Local Campaign Focus Form: Simple approach to organising your thinking for a campaign

As we begin to look at the elections coming up in May, many will be looking to start or expand on local campaigns to help improve our chances of winning seats in the election. Organisation of the campaign is key to ensuring that it achieves what it sets out to. The problem with organising a campaign is the number of issues that can be focused on, including all the campaign materials that HQ send through. What we need is something which can focus our attention on the local issues. One technique that can help in this is to look at the worries of the local area, what is working well in the local area, including what people are proud of and once we know this we can look at what needs to happen in the campaign.

The worries are an important aspect of political campaigning and most politicians and local parties will know these well. We spend a lot of time listening to people and the problems they are facing and then look at what to do about it. This can be very effective and has been the cornerstone of community politics and the Lib Dems – keeping the focus local.

However, what is also very important is to honour what people appreciate in the area, what makes them like where they live. Focusing on the worries can often seem like running an area down. In may area we have high unemployment, high levels of deprivation (it is one of the most deprived areas in the country), and many things to complain about such as gangs and violence. But people still like living here. So this can be used as valuable campaigning material showing that we are standing up for the things locals enjoy and like.

These then focus our attention on what we need to do. This is a very simple process used in the solution focused approach and can be used with one piece of paper:

This is a first draft and I would welcome feedback on ideas, thoughts and criticisms to help improve it. The difference between this approach and what I have used before is the simplicity and the local focus. I know we have many resources and emails coming to us about what to put in our material, but this gives me a better focus about what needs to be in, rather than what I can put in because I have it. So to take an example:

The people in my area are not very concerned with some of the issues that we could focus on – such as the environment. While it is important and dear to my heart, the people in my area, at least those who I speak to, do not see it as a concern in this area right now. So it would be better for my local party to focus on other issues.

This approach seeks to simplify the way in which we match our campaign with local issues. It seeks to focus our thinking on the local issues. It seeks to simplify how to draw out what we need for a campaign. Let me know if you think this is something you think could be useful.

Improving Local Campaigning: A practical example to make your local party relevant to your local area

The Lib Dem local power base has been reduced back to 1993 levels and many are worrying. So what can we do to improve our chances at the next local elections? Many are talking about Community Politics again and looking to this for advice and there is some clear specific examples we can do to start making our local parties relevant in the local area again.

Many will know what it is really like on the doorstep and many report of mixed messages but in the post ‘so what’s it really like on the doorsteps’ it shows a good clear example of the local party being relevant for the area:

It’s quite touching to knock on a door and have someone tell you that the first stranger to knock on her door when she moved into the estate years ago was your fellow councillor and she’s never forgotten it. The fact that he took time to knock on doors, and take round a leaflet with useful phone numbers on it, means that she’s voted for him ever since.

The power of knocking on doors is known to be the most effective campaigning tool but combining it with local information made it more meaningful for this voter. This is inherent in community politics as it seeks

to find ways of enabling and encouraging each person to fulfil his or her own potential… the key to releasing the potential of each person as a unique individual lies in bringing together all individuals in voluntary, mutual and co-operative enterprise within relevant communities.

Therefore providing local information allows people to build and get involved in their own communities. However, there is a huge information gap between the people who live in a local area and their knowledge of what services, groups, supports and resources are in that local area. Local social services departments, the subject of reducing budgets, are inundated with referrals which often end up with a referral to a local agency, which they probably would have gone to had they known anyway. In fact many families who end up with statutory services may very well have not reached that crisis point had they had the support earlier. Preventative work is what is recognised but never achieved due to a lack of money.

However, a local political party can plug this gap. It can provide a list of organisations, supports and resources in the local area which would be invaluable to many it was provided to. This would fulfil the ideals of community politics, empowering people to solve their own problems while fostering links in the community, yet at the same time giving a direct practical link between the community and the local party.

Have a look at the number of organisations and supports in your area and I bet you will be surprised at what is available and most people will not know. Making links with these organisations would be a good start to walking the talk of building communities and so the talk on the doorstep becomes much more meaningful. The party is then seen as much more relevant and little changes like this can mean a big difference at the election.

