Political rallies in the 2017 General election have brought the campaign to life. Labour’s rallies across the country are showing the power of live engagement.
In recent polls the Conservative lead over Labour has halved since the announcement of the snap general election. It’s not possible (at this stage) to pin that narrowing gap on any one particular policy, campaign message, advert, interview or event.
However, what is clear is the stark difference in the live engagement strategy of the Conservatives and Labour: put simple Labour actually have a live engagement strategy.
Political rallies 2017 General Election and other less inspiring political events!
Here’s two images that I think sum up the differences we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks:
The image above of Jeremy Corby will his back to the camera is a still from a short video doing the rounds (currently hosted on NME of all places). The video is fascinating, and would make a wonderful party political broadcast; no editing, no overdubs. Just this.
The Conservatives live engagement strategy has been, how can I put it? To not have one. Whoever is in charge of these “events” is doing the most awful job, assuming their objective is anything more than: we need to do some events, so just keep them as simple and “boring” as possible. This is of course a possible objective for the Conservatives but it’s proving to be the wrong one.
These Corbyn images and videos aren’t quite as striking for us Scots, as we already have a charismatic people facing, punter engaging politician in Nicola Sturgeon. For rUK, however, this really is the first time that they’ve had a politician who is not just willing, but capable of taking, and holding this type of stage.
To date, Labour’s use of the Political Rally has been fantastic
In a piece I wrote for Common Space about making events “unmissable” I listed five things that the #ScotRef campaigners should consider as they plan and execute their events. Well, Labour have brought my list to life!
With Corbyn’s rallies round the country Labour are demonstrating how powerful live engagement can be for a political campaign. Let’s consider the short appearance of Jeremy Corbyn at The Libertines Gig (against my list):
It is clear what the objectives were for this event. It was firstly to get in front of the 15,000 youngsters and encourage them to vote (for Labour), but beyond that it was to create a clear difference between May’s bland and stale events. And those objectives were achieved.
The second thing on my list was to make events newsworthy. Doing something so different was always likely to spark interest. So, success here too!
Next up was “ensure that your event will be amplified by your attendees”. Just watch the video, and see how many of that audience are snapping, tweeting and sharing images all across their social media platforms. Again, their strategy had its success.
Now, to get in front of young voters, Labour could have organised a Youth Conference. As I’ve covered in previous posts the Conference is still the default event for political parties despite millennials giving them a wide berth. So intransigent are these events that Rise, despite its exceptionally strong youthful leadership, still organise Conferences. My fourth tip in my list was not to run “boring events”. By piggy backing on a concert, Labour avoided that pit fall.
My last point was to ask how political events could inject creativity? Well, so barren of ideas and lacking in any spark, are May’s “strong & stable” events, that doing ANYTHING different appears to be creative. Labour simply aren’t doing what the Tories are doing, and they look like the youthful, fresh and creative campaigners.
A Live Engagement Strategy Matters
Labour are out there doing it. The Tories are failing. Exactly what impact these events, and their amplification, will have on the result, is of course still to be determined. However there should be enough evidence already to show that the #ScotRef movement can not take live engagement for granted. My plan is to make sure that we don’t do that. But I need your help.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
A homeless hackathon would help end homelessness in Glasgow. Let’s do it.
There’s noting more annoying, as an event organiser, than being involved in an event that doesn’t actually do anything. An exhibition where no one buys or sells anything, a conference where no one learns anything useful, or a networking event where no one meets anything. Unfortunately these types of events happen all the time (you’ve probably been to at least one already the year). But not all events are the same. I’d like to introduce the Hackathon.
Events that really make a difference
I mentioned in my article for CommonSpace “Five Tips for the Yes campaign on making #ScotRef events unmissable my desire to see an end to the “boring” independence events. I wised that our events truly inspired, as well as painted a picture of the Scotland we want to create:
“I would love to see ScotRef Barcamps and ScotRef Hackathons, alongside more engaging traditional conferences.”
