For Spyro

July 31, 2012 § Leave a comment


Campaigning With Common Cause Case Study – Streets Alive

July 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Cross-posted from Common Cause.

This Common Cause Campaign Case Study is part of a series of stories that share the experience of organisations that grasp the importance of cultural values in third sector campaigning. We hope that these real-life examples of transformation inspire and empower you to push organisational boundaries and improve how we campaign together.

If you’d like to discuss these stories, or find out more about them, come along to the Campaigning with Common Cause get-together every second Wednesday of the month.

“The complexity of challenges such as the recession, ageing population, social diversity and climate change cannot be resolved by the conventional machinery available to local and national government. Nor does the power to tackle them lie with individuals’ private lives alone. There is then a need to build a new resilience and collective capacity within communities to help respond to these shared challenges.” Chris Gittins

Streets Alive works in communities to build relationships between neighbours on a mass scale to empower them to strengthen their community. Since 2001 the team has been providing tools, training and advice to increase social connection and inclusion at a street level.

I spoke to Chris Gittins, Director of Streets Alive about how his approach has changed from trying to convince people to being in service to them and how his work focuses on building relationships and designing experiences which shift people’s attitudes and behaviours.

What did they set out to do differently?

Chris had worked in the environmental and sustainable transport sector and was frustrated by how behaviour change was often encouraged through focusing on the facts, rather than engaging with people’s emotions and values. The quality of relationships in his work was often unsatisfying; communicating with the external world through the newsletter was always at the bottom of the priority list, for example. Campaigns he worked on felt transactional and unfulfilling.

He set up Streets Alive expressly to be part of mainstream society, not wanting to be countercultural. With two permanent staff and 5-15 temporary staff around the country, it remains a small organisation dedicated to a model of service to a movement of street parties all-year round.

Reframing campaigning

Streets Alive doesn’t have any local activists or organisers. That is to say, local organisers do not belong to Streets Alive – they are completely independent and can organise a street party or event in any way they like. The organisation is there to serve the needs of these people, so that the center and ownership always lies with the people making the events happen. The website and resources are purposefully designed not to look flashy – what local organisers need is functionality first. This strong ethos of self-direction lies at the center of everything Streets Alive do.

What has their impact been?

Based in Bristol, Streets Alive have made it the street party capital of the UK with over 200 events every year. Events happening in their street means that 50 to 90% of households take part, including marginalised households. On average, residents meet eight new neighbours. Four in five report that it brought together people of different backgrounds, transforming perceptions of their area, making people feel, safer and an increase in friendliness and a sense of belonging.

But the street parties are about more than just the relational ties of the community. A tighter community is more likely to take action on local and even global issues. Most often, follow-up events include actions like a street or local park cleanup.

Street parties also often make sustainable behaviours the focus of the party – cycling, collaborative consumption or sharing a garden on community green space, for example.

What have they learned?

  • Show, don’t tell – Streets Alive started with the idea of creating car-free days, to give people the experience of the street as a social space. However, when asking people ‘do you want to experience your street as a social space?’ responses were usually nonplussed. Instead, by creating street parties where people experience the joy of car-less streets and community, they start asking themselves ‘how can we have this every day?’ Allowing for this self-discovery is crucial to the success of community action.
  • Goodwill is there – learn how to tap it. Chris says that ‘there is more goodwill … than you can imagine. You’d be amazed by how many people want to be asked to be involved.’ There is a magical quality to street parties – they work explicitly with people’s intrinsic values to build friendship, helpfulness and a sense of community.

What does this mean for us as change-makers?

Streets Alive work with the knowledge that we all share intrinsic values, and therefore have the capacity for action on bigger-than-self issues based on intrinsic motivations. What Chris and his team do so well is to translate this into everyday language and activity.

Their approach of full empowerment represents a reframe for campaigning from being professional agents delivering social change on behalf of our supporters to being in service to a wider movement, bringing their skills and expertise to empower others to take action to create social change.


Chris Gittins

0117 922 5708

Annie Besant

July 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Check out the amazing story of 19th-century social reformer Annie Besant on Radio 4’s In Our Time here. An early union organiser, secularist, civil rights activist, and advocate of Irish and Indian independence – she is worth getting to know.

The Enemy Within

July 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

“There are more and more groups today oriented toward issues and causes. There are peace movements, ecological movements, movements for oppressed people, for the liberation of women, against torture, etc. If there is a consciousness within the movement that within each person there is a world of darkness, fear and hate, they can then radiate truth and inner freedom and work toward justice and peace in the world. If not, they can become very aggressive and divide the world between the oppressors and the oppressed, the good and the bad. There seems to be a need in human beings to see evil and combat it outside oneself, in order not to see it inside oneself.”

Jean Vanier

Campainging With Common Cause Case Study – Fairtrade Foundation

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Cross-posted from Common Cause.

