Campaigning and influencing – what it looks like at the local level

ben_gilchrist_webThis post is from Ben Gilchrist, Policy and Participation Manager at Community and Voluntary Action Tameside (CVAT). Ben and his team hosted the first of our local campaigning and influencing events in November 2013 and in this post he reflects on the themes that were discussed on the day.

NCVO and CVAT’s recent campaigning and influencing training was inspiring and thought provoking in many ways, not least in considering the challenges and opportunities for local campaigning.

Here are a few of my observations…

1. New rights, new structures, new allies

To start positively, there are a range of recent policy developments that provide new campaigning angles. The Community Rights under the Localism Act give us new tools and ideas, as do the Social Value Act and Best Value Guidance. New commissioning structures and political players, such as Clinical Commissioning Groups and Police and Crime Commissioners, are also targets for our influence. And of course the cuts do at least provoke passion and give us plenty of ammunition for dialogue, debate and protest.

In Tameside we have found many allies and decision-makers who we can engage with creatively to discuss the issues that matter to us and examine how national policies are being worked out locally. It’s always inspiring to hear the range of ways that groups are doing this, often without realising that they are campaigning. A recent positive example has been the openness to work with the sector on a local strategy to tackle poverty together.

2. A day late and a campaign short

Less helpfully, we have to recognise that much is mitigating against the sector’s campaigning right now. The lobbying bill could be a massive blow. But it often boils down to time and money.

So many groups are seeing the level and complexity of demands placed on them rise. This cries out for a campaigning response but finding the time to move beyond treating the symptoms of society’s problems to tackling the structural causes isn’t easy. This is all the more true when we lack the skills and confidence to campaign and influence. Plus the pace of change amongst the public sector partners that we need to target can be hard to keep track of or is shrouded in bureaucracy, uncertainty and impenetrable terminology.

3. Speak out and make a difference

Not only are these great challenges but we have to be honest that some of our funding can make us uneasy about speaking up to our funders. I think this is a very tricky path to tread. We may not want to be restricted, or believe that we are, but these unspoken constraints can steer our responses. Worse still it is not entirely unknown for them to be specifically used to restrict our voice. To oversimplify we quickly fall into one of two camps. Either being loud and offensive or being far too quiet and submissive for fear of offense. But neither approach, however righteous or pragmatic, is automatically strategic or effective, particularly in the long term.

Perhaps worst of all is a much wider societal disengagement from politics. Too many people don’t believe that they can make a difference anymore and so never try in the first place. Of course there’s an easy way to change this by showing them that, ‘if you think you’re too small to make a difference, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito!’.

Find out more

Find out more and get involved in NCVO’s work with local partners on local campaigning and influencing.


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