There is an array of problem-solving approaches, frameworks and campaigning tools that may be useful in the community law space. While in London (and yes, this post is a short return to the UK) I had the pleasure of being introduced to many of these by the very knowledgeable Dan Vockins, Lead Organiser at the New Economics Foundation (NEF). Dan works primarily on the New Economic Organisers Network (NEON), which is “a network of individuals across grassroots groups, trade unions, faith groups, NGOs, politics and the media working to replace neoliberalism with an economics of the common good. By connecting individuals and building their economics knowledge and organising capacity, NEON catalyses joined-up campaigns that tackle the economic root causes of social and environmental problems.” You can apply to become a member of NEON here.
Dan referred me to three pieces of work that will be of interest to many social change organisations:
- Looking to reframe an issue but not sure where to start? The NEF guide “Framing the economy: the austerity story” is a wonderfully succinct reading of how the economy is framed in the UK, what alternatives there may be to that narrative, and suggestions on how to deploy these.
- Want to build networks and promote creative problem solving on an issue? Consider using an action learning methodology. Action learning aims to promote open consideration of complex problems within a group through a process of curious questioning and reflection. It is intended to facilitate participants’ understanding of both their areas of knowledge and ignorance. Action learning often involves a structured group discussion among peers, in which the group works through a problem of one participant at a time. For guides on the practice of action learning, see here and here.
- Why is it that a legal strategy is effective to address one particular issue, but not another? One approach may be to step back and map the system you are working within, including the relevant players, power structures, and their interests and values in relation to a particular issue. From there, it may be easier to consider at what intervention point, or leverage point, a strategy operates. It may be that your strategy is directed at an issue but does not effectively respond to particular public values that validate an unjust policy, for example. Relevant tools in relation to this are the Common Cause discussion on values, and Donella Meadows’s work on systems analysis and leverage points.
Dan also offered the following useful words of advice:
- Relationships precede action. Consider forming relationships to enable you to respond more effectively in coalition when crises arise.
- Consider values. Consider whether the way you campaign, and tell stories through advocacy work, is exercising the values that ultimately reinforce your centre’s overall objective and vision of justice.
“Values are like muscles. The more society exercises a particular value, the stronger it is.”
- Be clear about your target audience. If possible, continually test your messaging on focus groups.
- Don’t try and do too much at once. Consider the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. This Manifesto provides, in short, that you create the minimum structure for a program (or campaign), test it, and, only once it has been shown to be useful and operational, build upon it in collaboration with users. This ensures that the program is most tailored for, and responsive to, users’ needs.
- Don’t be afraid to iterate. Build time in for evaluation, and through that, for fine-tuning a campaign.
I had two further thought-provoking encounters, a little outside of the legal space, while in London. Firstly, I met with Susie Steed, who is currently completing her PhD on performance measurement in the not-for-profit sector (and who previously worked as an economist for the NEF). I asked Susie about her views on the use of Social Return on Investment (SROI) evaluation for community lawyering, and left with the impression that SROI may be more resource-intensive and bureacratic than useful in this context. Rather, she drew my attention to other evaluation possibilities. Our conversation touched on John Seddon‘s systems thinking, a method by which service delivery is analysed, and evaluated, as a “flow” system rather than in terms of measurable outcomes. We also discussed Daniel Kaheman‘s holistic idea of wellbeing, through which he argues that wellbeing cannot be understood by way of a single measurement.
I also very briefly met Luke Bacon, who works with the Open Australia Foundation, a civic-tech organisation that tracks and makes accessible the parliamentary voting patterns of members of Parliament. Luke is also co-founder of Detention Logs, which publishes data, documents and investigations about Australia’s immigration detention network. Civic-tech is a space that may have great potential for better connecting the community law sector with its target client groups.