State your case
How to write a briefing sheet for a campaign
A briefing sheet is a useful tool for any campaign. It is simply a statement of your aims with supporting facts and information to back up your case. You can use it:
- As the basis for your campaign leaflets and website pages.
- To help you write press releases or letters.
- To give you the facts at your fingertips when giving media interviews.
- As background information for anyone who wants to support or find out more about your campaign.
Your briefing sheet should be one or two sides of A4 paper. Use a fairly large size of lettering (14 point text will allow most people to read it, even if they have a slight visual impairment) and allow plenty of space between the lines.
It is useful to put a date on your Briefing Sheet so people know when it was produced or last updated. You should also regularly check key facts and add any new information that you have.
1. Work out what you want, and who from
Before you start writing, you will need to do some detailed thinking and talking within your group.
Decide on a few specific objectives for your campaign – short statements of exactly what you are trying to achieve.
Your objectives should be:
If you ask for something vague like “improvements”, you can’t be sure that everyone is talking about the same thing.
Campaigning for the impossible quickly becomes demoralising.
- Easy to understand:
You will lose supporters if they cannot follow your argument. Write all your campaign materials in plain English, and always check that what you have written cannot be misinterpreted.
- Agreed democratically within your group:
The group is likely to work better together on the campaign if everyone has been involved in a democratic process to decide the aims. If you claim to represent people in your community, you should also do some research into their opinions, so that you know your campaign will have a broad base of support.
- Targeted at the right people:
Find out before you start who has the power to change the things you are concerned about, and make sure your demands are addressed to them.
- Up to date
It is useful to put a date on your briefing sheet so people know when it was produced or last updated. You should regularly check key facts and add any new information that you have.
2. Get your facts straight
To make a convincing case, you will probably need to do some research.
Using information gathered by other people
The government carries out a census of the whole population every 10 years.
Information is collected in small enumeration districts of 150-200 households. This means you can use the census figures to build up a picture of your immediate neighbourhood.
Other Local Data
Brighton and Hove Community Insight provides a wide range of facts and figures at different geographic levels for the Brighton and Hove area.
Other National Statistics
The government carries out a vast amount of research between censuses. The National Statistics website includes a database which you can use to search for recent information on a particular topic. Information is available down to ward level and the site is easy to use.
Brighton & Hove Council’s Economic Development Team gathers local information about things like unemployment and business growth.
Doing your own research
If no one else has done research to find out what you need to know, you can do your own.
There are lots of different ways of gathering information. The kind of research you do will depend on what you are trying to find out, and how you are going to use the results.
Some of the research methods you may want to think about are:
- straightforward counting (eg of traffic levels, recreation facilities in the area, etc)
- door-to-door surveys
- postal questionnaires
- interviews with people who know about or are affected by the issue you are researching.
How much data do you need?
It can be hard to know how much data you need to collect to make your results useful. So, if you want to find out information about people living in a particular street with 300 households, but know you won’t be able to get everyone to do your survey, you need to make a judgement about how many responses you need in order to make your results useful. If you get 150 responses, you will probably have something meaningful to say about the people in that street. If you only get 10 responses, you probably can’t assume that the information can be generalised to everyone in the whole street.
Is it representative?
You also need to think about whether the sample of people you survey / interview is representative of the group you want to find out about. So, imagine you want to find out what people in a particular neighbourhood think about a local issue. You might decide to interview 50 local residents to get their views. If you choose 50 people who are all involved in campaigning about the issue, you will be unlikely to get a range of views that represents all the local residents. However, if you randomly select residents from around the area, you will get a better idea of the range of views that different people have.
Is the true?
Finally, you need to make sure the information you collect is true. To do this you need to phrase your questions in a way which allows people to give you their true thoughts and opinions.
Let’s go back to the neighbourhood survey example. If you say in your survey: “this new local development is a total scandal isn’t it?”, people may feel pressured to agree with you. Instead, ask a question like “What do you think about the new local development”. This way, if everyone says they hate the new development, this data will be much more valid and useful to you.
Be careful with people’s information
However you do the research, it is important that you only use people’s information in a way they are happy with. To help with this, you should:
- decide specifically what you are trying to find out, and only ask questions that help you gain this specific information
- if you ask people to answer questions, explain clearly why you are collecting information from them, and what you will use it for
- store any personal details (such as names and addresses) securely, and destroy them when you no longer need them.
