A group exercise from the MobLab Community Call on 25 March 2020

Crises like these exacerbate existing inequality and power dynamics. The very structures and inequalities we’re fighting against will certainly be worsened as the coronavirus health crisis continues to spread around the world, disproportionately affecting women, migrants, the homeless, the working-class, and so many more. What this crisis has made crystal clear is that every gap in our society is now visible: every group of people who are being left behind in coronavirus response, and who suffers first, and the most, when economic recessions hit.

In the past, moments of disruption like these have enabled our opponents to advance harmful agendas. This is an essential window for social change campaigners to not only defend rights for people and the planet but also drive quantum leaps forward rather than incremental steps. 

Every campaigner, grassroots group, and social change organisation needs to reassess its existing analyses, strategies, and tactics. In the midst of a public health crisis that leaves no systemic injustice behind, what was previously politically possible (or impossible) may now be the opposite. Social norms have shifted; people are more open to previously unimaginable ideas and possibilities as they experience unprecedented cooperation. And growing economic challenges pave the way for new solutions and alternatives. 

Here are four critical new realities we believe advocacy campaigners and their organisations need to address in order to remain effective:

  • Walk away from last month’s theory of change. The world is changing more quickly than ever—with greater complexity and more uncertainty—and our interconnectedness has never been more apparent. Traditional, linear campaign plans limit our options by assuming a static set of variables: a plus b will lead to c. Agile campaign teams are able to continuously reassess changing landscapes, always looking for opportunities to transform existing systems with creative interventions. The combination of responsiveness and systems thinking needed right now is delicate yet essential: Teams will need to figure out what’s needed now and respond to immediate injustices while simultaneously campaigning for systemic change. 
  • Thinking outside of the (digital) box. The next step is not to go back to what we were already doing—online petitions and peer-to-peer SMS. These tools may be well be useful, but what creative new strategies and tactics will we use to generate meaningful participation in a more crowded (and stressful) digital landscape—while reaching those who have historically resisted digital campaigning and organising? We’ve seen that changemakers who embrace creative processes and design thinking approaches are especially well equipped to launch campaigns that overcome existing barriers.
  • Changemakers can do more with less—through people-centered design. Organisations facing resource and financial constraints can still tap into the greatest resource available: people who are open, willing and mobilised to support their communities, save lives, fight for human rights, and make positive change right now. Putting people at the centre of our planning not only allows us to scale our work but also ensures campaign messages are relevant rather than tone deaf. 
  • The impact of the digital divide is greater than ever. The most vulnerable populations risk being further excluded from planning and decision-making—especially in fast-paced, crisis contexts. It’s therefore crucial for campaigners to set up tight, inclusive feedback loops with supporters, key audiences, and crucially–impacted communities. These individuals should not only be informing campaigns but also involved in decision-making to ensure that campaigns are a) effective, and b) that solutions work for everyone, centering principles of justice and equity.  

How MobLab is supporting

Developing these capacities will require exceptional mutual support during these challenging times. Here are two ways we’re shifting MobLab’s objectives to better serve changemakers around the world in this moment:

(A) Remote campaign collaboration: In less than a week, at the start of the pandemic, we retooled and rebuilt our flagship, in-person Campaign Accelerator as a fully remote campaign design lab and training—without losing any of the key collaborative, immersive learning elements that make it so effective for planning creative, systems-based, people-powered campaigns. We just completed our first successful pilot of the new format on Friday, and we’re getting ready to announce additional trainings and workshop dates. 

(B) Supporting campaigners: We believe the greatest innovations emerge from the edges—from changemakers forced to test and experiment in times like these. These are the most fertile opportunities not only for community care but also for peer learning. We would like to create deeper communities of practice to ensure we all have the relationships, skills, and tools to build the teams and organisations described above. 

We hosted two Community Calls this week with more than 120 participants from around the world. We are grateful for their generosity and solidarity. Together, we exchanged valuable experiences, insights and challenges in adapting to the current landscape. We also seek funding to scale our ability to facilitate ongoing peer learning and convert more of our existing tools and frameworks into openly accessible resources. We will share the takeaways from these Community Calls in the next edition of our Dispatch

Facilitating virtual spaces for our community to support one another with learnings and experiences during this time means that we are humbled by and remain in service to our ecosystem of changemakers. 

Transforming our core curriculum means that we are committed to helping more teams design and deliver systems-changing, people-powered campaigns. We will not cancel, and we will not postpone; we will adapt to these times and our community’s needs, which are significantly greater right now. We’re committed to sharing the learnings along the way so that you can continue your social justice work, as well.

– Michael, Jacqui, and the MobLab Team