Last weekend I attended the RESULTS UK National Conference which–among many great sessions–included one on mental health and personal identity as an activist. I started to write some thoughts on this only to realise, looking back through the sparse and scattered posts on this blog that I’ve only mentioned RESULTS in passing. It seems remiss to have not introduced what they do, especially given that this is my third RESULTS conference and I must have been campaigning with them for at least two years now.
So before I write about the things I learned at this last conference I should probably explain what RESULTS is and why I volunteer with them. Of course, if you want to skip this post entirely you can find much better information at least on the first part on their website.
RESULTS exists to create the public and political will to end poverty by enabling people to exercise their personal and political power for change.
They do this through a combination of policy research, parliamentary advocacy, and grassroots campaigning. They use policy research and expertise to inform their advocacy. This knowledge helps them build long-lasting relationships with those in government based in part on being trusted partners and advisors. Grassroots campaigners like me support their work by demonstrating constituency support for the policies for which RESULTS advocate. RESULTS give us the support, information, and training to engage with our MPs and other key decision makers. We then build relationships with them and speak out in our constituencies.
In practice for grassroots campaigners, this looks like meeting once a month in our local groups to join a nationwide campaign call. Here we learn about different issues from drug-resistant TB to the climate risk insurance that could benefit small-hold farmers from expert speakers. We get advice on campaign actions that will help influence decision makers on improving the issue. Perhaps we hope governments will make a commitment to tackling climate change at the COP conferences or it has come time to replenish the Global Fund, and we want the UK to take the lead with a strong commitment.
My understanding from conversations at the conference and the way the monthly campaign calls usually work is that RESULTS have thought carefully about which areas to focus on. They choose areas to concentrate on that don’t receive the same attention from other campaign groups meaning there is more potential for marginal impact. They also look for problems that are “shovel ready” (a fantastic phrase used at the conference); problems where we know what works, we know what needs doing we just need the political will (and resources) to get it done. As for when to work on these issues, we target our campaigning around the upcoming conferences and political announcements of crucial decisions to put pressure on when it is most relevant.
I first came across RESULTS having once asked Giving What We Can what, if any, political campaign actions they thought might be effective and being shown a draft review of RESULTS.
This background and my heavy involvement in the effective altruism community suggests that you should take it with a pinch of salt when I say that the way RESULTS chooses areas to work on struck me as similar to the cause prioritisation framework often used in effective altruism which evaluates causes based on their:
- Importance – how many lives are affected and how seriously? The more people affected, the more good you can potentially achieve if you use your resources wisely.
- Neglectedness – who else is working on this? The more people also working in this space the more likely it is that progress would be made anyway, even without your help and so your time might be better spent on something else
- Tractability – or being shovel ready! Is there are a clear path to improving this problem? If there’s good evidence on what works in this area, then you know you stand a better chance of achieving real improvements in people’s lives.
This framework is important not because we want to find excuses to avoid working on any particular problems but because we’re constrained by limited resources. I don’t know about you, but I only have limited time and money that I can devote to helping others however hard I (hope I) try. So I have to make choices about where to devote that time and money. Given that I have to choose, I choose to try and help as many people as I can with my time and my money.
I am far from the committed advocate many of my friends from RESULTS are but even I have: met with three different MPs (two in Brighton, one in Oxford), run a university stall, helped with a film screening and written many letters and emails to MPs and ministers. There is, of course, a lot more I can do. I have added taking part in more RESULTS campaign actions to my current Day Zero List, and the conferences are always re-invigorating. Perhaps more publically sharing my support and intentions like this might nudge me towards more action too.
If you’re interested in learning more about advocacy and international development, meeting a wide variety of smart, caring people and in trying to influence political decisions to move us closer to ending to extreme poverty check out RESULTS (or this link if you’re in the US). Commit to just coming along to one local meetup (have a look at the RESULTS website or just comment here) and see what you think. Anyone in Oxford, hopefully, I’ll see you there.