This Common Cause Campaign Case Study is part of a series of stories that share the experience of organisations that grasp the importance of cultural values in third sector campaigning. We hope that these real-life examples of transformation inspire and empower you to push organisational boundaries and improve how we campaign together.

If you’d like to discuss these stories, or find out more about them, come along to the Campaigning with Common Cause get-together every second Wednesday of the month.

“We’ve really learned the value of our relational economy. We were surprised that even people who were on the margins of our network, really wanted and needed to share their experience and to tell their story.”  Barbara Crowther

Fairtrade campaigners in Bristol

The Fairtrade Foundation was founded in 1992 to transform trading structures and practices in favour of farmers and producers. Over the years, local Fairtrade initiatives have grown around the country – there are now over 540 towns and 160 universities that have been certified Fairtrade. Local activists have achieved a lot over the years and many were beginning to ask ‘is our job done?’, ‘how do we stay involved?’ and ‘what’s next?’

Many campaigners see Fairtrade as being ‘theirs’, and in many ways it belongs to anyone that’s advocating it. They have worked incredibly hard and have been wildly creative in promoting Fairtrade, so understandably feel strong ownership and real emotion attached to the brand. However, now that the brand is trademarked there is potential for conflict.

I met with Barbara Crowther and Adam Gardner to learn about their experience of bringing grassroots voices into their organisational governance, and how they used an innovative facilitative process to achieve this.

What did the Fairtrade Foundation want to change?

The Fairtrade Foundation knows that campaigners and producers are the beating heart of the Fairtrade movement. Although the Foundation now has around 100 staff, local organisers are central to Fairtrade’s previous and future successes. In the last few years, the Foundation has become more accountable to Southern producers by including them on the board, but it still didn’t have a way to reflect the voice of the most active local campaigners in decision-making. As recognition of the Fairtrade brand grows, staff were keen to stress that Fairtrade is not only a certification label, but a movement of consumer citizens. This aspect of Fairtrade’s work wasn’t represented in organisational governance, and that needed to be changed.

Organisational capacity

Barbara and her team were hampered by weak supporter data, but had very strong relationships with key organisers on the ground. (To test this assertion, I asked Adam who their point-person was in Lincoln – and impressively, he had spoken to her only that morning!)

What did they do?

Faced with a number of options for bringing in grassroots voices (including becoming a membership organisation, creating a campaigns committee, or simply creating online forums) the team needed a process through which they could find out what local organisers wanted.

Rather than simply calling a sample of organisers before making an intelligent guess as to their common needs, the team decided on a more innovative process that included consultation events around the country using a process called Crowd Wise developed by Perry Walker at nef.

The process

Crowd Wise was run collaboratively with Rhizome, a facilitation and training collective. Together, they hosted five events, each a day long. Five different options for bringing in voices from the grass-roots were discussed; some of them evolving between events.

The organisers extended an open invitation: all were welcome, irrespective of how long they had been involved with their local group. Whoever cared about the decision was welcome to join the conversation.

Each event split the participants into five groups to advocate one of the five options on the table. By engaging with a different viewpoint than they’d necessarily suggest themselves, local organisers were much more able to listen to different opinions and let go of some of their own preconceptions. What stood out for theco-ordinating team was that previously challenging voices were receptive to other solutions because they had been involved in genuine dialogue.

You can read a full description of the Crowd Wise and Open Space process here. The final report on the Fairtrade Foundation’s process is available here.

This change in consultation methodology has been about building a more inclusive and democratic process internally, that will likely ‘spillover’ into other areas of the Fairtrade Foundation’s work.

Outcomes from the consultation

The final decision by members was to combine various options, central to which was the Campaigns Advisory Group (CAG) with annual regional events where representatives for the CAG are elected. The response has been overwhelmingly positive – the CAG is taken seriously by the membership and campaigners are being consulted by different parts of the organisation. The CAG consults campaigners before a new initiative is launched and helps campaigners from across the country to get in touch with one another.

The six founding NGOs that created the Fairtrade Foundation are also exploring reducing the number of their own seats on the board to facilitate representatives from the local campaign movement.

What have they learned?

  • The importance of personal relationships – the value of our relational economy. They were surprised that even people who were on the margins of the network really wanted and needed to share their experience and to tell their story.
  • The power of shared learning process. Yes, it can be slower and a bit messier – but they’ve ended up with a much more robust solution.
  • People can collaborate – Bringing together a group of diverse people who all care about the organisation meant that even when the end solution wasn’t seen as perfect by everyone, people were nonetheless willing to work with it.

Barbara and her team have shared the benefits of the process used for campaigns to see if there could be wider applications of similar methodology for other consultation processes. It has given them a new tool to find consensus in a very diverse movement.

What does this mean for us as change-makers?

