We like to think we’re Stevie Wonder; we plan like we’re the Jesus & Mary Chain; but we’re not even the band in Rick’s Bar in Casablanca

In the way we plan, think about and evaluate campaigning, it’s too easy to put ourselves at the centre of everything: It’s your campaign, you’re the change maker. You’re Stevie Wonder. You’re recording ‘Superstition’. You’ve written it. You’ve arranged it. You produce it. You play almost all the instruments on it. You’re in complete control of all aspects of it. Or perhaps it’s not just you, there are some others supporting you. You’re Brian Wilson. You’re recording ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’. It’s not just you, but you are in charge of how it’s going to...

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Much SMARTer

Fifteen years ago I was a big proponent of campaigns having SMART objectives; these days very much less so. It’s good to inject some discipline into campaign planning processes, and to build from a good sense of the likely change dynamics, and to make sure your ambitions are not woefully misplaced. But SMARTifying campaigns can be a great way to crush aspiration. It makes it easy for any kind of transformational change to get dismissed as fanciful. Anything difficult to get thrown out. Clear objectives are important for accountability. But SMART campaign objectives encourage a false sense...

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Everything we know about everyone being wrong about everything is wrong, and other lessons from the Referendum

Some thoughts on possible lessons for campaigners from Brexit:   Facts aren’t the terrain on which to base communications campaigns Efforts by the Remain camp to rebut the nefarious ‘£350m per week to Brussels’ claim fell on particularly stony ground. The thing about £350m is that it encapsulated a wider sentiment, illuminating an existing concern. The fact that it wasn’t true wasn’t really the issue. It was the concern that was the thing. (And saying in response ‘it’s a big number but just not as much as that’ didn’t alleviate or even address that concern.) Numbers...

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How far to the horizon?

There are, as usual, a whole load of useful insights in Tom Baker’s latest blogpost. But I was particularly struck by the first two lessons he offers about campaigning around aid, essentially that: Things can move very quickly, with key shifts happening from moment to moment Meaningful change tends to happen over the long term (in the campaign cited, 30 years plus) This reminded me a little bit of an argument I’ve made over the years, that campaign planning tends to focus on exactly the wrong timescales. Plans typically focus on the medium term (something like 6 months-2 years), but...

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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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