Organising and local campaigns: how much is too much?

Medact directs our capacity and strategy into four programme areas, led by campaigners, focusing on campaigns that demand change at a national level; and local groups of health workers organising in their workplaces and communities to affect change in towns and cities.

For several years, local Medact groups across the country have sought to concentrate on more than one of Medact’s campaigns simultaneously. In this blog, Ben Eder, our longest-serving Movement Organiser, shares some reflections on the challenges of working on multiple campaigns, and gives learning-informed guidance on when it can be possible. This has been informed through supporting groups organising on multiple campaigns and from great, critical reflections from members at the quarterly Movement Assemblies.

Underpinning this is Medact’s theory of change, which states that in order to influence decision-makers—whether they be in a representative body, royal college, local government or Houses of Parliament—we must build collective power both within the health community and between this community and others into strong coalitions. This process involves:

  • Analysing the problem and identifying the root causes of injustice 
  • Building a strong and resilient local group, prioritising both recruitment and forming lasting relationships
  • Organising in coalition with allies
  • Strategic planning and reflecting on the campaign cycle
  • and lots more! 

All of these actions, done well, sustainably and meaningfully, require time, skill and capacity—which all our groups have, but to very different extents.

Why groups want to focus on multiple campaigns

Typically, when a group isn’t organically ‘single-issue’ and there are many interests and priorities reflected in the group’s members, the desire to take on more than one campaign is driven by the belief that this will both focus the energy of existing members, and be an opportunity for recruitment. 

This can sometimes be a choice made by the group in order to retain members who may be at risk of leaving if their campaign is not picked, meaning the decision to work on multiple campaigns can sometimes be the result of trying to please everyone.

A multi-campaign focus can also result from the intersectional nature of health justice. For example, our economic justice work advocating for “healthy homes” free from damp and mould overlaps with our climate justice work demanding insulation and retrofitting.

The challenges of this 

It is much harder to make material wins when an already limited capacity is divided between campaigns. Winning is not the be all and end all, but moments of success and minor wins make a huge impact on morale and campaign longevity. The downsides of this are significant. Being spread too thin across campaigns that do not make progress or see successes can lead to frustration, stagnation, burn out and cause members to step back or leave a group, reducing capacity even more

Spending too long going back and forth between conflicting desires within the group, or spending double the time planning two campaigns, takes crucial capacity from developing a strong strategy, taking action, supporting coalition partners and embedding in a campaign.

By spreading themselves too thin, local groups can find that they do not have enough capacity between their members to do the work and organise in ways that are deep, effective, and strategic.

But it’s not all bad news!

If you are thinking of focusing on multiple campaigns, what is it important to consider? 

Speak to someone in the team who can advise you on the best course of action for your situation. Medact’s organisers and campaigners have the skills, experience and perspective to support your group to make the right choice.

Critically assess your group’s capacity. Based on experience, we recommend that a local group needs a minimum of ten core organisers per campaign in order to hold the work well, move campaigns forward, deeply organise and participate in coalitions. By “core organisers”, we mean members who are going to turn up regularly at meetings, take forward actions, and share responsibility. Furthermore, if someone is deeply involved in a campaign, they should only be involved in that campaign and not take on more.

Reflect on how your group is structured to take forward organising and campaigning. For example, if you have the right number of core members, your group might create smaller working groups for the different campaigns. You could set up a WhatsApp group or separate  email list to take things forward in between meetings.

Consider how you’re currently holding meetings and if this is an efficient and effective way to support multiple campaign focuses. For example, Medact Leeds alternate their monthly meeting focus between Health for a Green New Deal and Patients not Passports. Medact Sheffield have specific sections in their monthly meeting agenda to discuss Patients Not Passports and Health for a Green New Deal.

Think about and lay out somewhere the decision-making processes and campaign cycles in your group. If your group regularly finds itself  trying to figure out what campaign to focus on, it’s likely that you are not doing deep organising at the same time, which requires longer-term commitment to a campaign strategy. We recommend focusing on a campaign for a minimum of one year before revisiting. One big reason for this is that campaigns—especially those that involve building meaningful relationships with communities and coalitions—can take a long time to make change. This is an important part of a wonderful journey you will go on!

Connect to our national campaigns. Part of the power of organising as a health worker or student in Medact is that you are in a bigger network organising for health justice. It doesn’t serve any of us for groups to operate in a silo. Stay connected to the national campaign strategy by checking in with the relevant campaigner, attending national network meetings and participating in distributed actions. If there are a couple of people in your group who are more interested in a different campaign to the one your group is doing, ask them to represent your group at network meetings and feed back. Finally, bring your important learnings and reflections to cross-movement spaces like our quarterly Movement Assemblies.