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In a recent post, I described a plan to overturn the UK government's decision to renege on its pledge of 0.7% of GNI as foreign aid.

Since then I've been pleased at the great group of volunteers who have come together to work on this, and grateful to the small number of people who have pledged to donate four-figure sums to help. We could still benefit from more donations, and more volunteers will likely be useful too. If you're interested in helping, please contact me via email on sanjay_joshi@hotmail.co.uk to find out more about how to donate/volunteer.

Since writing that post, a lot of work has happened, and I'd like to update you on

  • our approach, and why it's distinctive
  • our messaging
  • our chances of success

I won't say anything here on the interesting work that's been done to identify the most valuable constituencies. Anyone who is interested in this is welcome to get in touch with me directly to find out more.

Our approach

In the earlier post, we stated that we would conduct a digital marketing campaign to recruit people who are in favour of foreign aid and make it easy for them to send an email to their MP.

In the meetings we had, we learned that boilerplate generic messages were likely to be dismissed. The MPs and their staff would believe that those letters don't truly reflect the thoughts and opinions of the people signing them, and to a certain extent they would be right.

Our solution to this is the following approach:


We create a short survey, and based on that our code automatically generates an email which actually reflects the respondent's real feelings.

Is this approach distinctive?

We have tried discussing this with various other people working in this area. As far as we know, nobody else working on this campaign is taking this tailored approach, and it appears to rare in the world of digital campaigning more generally.

We are unclear why this is the case; I'd speculate it's because tech/algorithm mindsets are rare in the world of campaigning and activism, but I don't know the space well enough to know if this is correct.


We have been speaking to a number of people who have given this topic a lot of thought to help us hone the messaging. We plan to auto-generate a draft email including the following content:

(1) Something to indicate that the sender of the email is sympathetic to the MP (e.g. has voted for them, or whatever the survey indicates is true)

(2) Some content to highlight that this breaks the manifesto pledge

(3) Some person-specific elements to the extent that they apply, e.g. the person is religious or is a member of the diaspora of a relevant country

(4) Some tailored person-specific arguments based on their own preferences/interests, such as links between aid and trade/climate change/COVID risk, etc

Our probability of success

A full assessment of this is available on request -- please get in touch. However in summary, some very well-informed people think our chances are good. Other (moderately well-informed people) are less optimistic.





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Thank you for all the work that you and the team are doing on this Sanjay.

Will you be encouraging people to attend MP advice surgeries as part of your strategy? I used to be a senior caseworker in an MP’s constituency office. In my experience, a 1-1 conversation with a well-informed constituent was more likely to influence the MP’s voting intention than sending an email.

Related, I wonder if the emails are still a bit boilerplate as after seeing a few maybe the MP can tell how they were generated? I imagine there are people who know

  • generally what works best in influencing lawmakers / lobbying
  • specifically what works well in the UK

so would be curious what strategies they would propose.

(I wonder if something like doing an opinion poll of voters and presenting that info would help, but not sure how practical that is. Perhaps you could partner with someone already doing a poll / a major website or newspaper.)

Thanks for your message sindirella.

Our approach came about as a result of conversations with people who know generally what works best in influencing lawmakers/lobbying, and specifically in the UK.

Agreed with alexrjl re opinion polls. Implementing a poll/survey is straightforward for us (I used to run a research team when I was a strategy consultant). The reason we're not doing it is that our discussions with experts suggest that there is not much value in doing this.

The opinion poll option would not be helpful as an overwhelming majority of Conservative voters, and a majority of non-Conservative voters, are in favour of cutting our aid commitment.

Interesting. If most voters are in favor of cutting aid, AND this is clear to the MPs, then why would MPs have an incentive to vote against cutting aid?

  • One reason I can think of is if there is a well-organized interest group that, even though small in size, tries very hard to influence the MPs, leading them to help this group rather than the general population. (This seems to be the case in some areas in US policy.) In this case, you may want to create the impression of having a well-organized interest group -- which seems hard, but I wonder what strategies could help.
  • Another is that some MPs are personally against cutting aid and are willing to vote against it -- even though their voters favor cutting aid, voters don't care about this issue passionately and won't punish the MP much if they vote against. In this case, I wonder what strategies can persuade them.

Sorry if I come off as skeptical. I'm just thinking maybe thinking through the theory of change , incentives and the psychology of the MPs can help you refine your strategy, but no need to spend much time replying if you don't find this useful.

Great question! We want to do this, but there are a few practicalities we are working through. Also I think your experience would be really valuable for us -- I'll ping you a message.

Hej Sanjay, 

Thanks for your work on this. I saw your last post and emailed my MP, who has so far written back with the "party line". 

Some thoughts I have on the strategy. 

When looking at a neglected fields, we are gifted with the ability to  use scalable and linear thinking effectively. Much of the world does not have mosquito nets? Well, we can just make mosquito nets, lots of them, for cheap. - Scalable and linear. Empirical studies  fit onto this well, because it is big and clunky. Empiricism requires control and large amounts of time. It is not very good at assessing things on small scale and where variables are shifting and changing. 

When working competitively,  linear and scalable thinking are less helpful. Though not to say they don't help at all. Competitive thinking needs to be iterative and dynamic. Feedback is faster, and harder to assess empirically. Strategies cannot be too linear,  as a competitive opponent  will quickly learn what you are doing. 

Politics seems to be a competitive field to me. There are voices with opposing viewpoints trying to push forward. 

I have probably been inspired to write this by the concept book "the third door". The metaphor given is that there are three doors into a nightclub. Standing in a long line; Getting in the VIP queue; or trying to sneak around the back, making friends with the bar staff and sneaking in. Although the author breaks his own rules many times in the book, relying on persistence and status quite a lot. I think a strong argument is made for iterative and speculative strategies. In thinking this way, you can potentially be so distinct you separate yourself from the competition. 

Novel and distinct thinking is cognitively demanding, as I am sure you found out when coming up with the current strategy. It is much easier  to copy, but also less effective. So there's a huge balancing act between dynamism, hedging your bets, mimicry, new thinking, persistence, nepotism, scaling and using our competitive advantage. 

To bring it home, on the strategy of sending emails. I have concerns that it's scalability which is it's main advantage could also be it's weakness. Not to say I am against it, but it should be hedged and balanced with many other strategies. Rather than a sole strategy scaled to diminishing returns. 

Just to tack onto the end, another strategy to be effective is to break the rules. It's a competitive advantage for obvious reasons. Unwritten/Unspoken rules are the best, as often the consequences are inconsistent and thin. If my viewpoint is worthwhile, would I email you to double the chances at it getting seen?  At risk is minor embarrassment at looking too keen. - How to should we weigh these? 

I will have a thinking about some strategies, but to serve as an example: 

  • Could you get some influential peoples phone number?
  • Could you get in contact with the  opposition party?
  • Could you get in contact with journalists?
  • How much would it cost to make a get someone on fiverr to make a video? Could you get this shared on  some big facebook groups?
  • Could you come up with some sort of meme-able expression or idea which reflects badly upon the conservatives?
  • Could you link the foreign aid to any recent issues, e.g. the recent mutant of tier 5 lockdown?
  • Is there anybody who is influential but out of the spotlight? Could they be persuaded by favorable arguments? 
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