Words into action
I’ve been thinking about a IndyHack and I am sure that’s something that would really help the indy cause. However, on reading Death on the streets in today’s Sunday Herald our movement has more pressing concerns. If we all, truly want to create a more socially just Scotland we have to tackle these issues AT THE SAME TIME as we push for independence. So, an IndyHack should wait. What can not is a response from those within the Yes movement to the homelessness deaths and the stories behind those appalling figures.
Homeless Hackathon in Glasgow
Thankfully other people are already looking at a Hackathon as a way to end homelessness. There’s one happening in Brisbane in June.
As an event organisers living in Barcelona there doesn’t seem to be a lot I can do to directly and practically improve this appalling situation. Apart from suggest and run a Hackathon or at least support one if Shelter already have plans.
In the meantime, if you would be interested in supporting an IndyHack or a HomelessHack please drop me a note and I will be in touch. Update, no doubt to follow.
Here’s a helpful outline of a hackathon:
The objective is for attendees to bring to life their ideas across an intensive, challenging and hugely rewarding 48 hours.
This format has essentially been created to help organisers achieve an engaged, experiential and interactive event that is easy to amplify. Exactly what our movement has to do!
A Hackathon generally takes place across Friday evening to Sunday evening. Timings are roughly:
4.30 Registration and networking
5.30 Introductory talks
7.00 Break for Burritos
7.30 Pitching idea and joining teams
9.00 Team discussions
10.30 End of first day
Saturday: Full day hack from just after breakfast until evening!
Lunch, white space and re-charge time included and spaced throughout the day
9.00 Product development and practice presentations
13.00 After lunch. Presentations and judging. –
17.00 Prizes over dinner.
There are prizes for many of the innovations. There are mentors from design, development and policy floating around to help and support teams. Sponsors are involved. Hardware is provided on site (3D printers, Virtual Reality etc) to help products to be developed.
If you would be interested in supporting an IndyHack or a HomelessHack please drop me a note here and I will be in touch. Update, no doubt to follow.
#ScotRef events will be more successful if more people are aware of them, and if more people attend them. Facebook helps amplify our events.
Facebook has over 31m registered users in the UK. If you want to get your product / service in front of a lot of people, there is fast becoming no better way to do that, than to use Facebook. However, recently I’ve seen a #deletefacebook campaign (ironically on Twitter) that seems to be gaining momentum.
I am not sure if there was a particular incident, article, TV programme, or annoying advert that prompted @neilmackay to post the above Tweet, but obviously his point of view has had some traction. But let me state this clearly: if you are a #ScotRef event organiser you HAVE to take advantage of Facebook. Our campaigning will play out heavily on this platform.
Top of my list is there shady business practices. Facebook paid less than £5,000 in UK corporation in the UK in 2015. I remember seeing and disbelieving the headline on the news the morning of the revelation. That same morning, I cast my eyes over my inbox to see the detail of the email from my accountant: Facebook paid less corporation tax than my tiny event business!
Facebook made over $4Billon profit that year and stated that its profits in the UK were 0.00005% of their turnover. If that’s the case, the company is clearly run by eejits eh?
The legal case for Facebook to pay a higher percentage of their turnover is black and white: they have done nothing illegal. The moral case for Facebook is equally clear: they have done nothing right.
Such bad business practices alone should be enough for the “intelligent and honest” to heed Neil’s clarion call and ditch the platform. However, if those honest and intelligent people stop engaging and using the platform, then we leave it open to the total abuse by the acolytes of Trump and Farage. If we do not engage we are complicit in placing the power in their hands.
Facebook is a crucial tool for #ScotRef Event Organisers says Scientist (kind of)
Dana Fisher @Fisher_DanaRis an American Scientist, who does nothing else (it seems) but study Protests and Protesters. Her belief in the power of Facebook as a campaigning tool is clear:
Facebook is an invaluable amplification tool. And importantly for our movement it is FREE. An event can gain literally thousands of attendees from a smart use of Facebook.
So, should #scotref event organisers use Facebook? Well, we are all too aware of the negative aspects of this social media platform but we also have to be aware of the benefits to the #ScotRef movement. We have to understand it and use it. So, if you are organising a #ScotRef event don’t #ditchfacebook. Hold off displaying that anger, and let it boil over when Scotland sets and enforces its own corporation tax.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
The ANC is without doubt the heart of the Catalan independence movement.I believe we need a similar organisation in Scotland. A non political, well organised, funded, staffed and supported core organisation.
