How to make a scheme work: it’s not just about the mechanics
By Mark Pack Author, 101 Ways To Win An Election in Liberal Democrat Newswire
The mechanics of a registered supporter system are important and can be controversial - especially if they involve questions of internal democracy. They are, however, not the whole picture and indeed in the past, such as during Charles Kennedy's time as leader, muted discussions about opening up the party to a wider network of supporters quickly got sucked into an internal, mechanistic focus.
That isn't the whole picture, as consideration of why you're a member or supporter of any other organisations quickly shows. Sometimes we sign up for what we get. I used to be a member of the British Film Institute to get cheaper cinema tickets and when my visits dropped off, I ceased. I didn't join to cast a vote for BFI internal contests, even though membership gave me that. (In fact, even as someone who reads all the bits of paper they are sent, I found them quite baffling. What were all those coded references to choices of building really about?)
But often we sign up to express support. That's why I am (I think) a member of the friends of a local green space - I wanted to support them, I gave them a donation and I'm happy to occasionally amplify their messages online. It's about showing support for a good cause.
Likewise, a registered supporters scheme needs to be more than those dull words indicate (and why I've toyed with calling it a 'friends of…' scheme). Rather it needs branding as an outward-looking, welcoming and new way of involving people in fighting for the causes that are important to them.
A good related example of the power of branding an initiative effectively has been Your Liberal Britain's collaboration with former party leader Paddy Ashdown for the Ashdown Prize for Radical Thought. The mechanics at the heart of the prize are little different from the support the party offers to anyone to submit a conference motion. If anything, the Ashdown Prize is a more convoluted process. However, the presentation of the scheme meant that while there are usually well under 100 motions submitted to a federal conference, the Ashdown Prize generated 1,140 suggestions. As a rough calculation, having a differently presented way of submitting ideas generated in one go more submissions than a decade of federal conferences have secured.
We already do a bit to involve registered supporters. Those emails with 'exclusive' early opportunities to view the next party political broadcast, for example, have not always been member-only. Those are baby steps for what could be possible.
Thinking more like a broader supporter organisation would be necessary. A chance to pose questions for Nick Clegg to ask in his next podcast? A book club featuring the likes of Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone? That's the sort of content we would need to experiment with.
As such content takes time to think of, create and manage it enhances the value of having a registered supporters scheme that is one the whole party contributes to, rather than one which simply places more pressure on a small number of staff.