Disadvantage: the long view

I don’t want to get too embroiled in post-election analysis, but I do think the result brings into sharp focus some key strategic questions for activists and campaigners in the UK. I’m drawing here on the theory of social construction in policy design (which I think is highly relevantm, and hopefully more interesting than it perhaps sounds). Taking a long view, one question this theory tries to address is (paraphrased), why some groups end up as the consistent beneficiaries of policy making whilst others are routinely shafted by it. In explanation, the theory identifies that there are two...

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Why change a winning formula?

Well, you could ask Tesco that question. Or Vince Vaughn. In both cases, it appears that the seeds of their downfall were sown in the supposed glory days, even though it may not have been obvious at the time. (Though with Vince Vaughn, anyone who sat through Couples Retreat might say that it was in fact pretty likely.) Which goes to show that there’s no such thing as a best strategy, it’s always context-related. Which is where fitness landscapes come in. Borrowed from evolutionary theory, fitness landscapes are a way of visually representing strategic fit. They set out a landscape of all...

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Mobilising vs organising

In this post I’ve had a go at summarising some key points and drawing some conclusions and implications from Hahrie Han’s ‘How Organizations Develop Activists’. The book is based on case studies of two US organisations’ engagement with, and support to, local activists. There’s a lot more in the book, but hopefully there are some helpful pointers here for campaigners who haven’t read it.   In ‘How Organizations Develop Activists’, Hahrie Han identifies, and expands on, a fundamental difference between mobilising and organising strategies. This can be summarised along the...

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Stay sprightly and keep your eye on the ball

This is a guest post by Jeremy Smith. It’s the second in a series (of probably two) posts on metaphors for campaigning. The first one, campaigning as poker, is here.     According to Jonathan Wilson in Inverting the Pyramid: the History of Football Tactics, the defining feature of modern football is the tactic of pressing. That is, the chasing and harassing of players in possession to win the ball or to at least stop them having time to pick a productive pass. Wilson attributes the innovation of pressing to Viktor Maslov, coach of Dynamo Kiev in the 1960s. The Ajax side of the 1970s...

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The Pit and the Pendulum. And the gothic horror of an issue out of control.

In Edgar Allan Poe’s “Pit and the Pendulum”, three agonising tortures are inflicted on the narrator: a descending pendulum, a grotesque pit, and a dungeon with the walls closing in. These horrors were brought to mind recently by a couple of incidents that, in different ways, shed some light into the policy dynamics that play out when NGOs campaign on issues where public opinion is broadly unsupportive. First there was a (not all that) recent post by pollster and long-time political commentator Peter Kellner. The subject was the politics of immigration; but possibly the most interesting...

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Evaluator says evaluation is a waste of time, never works again

The history of our knowledge about, and understanding of, the world can be summarised (amongst other ways) as follows: Speculation. Plausibility. Certainty. Uncertainty. Unknowability. Aristotle suggested that stones fall to earth because they are trying to get back to their home. Fire travels upwards because it lives in the heavens. He invented logic and was a major catalyst for the Renaissance so we can forgive him these misreadings. The point anyway is that he was speculating. A few centuries later, Francis Bacon stuffed a chicken with snow and experimental science was born. Processes of...

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