Cycling down past the Sagrada Familia, towards the coast line that skirts Barcelona, through the thinning late morning traffic, is a wonderful way to head home after a meeting. However, the trip was also slightly dangerous as my head buzzed with amazement at just how incredible successful the Assemblea Nacional Catalana had been in forcing (or at least facilitating) the push for Catalan Independence.
The ANC is a civic society that brings together people from all parts of Catalan society. The ANC has one aim: to win, peacefully and democratically, Catalan independence.
My hour long meeting with the ANC had been with the Head of Press on what was a beautiful April afternoon. Their office on Carrer Marina sits on the edge of one of the hills that guard Barcelona. My decision to take the bus, rather than jump on the BiCi (the city’s almost free bike hire scheme), seemed ever the wiser as we gradually snaked higher and higher into the hills.
Living in Barcelona you will find the ANC hard to miss, especially during the build up to their massive million people plus strong “La Diada de Cataluña” demonstrations, which take place every 11th September. Of course I’ve attended a few of them and I’d even bought a demo t-shirt or two.
As I put together a live engagement strategy for the Yes Campaign, I can clearly learn a lot from the ANC’s approach to events. However, I also believe the entire Independence movement in Scotland has a lot to learn from, what is, a similar struggle here in Catalonia. The ANC is without doubt the heart of the Catalan independence movement. I believe we need a similar organisation in Scotland.
Behind the scenes at the Catalan National Assembly
The ANC is like a Yes Scotland that didn’t dissolve. Strikingly the ANC was formed in March 2012, just two months before Yes Scotland; one organisation grew to greatness and one disappeared.
In order to for the wider Yes movement to learn from the ANC, I’d like to initially compare it to the organisation set to lead the grass roots (non political party affiliated) independence movement in Scotland: the Scottish Independence Convention.
I hear that things are a foot with the SIC. This is great news, as for many within the movement, the SIC is a mysterious, celebrity led group, existing only (if you don’t scroll past page one on Google) on Facebook. However, the SIC does release the odd press release and organise the odd event like the “Build” conference.
I assume the revamp of SIC is on hold until after the June General Election and this will hopefully give those at SIC an opportunity to pause to reflect on the meaning of a “grass roots” movement and to learn from their daring Catalan brothers and sisters at the ANC.
The Catalan National Assembly inside the building
As the ANC has been in operation for almost five years it wouldn’t be fair to directly compare it to the SIC; to do that would be to place Queen of The South on the same field as Barcelona: the ANC and SIC are simply in different leagues. Hopefully after the revamp a comparison may look less awkward.
The key facts on the ANC:
584 local assemblies
38 foreign assemblies
52 social and professional interest-based assemblies
The national secretariat consists of 77 elected members who sit on various committees. Heads of committees meet weekly.
The group is “non political” and has no official relationship with any political party.
It is entirely funded by its members: 38,000 “full time” members and over 40,000 “associate members”
They have offices in Barcelona, with ten full time staff.
Impressive for an organisation less than five years old, and this shows the scope of what is possible for a grass roots movement pushing for Independence.
So what of Scotland and its grass roots organisation? Who should lead and what should that movement look like?
Well, as far as I can see no one is asking “the movement” who should lead. So I tried to start the ball rolling. Although hardly the biggest sample (Twitter poll below) it seems to me that our movement is saying only one thing clearly: we want / need a grass roots organisation. It is less clear which organisation should lead, or how that organisation should be structured.
From June onwards everyone within the movement, not just a select few, should be involved in helping to create and structure the organisation that will lead the #ScotRef movement. If that body is grass roots in name, it has to be grass roots in deed.
Let’s start with this scenario. I am a possible “Yes” supporter. I voted “No” in 2014 but my faith in the Union has wavered. I still have my doubts, but I am willing to engage to find out more. I would like to go to a few events to find out some more information. I’d like a list of upcoming events, that would be helpful. So, where do I start?
