FWD2012 was two days full of inspiration, information, and smart conversation. It also included one very hot Melbourne day which led to a crucial initiative I hope many other conferences imitate – icy-poles!

It’s hard to believe that Australia has only just got around to having a digital campaigners’ conference. Thanks to Oxfam and the Centre for Australian Progress for making it happen – and to the UK’s E-Campaigning Forum for many years of inspiration.

To get a sense of what was covered I suggest you have a wander through the twitter feed, the notes that have been collected on the site, and this great summary from James Clark.

I moderated a panel called ‘2013: the year politics goes digital?’ which featured Elizabeth Lukin from Essential Media Communications, Tristan Douglas from Together, and Glen Berman from the Centre for Australian Progress.

  • Elizabeth shared EMC polling data and talked about past election experiences. She emphasized that once an election is called people see issues through the lens of their party affiliation, so if you want to make your issue one that people will vote on you need to get it on the agenda far in advance. Given we’re likely to have an election around September 2013… you better get a move on!
  • Glen talked about some of the dominant narratives running in Australia and opportunities to use them to progressive advantage. He also highlighted the challenges facing campaigners who have strong personal feelings about the election, but who work within non-partisan organisations.
  • Tristan spoke with the kind of fighting attitude that’s entirely appropriate for someone living in Campbell Newman’s Queensland and working for a public sector union. He challenged us to be bolder in our digital activities, stressing the value of belligerence and firing shots to amplify issues. Appropriately a quote from him was the most retweeted Tweet of the conference.

FWD2012 included Open Space sessions which was a great way to draw on the wisdom in the room and the ideas emerging during the conference. One session I attended focused on integration between online and offline campaigning. Some practical tips:

  • Deliver online petitions offline with stunts and visuals. Feed back offline actions to supporters with live tweeting, video and pictures shared on social media, and with direct emails.
  • Every email should have an action – either online or offline.
  • When promoting an offline event getting people to register online makes it more likely they will attend than if you just promote it without a registration link. Obviously following that up with a phone call increases the likelihood much more.
  • Sending an SMS alert about an email increases open rates significantly. Best not to overuse this though – save for important information and actions.
  • When people follow your group on Twitter follow them up with a next step such as joining your email list.
  • The more contact details you can collect from people the more flexibility you have with how you engage with them. Offline actions such as rallies should involve collecting people’s details so you can link up with them online. Online actions should gather phone and address information to enable offline contact as well as targeting on the basis of location.
  • All that data collection requires functional databases – essential infrastructure for campaigning.

It’s clear that the distinctions between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ are breaking down and campaigns are becoming much more integrated.

I also ran an Open Space workshop to introduce folks to smartMeme’s story-based strategy model. The importance of telling a compelling story was a theme of the conference, coming through plenaries and workshops (shout out to Make Believe for their great session). Story-based strategy offers a range of creative tools for understanding dominant and opposing narratives, developing your campaign narrative, and crafting messages and memes. We practiced using the ‘drama triangle’ tool for identifying the hero, villain and victim in different stories. Get in touch if you’d like to apply the story-based strategy framework to your campaign.

One of the strong take home messages from FWD2012 was the value of collaboration. Nicole Aro from the AFL-CIO spoke about the ‘war-room’ they ran during the US election campaign. This involved digital campaigners from a range of progressive organisations coordinating their activities and sharing intelligence such as email testing. I wonder what it would take for Australian organisations to do something similar?

FWD2012 fostered connections which could be precursors to deeper collaboration. There are plans to keep sharing ideas and learning together – of course online (probably through Facebook and an email list) as well as offline (including through Melbourne Campaigners’ Network).

Plans are being hatched for FWD2013 – see you there?

P.S. Want to hear more about the US election? Come along to Melbourne Campaigners’ Network on Thursday 28 February at the Wheeler Centre. Can’t wait until then? Check out #Roots12 to see some of what was discussed at Roots Camp, the massive US election debrief.

P.P.S. Hungry for more information on digital campaigning? Check out FWD2012 organiser Tim Norton’s articles on this blog.