‘Shouting Down the House’

As part of my democratic right, I’ve been signing petitions for years. Back in my childhood, I remember proudly signing CND and poll tax petitions outside my local supermarket. Twenty years later, I’m doing it three times a day at the touch of a button. I now have an intimate relationship with my MP’s email address – it is certainly more than I contact my mum (except my mum responds to my emails occasionally).

Technology and the social sector disrupted democracy 15 years ago, when petitions and postcards went digital. This enabled every person who has access to email to start or sign petitions, or to contact decision makers, immediately and intimately. But at what cost?

Activism is a busy place

Over a million emails are sent to politicians every month, all around the world. It requires significantly less time, effort and therefore motivation than offline activism. Without a doubt, this has made possible some significant awareness-raising and lobbying campaigns; it may even have raised the income of some voluntary organisations, and in the past year, it has certainly made a lot of people suffer under exceptionally icy water. But does it fundamentally change the system and the political hearts and minds it is designed to challenge?

With thanks to The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and The Social Change Agency, I interviewed many senior politicians across Australia, New Zealand and Canada to see how they felt about being lobbied relentlessly by emails with the same or similar subject lines. The resulting report ‘Shouting Down the House’, focusses on understanding the conversation between those who speak to power and those who are in power through exploring how that conversation takes place through social media and email campaigns. It ends with 18 recommendations for charities, governments and campaigners.

Before you start yawning, this is not a debate about clicktivism versus activism. I believe as a social sector we should be moving on from that. Parliamentarians and lawmakers have as much responsibility to innovate, adapt and change as those who lobby it. My research has shown that far from creating a ‘zombie nation’, our digital campaigning revolution may have actually started a tsunami, drowning out the voices of those who can influence power the most: the voices of those with the lived experience.

Technology won’t save us

*Shouting Down the House*’ clearly shows that technology alone won’t save us from drowning. We need to harness all of our energy, experience and skills across the sector if we are to make democracy work. What we cannot do as citizens is ignore the future – we do so at democracy’s peril.

Download the full report here.


To explore these issues and more, please join Esther, Baroness Deech, Change.org and Charles Walker MP, at an open discussion on: ‘Is digital campaigning drowning democracy?’

Esther Foreman is the CEO of The Social Change Agency, a movement-building and campaigning consultancy. She has spent over 15 years building on and off-line social justice movements for a variety of organisations, including Shelter, Mencap and Help the Aged. She is a trustee of the MS Society and Do-it.org as well as a 2011 Clore Fellow, a 2013 Winston Churchill Fellow and a 2015 Young Foundation Fellow. @estherforeman

Baroness Deech DBE, is a member of the House of Lords, a British academic, lawyer and bioethicist, most noted for chairing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, from 1994 to 2002, and the former Principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford. She is also a regular contributor to Lords of the Blog. @BaronessDeech

Charles Walker MP, OBE has served as a Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Broxbourne since 2005. In addition to being the chair of the Procedure Committee, he is also a member of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (SCIPSA). He has won The Spectator Speech of the Year twice at the annual Parliamentarian of the Year awards. www.charleswalker.org

Tom Bage, UK Communications Director, Change.org Tom is UK Communications Director for Change.org – the world’s largest petition platform with 120m global users and over 9m users in the UK. He has a decade’s worth of experience working in and around politics, communications and the media. @tombage

13th October, 8-9.30pm

The House of St Barnabas Chapel

1 Greek St


To book your place please email esther@thesocialchangeagency.org