Google generic search
If searching for ScotRefEvents I would surely start with a Google search: “Independence events in scotland 2017″ would seem like a reasonable search term. However, no list of relevent events is to be found. Links to the fantastic Independence Live and the equally magnificent Woman for Independence appear. Following the link to Independence Live’s Facebook page ends here:
The Woman for Independence link does show THEIR upcoming events, but of course this is far from a definitive list of events for the movement.
You won’t land in the right place with a general search term, so you have to get pretty specific to find an event on Google, and even when you do, you may not land on a live event. A search on “events about a Scottish currency 2017” lead to an Eventbrite (more on Eventbrite below) page for an event that took place in Galashiels in March. Close, but no cigar.
So, here we are, no nearer to finding any future events (apart from the Woman for Indy: “Knit Your Own Pussy Hat”) To be honest, we can’t be too surprised at not finding individual events. The Search Engine Optimisation needed to drop a local event onto the first page of Google is beyond the reach of most indy groups, and paid for adverts on Google are a non starter.
As I noted above, we did find an event on Eventbrite, via our Google Search, so let’s look at that platform in detail.
Eventbrite is the Facebook and Google for Events. It is effectively a micro search engine for events, or as Eventbrite calls them now, “experiences”.
Running your event on the platform that sits behind the world’s most popular search engine for events will increase the number of people who find it. Not only are people able to find your event directly via the platform, but your event is likely to rank higher with Google if it is on the Eventbrite platform. So, let’s take a look.
I used the search above and found the following events:
As you can see, it wasn’t long before Eventbrite suggested the totally irrelevant (second recommendation is way off!) but at least I found one live event that would, in our scenario, be of interest to that possible “Yes” voter, the CommonWeal event. But that’s it. One event.
So at this stage, I think it’s fair to ask the following question: As a movement are our events easy enough to find? Well, not so far, so let’s have a look at finding our events via Twitter?
Most people use hashtags to find specific areas / things of interest on Twitter. The most obvious #tag would be #ScotRefEvents but that leads to “no results”. Searching on “#ScotRef” leads to thousands of tweets. Using the search function for “scottish independence events” again leads us nowhere.
Unless you are following a specific Yes leaning organisation (and in our scenario this isn’t that likely), you aren’t going to see anything about their events. There is of course some chance of finding out about an event as people retweet information. But we can’t rely on that as a way for people to find our events. Twitter, at the moment, seems like another dead end. So let’s have a look at the most popular social network: Facebook.
Last year Facebook really beefed up their events offering with EventMangerBlog suggesting that “Facebook Will Change Events Forever”, it is a platform that event organisers can’t ignore. For many of the grass roots events, Facebook is THE destination page for their events. So, surely, it should be easy for our No voter to find our events. But no, it’s the same old story:
I used two different search functions. The generic one and the event specific one. Searching on “Scotref Events” did, finally, return a live independence event! The GNW Scotref launch. I am sure this is a great event! But after such a long drawn out search our No voter would probably be too tired to attend.
So, searching via Google, Twitter, Eventbrite and Facebook our potential Yes voter found TWO future events. That’s it. TWO EVENTS. I know we can do better than that. There’s little point putting on an event if no one knows about it.
It is crucial that we engage as much as possible with those who seek information and engagement in a live environment.
For our movement we can’t do the field of dreams: “build it and they will come”, we have to think about how people find our events and we have to do all we can to help them find them.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
The number of people taking part in demonstrations matter. Social mobilisation is a crucial means to an end.
It seems to be all the rage at the moment to compare Barcelona to Glasgow. So I thought I’d continue that trend, and add my thoughts about social mobilisation in Catalonia and Scotland. To do this I’ve looked at a two events held in Barcelona last month. By looking at these events I will hopefully demonstrate my concern for the forthcoming second independence referendum in Scotland. I will set that thought out here: our events will have little impact if the current trend of low numbers continues.
