The Advocacy Iceberg

The Advocacy Iceberg

April 18, 2016

Demonstrating, or not, public concern

The Advocacy Iceberg
The Advocacy Iceberg
Demonstrating, or not, public concern
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Show Notes

In this post I expand on the discussion in the latest episode in my new podcast in which I interview Esther Foreman from the Social Change Agency about email campaigning.


It’s a bit more nuanced than this, but, essentially, in the podcast Esther is quite disparaging about email campaigning, and I egg her on, like Bill Grundy did with the Sex Pistols.

Esther has written some more about it here.

The thing I wanted to reflect a bit more on here is the soundness, or not, of the underlying strategic logic of the approach.

As campaigners, we try to alter the balance of forces that decision makers are taking into account in making, or not, decisions. And one way we do that is to show there is support (and/or opposition) for a particular course of action.

When we consider how to demonstrate concern about an issue, as a rule of thumb I think it’s reasonable to think of an inverse relationship between the effort involved in taking the the action and the numbers needed to be convincing that this in fact is an issue of concern.

Something like this:



From this it follows that in theory it’s fine (and good) to provide easy ways for people to show their concern. You just need the numbers.

But vehicles that support simple action-taking are effective only if they work in leading targets to think that it’s an issue that people care about.

And now we are hearing growing and widespread feedback that MPs are increasingly sceptical that these mass emails are in any way representative of wider opinion.

We shouldn’t take it at face value when targets say they are not influenced by something. But in this case, there seems good and growing evidence for taking this feedback pretty seriously.

If you are going to orchestrate action, it has to be done in a way that doesn’t look like orchestration.

But for mass email actions targeting parliament, it seems that cat’s out of the bag. At the very least, it’s poking its little head out. But there’s a reasonable case that it’s escaped and run up the nearest tree.

At which point it stops being about the numbers. The logic of the inverse relationship stops being relevant.

We’re heading into the territory where at the large numbers/simple action end of the scale, whatever the numbers being generated, they are being dismissed.

Even if you are generating large numbers, there’s at the very least a good argument to say that it’s increasingly not leading to targets thinking it’s an issue people care about.

Influence is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. Something is influential if it influences someone. And if it doesn’t, it isn’t.

And if perceptions (of targets) are becoming decoupled from intentions (of those initiating the action) then that raises fundamental questions for the sector about fitness for purpose.