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Audiences, Activists and Messages

Image Credit: Together with Refugees

Segmenting the Audiences

Changemakers are using a range of different audience segmentations. We will explore one of them in detail here, with a nod to another, and reflect the dilemma that they pose.

More in Common launched the Britain’s Choice project in 2020 to better understand how to build a more united and cohesive Britain. They have developed 7 groups/audience segments, based on the values people hold. 

HOPE not hate have also done some segmentation work, and they call theirs The Tribes. They also have 7 different groups/segments that they have developed to understand what draws different groups towards extremist or populist politics. 

There is ongoing work happening to consider whether and how these segmentations can be aligned and how they then overlay with geography. That work will provide a rich insight that will allow campaigners, organisers and strategists to be even more sophisticated in their targeting.

The majority of people interviewed for this research, if they talked about audience segmentation at all, talked about the More in Common research and so this is the one used to explore this dilemma.

More in Common call one group “Progressive Activists”. They make up 13% of the population but make up the majority share of changemakers, whether those employed in professional campaigning and organising roles or those who are volunteer activists for our causes.  A theme that surfaced on a couple of occasions in the interviews was around how progressive activists don't see the world from the point of view of people in the other groups. This means that currently much of the campaign material produced speaks directly to this audience, potentially alienating up 87% of the population. Even where organisations identify new segments to target, developing effective communications can be a challenge as the Progressive Activists on staff or in the supporter base can resist trying new things. 

There are some challenging questions that come up as a result of this dilemma:

  • How do we ensure that there is a broader diversity of perspectives in our work?
  • What does this mean when thinking about power building and organising in communities outside London and other urban areas?
  • How can we both hold on to our base (and inspire our staff) and recruit new support?

Strengthening diversity through power building

In their pamphlet Counter Culture: How to Resist the Culture Wars and Build 21st Century Solidarity Kirsty McNeill and Roger Harding ask us all to consider one challenging question: are we here to win a culture war, or to end one? They argue that the so-called ‘culture wars’ are real, but not authentic, meaning that they do represent a real threat to our unity but not because they represent authentic divisions that exist in our neighbourhoods and workplaces. In fact, they say, these rows are often manufactured, with culture war peddlers magnifying “the minor, the marginal and the made-up to inflame tensions”, leaving us “distracted, divided, demoralised and defeated”.

They go on to suggest that there is a special role for organisers in building a powerful multi-racial, intergenerational, cross-class movement that can deliver change not just for its members but for us all. That’s because good organising, by definition, involves bringing people together around common interests and resisting the kind of ‘zero-sum’ thinking that suggests for someone to be gaining, someone must be losing. 

Organising builds collective power, where we all move forward together, and it creates the kind of social capital that helps communities withstand events that might otherwise divide people into hostile ‘camps’. And effective organising is inherently relational, meaning that someone who is an opponent today can be an ally tomorrow, because every interaction is a chance to build ties and not treat it as a one-shot game. 

There is plenty of debate about whether organising has to be depolarising in intent, but little argument that it is depolarising in its effect. Investment in organising is, therefore, one of the best ways to deny the culture war peddlers the fight they want and to focus on weaving belonging and solidarity into the fabric of our common life instead.

The point here is that we need to build power through solidarity, it won’t just emerge on its own. NEON takes the approach that all work must be centred in anti-oppressive practice. Through continually engaging and consulting with their communities and through reflective practice they look to understand power within the movements they support and use that to ensure accountability to the diverse interests that make up movements for justice. For them, building diverse leadership power in communities that are often excluded and marginalised is the work.  

Getting this right will mean thinking deeply about building power among people whose identities currently keep them far from it. We need to think deliberately how to make activist spaces more racially diverse, consider how we are building the power of people with disabilities, those who are migrants and refugees and those who are LGBTQI+. We must also consider how class shapes campaigning spaces and how to make room for and resource more working-class leadership in our movements. 

The message and the messenger 

Not unrelated to the dilemma about audience segmentation is one about the message that we share on our issues and the messengers we ask to spread those ideas. Models of community organising are built on the premise of listening, but lots of the campaigning resources that have been historically developed are based on the premise of telling. A key dilemma is about how organisations and movements can change from their current approaches, which often work effectively with fundraising, to one which reaches new audiences strategic to change. When interviewing the New Economics Foundation, they shared their model of ‘persuasive conversations’ that they have been developing as part of their Great Homes Upgrade campaign. These conversations are built on the premise of deep listening and reflecting to help move someone from their starting position round to one that is in support of your campaign aims over the course of a slightly longer conversation. Likewise, the Aid Alliance’s Power Postcodes organisers have adapted the ‘deep canvassing’ methodology from Californian LGBTQI+ campaigners in order to have depolarised conversations about international issues. They meet people where they are and use coaching techniques to build trust by looking for the merit in objections.                     

Not every local power building effort will be based on deep listening methodologies, however. Some organisations will still have to do a lot of ‘telling’, not least as they will want to acquire new supporters for fundraising. This work too could be improved by more joint work. Despite huge investment in researching ‘frames’ and developing ‘narratives’, much of civil society still isn’t investing in ‘routes to market’ to ensure those stories are heard, nor in shared evaluation about which stories work (and who they work with). There may be benefit in funders and strategists collaborating to evaluate organising and storytelling efforts so that successes can be scaled fast and failures identified early (and openly).