First up is a Monday morning demonstration that was held outside the Higher Court of Justice in Barcelona. Artur Mas, the ex President of Catalonia was on trial for supporting a symbolic vote on Independence for Catalonia. Yes, you read that correctly, on trail for organising a referendum. You can probably start to see some potentially scary similarities. Here’s the details from Señor Mas:
“More than 50,000 people from around the country, many having got up very early, have come out on a Monday morning. The people always teach us a lesson: unity and social mobilisation.”
Yup, there really was 50,000 outside the court on a Monday morning. This wasn’t any kind of anomaly. Catalans demonstrate regularly and often bring tens of thousands on to the streets.
A week or so later an estimated 160,000 took to the streets on a Saturday evening to demonstrate against Spain’s intransigence with refugees.
Catalan politicians know that social mobilisation is important and so do Catalans:
“Puigdemont (current Catalan President) calls for social mobilisation before the referendum”
I wonder if Scottish politicians and the YES movement have realised that numbers really matter. And if so what they plan to do about it?
Once again a monumental display of democracy will be tarred with the brush of being divisive.
It’s easy to drag up any old anecdote to bring a poorly founded argument to life. The neighbours no longer sharing a doorstep and a coffee. The brothers now drinking at different pubs. The 11 aside football team; now split and playing 5s. That referendum it was so divisive. The debate on a second referendum in the Scottish Parliament has been high on anecdote but low on facts.
When anyone plays this anecdote game, it’s just as easy to “prove” the exact opposite: neighbours, brothers and pals reunited, cry the other side with equal vigour. So to analyse the real outcome of 2014 and to put to bed the false claim of division, we must look at the impact it had on the most powerful of indicators: the social capital created directly from the campaign.
So I thought I’d call Robert D. Putnam as a witness. America’s leading political scientist, via his enlightening books Bowling Alone and Our Kids, should be able to shed some light on the “divisive” nature of political discourse.
Social capital is a form of economic and cultural capital in which social networks are central, transactions are marked by reciprocity, trust, and cooperation. It is generally perceived that a society which is high in social capital is lower in many of the ills of society. High social capital reduces poverty, illness and crime. It removes dishonesty, greed and deceit. In fact it does so much more. Perhaps the best way to describe it, is to search for a word that would sum up a society which is low in social capital. That word would be “divisive”
The “divisive Scottish referendum” campaign provided an exceptionally strong burst of social capital within Scotland. The following four examples score very highly on the social capital index:
High voter turnout – especially the youth vote
The turnout for the 2014 independence referendum was the largest democratic vote in modern political times in the UK; breaking a generational trend of voter apathy. Voter turnout is one of the key factors sociologists look at when judging the community engagement within a society.
It was the first time that the youngest adults in our society had the opportunity to engage in the ultimate act of democracy. Voters under the age of twenty had previously been the most difficult to engage. Social capital generated by the young can have a much longer impact on a society.
Birth of organisations
The campaign gave birth to scores of organisations including, to name but a few; Common Weal, Woman for Independence, Independence Live, RIC and Business for Scotland. Robert D. Putnam speaks of similar groups in the US as “a useful barometer of community involvement” and “one facet of social capital” These types of organisations are rich in social capital. The social capital they create extend into the wider society.
New media outlets
During, and in a few months after the first independence vote, new media outlets, including a daily newspaper The National were born. New media gave birth to Wings Over Scotland, Common Space and Bella Caledonia. These outlets created a new way of reporting, engaging with, and making news. In giving a community a voice they greatly increase social capital.
Crowd funding is an internet based source of community funding and is one of the highest scoring ways to increase a society’s social capital. Almost all of the groups mentioned above, and many, many more have brought people together to support a common cause, and as a by product have increased the social capital in Scotland.
“Divisive, divisive, divisive” is already the calling card of the lazy hack and the politician set on division. That claim should be as easy to dismiss as it is to disprove. As every sociologist or political scientist will tell you: no matter the result of the next referendum Scotland, through an explosion of social capital, will be richer for it.
Event organisers have to be quick off the mark. Less than 24hours after the First Minister’s announcement of a second independence referendum, news of YES and NO events filled twitter. And not everyone was happy with the initial #scotref events!
