Three reasons social change organisations fail to set the agenda


I’ve noticed a few occasions recently, among those of us trying to make the world a better place, a failure to seize control of the agenda on key issues.

We all know that agenda-setting is crucial. If you speak first, you set the tone of the debate, and decide on the all-important language to be used. Best of all, your opponent needs to answer to your criticism instead of the other way around.

Reason one: It feels a bit naughty

Good people in the social change movement often feel constrained to do the right thing. Just going straight to the media with a crucial bit of information might feel like breaking the rules or acting in an unethical way.

Trust me, it’s not. If you’re a small organisation whose only power comes from holding the moral high ground, you have to use anything you can get to ensure you get off on the front foot in any  public debate over your issues.

Reason two:  We don’t have the resources

This one comes up a lot. Small organisations in particular get very overstretched, with often just a few people fighting the good fight on a variety of fronts. There are ways to address this though. Regularly prepare messaging on all big issues you think might be looming. Narrow your scope to the issues where you can really contribute something unique. Implement a ‘rapid response template’ which sets out very clearly who has sign-off, who will do what, and in what order, in the case of a fast moving hot issue.

Reason three:  The right wing press won’t listen to us

Often very true, but not necessarily a killer. You can explore social media instead – sometimes a story can be constructed around the social media campaign instead. Does your issue have a local angle? Customise it for small local publications around the country and hit the phones – often smaller publications will take something up if you can demonstrate relevance to the area they serve.

Remember: setting the agenda is the first step on the way to changing the world.