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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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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New models of Activism

This is a guest post by Natasha Adams, Activism Officer at ActionAid UK I’m a bit of a campaign geek. I’ve been involved in campaigning and activism ‘for fun’ pretty much my whole life, and professionally since 2008. I love this stuff. So I was really pleased at the amazing turnout and great learning exchanges that happened at a Building Activist Networks Forum workshop I helped to organise a couple of weeks ago. The workshop was partly inspired by Jim’s ‘painted ships’ blog, where he suggested that current NGO campaign engagement models are too centrally managed and too reliant...

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To create a republic of virtue you need a big (and flexible) tent

One thing about Robespierre was that he wasn’t really into big tent politics. By 1793, Robespierre and his allies were in the ascendent, flanked by the more radical/rapid Hébertists and the more moderate Dantonists. This governing coalition was already on the narrow side, after a succession of coups and purges. But it proved an uneasy alliance, and it ended when Robespierre liquidated both these factions. As a result, he become further exposed and he was soon afterwards deposed himself by a ragbag of opponents who then instituted a counter-revolution. Robespierre called his government of...

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