The story of the shark

The story of the shark

The titular fish, in Heraklion aquarium. Photo by me.

The shark was mad.

Something had been gnawing at him for months. Maybe it was all the corruption where he lived. Or the abuse of workers he’d read about. Or the disastrous local construction project that was in the planning stages.

Whatever it was, he was outraged. He couldn’t rest until he took action.

“Power has preyed on us long enough,” he thought. “It’s time to bite back.”

So he decided to make a campaign.

Gathering the right team

The shark first assembled a group who were as mad as he about the issue.

He held an online brainstorm. He invited anyone who might be interested, and asked them to do the same. He hosted a follow-up meeting, which was more about solutions. And soon, he had a core team.

He knew that for his campaign to be successful, his team would need a mix of certain skill-sets. It would also need include people from different demographics – working people, who were not the usual activist base. So he aimed for a balance between them, keeping in mind who brought what to the group and the skills the team was lacking.

The three vital campaigning skill-sets – that of the wonk, the creative and the do-er – in action.

He organised the team into a coordinated do-ocracy, to minimise friction and give it the best chance of results. The team would put themselves forward for tasks, while he would coordinate the work.

With the right team in place, it was now time to plan.

Making a plan with bite

The shark slimmed down the issue, to concentrate on where the campaign could make a difference in the short term. He wrote it out, in less than 100 words, and shared it.

He then enriched his knowledge of the issue by reaching out to those who were affected by it. He knew he was waging an asymmetric battle with power, so he paid attention to the resources available to him. And adjusted the campaign's expectations to suit.

For inspiration and guidance, he studied how others had tackled similar issues. And he looked at how the success of certain tactics could inform his campaign.

Because this shark had a vital asset for impact: a curious mind.

All the secrets of a successful campaign in 15 minutes.

Then, he defined the campaign's Ultimate Goal, drawing what a world would look like with the issue resolved. One of the team commented that it didn’t sound very ambitious.

“That’s precisely the point!” said the shark, flashing a toothy grin. “We want to keep this manageable. If it succeeds, we can scale it up later.”

The steps in our impact method – a way of doing activism that works. 

It was time to work out how to make the Ultimate Goal happen. The shark broke it up into objectives, and agreed a list of tactics to achieve each one.

It helped that he had considered who the campaign should target, and what their pressure points were. So the campaign's tactics were easy to write – they were things that pushed those pressure points.

The shark was ready. In fact, he was chomping at the bit to get started.

Running a campaign that grabs its target and doesn't let go

The shark knew how to craft a message that resulted in action, because he didn’t let his emotions get in the way. His campaign was persuasive, because he told its story, packaged it well, and respected the audience instead of shouting at them to act.

When it came to working with media, the shark put his quick-and-dirty media skills to good use. He knew to imagine the exact coverage that the campaign needed, and work back from that to achieve it. The shark was also well aware of the media’s biases, so he could exploit them while giving the media a story they could sell.

A cheat-sheet for working with media

And all the while, the shark kept his eyes on the Ultimate Goal, playing the long game.

And everything went swimmingly.

At the end of the campaign, the shark evaluated it, based on simple metrics that he’d set up in the plan. He was self-critical, turning any failures into lessons for the future.

And with that, he was ready for the next challenge.

* * *

Are you a shark, or would you like to be one? We want to hear from you.

In a few weeks my DiEM25 colleagues and I are launching a new round of our Campaign Accelerator programme. Tell us about an issue that outrages you, and if we select it we'll help you turn it into a mini-campaign. More news next week.

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