Improving Lib Dem Campaigning: Increasing social relationships in your local party

Liberal Democrat membership has fallen over the years to be now less than 100 members per Parliamentary constituency. While this is not desirable, there are some things which can be done to use this to the advantage of the local party and its members.

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. This number is believed to be about 150 and was popularlised in the book The Tipping Point.

Large groups rapidly reduce the efficiency of an operation. Peer pressure is much more powerful than the somehow vague concept of a boss or punishment. In a political party not being sufficiently motivated to help out on a campaign, leafleting, or attending events means they won’t turn up, but people do live up to the expectations of their peers in smaller groups where they have a personal relationship with each of their co-workers.

So having a small local party is not necessarily a bad thing as it means there are opportunities to forge stronger relationships and have a more committed activist base. The trick is to encourage those social relationships between members. I remember when I joined I got an email to ask if I wanted to deliver leaflets. This wasn’t the most effective invitation to engage me and I am sure many will feel the same. It would be much more effective to foster building relationships.

So how do we do this? Reasons why people joined in the first place is:

  • To have the power to influence the direction of the party
  • To meet like-minded people
  • To gain information on national policies
  • To gain access to key decision-makers
  • To gain access to training and resources for personal development

So we use these as a way to engage people in the local party. An invitation to campaign (including leafleting) but stressing that new (or newly active) members will be buddied up. Inviting members to the formal and social events in the local area where they will be able to meet people. These are simple ways of encouraging social relationships in the party.

Another way could be send a list of members to members (if members opted in) with their interests and whether they would welcome contact from other members. Encouraging people to contact each other is a good way of forming the important social relationships which will encourage people to attend, campaign and promote the party.

How local parties can improve their local campaigning

The Opinion Leader Research discusses the importance for political parties, community activists and single-issue activists to work together for the benefit of political parties, communities and politics. When they got a group of different activists together they were asked what solutions they could think of which would improve the working relationships. So what can local parties learn from this research to improve their local campaigning?

Non-political party activists are generally critical of the idea of working more closely with local parties but did offer some ways which political parties could connect more with other activist groups.

Solutions: communication and visibility

Activists feel strongly that communication needs to be improved between different groups.

For example, In Somerset, some community and issue-based activists speak of how they do not know people in local parties, and would not know where to find information on local parties. Many feel they have no channels by which to communicate with parties.

For these groups of activists, improved communication is related to the improved visibility of political parties, particularly at a local level. In all the workshops, there is discussion on how the local parties should be more visible. There is discussion around how politicians and parties should have to spend more time on outreach activities, with some in Somerset suggesting the idea of having a ‘second MP’ who focuses all their attention at the constituency level, attending activist meetings and listening to different points of view.

Solutions: forums

In all the workshops, activists suggest that forums are an attractive way of bringing together local parties and other activists. Forums are seen as a way to allow for interaction and the sharing of ideas, and would provide an ongoing channel for communication and feedback.

Importantly, issue-based activists place great emphasis on the need for the forums to be meaningful in terms of their outputs, arguing that local parties need to provide continual feedback. Without this, activists feel that forums could be meaningless talking shops.

Solutions: personal connections

Aside from institutional changes, activists speak of the importance of different activists making connections. More personal connections between activists are seen as leading to greater trust and understanding between different groups, and providing easy channels for communication.

Improving your local party through better use of members: developing a motivating feedback system

What communication have you had from your local party in the last year? A newsletter? Requests for funding? Requests to help out with a campaign? Emails about local party information? Emails about AGM/Conference? Have you ever been asked for formal feedback about the local party? Our Party President informs us that the key to any win in an election is a thriving local party with members and volunteers doing the hard work on the ground. Yet there are simple ways a local party can motivate members to create this that are not being used.