When working to bring intrinsic values into our campaigning, we have to start with assessing how we’re embodying these values in our own organisations. Not only did the Fairtrade Foundation want more representation of internal stakeholders , they used a process that allows for self-direction and universalism values to guide the conversation. Facilitated processes like Crowd Wise ensure a deeper, more long-lasting agreement that builds trust and goodwill – something many NGOs struggle to build between the center and the periphery.

How can we use better process design to embody our intrinsic values, and ensure more robust decisions that represent what our members want?


Adam Gardner

020 7440 8552

Why I’m Going To The Harvard Kennedy School

July 14, 2012 § 4 Comments

At the end of August, I’ll enroll at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to study Public Policy. As a campaigner, I’m often asked why I’m submitting myself to two years of statistics analysis, neoliberal economics and conservative politics – and it is a fair question!

It is true that my work on transformative social change and a new economic paradigm will probably sit somewhat outside the comfort zone of my fellow students (and professors!), most of who come from traditional careers in the private and public sector. Even those working for NGOs will, I suspect, come from the world of programme delivery rather than campaigning.

So – why go at all?

1. Learn about the policy process

A good change-maker understands the context s/he works in. I have only had glimpses inside government, and much of the sausage-factory remains a mystery to me. I want to learn the language, the metrics and the culture so that I can engage with civil servants/politicians and not face the extra barrier of being an ‘outsider who doesn’t understand’. I’m also keen to confirm/improve my sense of what works and what doesn’t work in the policy process at the moment.

2. Learn how to implement solutions at scale

As a campaigner, I’ve become practiced at pointing out problems and sounding the alarm. Putting together solutions and then working them into reality is a different ball game, especially when working at scale. My studies will also allow me to broaden my policy understanding and look at questions such as: what do we do in the face of rising pensions and health costs? How could we move to a 21-hour work week?

3. The network

From my limited experience, I’ve learned that stuff gets done well when strong relationships of mutual trust and respect exist. As our ‘wicked’ problems will ask for unusual and widespread collaboration, some people will need to comfortably bridge across sectors, nations and networks. As a keen convener, I see my role increasingly as one of making useful connections to allow sustainability and justice work to accelerate. Being able to open doors will be enhanced unspeakably through the network of students, faculty and alumni at HKS.

4. The legitimacy

When working on shifting paradigms and re-creating systems, it can be easy to be branded as an irrelevant fringe-troublemaker. The Harvard label acts a little bit like an entry card saying, ‘He can’t be that crazy – he went to Harvard’. This safety cover will hopefully allow me to push boundaries and enter rooms which otherwise would have been closed to me. I am already experiencing the power of the so-called H-Bomb when sharing plans to go to the US. No doubt about it, it is a powerful brand.

5. To test my assumptions

Finally, as much as I love my worldview, I accept that I know but a little about how this complex ecology of politics and power works in practice. There will be many fellow students of mine from the military, the financial sector and management consulting – and I expect our opinions will differ widely. (I have already been in touch with one who would like to see marriage equality banned in every US state…) However, I am endeavouring to enter into these new relationships with a spirit of inquiry; to always look out for what I can learn. What do they see that I have missed or see differently?

There are also, of course, some incredible faculty at the school – Ronald A. Heifetz on leadership, Marshall Ganz on organising and Pippa Norris on democracy. Their tuition will be invaluable. (I’m also looking forward to 48-hour simulated negotiation sessions!) I’ll further benefit by working alongside students from all over the world, those doing dual-degrees with the Divinity School, Business School and Law Schools, and older students with years of experience doing the mid-career programme.

To be sure, there are some serious questions about the lack of depth when thinking about values and ethics in public policy at the Kennedy School, so it will be especially important for me to hold strong links with friends and allies in the outside world – to remind me of what is happening and of our shared values. However, if I don’t emerge with some changed views and assumptions, I will be disappointed. The whole idea is to learn something new!

Here’s hoping this is the right decision.

Thanks for reading,


I Say Let’s Give Them A Chance

July 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Even though things are clearly broken and must change, society is structured to prevent the people with the inspiration to make the world better from changing anything. There are legions of young people, full of energy and ideas, but nobody listens to them.

They don’t have the resources, connections, or experience to be taken seriously by the older generations who made this mess. So they’re supposed to work McJobs, jump through hoops, and sell their soul to the devil of bills, responsibilities and debt. Finally, once they pose no threat because their dreams have been strangled, they may be allowed to lead.

I say it’s time to give them a chance.”

Arthur Brock

On Liberation

July 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

“What more and more people are discovering is that without personal liberation or inner freedom, our hard-won social freedoms are undermined and perverted by selfish indvidualism. If the people who have been socially liberated are not also liberated from their own egos, their personal selfishness, they are in danger of repeating – in another form – the very oppression and cruelty against which they have fought.”

Albert Nolan

The Coolest Thing I’ve Seen This Week

July 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

Liberate Tate’s ‘The Gift’ video.

Sit back and enjoy.

There Comes A Time

July 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’

Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’

Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’

But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’

And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

Where Am I?

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