Notes from a Campaigner

Intro

I’m not a campaigner: I’m your typical introverted techy. I know a fair bit about telecoms and computers – that’s how I earn my crust.

But what happens when my experience smells out a whopper - huge chunks of a modern new city have no broadband!

Summary

I moved to a brand new house, in a new estate, in the new city of Milton Keynes.
That was in 2003. No Broadband! I had broadband living elsewhere since 1999.

Broadband was not available, and, as far as I could tell, BT were doing absolutely nothing about it.

I contacted my local councillor, and complained. Being a nice chap I agreed to help out and deliver leaflets in my quarter of the estate.

What would happen if I also slipped in my own flyer? “Want Broadband? But can’t? Email me…”

I had an 8% response. 30 neighbours got in touch.

I was on to something.

Within a few months I had over 1200 members signed up!

Story

This is not the story. That will be for another day, another link.

This page is a set of notes collected together, triggered from a conversation with my erstwhile friend Andrew.

"You're giving BT's corporate butt a good kicking.
"Can you give any advice to a work chum?"

"What's his grief?" I enquired.

"He's saying Network Rail are building canopies over sidings next to his house. This will block sunlight. He wants to get his neighbours aware. He wants to start a campaign!'
"What have you learnt? Have you any tips?"

What have I learnt?

Allow me to jot down my musings...

Is your campaign worth doing?

You will know if your campaign is worth doing. If it's not worth doing - don't waste your time, nor your group members' time, nor your adversary's time.

Take time to think things through. Talk it though with friends. Don't rush into it.

But you may just be in the right place at the right time...

Keep a perspective!

Don’t loose your humour.

The nature of a campaign to meet people with similar negative feelings. Keep a perspective. It’s only Broadband!

This is not a crusade. Don't allow it to dominate your life.

Be thick-skinned.

Prepare for criticism from all quarters. Listen to what people say. Some individuals are very astute and can weight up a situation very quickly. Have answers that you can justify.

Be very aware that for some people the campaign is extremely serious. They will move house to get Broadband.

A terminally ill paraplegic was desperate to get connected. He never made it. He ended up with 56k dial up and a one way ticket to Switzerland.

A Committee

Don’t create a formal committee. The procedures will distract and stifle. A committee is required for a club (amateur radio, or other hobbyist club) with an indefinite life. Your campaign will, hopefully, be short lived. (As I type, we're coming up to the third anniversary of the Milton Keynes Broadband Action Group!)

My role as "action group coordinator" has been described as a benevolent dictator.

Getting help

You will soon find wise people you respect and you will get wise counsel. You can bounce ideas off of these souls. (You'll probably find they like a spot of beer too!)

Be apolitical

Don't let your own political colours come over. Your local councillors will get to know you. "An activist?!? What's his politics? Will he join our party? Can we get him to stand in the local elections?"

I've had extremely helpful support and mentoring from all political colours. And it's been most amusing to see what they've done for my campaign when those monthly political fliers get popped through the door. (Never mind - it's all column inches!)

Persevere

The campaign will take will take an inordinate amount of your time. I had plenty of time - I chose not to work during the initial months. (I couldn't as I expect to work from home, and VPN in to work.)

You will be working your arse off.

Your adversary will probably hire someone to act as a shield. For them it's just a job. But for you, the campaign has to find room with your social life, work, and family.

Set an end point.

Your campaign will have a limited life. As soon as you've won, and got what you've asked for, shut up shop.

A phoenix may arise from the ashes of your campaign that you will be a part of, but that's a different venture calling on a different, and probably lower, level of commitment.

Speak down to the masses - without speaking down.

Explain the problem to your neighbours. Use language that is acceptable to the widest audience. Never ever talk down to the masses. Arrogant condescension would be a real turn off! Keep it simple.

OK. This can get difficult when we start getting technical with broadband. I get pedantic. I correct incorrectly capitalised "dB". I waffle on about near and far end crosstalk!)

As a software developer / architect I’m used to terse sentences that explain a scenario exactly. Database normalisation and source code refactoring means never repeating.

With the public you have to make a point, then say it again, and then, after that, say it again.
(“Start growing feathers, be a parrot” is advice a university lecturer gave me.)

Talk to everybody.

So you thing you know it all?

You may well be motivated, and think you know all the issues probably better than every body else. Wrong.

Never be that arrogant.

Like me briefly introduce three of the action group members:

With this level of knowledge and quality of membership, I make sure I get my fact's right!

Getting help from "authority"

(Pronounce "authority" as Cartman would - it helps!)

Parish Councils

The local parish councils are typically only interested in dog shit bins and how many times the grass verges are cut.

Good people - like their procedures - get a bit startled when members of the public turn up to meetings.

How to contact the authorities

Some suggestions from my former MP:

(After the quarter of an hour interview ended with my MP, he thanked me for turning up. "One person, representing all these people! It saves me so much time!" )

MP's and councillors and Council Officers

MP's and councillors tend to be helpful. But remember, they will be running their own agendas. They want the best for your area too – so they will help. (And, let's not be too cynical, they will want to be seen to help!)

There’ll all human, and tend to like beer.

Local Government Officers (LGO's) are also another source of assistance. Remember they are a breed apart. (Fortunately, years ago, I had a beer drinking chum that is a career LGO... so I have an insight and understanding in the way they tick. They will be your best friend, subject to non-disclosure, contract. E & OE. They like committees too.)

Publicity

The local paper will help, as will the local radio stations. I've found that getting the right volunteers that can identify with various journalists works well here.

Bloody BT - what a bunch of complete wasters!

Never say that - it's simply not true!

Never slag off the “enemy.” With BT they are a lumbering giant. The people involved with BT really do want the best, but they're hampered by regulations and “process”.

Any personal “slagging off” would immediately disengage any respect you gain. 

You will get to know the people involved. There will be a lot of understanding and confidences shared.

Take care that the relationship does not become complicit - you're not an employee of theirs - you are running a campaign.

Acknowledge there will be compromises. (Sorry to be mysterious here - but I really cannot give any instances!)

(Though I did enjoy that rather nice lunch, and the trip up the Post Office Tower, or whatever they call it these days, was fun!)

Chase your leads

I found a couple of useful key leads:

A bigwig at Oftel, now Ofcom, is also involved with a local housing developments - what can be found out? Bit embarrassing if these new estates can't get broadband!

There’s a BT director who’s a local school governor, and he’s on the local chamber of commerce? “We must meet!”

Keep looking, and remember, Google is your friend!

Use your technical skills

Web sites give immediate publicity. Get some domains, and a copy of FrontPage!

Knock up a "New Members Joining" web page! This save 15 minutes or so doing it the hard way: an email dialogue, and you having to add members manually.

Knock up a "CRM" to manage and email your campaign members. A mass mailer helps - I ended up with 1632 members passing though "the books"!

Get a mail list going where members can chat to each other. (Take care that no-one attempts to hijack the list. The old moderator switch may have to be used from time to time!)

More...

Yes there's more!

Here's my musings on emails...