Ecampaigning Forum panel discussion: How do we campaign around elections?

Paul Hilder, AvaazFor the next couple of days I’m at the ecampaigning forum in Oxford and am going to attempt to live blog the main sessions as far as possible. These notes are largely unedited, so they’re likely to be a bit sketchy. For context, feel free to post a comment and I’ll catch up with them when I can.

Glen Tarman, Bond, Chair

how have elections played out around the world? what lessons can we learn for our ecampaigns and other activities? elections focus mostly on domestic issues but that is changing around climate change, immigration, etc. our focus is primarily on global issues. two elections coming up:

  1. uk election that was going to happen in the autumn. a lot of us in the development community realised we weren’t ready
  2. eu parliament elections. eu parliament is the watchdog of all eu actions, and the lisbon treaty will give it more power.

Paul Hilder, Avaaz

Short of mobilising around candidates you can:

  • push a line
  • score cards
  • get an issue on the agenda that the politicians weren’t expecting
  • accountability meetings. ben was at one last night for the london mayoral elections. youtube driven presidential debats, etc.
  • get out the vote, issue awareness around campaign etc.

Avaaz is 14 months ago so we’ve only engaged in a couple of elections. pakistani elections and us elections. so far we’ve sent messages to candidates “we’ll welcome a new policy”. identified three issues/asks “peace not war”, “real climate deal” and human rights. ad on those asks will run as print ad in us media soon. created youtube video “stop the clash” won best political video in 2007 youtube video awards. planning to introduce that into the us media cycle and launch it in the middle east.

european parliament election. lot of people think it’s a joke. they have a point, but it’s about to take a lot more key decisions. in the context of lots of geopolitical shifts- is europe going to be a fortress or an engaged leader? lot of people in progressive political circles having a big conversation about this at th emoment. hypothetically think of getting all big eu ngos to sign up to 2 or 3 “big asks” – not heavy coalition but find common ground. maybe better to go more local. we should think it through a lot more.

Glen Tarman

Glen Tarman in the "Campaigning Around Elections" sessionhow new media is used is a major issue. organising of accountability movements? how influence discourse? blogosphere goes mad during elections.

think about campaigns’ relationship with european parliament. most aren’t going to go major on this elections. but there are hundreds/thousands of ngos that could come together on their common ground. is there something we could all win together? powers? legislations? use the political window when new MEPs come in. moment after elections is the most likely time for campaign victories to happen.

when make poverty history committed to 2005 campaign it wasn’t just G8 or UN or WTO but also UK general election. part of what you saw with make poverty history was aim to show in election year how widespread support is.

also look at shared things: forcing of liberalisation in developing countries through debt deals, trade, world bank policies. labour put in manifesto that the uk would not force liberalisation of developing countries. still use that victory in campaigns/lobbying today.

should think about what victory can we all win/share?

Ben Brandzel

one question to put out as fundamental for every organisation — can our supporters vote on the issues we/they care about? do they have the information they need to decide how they vote? his main issue is global poverty but no organisation provides him with the information on whether to vote for his local legislators. has a lot to do with PAC structures in US, but is crippling for empowerment around issues. how do we get there?

is over the moon with the group London Citizens. Community organising group. helped him understand organising part of online organising better. they put together four key asks. each candidate had to answer yes/no on each ask. wondered what the key is to their power? Their members can all now vote based on those issues. They represent a key chunk of constituency. Agenda very clear. How do we get concensus around issues that way? If we can do that we can go “light years”.

Simpler versions of this — organisational scorecard — — grades organisations on action to do with Darfur. Simple and powerful.

One Campaign “on the record” is as close as anyone has come in US to international development scorecards. “Bird dogged” (followed around at events, often with theatrics) politicians on campaign’s issues. get them on the record making commitment on global poverty. not a specific promise, but it’s something you can use later on.

Conversation people at the campaign of a former US presidential candidate. Asked about the impact of scorecards/bird dogging/etc, and what would it take to get them to change an issue goal? Said it’d be very hard but it can happen if someone ruined enough events to get the candidate to ask how to stop it happening. Disruption effect is powerful! Ruin some events!