To find out more about this planned event, and the reaction to it, I followed an STV thread which announced the event. And there I found the most interesting, event related comments of the day. A good old clearing the air took place as our movement started to question our live engagement strategy. @derekbateman2 suggesting that marches have had their time! (By the way, he’s wrong. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it)
As an event organiser who has set himself the challenge of coordinating a live engagement strategy for the YES campaign, these comments are exceptionally useful and also encouraging. Because, you may remember we ran 1000s of YES events and WE LOST. So, here’s how I view the future (and the past) put succinctly by @douglasdaniel:
So that’s what we are up to. Running and planning events right out of the block. But the speed of an organiser should not be how you measure their success.
@scotlandinunion ran an event, which must have been hastily (and therefore quite impressively) put together before the FM’s hat had even hit the ground. However, @davidtorrance wasn’t that impressed.
I noticed David in the audience at SIC’s Build conference in January and it would be interesting to know what he thought of that event. There was certainly less Tweed, but the age of the audience and the muddiness of the discussion were similar. So, let’s not judge a campaign by a single event. Or we are all doomed!
However, following DT’s tip, I was keen to check out the “opposition” via their Twitter feed. It looked pretty professional, although rather corporate. And I loved the giveaway earplugs! “Scotland Spoke, why won’t the politicians listen” the packaging said: nice. However, the event was entitled “Project Listen”. So that was confusing. But one thing struck home: the NO events will not be lacking in cash.
To this organiser, the pictures above did say a thousand words. I wonder what they say to you? David picked up on the fashion (not surprisingly), the age of the audience and the lack of clarity in the arguments. We can but hope that these weaknesses in the NO camp continue throughout the campaign, but I picked up on something different.
This NO event was about “listening”: it was about YOU listening, about being telt what to do and what to think. It was an old school event. And without doubt it will be a template followed by the NO campaign. We should avoid this template at all costs.
Our events have to be very different from their events and our events in 2014. The YES campaign must have participants and not an audience. Our events have to engage and empower, and they have to at least hint at the Scotland that we envisage. Events can do all these things, and quite easily.
If our movement embraces a new way of running every type of event, our events can, this time, really make the difference.
If you are interested in contributing to my work on a live engagement strategy for the YES movement please get in touch.
From initially broadcasting other independence events, to creating their own, Independence Live cement their important place within the movement.
There’s little glamour at IndyLive headquarters on Morrison Street on the south side of Glasgow. Brightly painted walls do their best to welcome you into the collection of nook and cranny spaces that Independence Live call home. A “Yes” banner, gaffer taped to the wall, hints at what lurks inside. With a small office and a slightly larger (but totally empty) meeting room, they are clearly in the settling in stage. The reception (which they share with another organisation) has to double as the studio.
That makeshift studio can only be constructed once the staff from the other office have left for the evening. So with a 7pm start the plugging, unplugging, testing and wiring begins in haste. The clock is ticking. Welcome to the world of live broadcasts.
With the few audience members seated, shushed and supplied with coffee, the “1.2, 1.2”, – as much a ritual to the broadcasting Gods, as of actual use to the engineers – seem hurried. Instructions boom from the huge frame of the floor manager. Going live approaches. “It’s OK if we don’t start exactly at 7?” asks one of the apprehensive crew.
Success in the second independence campaign will be built on stories and journeys like these. The growing number of tales will provide vital social proofing to others, outside the 45. They contain clear evidence that is it OK to change a previously strongly held view, plus the knowledge, that you are far from being alone.
Both Steven and Eric, of course, cite Brexit’s defining role in their transformation. However, the central reason for their support for independence, was the realisation – in the form of Jeremy Corbyn “leading” a disintegrating Labour party – that a second No vote would lead to two decades of right wing Tory rule from London.
In assembling this panel Independent Live show they have the nose for a story, as much as an eye for a camera angle. They have demonstrated over the last four years that they are central to the independence movement in Scotland.
I nipped on to the Convention website a week or so before the event only to see that it had “SOLD OUT” This is great news for the organisers and certainly highlighted a demand from the movement for an event like this. But a bit annoying if you planned to attend!
