You Gotta Have A Dream: five reflections on Occupy

1/ Framing ‘we’ broadly I saw (punk band) The Damned at the Lyceum in 1981. During the set, the guitarist, Captain Sensible, took time to criticise (fellow punks) The Clash for selling out. As it goes, a year later Captain Sensible himself was on Top Of The Pops performing (i.e. miming to) his hit cover of ‘Happy Talk’ from South Pacific. Which goes to show that the whole selling out thing can end up a bit of a minefield. But at the time, the Captain was just articulating a fairly well widespread view that The Clash’s latest album fell short, musically, of being punk. And I was...

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What the data can tell us

In his book Analytic Activism, Dave Karpf looks at how information from digital media feeds into decisions about tactics, strategy and power. The book sets out how data is, and could be, used at these different levels – 1/ Tactics Data can be particularly useful when considering tactical choices. Developing your approaches through testing is better than relying on intuition, which is often wrong. But even at this level, it’s still easy to focus on the wrong metrics. Measures such as supporter base size, or numbers taking action, can be deceptive, and may not tell you what you actually...

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More is less

In the Ramones documentary, End of The Century, there’s an interview with Johnny about working with producer Phil Spector. Talking about recording the opening chord to ‘Rock’n’Roll High School’ he says, about Spector, “he spent 12 hours listening to it over and over again … [in the end] the chord came out sounding ok, but 12 hours’ worth ain’t really worth it”. I felt a bit the same not so long ago when – as part of some advocacy evaluation work I was doing for an international NGO – I read through their reporting documents. Just taking one year’s reporting –...

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The value iceberg

This post sets out some of the arguments from a discussion paper I have co-written with Rhonda Schlangen, recently published by BetterEvaluation. The paper itself, and an associated blog, is available here.   Organisations have to make choices about how best to deploy resources. On the face of it, using Value for Money-type frameworks helps in making informed comparisons about the value of different potential strategies. It’s right to want to anchor campaigning and advocacy to assessments that are as rigorous as possible. But applying a value lens to advocacy and campaign it isn’t...

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Theories of change vs dart throwing chimps

I wouldn’t ideally call it a ‘theory of change’, but I think it can be really helpful to develop – at an organisational level – a shared view of how change happens, the power dynamics at play, and the best ways to intervene. The absence of this sort of analysis can be problematic for many reasons, to do with what flows into this gap in understanding. However, it’s at the campaign level, not the organisational one, where ‘theories of change’ are all the rage these days. And, as a planning process and tool, the approach has some obvious advantages: It uncovers, and allows...

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Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser

  The kid spread his hand and then began to blush But his face turned pale when he saw my queen-high flush   T Bone Walker there, describing how to play a winning hand of poker. Though in fact (a) he’s not actually talking about poker and (b) it’s rarely that simple. According to Nate Silver, in his book The Signal & The Noise, a good poker player can still be financially behind after tens of thousands of hands, if the cards go against you, at the unluckiest end of the spectrum. Good players are highly skilled, but it’s also about how the cards fall. So poker is a high...

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