Martin Kirk is Director of Campaigns at The Rules. He was plucked from Oxfam in June 2012, where he had been heading their UK Campaigning. Before Oxfam, Martin was Head of Global Advocacy for Save the Children UK.
You are doing some really impressive and groundbreaking things right now. You’re being serious about values; you’re taking a longer-term view by looking up to 2020; you’re clearly thinking in terms of narrative, logic and frames, and you’re even collecting good evidence to help you with that, which is something that is very rarely done. All that is wonderful.
It would be daft for me to try to comment on any of the detail of what you are working on. You have all the brainpower and expertise you need looking into that, I’m sure. So I’ve tried to think big and broad, to both encourage you to always see the bigger picture, and because I know from long experience how difficult it can be to see the wood for the trees in our daily work lives. So, I have three suggestions that might help build on all that great work.
Firstly, look forwards. Once you have all the research in, you might try using it to throw your minds even further forwards, create something of a genuinely long term ‘north-star’ for yourselves to aim at, maybe 10 or even 25 years in the future. Sticking as much as possible to the sort of realistic metrics the research will help you define, where do you reasonably think attitudes to disability can be at the far point? Obviously, this won’t be something to set in stone, and must be held lightly, but it can still be a very powerful guide. If I can be very bold, you might even try to bring some other disability organisations into that process. Imagine how powerful would it be if the whole sector shared a long term ‘north star’? Everyone could go off and do their own campaigns and focus on specific issues without needing to slip into that often painful, time consuming and lowest-common-denominator territory of coalitions or co-strategising, but could still agree to always keep half an eye on that long term success point. Perhaps come together once a year in a light-touch review and check-in process. After all, in the absence of things like Paralympics, attitudes and social norms can take that long to shift. If you don’t have some realistic sense of where you’re all heading, you’re much more likely to waste time and energy duplicating or pulling in different, even conflicting directions.
Secondly, look sideways. When Matt Jackson and I were working at Oxfam looking at attitudes to international development, one of the things we did was look for correlations between attitudes to aid and other social attitudes. It turns out the only correlation we could find was how trustworthy people felt the government was in general. Nothing to do with aid directly. The greater the overall levels of trust in the government, the more support there was for aid. The point is that both in terms of attitudes, and in terms of the mechanics of the political economy, the things that could be affecting attitudes to disability may have nothing, on the surface, to do with disability. So what I would suggest is that you try and get in the habit of placing attitudes, and policy analysis, in a broader systems context. Draw systems maps. If you’re not sure where to start, ask someone trained in systems analysis to come in and talk to you about how to go about it. There are lots of people in universities up and down the country who I’m sure would be very happy to share their expertise. And if nothing else, you could read: Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows.
And finally, look inwards. This is a very personal suggestion to everyone working on the campaign. Meditate. If you’re already a meditator, you’ll know why I say this. If you’re not, learn and I promise you, if you do it properly, you will start to realise its power in relatively short order. We can get so caught up with the latest research and the freshest, shiniest knowledge that we easily ignore the infinite source of wisdom and good judgment within each of us. It may all sound hokey and new agey but I wish I had started ten years ago, I really do. I would have been a better campaigner, made better decisions, been a far better and more compassionate manager, and indeed a better person all round. So if you think being more peaceful and loving in your work; less stressed or susceptible to anger and frustration; having access to better judgments, perspective and the incredible, often untapped power of your mind might be at all helpful in making this the kick-ass campaign it can be, then trust me, regular, serious meditation is perhaps your most powerful weapon. Set up meditation sessions at work. Call a local meditation group, I know they’ll want to help (there’s a group called Wake Up London I’ve heard a lot of good things about). I always find it is easier and works better in groups, especially at first, but however it works best for you, give it a go.
And always, of course, have fun!