Top skills a Local Party Organiser needs in 2018

Local Party Organisers have a hard balancing act to maintain: running seemingly every aspect of election campaigns in their local area whilst also overseeing the long-term development of the local party.

It’s no wonder sometimes it can seem like an impossible task!

In preparing to recruit for a new Local Party Organiser (LPO) for North Norfolk and Great Yarmouth Liberal Democrats, I tried to think from scratch about the sorts of skills we were looking for. One of the first things we concluded was that we couldn’t expect to find everything in one person. So, having returned an executive with a huge amount of experience, we’re focusing on the skills to help us with capacity building and organisational development rather than political strategy, policy or messaging:

  1. Emotional intelligence. This doesn’t mean you have to rush around responding to each wobble of every local volunteer. But it does mean you have to take people’s feelings, needs and concerns seriously. In practice this could mean a number of things: ensuring you have a clear and approachable system for dealing with concerns and grievances, providing positive feedback when it’s due and sometimes just listening when someone needs to be heard, which might mean building time into team meetings explicitly for people to air their concerns and frustrations. As the old saying goes: sunlight is the best disinfectant. Anger and fear that goes underground will eat away at your team morale faster than Jacob Rees-Mogg can spew anachronisms. And as lynchpin of the campaign effort, you need to be the most transparent and self-aware of the lot.
  1. Data love. Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes on Connect knows that it can reduce even the most emotionally resilient to tears. But persistence is key. Optimising your campaign team’s time doesn’t just mean running the numbers – you also need to get to know the local area and be able to associate different places with electoral profiles intuitively. There won’t be time to produce colourful pie charts when you’re choosing which walks to hand out on a busy polling day.
  1. Above all else, LPOs need to be organised and that starts with having a personal system for managing incoming tasks and thoughts. Part of being organised is also about having systems that are shared and understood by everyone else. After our debrief of the 2017 General Election in North Norfolk we produced a full procedures manual ready to get off the shelf in the event of another one striking. In between these two levels is the need for simple systems for day-to-day things like canvassing (preparing MiniVan lists, coordinating meeting points and team leaders), literature (bundling up the latest leaflet round) and membership development (organising the volunteer-recruitment drive pub session…). Having these in place will make it easier to delegate when you need to scale up.
  1. LPOs have a tendency to be long-suffering martyrs but the joys of modern communication make it easier than ever before to practice the vital skill of delegation. People can input data on Connect from miles away, phone bank from their own homes, and even tweet from a hotel in Tuscany. There are two ways to delegate: one is through giving someone a clearly delineated, semi-permanent task that they can get on with without a great amount of guidance – such as data entry, or delivering leaflet bundles. The other is through deputising. An ideal way doing this is to find yourself a trusted second-in-command, someone who doesn’t mind being in regular contact and being given somewhat random tasks – including more complex things that you know are never going to make it off your own task list.
  1. A thank you in time saves… nine hours of searching for yet more volunteers to deliver the heap of paper at your feet. You might know people are valued and appreciated, but they might not feel that unless you tell them. And unlike flattery or apology, thank yous are a currency that doesn’t suffer from over-inflation.
  1. Knowing when it’s okay to let go of the tried and tested methods and when to put your foot down and explore something new is key to modern campaigning. There are some things that don’t change, like the fact that the frequency of literature still makes a massive difference to election outcomes (read Mark Pack and Ed Maxfield’s excellent 101 Ways to Win an Election if you need convincing). But getting too bogged down in “this is the way we have done things since 1859” can also stop anything new and effective coming to the fore. Let’s face it: the Lib Dems are not taking Parliament by storm. We need bold, new ways of doing things. So when some upstart new volunteer suggests something out-of-the-box, resist the temptation to slap them down with a good lecture on the fine tradition of Blue Letters and Residents’ surveys and instead create an atmosphere in which new ideas are taken seriously, and a reasonable chunk of time and energy is given over trying new things.
  1. Resist the ease by which you can spend all your time and money on social media. Social media seems to be people’s go-to when it comes to thinking about ways of bringing campaign up to speed in modern times. And yet there’s a lot of evidence that social media is massively over-hyped when it comes to electioneering. It definitely has a role to play… But as Freya and I explored in Fourth to First, it’s surprisingly expensive and unsophisticated compared to talking to voters and delivering direct mail.
  1. Resist multi-tasking. In a world filled with pinging smart-phones it’s tempting to assume that multi-tasking is an essential skill for organising in the modern age. Yet anyone involved in logistics of any kind would do well to read Daniel Levitin’s The Organised Mind (or, for those short on time, his Guardian article on Why the modern world is bad for your brain) in which he calmly destroys the sacred cow of multi-tasking by pointing out that, because of the way our brains are built, doing loads of things at once essentially means doing loads of things inadequately. Levitin points out that our brains get a lovely shot of dopamine when we give into the allure of ‘task switching’, so doing one thing at a time is a hard taste to acquire a preference for. Nonetheless, if you can accept the irony that winning at 21st century living means rejecting one of its most tempting characteristics, it’ll make you a hell of a lot better at your job.
  1. Understand sleep. Again thanks to advances in modern neuroscience, we are starting to see sleep as more than a necessary rest for our muscles. With very busy people, sleep is often the first thing to go. What’s an hour or three shaved off your slumber, anyway? Well, as it turns out: it’s the difference between effective and defective neural functioning. People today sleep much less than people did 70 years ago, and this could be costing the economy billions in lost productivity. It is likely that, if you get fewer than eight hours sleep a night, and certainly if you get fewer than six, then you are sleep-deprived. And sleep-deprivation inhibits your creative thinking, slows your problem solving skills, and makes you less empathic. Not ideal for a job heavily reliant on all three.
  1. Learn the basics of how to run a meeting. I am regularly astonished by how few meetings function effectively. This is something most organisations struggle with– but as an LPO, your time is precious, and it’s especially important when you’ve finally managed to get the relevant team members in the right place at the right time and with an appropriate amount of sugar and caffeine. Try these top tips: 60 minutes maximum, no ‘spectators’, set the purpose upfront, assign tasks at the end, and ban computers and phones. The effects of getting this right can be hugely motivating, and not just because of the sugar-riddled doughnuts with which you bribed people to show up.

More details on how we turned this into a job description, and details of the vacancy, can be found at http://www.normanlamb.org.uk/north_norfolk_local_party_organiser.

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3 Comments

  • Dave Thomas 28th Dec '17 - 2:25pm

    Steff, interesting write up. Point 7 is the one which i feel gets a lot of people frustrated. I get frustrated that Social Media doesn’t have the impact it’s perceived to have, its fantastic at getting “the word” out on policies, action days, meets etc, plenty of 3rd party groups have done just that successfully. But for elections i feel it just doesnt deliver, inbetween elections is where its greatest power is held in my view. Number 6, new ideas, i love new ideas, i like hearing what worked and what didnt, just because it didnt work once, doesnt mean it wont again. But also to be strong enough to admit/say when its not worth trying again. Best of luck with the search!

  • Simon Wilson 28th Dec '17 - 8:41pm

    For an effective political organiser, it is not just about doing but also about being

  • Thanks Steffan! That’s a great list you’ve put together and I’d highly recommend the book you and Freya wrote too.

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