Ecampaigning Forum – Update from Day 1

Ecampaigning Forum - Photo by Drumtoo -

I’m writing from the Fairsay 2008 Ecampaigning Forum in beautiful Oxford. I’m very grateful to Oxfam Ireland for sending me here – I’m the only web specialist in our organisation, so its really great to be able to meet with and talk to people who work in similar roles, and discuss ideas. And here’s hoping it delays my transformation into a cranky hermit.

This is my first year attending the Forum, although it’s been running for five years. This year, there are over 100 people attending from over 60 different non-profit organisations. The biggest presences here are probably Oxfam, Amnesty and Greenpeace, but there are also lots of small NGOs with really interesting projects, such as Walk to School. I’m here with our lovely Campaigns Coordinator Rebecca Emery, many of my international Oxfam colleagues, and my old and dear friend Alice-Mary, who works with Trocaire. We sat together today in a lecture hall and sneaked looks at each others notes; it was like being back in college, except with less drama and alcopops. Although the night is still young.

The day kicked off with a speech from Ben Brandzel, who has worked with and the John Edwards presidential campaign among others, and there couldn’t have been a better start to the day. As well as being a really engaging and articulate speaker, Ben gave us absolutely nothing but useful information – it was memorable and stimulating and set us up beautifully for the discussions that followed.

After Ben spoke, my colleague Karina Brisby from Oxfam Great Britain spoke really well about ecampaigning; showing examples of Oxfam’s work in the area, talking through tips and common pitfalls, and giving examples of successful and innovative ecampaigns, such as, My ActionAid and the Burma Facebook group.

The afternoon discussion groups were set up using a technique called Open Space, something that was completely new to me. I am generally a bit too curmudgeonly to participate in activities that ask me to visualise myself as a bumble bee, unless toddlers are involved or I’ve been at the gin – or both, which I can recommend. But I have to say that this worked very well.

I attended four sessions in total, all of which were packed full of interesting questions, new issues to consider, helpful examples, tips and brand new technological concepts. I can’t overstate the value of this kind of face to face discussion, particularly for someone like me who is so busy that I rarely get time to do any research. In fact somebody in one of the sessions mentioned that they feel we should all be spending 20% of our time on research. So anyway, I attended sessions on 1) The Swarm, 2) Campaigning to a young audience, 3) The trends that are likely to affect ecampaigning over the next 3-5 years and 4) blogging. After this, there was a panel discussion on elections, and how to best use ecampaigning around them. I took copious scribbly notes in all sessions and will beat them into some kind of useful shape over the next few days. A useful aspect of Open Space is that notes from all sessions are posted on the wall, so I got some concise n handy tips from sessions that clashed with the ones I attended. I’m now all over stimulated and fired up, and will go to dinner and babble at whatever unfortunate is sitting beside me, and probably drink wine too quickly. Hurray!

Other thoughts:

  • Happy Birthday Alice!
  • I also attended an excellent pre-meeting for Oxfam Ecampaigners the day before the forum – it was my first meeting with this group, and it was really inspiring to hear about some of the great work that’s going on in the affiliates. Links to follow.
  • If there is a box of Krispy Kreme donuts at an ecampaigning meeting and you eat 2.5 of them, you will feel like you need a shower for the next 24 hours (and counting)…even just after you’ve had an actual shower.
  • Oxford is incredibly beautiful, the college where we’re staying is gorgeous, the anglepoise lamps in my little room make me feel all studious. I’m hoping to do more exploring this evening, and see more floppy-haired boys riding bicycles.
  • It would appear that saying that the chef is ‘the best chef out of all the college dining halls’ is roughly equivalent to saying ‘he’s the best chef out of all the local prisons’.

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