However, with a four month old and a twenty-two month at home in Barcelona, the chances of getting over to the event in Glasgow were always going to be slim. Over the winter months it is impossible to get to Scotland and back to Catalunya in a day: something I am sure will change once we welcome two independent countries!
So I watched the The Scottish Independence Convention Presents – Build, online (and you can still watch it!) courtesy of the excellent independence live. However, rather than just watch the event, I decided to review it. I would hope that my twenty years plus of organising events would provide an interesting and useful view for those in the movement who plan to run Indyref2 events.
Events like this will play an exceptionally important role in the Indyref2 campaign. This event, for many, marked the un/official launch of the Indyref2 campaign so it seemed like the best place to start.
I imagine that many people will comment on the content, choice of speakers and the politics of it all, so my review will focus on the area I specialise in: meeting design. Or, I suppose, the art of making meetings less boring and much more useful for all involved. I would strongly argue that better meetings for our movement can play a positive role in winning the campaign.
It’s worth stating that I have organised most of my events in a similar not for profit / charity environment, so I should be able to gauge roughly the constraints and difficulties of the organisers as well as the possible outcomes of such an event. I also have to say that my review is meant to be 100% constructively critical (because it is critical) and is made very much in the spirit called for during the event as those “with knowledge and experience” step forward and offer help. I imagine that many of the thousands of upcoming Indyref2 events can learn from some of the mistakes made by SIC.
What “Build” promised
The event stated:
“Speakers and interactive sessions will explore what the independence movement needs to do now to get strategy, policy and movement building in place to secure victory in the next referendum”
The programme (below) added some more detail.
The day was split into three distinct sessions: Policy, Strategy and Movement. Both of the first two sections would finish with one of the hour long interactive sessions, mentioned in the website blurb. These “Interactive Discussions” would follow speaker to audience style presentations of 1hr and 1hr30.
As a meeting designer, of some seven hundred similar conference style events, I couldn’t quite see how the initial programme could live up to the underlying idea of an interactive event. Of the 18 sessions, only 2 appeared to be interactive. If you are going to highlight the interactive nature of an event more than two of the sessions should be interactive. This is the type of thing you would expect a meeting designer to pick up and mention before the event.
Some delegates and speakers mentioned the other things the event should do, alongside the “exploring what the movement needs to do now” as outlined on the website. Tommy Sheppard called for “energy and substance” One comment on the Common Space website called for “comfy seats” Events, I thought, have to do so many things!
Logistics – the bread and butter
The Radisson Blu hotel in Glasgow seemed like the perfect venue (numerically speaking) for an 800 strong audience. Running an event on a Saturday, no doubt allowed the organisers the opportunity to step up from a church hall or similar lower budget space. It was a bold move and one that other events should follow if possible: the space for a meeting is very important.
Throughout the day there were many logistical issues (big and small) that a professional event organiser would have picked up on earlier, or would have totally avoided. It was clear that the team were doing a good job, but lacked a professional eye. Running events is pretty easy; running seamless events, that deliver maximum value to all, is very hard.
Watching online gives you a quite different view from an attendee as to the logistics of the event. Although not in the room (obviously) the online audience did have a nice little extra: a live audio feed in the run up to the event. This, accidentally, allowed us to hear some interesting, rather panicked discussions as the event rolled past its scheduled start time. However, after a 15 min delay, no doubt to register the 800 attendees, the conference was underway.
Like many events there was some initial communication issues (I can’t imagine Elaine C Smith being the easiest person to give a Chair’s brief to!) and some tech problems around the use of handheld mics, but these really were minor, and overall the onsite team did a good job.
Important as they are, I mention logistics in passing, it is the strategic stuff I am interested in: what the event set out to achieve, and how it attempted to achieve them.
What were the objectives of Build?
We’d had an overarching vision for the event as the “what we should do now” for the movement. That’s a BIG call for one, six hour event. So I had looked for meaningful and realistic objectives. This is what I would always do if I was supporting a client to run the best possible event.
It’s impossible to know if an event has been a success without an idea of the objectives for the event. Of course, without clear and shared objectives, how does an event know what it is supposed to do? Earlier this year I had a chat with Robin McAlpine, who’s Common Weal seemed to have been the driving force behind the event. I asked him, “What were the normal objectives for Common Weal events?”
