How can the ethos of community organising be applied to student campaigning? And what is community organising is and how can it increase the impact of your campaigns?
In this plenary delegates explored how to analyse power structures in their institutions; understand how power and relationship building relate; and learn how to use this awareness to their campaigning advantage.
Tom Chigbo is a Community Organiser in the London borough of Lambeth for Citizens UK, working with faith, education and civic institutions. He was previously President of Cambridge University Students’ Union.
Abi Coombs is NUS’ Activist Development Officer. She develops and delivers training for a wide range of student activists, from campaign groups to student reps.
Introducing the session, Tom explained that the reason he is involved in politics is because of "learning how to change small things in my college, and then bigger things in my university”.
Turning the plenary session in to a large workshop, Tom instructed that they were going to do a few exercises and figure out how we can create the changes we are interested in for this zone.
Each table was given a series of envelopes, one containing an issue and one containing a list of tasks.
“Look around your table, that’s your students’ union officer team and you have to make the change, that is presented in the first envelope, happen”
For the next five minutes, delegates were asked to list the five people they would speak to who had power to influence the change they had to make.
The next phase of the exercise was to prioritise a list of tasks that were contained in a second envelope.
Once everyone had a chance to discuss who they would target and how they would prioritise their tasks, delegates were asked to feed back.
These discussions were not about the merits of the campaign but they were about getting things done, and these discussions are important for us to understand how to start organising.
Tom shared how he would prioritise tasks by ‘front-loading’ meetings on the agenda. Half of the room agreed and the other half believed they would do this differently.
The reasoning Tom gave behind having the meetings first is that this is a good way to understand more about the issue and how you can formulate the campaign.
Understanding the people you need to influence is key to achieving campaign aims. Tom presented the group with a tool, the stick person, to help delve in to the things that drive people’s choices.
If you draw a stick person and then list all the personal interests of a member of staff, you can work out how you can frame your campaign and as a result get the people you need on board.
The main lesson that Tom wanted to leave delegates with was that we often spend a lot of time, energy and effort focusing on ‘what’ - ‘what we care about’.
However, we should spend just as much time thinking about the ‘how’ – we should invest time in building relationships, with students, academics, trade unions and other people.
Finishing on a personal note, Tom explain that had he not spent the time “building a relationship with an influential member of staff in the university” the campaign they were running at the time might not have been successful at all.
You can build a relationship with anyone; the key is just to find out what they care about. Listen to them.
You can take a look at the presentation delivered by Tom and Abi. If you have any questions about effective organising you can contact the NUS Campaigns team on email@example.com