3. Writing the Briefing Sheet
- Briefly describe the problem or issue
- Quote any facts you have to support your case
- State clearly what action you want to be taken, and who should do it
- Provide any information you have to show that this is a good solution to the problem you have identified (e.g. if you are campaigning for traffic calming you could refer to another area of the city where this has been introduced and the reduction in the number of accidents in that area)
- Include information to show that there is a lot of support for the proposal (e.g. ‘100 people attended our Public Meeting on 3rd September’ or ‘over 1000 people have signed our petition’)
- Don’t forget the basics:
Include a date, contact name, phone number, email address, postal address, and website if you have one.
A few tips for writing clearly
- Organise your information.
- Use headings to guide the reader through your argument.
- Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Avoid jargon, abbreviations and technical language.
- Make sure everything is spelt correctly and always ask someone else to check it through when you have finished.
- Let the facts speak for themselves. The briefing sheet will usually be used as the basis for a media interview or another piece of campaign literature. It should not be a detailed script.
4. Getting help if you need it
Your local library is a good place to start if you need to find out pretty much anything. Librarians are knowledgeable and helpful, and can usually point you in the right direction, even if they do not have the information in their own stock.
This team based at Brighton University offers free support to community and voluntary organisations who need some help or advice with doing research.
We keep a small reference collection of books about campaigning – click on the Books tab on the Campaigning page for details.
We are always happy to try and help groups find things out, and we aim to act as a central reference point, so that if one group learns something useful, we can pass it on to other groups.
Example briefing sheet for a campaign
Busyroad Estate Tenants’ Association Traffic Calming Campaign
Briefing Sheet October 2010
Busyroad Estate is eight streets of houses and two blocks of low-rise sheltered housing; approximately 700 dwellings in all. Housing on the estate is a mixture of local authority rented and owner-occupied/leasehold.
The area which includes the estate has a higher proportion of children in the population (22.4%) than in Brighton & Hove as a whole (16.6%). [Figures from the 1991 census]
500 children under 16 live on the Busyroad Estate. 100 of these live in Speedy Hill and Deathtrap Road, the two busiest roads in the area. [BETA survey, September 2008]
Although census figures show a relatively high level of car ownership in the local area, our own survey has revealed that on the estate itself, most households (55%) do not have access to a car. [BETA survey, September 2008]
Traffic and traffic calming
The estate is bordered on two sides by major roads, which are busy throughout the day. Several of the residential streets are regularly used as rat runs by commuter traffic and by commercial vehicles travelling to and from the nearby industrial estate.
Our survey showed that 80% of the children aged eight to twelve who live on the estate are not allowed to play outside on their own, mainly because of concern about traffic levels. By contrast, 75% of adults recalled playing out alone at that age. [BETA survey, September 2008]
Of those households who do have access to a car, 70% drive children to and from school. There is a noticeable increase in traffic levels on the estate at the time of the school run. This makes walking or cycling to school more dangerous.
In other areas of Brighton & Hove, where traffic calming measures have been introduced, residents report a clear reduction in the use of residential streets as rat runs, and a general feeling of increased freedom and safety for pedestrians, especially children. [Correspondence with
Eversocalm Community Association, 2008]
The Busyroad Estate Tenants’ Association Traffic Calming Campaign calls on Brighton & Hove Council to:
- Work with local schools to develop safer routes to school for children who walk or cycle, and to encourage parents not to increase traffic levels by driving their children to and from school.
- Work with the Tenants’ Association to draw up a joint plan for traffic calming measures which will alleviate the main problems caused by traffic in the area. Such measures could include road entry treatments, speed humps, lower speed limits, and additional pedestrian crossings on the roads surrounding the estate.
- Consult fully with all residents of the estate and take their views into account in the final development of the traffic calming plan.
- Begin to implement the agreed traffic calming plan by January 2012.
How to find out more
To find out more information, for a copy of our survey results, or to support the campaign, contact:
Busyroad Estate Tenants’ Association
Secretary: Mary Jones
43 Backgarden Street
Tel. 01273 708954
Updated August 2016