NCVO Campaigning Conference 2019: Three things I learnt about impact

Last month, NCVO hosted its annual Campaigning Conference: the major event for campaigns, public affairs, policy and media professionals working across the voluntary sector. As someone who regularly supports campaigning and policy advocacy organisations with strategy and impact, here are my top three learning points.

To maximise your impact and avoid mistakes, review regularly

A range of speakers involved in campaigning held a lively debate exploring failures and what they’ve learned from their mistakes. The speakers included Rosemary Frazer from Camden Disability Action, Naomi Phillips from British Red Cross, Sarah Gilbert from Mencap and Peter Moorey from BT.

The key message from this session was that you need to evaluate your work! The speakers talked about how reviewing progress regularly helped them to revise their work before things started to spin out of control. A mid-way review was the most important point for evaluation during the campaign timeline.

They also noted that they needed to check their theory and approach, and to go back to the drawing board if it didn’t work.

The panel also identified some tips on how to talk about mistakes in your organisation:

  • Endorse values of openness and focus on impact.
  • Communicate what happens regularly.
  • Consider timings carefully when planning your actions.
  • Endorse a ‘we are all in this together’ mentality in your organisation.

Lived experience leadership in strategy process can lead to more effective work

Paula Harriott, head of prisoner engagement at the Prison Reform Trust delivered a powerful session about people leading with lived experience in the organisational strategy process. She discussed the importance of allowing the strategy to be led with lived experience in all parts of the organisational decision-making and talked through the process of how Prison Reform Trust had adopted this approach. Most recently, Paula has been involved in the Lex Movement, which might be a useful background for those who work with projects that aim to involve or be led by people with lived experience.

The two key lessons Paula identified from the participative strategy process were that you need to be upfront about the differences from the start and be prepared to challenge yourself.

Don’t wait for people to come to you, go to them!

Peter Beresford, University of Essex academic, researcher and activist, shared findings from his Shaping Our Lives research project on citizen participation in policy and research. He found that there were key issues that made it more difficult for people with lived experience of marginalisation or disadvantage to get their voices heard. These issues included where people live, if they communicate differently or have an impairment, or if they are perceived as ‘unwanted’ voices in some way.

The main lesson was that you cannot wait for people with lived experience to come to you – it’s crucial to reach out in order to challenge these barriers. This can be done by using accessible and culturally appropriate forms of involvement, building trust and links, and not giving up.

There was, of course, more to learn – you can download all the slides from the day. Next year’s conference will be in September 2020 – and I can’t wait!

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Sini is a senior consultant at NCVO Charities Evaluation Services – the team helps voluntary organisations, volunteering programmes and their funders with practical impact measurement and evaluation

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