What the research tells us about campaigning
Campaigning is alive and kicking. According to our participation almanac, between 2008 and 2010 people in the UK carried out a campaign activity:
- 40% had signed a petition
- 17% had contacted or presented their views to a local councillor or MP
- 19% had boycotted products for political, ethical or environmental reasons
- 6% had written a letter to an editor
- 5% had taken an active part in a political campaign
- 4% had taken part in a demonstration, march, picket or strike.
Read our participation almanac, Participation: Trends, Facts and Figures (PDF, 2.52MB), published in 2011.
Engaging with parliament is as important as ever. Our research on the campaigning landscape (2011) shows that the most successful campaigning strategies use a variety of ways to do this.
Our research found that a new campaigning landscape is emerging, characterised by significant challenges, in which campaigners are compelled to rethink existing strategies to achieve social change. The implications of this are:
- Campaigners need to rethink existing campaign strategies: who to target, how to achieve change and how to engage people.
- Campaigners need to respond to, and understand, new policy initiatives and ways of working in a challenging and changing environment.
- Successful campaigning in the new environment needs to be innovative – things need to be done differently.
Many voluntary organisations are also taking advantage of the growth in local politics, as more powers are devolved.
Our research on the campaigning landscape shows that social media is often proving to be a cost-effective and efficient way of:
- spreading awareness of issues
- recruiting supporters and volunteers
- gathering evidence of public support.
Developments in social media offer more and more opportunities to reach, and engage with, wider audiences and get more people involved in influencing decisions that affect them. Social media can also help to:
- increase the speed of mobilisation
- widen participation
- reach decision makers.
The Freedom of Information Act has brought huge developments in campaigning. It provides rights of access to all recorded, non-personal information held by public authorities unless a specific exception allows the authority to refuse. It came into force under Labour, and the coalition has stated its intention to "extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency".
NCVO surveyed the voluntary sector to examine how the freedom of information (FOI) has been used by campaigners and its potential for the future. The research found that FOI is a powerful and versatile campaigning tool from the local to the national level and campaigners are at the forefront of developing our 'right to know', making government more transparent.
FOI requests can be used in a campaign to:
- build a body of research
- engage the media in a campaign
- build support through social media
- gain information about policy issues and how decisions are made.
And, as the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) put it:
"One piece of information you didn’t necessarily expect to be useful may send you off in promising new directions."
However, we found the quality and quantity of information received is sometimes insufficient and response rates vary. Some voluntary organisations also experienced significant delays in the appeals process and relied on free legal support.
The Advisory Group on Campaigning and the Voluntary Sector, which NCVO was part of, highlighted the confusion around the wording of the Charities Commission CC9 guidance on campaigning was resulting in a lack of confidence by charities to campaign. The Commission released new guidance in March 2008 with the aim of increasing confidence and making the law easier to understand.
NCVO conducted an online survey to find out if trustees of voluntary organisations were aware of the new guidance and whether it altered attitudes towards campaigning.
We found that, among respondents:
- 98% felt that the Commission’s guidance indicated that campaigning is both legitimate and valuable for charities
- 66% currently campaign
- 38% had a positive attitude to campaigning
- 86% understood campaigning needn’t be related to a charity’s charitable purpose
- 86% understood that they can campaign for a change in the law
- 71% knew they could support specific policies advocated by political parties
- 6% believed the Commission thinks charities should not campaign.
Campaigning plays a critical role within an active and engaged civil society. It is crucial that voluntary organisations use their resources in the most effective ways in order to achieve the most impact. The recommendations of this report, developed in conjunction with campaigners from across the sector, set out the programme of work for NCVO's Campaigning Effectiveness programme which ran from 2007 - 2011. They included:
- achieving a common definition of campaigning
- developing knowledge and skills
- asserting independence for campaigning.
Download Challenges to Effectiveness and Impact (PDF, 3.9 MB)