Listen, Explore, Equalise, Elevate!
Past and present TUC Organising Academy Trainee Organisers will recognise the above slogan from their training – it’s a template we try and get organisers to use so that they get the most from conversations with members and workers. Its a bit corny, but it does the trick in getting over the point that speaking to people shouldn’t be seen merely as an opportunity to TELL them what you think they need to know, but a chance to LISTEN to them so that you LEARN something about them and in particular their cares, concerns, hopes, fears and aspirations. Once you’ve done this you may be able to more effectively convince them that joining the union and getting involved would something that it would be in their interests to do.
Of course, doing one to one communication better and getting more out of it in terms of informing approaches to campaigns etc. has been an established element of effective organising for years but it’s heartening to know that the penny is dropping amongst some of today’s key political ‘thinkers’. The Guardian last Saturday (Feb 20th) reported on how James Purnell was stepping down as an MP at the election to become a Community Organiser with London Citizens. Apparently this will involve Purnell attending a course on which according to London Citizens he’ll learn how to “do one-to-ones – that means sitting with people and finding out what they need, not telling them…” Purnell is apparently also a fan of Saul Alinsky who of course wrote the Organiser’s bible ‘Rules for Radicals’.
Also featured in last Saturday’s Guardian was a piece on how the main lesson picked up by Douglas Alexander, the Labour party’s election co-coordinator, from the Obama campaign was the value of “peer-to-peer” communication. Alexander was told by David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager that “what people on the ground said to one another was just as important, if not more important, than what Obama said himself. We could not put a price on it, regular people briefing Obama’s message to their neighbours, serving as our ambassadors, block by block throughout the battleground states.”