In ‘Why Vote Liberal Democrat’ in 2010 Danny Alexander wrote “Collaboration is right at the heart of everything Liberal Democrats believe in”. While it seems a focus for national politics is seems strangely absent from local parties unless you are already actively involved in the local party. However, collaboration takes work to form the collaborative relationship and it is from that relationship that the benefits are born.

Members can be seen as being made up of 3 types:

  1. Active members – people who are engaged in the activities of the local party
  2. Potential active members – people who would like to be involved but have not made the step to being active members yet
  3. Armchair members – people who do not want to be involved in the activities of the local party and are happy just to support the party through membership or in some other small way

There are many reasons why some who want to be involved are not involved but the trick for the party is to find out who they are and form a more personal relationship with them and find how to use their skills/talents/expertise in a way which will engage them in the local party. Currently there is no mechanism for the local party to know this information unless someone comes forward and says so. When I joined I got an email saying ‘if you want to deliver leaflets let me know’ and this was all I got until I went to the AGM and even then people did not find out what I wanted to do in the party or what I could do.

Successful companies all over the world have tried to get the most out of their customers through some form of feedback system. However, some have also used a feedback system from the staff to improve how they run the companies. Equally, a simple feedback system could reap rewards for the local party is worded right which will identify

  1. Potential active members
  2. Potential skills in the member base
  3. Potential expertise in the member base

The solution focused approach could offer a set of questions to find these if sent out to members (email/letter/newsletter) and could start the beginning of a more personal relationship between people not yet active and the local party:

  1. Every member has different skills and we are interested to know what these are. What 3 things would you say you have particular skills at?
  2. On a scale of 0 – 10, where 10 is the highest, how involved do you currently feel with your local party?
  3. On the same scale, where would you like to be on this scale at this present time?
  4. On the same scale, where would you like to be in the future?
  5. What could the local party do to help you move to where you would like to be, now and in the future? (simple and specific answers will work the best)
  6. What 3 things do you think the local party has done well at in the last year?
  7. What 3 things do you think the local party should improve on in the next year?
  8. What do you think you would like to do for the local party, if anything, in the next year that you haven’t this year?
  9. Is there anything we have forgotten to ask?

Answers to these may give you some useful contacts, leads and improve your local party.

Engaging People with the Lib Dems

Public meetings have convinced Nick Clegg that all politics is personal as well as local. Engaging people at a local level is therefore a priority and all political parties could improve on engaging the public. So how do we achieve purposeful engagement with people and make the Liberal Democrat strategy a powerful tool?

If the focus is on the potential Lib Dem voter community, not just the members of the political party, then a wider engagement is needed.  Consultations have long been used by political parties but have been seen as something of a necessity but not always a useful part of the political process as they do not always produce the results the politicians want.

Generally, people tend to express their doubts and concerns when asked for their opinion in an open forum and the voice of frustration tends to dominate (and sometimes sounds like that of many). When we discuss problems at any length it keeps the person in a state of being stuck. Our interest in their problem means we are not being helpful to them and taking too many of the complainers seriously simply slows progress.

People want to collaborate, just in different ways and these ways don’t always match. The trick in purposeful engagement is to find where collaboration and co-operation is taking place and magnify it. This blog outlines 7 ways to turn consultations into powerful exercises (using Solutions Focus). This could be applied to the Liberal Democrat political party in many ways from town hall to local party meetings. This is a brief summary of what may help improve these meetings:

  • Be clear on higher outcomes
  • Pre-planning should involve a core group of the stakeholders to find out what outcomes they’d like to get
  • Allow the group a short period in every session to express their concerns, but don’t let a few people dominate
  • Ask the group what’s working at their level
  • Turn to what needs to be different, or better in the future
  • Get people thinking about actions by asking them what the larger group and some of the individual stakeholders might do to make progress right away
  • Read back to the audience a long list of the purposeful things they said. Let them see you have been actively listening

By focusing the meetings on specific issues can lead to a better strategy for dealing with whatever the issues are. It can focus on what everyone has in common about the need and that they can have a role in making progress it happen with the support of the Party.

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