Robin answered that he was a fan of simple objectives like: “Don’t lose money. Keep everyone happy. Be noticed. Get a crowd.” Simple indeed, buthard to deliver, hard to measure and hard to be of much actual strategic use. So I sought some clarity from Elaine C Smith’s introduction.
Elaine’s welcome identified the core (and eminently achievable) objective for the day: “we want to know what you (the audience) have to say”This backed up the “interactive” undertone of the conference blurb. We want interaction and we want to hear from you. Brilliant! What’s the point of gathering 800 campaigners in a room if you aren’t going to listen to them? Hold that thought.
Elaine noted that the audience was full of “big brained people” and now was their opportunity to speak to, rather than hear from, the “big table” of speakers that appear at other similar events. This was the one clear objective and the event failed to deliver.
Interaction is more than a word or a session; it’s an entire framework for a conference
Even if all of the interaction that was planned on the programme took place, the event would have never achieved the objective of “hearing from the audience” It’s pretty simple: if you want to hear from the audience, you do not have sixteen sessions delivered by speakers from the platform.
There are many tried and tested ways to ensure any event is interactive – even with 800 attendees. With some meeting design, “Build” could have achieved that objective. There are so many tips and techniques that I couldn’t even try to fit them into one post! If you are planning an Indyref2 event and want to know how to run a genuinely interactive event (even for 800) drop me a note.
So in terms of interaction, I think it would be best to cover what Build did, rather than what they didn’t. And you can judge if this was an interactive event.
As I said above, there were 18 speaker led session and only 2 advertised as “discussion” sessions.
There were very few opportunities for questions from the audience following any of the speaker led sessions.
The audience gradually grew restless as the day went on and shouting disagreement became the only “interactive” outlet.
Of the two “hour long” interactive sessions, one lasted only 48mins. The other managed the full hour.
The session led by Lesley Riddock was exceptionally well facilitated and very professional. Lesley paced the floor. She was engaging, probed the audience and properly facilitated the discussion.
The other sessions was different. Robin McAlpine spoke for 41minutes of the 48minutes “discussion” that he “facilitated”. I know this because I actually timed it. I’ve met Robin you see. During the session the audience voted on what actions, the excellent, Common Weal will take forward. I think this was what happened, as it was done at such a breakneck speed I can not be at all confident. The 800 were asked to vote (the 500 online didn’t have any chance to interact), on around ten of the most fundamentally complex and important questions facing our movement. That’s approx 4 mins per question! It is a stretch to call voting interaction, but it’s certainly better than nothing. As Peter Curran watching online said “If this is participation, I am Gordon Brown”.
The second interactive session did include comments (around 7 mins of that in the 48mins) from social media and this did add some genuine interaction which was well handled by Angela the “Social Sidekick”
Can those who organise conferences really make such obvious mistakes? Unfortunately, it is easy to seek an interactive event, but much harder to deliver it.
To be interactive a conference has to be designed. Information has to flow between those on stage and those in the audience. And most importantly: that audience has to be redefined as “participants” In seeking interaction and not finding it “Build” will not be alone in the Indyref2 campaign. Unless we listen and interact with the event management profession.
How to run an interactive Indyref2 event
I’ve seen many events start with the genuine desire to turn the “audience into participants” but dole out the familiar roles on the day: speakers speak and the audience listen. To run an interactive event, those running it need an understanding of the rules of event management and experience or knowledge of how to support participation and engagement. Unfortunately for the 800 attendees and the 500 odd online, the event did not achieve this most crucial objective.
If this crucial mistake is made by other Indyref2 events it is the movement that will take the hit, along with the bored attendees. A movement is hamstrung if there is little interaction within it. We’ve got to build better events. The advice, knowledge and experience is out there, those in the movement just have to interact with it.
If you are an IndyRef2 minded organisation and would like some support to run better events then please do get in touch.
If you are a skilled and experienced event organiser who would like to support the movement drop me a note.
An independent Scot's view on the search for an independent nation