Between elections, political parties and individual politicians are often left reacting to crises and responding to the main news agenda of the day, without having set up the infrastructure to fall back on. This leaves little time or energy to devote to the careful planning needed to run an effective campaign. It is therefore important to get the basics right, including setting clear goals and assessing your own strengths and weaknesses, ahead of starting your campaigns.
At the core of any political strategy lies the following:
Your core values are one of the most important building blocks of any campaign. As an organised political party, you will already have a good idea of what your shared values are - for Greens, this may look like the core principles of the Global Green charter but you may want to expand on these as well.
But in any case, you will need to think about how they inform the campaign ahead.
What does the situation you are working towards look like? What does the social or political change that you are working on feel like when you are there?
A useful exercise is to paint yourself a picture of the future in your mind. You can think as big as you want.
Imagine: if you had power, what would life be like in your own neighbourhood?
Having a vision of tomorrow is the key to communicating with others about the world you are hoping to create through your campaign. You first have to believe in your own vision before you stand any chance of convincing others.
Examples of vision statements
A vision that appeals to the interests and needs of ordinary people is a powerful tool for change.
Setting goals is the more “concrete” version of your strategy. It is about how you start to make your strategy a reality.
Without clear goals, your staff and volunteers could lack motivation, waste their time on tasks that don’t matter or maybe have arguments with each other about what their priorities should be.
Goals can be big (win the election) or small (attract more older women to join the party).
But they always have to be useful to you.
It is a good idea to make your goals measurable and to make sure they are time-bound (meaning that they have a deadline attached). This will help you evaluate and adapt and change as the campaign goes on.
When you know your vision, you need to think about how to make it a reality.
A grand strategy is the broadest conception of how an objective is to be attained in a conflict by a chosen course of action.
Your current campaign may just be a smaller part of a larger whole. So your next campaign strategy needs to fit with this “grand strategy”.
Make sure you have an answer to the following few questions and keep them in mind when thinking about your next campaign strategy.
Your strategy for the next election campaign should be consistent with your grand strategy for your country or region as a whole. For example, your strategy for this election could be electing a Green government that can start to enact Green policies.
But your vision for society as a whole could and should be even broader than that. What purpose does a Green party serve once it is elected? What happens next? What should the world look like and what part can you play in getting us there?
It is not enough to say you want to change things, you have to understand how you are going to do it. This is called having a “Theory of Change”.
Essentially, how does the action we are asking people to take create the change we want to see?
This formula is very helpful:
If we do [activities/approach] then [change/outcome will happen] because [reason/logic].
A simple example:
If we use social media then we will engage more young people because young people use social media!
Or even simpler:
If we win the elections then we can change the law because we have power!
It is surprising how many parties and organisations don’t know why they are doing what they’re doing. When under immense pressure to perform and defeat the opposition, it can be tempting to just do the same old thing over and over again. But a party that has a clearly defined Theory of Change will be a step ahead before even coming up with the rest of the campaign strategy.
Having a well defined Theory of Change makes every further decision easier later on. Who should we hire? How often should we post on social media? Should we respond to our opponents attacks? All of these questions can be made easier to answer when a party knows what it wants and how it’s going to get it.
“User-focused theory of change” - It’s also important to communicate to supporters for each individual action you ask them to take, what they can reasonably come together to achieve. If we show up to a rally in huge numbers, we can send a strong signal to others that this campaign is a force to be reckoned with and exciting to join.
For the European Green Party’s European election campaign in 2019, the campaign’s Theory of Change was:
If we run the best digital campaign and work closely with civil society then we will engage more young people and attract new voters because we will reach young people where they are and pool resources to put climate on the agenda.
Do you think this was successful? What would change for the upcoming European campaign? What would your own party’s main theory of change me for your next campaign?
The basics are often neglected in favour of doing things as they’ve always been done, building on top of what went before again and again until the core concepts are lost underneath the weight of successive campaigns. A smart way of approaching any new campaign is to go back to the basics and really think carefully of your values, vision and theory of change before getting stuck into the rest of the planning process.
Last updated: June 2022