Glen Tarman

we’ve heard a lot about local events. how do we help our activists hold local accountability events? in 1997 in the UK there was “the real world coalition” modelled movements coming together to hold these sessions. still in days of posters, newsletters, etc. what would it look like now?

How do we use new media to help supporters make sure local stuff “kicks ass.” Still rules controlling charities’ actions around political campaigns, but not on their supporters’ actions. In 1997 John Major said Oxfam and others were acting illegally in actions around elections. Turned out they weren’t. What are the bounds of that?

EU Parliament elections aren’t going to rock the world. How do you use that to your advantage? If not in mainstream media, maybe new media has more power as you’re not distracted dealing with mainstream.

Oliver MacColl – GetUp Australia

GetUp did not endorse any candidates. It made voters aware of where candidates stood on issues that concerned GetUp. Two things: Shaping Policy, Shaping Voters’ Perceptions/Informing. First is more comfortable, second is more important. It’s okay to tell people where the parties stand on your issues.

For policy, the window is early in the phase. Some things GetUp did:

  • Use polling. Some released to media, some released to parties, others kept private
  • Focus groups.
  • Opposition much more likely to adopt your position than incumbents. Heard it takes an average of 6 emails from a constituent to a government MP to get them to support an issue. Only 2 to get the opposition to support
  • TV ads they shot and funded, put on youtube and then asked for donations to get it on TV. Never ran the ad expensive. Run it in tiny town, then do big splashy press release and get free coverage. Then raise money, then broadcast it.
  • Radio ads.
  • Candidate blogs, with comments. Ask candidates to comment on issues. Post responses (or fact not responded) then email supporters and get them to act. Or shame politicians if they don’t respond.
  • Youtube candidates’ forum. Not really “web 2 accountability meeting”, but media loved it. Use new media to leverage old media and to help people who can’t get to meeting
  • Online petitions

Shaping voter perceptions:

  • – based on postcode, gives personalised candidate scorecards. sent those out to people on voting day as a reminder. liberal (right wing) party didn’t respond to request for information and then complained on election day that they were misrepresented by not being scored. They had been asked for the info! Got huge numbers of people through site and massive attention.
  • If candidate didn’t have policies listed on site, suggest users contact candidate and ask them to submit their data.
  • PromiseWatch – help make sure that government that came in didn’t go back on promises. not many users, but lots of return visits. now have a lot of research to hold people accountable
  • Launced Oz In 30 Seconds – like “MoveOn Bush In 30s” submit 30s ad, have votes, distribute winners
  • House parties on issues. Help people co-ordinate, and get media coverage
  • Focus groups to find out how they could help voters
  • Email to your MP/to newspaper. Didn’t work well here, but useful in other contexts

Weren’t only group doing party comparison. The Big Switch was a good example of an environmental coalition.


Ben asked to add more on discussion with the campaign he’d mentioned earlier and talked about a climate change related policy and where it had come from. The candidate wanted to be strong on the issue so his advisors went to think tanks, etc. Someone had made that sort of policy politically desirable, and NGOs do that sort of thing. If you can dissect the think tank process, maybe even get grassroots intervention into think tanks, that could be very, very powerful.

Comment from audience on how important it is to get in at the manifesto stage, and creating the climate where there’s political capital to be gained by being good on your issue. also notes score card should show if track record matches campaign pledges.

How do you use energy from supporters of good candidate who loses? Ben says if you can get candidate to transition to grassroots leadership, that’s ideal.

GetUp asked what didn’t work well for them. Emailing an MP or newspaper editor, requiring someone to write the whole email themselves, didn’t work well though that’s a personal take as didn’t work so well.

Comment about using MySociety data but making it more non-geek-friendly to produce score cards, etc.

Glen talked about “Global View” – PDF posters of “vote for me” showing African kids and other people affected by development policies. Total failure. Oliver notes they gave out placards for people to display on various issues and they worked very well. Glen asked why Global View didn’t work: too little, too late; wasn’t a clear platform. But good lessons learned.

Ben comments he asked campaign policy and political directors whether anyone targets/lobbies them. They are the two people within the campaign structure who could most easily change policies, but no-one targets them. Get more savvy about how you target political campaigns.

There was some further discussion that I didn’t capture. Sorry!

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