THE BLOG

The Power of the Little Big Thing

08/07/2013 16:05 | Updated 07 September 2013

When you're campaigning on something, people often don't care. They don't care on message boards; they don't care on Twitter and Facebook; they don't care, most robustly, in the comments on news websites. "This is not important" they cry; "this campaign is a waste of time", they declare. "Isn't there something more important you could be doing", they scold. But when they take time out of their incredibly busy lives to tell you they don't care it often means, as a campaigner, you might be doing something right.

When Caroline Criado-Perez heard that the Bank of England was planning to replace Elizabeth Fry with Winston Churchill on the five pound note, it occurred to her that there would be no historic women left on UK currency. She thought this said something quite profound about how women's achievements are recognised as well as how this kind of decision is made, so she started a petition on Change.org calling on the Bank of England to keep a woman on banknotes. Caroline is a campaigner on how women are represented in the media and wider society. She could have started a petition that says "I want all major institutions in the UK to immediately address institutional sexism and how it impacts on their decision making." It would have been important, it would have been worthy. It would have sunk like a stone.

Lots of people told Caroline that they didn't care, and told her so in forthright fashion. More importantly, 30,000 signed up to say they did care. The media followed and so did a group of MPs. Scores of people even cared enough to protest outside the Bank of England in a marvellous fancy-dress demo. Now the new boss at the Bank of England also seems to care and will review the decision.

The thing about issues is that most people don't care about them at first. There's no reason why they should - that's why campaigning exists, to bring people together with causes. Things often change when large groups of people start making noise about them and building a critical mass of support for an issue is what it's all about. The big challenge (and the big opportunity) is that people care less about ideas and theories than they do about people and their stories.

Caroline's campaign has been an almost perfect execution of an issue campaign in the digital age. Move fast on a tangible example of a larger, structural issue; build a movement; use social media well; give people the chance to do something offline; make it hard for the target to resist change.

On average, two campaigns a week win on Change.org in the UK - most of them powered by incredible stories of how big, structural issues impact on peoples daily lives. It might be welfare cuts, or a misbehaving company or your football club making a decision ruled by money rather than morality. What they have in common is that one person wanted to change something so much that they told their story and built a movement around it. In doing so they shifted how power works: from the top down to the bottom up and have often sparked a much wider debate on the bigger issue around their campaign.

They have found that Little Big Thing that brings their campaign to life.

It seems that when people tell you your campaign is pointless and that you're wasting their time or that you should be working on something far more important, they're usually scared that the status quo is being disrupted. So when someone takes the time to tell you they don't care about your campaign, remember that you might have found the Little Big Thing that could really make a difference.