by Stephen Johnson
A story of how a campaign strategy was collaboratively designed in two days, to achieve a massive outcome in a matter of weeks, in order to protect one of the world’s natural wonders.
What do you do when you need to have a collaboration with strong alignment and shared vision that can motivate action from thousands of participants almost overnight? This was the challenge faced by Stephen Johnson of Altitud3, heading a collaboration with Republic of Everyone and the World Wildlife Fund to develop a campaign to prevent an Australian Federal Government endorsement of coal mining ports being built in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage listed waters.
In May 2014 the World Wildlife Fund initiated a project with Republic of Everyone and Altitud3 with the ambitious and urgent goal of garnering a vast number of votes through their YOUNESCO Vote for the Reef community action ready for submission at the UNESCO World Heritage meeting on June 16.
An image of the Vote for the Reef Homepage as of June 17th
Altitud3 was brought in based on their track record with relevant campaigns such as California's 'Engage360' demand-side energy reduction strategy, the Alliance for Climate Protection 'Live Earth' and OneGirl's http://doitinadress.com. Given their past experience at mobilising communities to action in support of social and environmental change, the challenge associated with achieving such a high level of impact and support within only a few weeks was evident - especially when the strategic planning period, from start to launch, was just a matter of days. A tight collaboration within the planning group would be absolutely critical to delivering a successful campaign.
Prior to commencing the collaboration it was ensured that all team members had their usual work activities covered or deferred to ensure all participants could fully engage in the activities. Knowing this, and having an understanding of the prior work which led to this project and the capabilities of the people in the room, Stephen from Altitud3 was empowered to commence strategy development. With a critically short time frame, the first task to enable a path to collaboration was to make sure there was absolute alignment within the core team and that everyone was equipped for the task ahead.
“It’s always an unknown quantity when I walk into a group like that. Typically there’s one or two dominant personalities who want all the air time. This was very different. There was a lot of love in the room..”
The team was united by an uncommon passion for the vision of the project - protecting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and its World Heritage listed waters. This made it possible for the team to 'park' individual egos and quickly establish a shared understanding for the planning process. To open up the space the team started with a free-for-all brainstorm to identify ideas, causes, inertias, blockers, components of the system and campaign narrative.
“From a collaboration point of view, the first day was about bonding and looking at what we had to work with”
From there, the facilitation shifted into a convergent mode, encouraging participants to use their unique skills and experience to build a shared map for what needed to happen to achieve the highest possible level of engagement for the YOUNESCO #VoteForTheReef campaign. All participants were united in the collaboration by a common vision and also the sense of being part of something bigger than themselves.
Collaboration then evolved to include WWF’s social media and communications teams and introduced new ideas united by the strong shared vision. This led to a project shift from a collaborative mode to coordinating of tasks and cohesive team activity. By starting in a collaborative mode, a pattern was established whereby individuals could see the beauty of what was created together by allowing everyone to play to their strengths and have equal input. From this example, the way of working persisted once the facilitated planning ended, strengthening the team and outcomes.
The project launched strongly, with rapid public engagement with the materials. The campaign focused on furthering potential collaboration by providing communications assets that could be used by the engaged public to design their own campaigns to encourage friends & family to vote and then participate in a tightly coordinated and global twitter 'Storm' at the precise time the World Heritage meeting was convened.
The Fight for the Reef campaign site, designed to create a
'social media storm' around Vote for the Reef
The quality and cohesive nature of the campaign enabled it go viral in a matter of weeks, with more than 208,000 votes in time for June 16th.
At the writing of this story, the case for the reef has been made at the UNESCO World Heritage meeting in Doha. It is too early to know the outcome for the Great Barrier Reef, but the team’s collaboration in planning, focused efforts, skill and dedication had the impact they were fighting for.