Sheila McKechnie Foundation: unleashing Social Power: logo
Introduction to campaigning and social change

Understanding power and influence

Introducing the tool

Many campaigns are designed to bring influence to bear on a particular target – common campaign targets include government ministers and local MPs; senior decision makers in large organisations; a public figure or possibly a whole sector or profession – like the fashion sector, or the police.

In these campaigns, it’s important to understand what influence you already have, and who else you can work with to increase your influence.

As a first step, you should ask a few questions to decide if your campaign is a good idea.

  • Are you the right person or group to be pushing this solution?
  • Do you represent the people affected by the problem? If not, who can you partner with? 
  • Does the campaign help you to achieve your broader goals?
  • Is it the right time to campaign about the issue? Does it already have some public momentum?

Then, it’s time to analyse the situation and figure out what action you need to take. We can do this using the Influence Map.

Influence map

An influence map is a useful tool. It’s a way of identifying all the players involved with a particular issue and the influence they have. Mapping can help you to:

  • understand your existing power as a group or organisation;
  • neutralise campaign threats;
  • identify gaps in your campaign; and
  • define the specific role that you’re equipped to play.

The tool will help you to apply pressure on campaign targets from different directions. Use it creatively to fill gaps, build partnerships and generate public awareness.

Case Study: Trades Union Congress

The Trades Union Congress or TUC (the membership body for trade unions) ran an award-winning campaign against the government Trade Union Bill (now Trade Union Act 2016).  The proposed legislation threatened the very core of their mission – the right to strike.  An urgent reactive campaign required thinking outside of the box.  How did they do it?  Here is an influence map for the campaign:

The campaign focussed on cross-party mobilisation and partnering with unusual allies.  Tactics included:

  • Working with 2 political party veterans from unexpected sources as temporary allies on a single issue – former Liberal Democrat MP, Sir Vince Cable on workplace organising, and Conservative MP, David Davis on freedom of speech.
  • Active engagement with the digital platform Mumsnet who were referenced as a barometer of what ordinary people thought at the time.
  • Partnering with human rights organisations like the British Institute for Human Rights, who saw the legislation as an attack on basic human rights and helped amplify reach.
  • Highlighting the Royal College of Midwives who had just held their first strike for better pay in 100 years which had good media visibility as a result.
  • Monitoring the activity of business organisations like the Confederation of British Industry and the British Chamber of Commerce as key campaign dissenters.

Homework Exercise

You’re involved with a campaign to end food poverty among children in the UK. Your goal is to ensure that Universal Credit (also known as the social security or benefits system) allows every family with children to afford essentials like food, clothing, housing and learning materials. 

Use the Influence Map to identify some natural allies for your campaign. These will be people, celebrities or organisations who are likely to be on your side, and who could help you to achieve your goal.

Looking at your map, are there gaps in your influence? How can you fill these creatively?

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