For Ben Twomey, Director of Policy and Communications, January 2023 marked four years working here at NYAS.
That’s 1460 days of advocating for law changes, leading campaigns, and putting children and young people at the forefront of his work.
We asked Ben what he has learned over the last four years:
1. Co-produce with people most affected
Effective campaigns involve the voices of those with lived experience of the issue. The most effective campaigns work directly with people affected so that they can shape and drive efforts from the very start. Hearing first-hand testimony of the need for change can be more persuasive than a thousand statistics.
At NYAS our entire campaigns programme is decided with care-experienced young people, and then each campaign tries to find new ways to engage children. Even if our campaigns take a long time to achieve their goals, we do not miss the opportunities to amplify young people’s voices along the way. To do this, we have supported young people to speak on TV and radio, and to be quoted directly in the UK and Welsh parliaments. As all advocates know, making sure young people are listened to is a victory in itself.
Ben in parliament with NYAS Campaigns Advisers Charlotte, Ruth, Jay, James and Calum
2. Know what you want
It’s often useful to work backwards from the top. What you want when trying to influence laws or policies is usually no small thing. So to make sure your idea is bold enough, it could be helpful to imagine meeting with the Prime Minister or First Minister to discuss it. You wouldn’t bother them with something minor, so this helps to make sure your core ask is significant. This exercise also means you will package your answer in its clearest and most memorable form – the leader of a country has lots of meetings every day and thousands of issues on their desk. Why will they remember your campaign? How can they take forward your proposals? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can decide if you really need to see the Prime Minister or First Minister at all.
You’ve got a significant, clear and memorable campaign, so now work your way backwards and arrange meetings with decision-makers who can act on it, such as government ministers or civil servants. Know what you’re going in to these meetings with, but crucially, think through what you want to come out with too so you can steer the conversation towards action.
3. Speak their language
This one is really straightforward but can be a hard pill to swallow: What matters most to you may not be the same as what matters to the people you are trying to persuade. Only once you know their priorities and motivations can you really begin to speak their language. For example, at NYAS we have campaigned for better support for children’s mental health. There are lots of good arguments for this such as helping children to recover, reducing harm in later life, saving longer term costs to the NHS and society, or complying with Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
All of these points might be brought to the table when campaigning. However, it would be wise to emphasise savings for a government focused on budget constraints, or to emphasise international obligations to a government focused on expanding citizens’ rights. One of the easiest ways to achieve success with your campaign is for it to be seen as helpful to the priorities of those in power.
Ben giving evidence on mental health in parliament
4. Keep moving forward
Campaigning can be frustrating and upsetting, particularly when children’s futures are at stake. It is important to remember why you are working towards these goals, and use that motivation to keep you moving forward. A campaign cannot stall if you know what the next steps are. If you face government inaction, then remember that you can only control what you are doing. Make sure your next steps are practical and worthwhile.
Draw on the tools of a campaigner to keep the pressure for change up: there are letters, petitions, meetings, events, media appearances and a thousand other more creative ways to keep moving forward. Choose your next steps wisely and pursue them energetically. The goals that will save lives and change society forever will often take years to achieve. Keep going!