DC: Earthscan.
Photo: Takver, Flickr