Every campaign is a learning opportunity. Make the most of this by planning for the post-campaign period and setting up debriefs. Here are some tips for campaigners and facilitators.
After the campaign
Every campaign is a learning opportunity. With each campaign we should get smarter and better as an organisation. The risk is that at the end of a campaign everyone is so tired/exhilarated they can overlook making the time to really learn the lessons.
There are a range of needs to be addressed at the end of an election campaign (or other high intensity campaign):
- The need to manage information and resources – doing final data entries, analysing data, writing reports, gathering materials etc
- The need to recover from the big outlay of energy and emotion involved in election campaigning – ‘coming down’ from adrenalin, resting, getting on an even keel
- The need to express feelings and opinions about the campaign – to get ‘closure’
- The need to appreciate each other and attend to relationships that may have been strained
- The need to evaluate, to give feedback and learn from the experience so we improve on it next time
Here are some ways to meet those needs:
- Have a checklist of what information is needed by who by when, and ensure these timelines are known by people
- Have parties/celebrations/social time to be together and unwind
- Hold debriefs where people can process what has happened, give feedback, and be together as a group
- Undertake other evaluation and debrief activities like surveys, one-to-one meetings, performance reviews and exit interviews
Tips for designing and facilitating debriefs
Choose a facilitator
If possible get an external facilitator to run the debrief. This could be a supporter who had some involvement in the campaign but was not central and doesn’t have strong opinions (or can put them to one side during the session).
If someone central to the campaign needs to run the debrief see about a cofacilitation set-up. This allows people to step out of the facilitation role to participate if needed, and shares the load.
When planning the debrief be clear about the purpose and what can be achieved in the time available.
Debriefs help people transition from the hecticness of the campaign to the next phase of their lives. Open with a clear intention. Welcome people. Be calm and grounded. Remind people that the urgency of the campaign is over.
State some guidelines
It will help to have guidelines for the gathering. Some things I find useful to say to the group:
- Be thoughtful about how you phrase evaluation of the campaign. People have worked very hard and are still recovering. Avoid personal criticism and do not blame individuals.
- Don’t talk about ‘what should have happened’. What’s done is done and we don’t have a time machine. Instead make suggestions for what could happen in the future.
- Remember the limitations on the campaign in terms of resources (human and financial), time, political context etc. The purpose of the debrief is not to compare the campaign to a mythical ideal campaign, so stay practical.
Report back on outcomes
Take some time to summarise what has been achieved in the campaign – both in terms of internal effort (how many supporters engaged, how many events, how many meaningful interactions etc) and external impact (eg in electoral campaigns, what you are able to measure or analyse in terms of voting patterns and what informed people’s choices). Compare outcomes to the strategy.
Help people keep perspective
If the result was disappointing, give people context they may be missing. The odds are generally stacked against progressive change, there are some things we can impact and others that are outside our control. Keep the long view.
Give people time in pairs or small groups as well as the large group. This might mean gathering around roles or geography for differentiation and specificity, as well as time all together to have the sense of unity and community.
Engage people’s hearts
Use activities that engage the heart, not just the head. For example:
- Having paired check-ins around prompts like ‘how have you been feeling since the election/end of campaign?’
- Having a closing activity where people write appreciation notes to each other (in small teams each person could have an envelope or a poster that people add to, in a large team there could be a wall where appreciations get posted)
Make space for everyone
Acknowledge the diverse range of contributions people made. For example:
- Having an opening activity where people reflect on what contribution they made, write one thing down on paper, then mingle around the room sharing their contribution and celebrating each others
- In a large group having people raise hands or stand up if they made particular contributions (eg ‘stand up if you went doorknocking’; ‘stand up if you talked to your friends about the campaign’ etc)
Start with what worked well. People may rush to what they perceive as gaps or deficits but it will make a big difference to the tone of the event and the overall learning if they can spend time noticing what went really well first.
Clear the air
Allow space for people to say things that need to be said. Sometimes this can be emotional. Try to build a supportive space where it is ok for those feelings to come up. Just give it space and some quiet, rather than responding in a big way. If you are daunted by this think of who in your team has good skills in this area, and can be called on to help.
Where to next
Give people an opportunity to think about where to next for them. Are they stepping into a new role? Do they want to work on the next campaign? Are they taking a break now this campaign is over?
Have a plan for how the results of the debrief will be collated. Can someone take on typing up the butchers paper? Is the purpose more about people getting to have their say, rather than creating a written record?
Struggles for justice are larger than one election or campaign. It’s natural for there to be some drop-off in numbers and participation after the wrap-up of a high intensity campaign with a big deadline – but how the post-campaign period is handled can have a big impact on people’s preparedness to continue to engage in social change. Some reflection and mutual care can help make this campaign a useful step along the long path.