E-mail activism as a mechanism for achieving positive change

This blog has been co-authored by young and adult co-leaders of the Resilience Revolution in Blackpool. 

Points to consider when crafting an e-mail for change

Here at the Resilience Revolution we are testing and learning different ways to beat the odds for individuals whilst also changing the odds for the whole community. As a group of young people, parents/carers, practitioners, leaders and academics we understand that at times we may need to disrupt unhelpful systems in order to make them work better for people. From our work over the last 5 years, we have learnt that when we are involved in activist type activity, in all its shapes and sizes, it can help build our own resilience as well as making positive changes in the community.
The potential for a well-crafted e-mail to disrupt unhelpful systems can sometimes be underestimated. Alongside more formal activist activity, e-mail activism has a role as a mechanism for achieving positive change. In order to make changes, we will probably need help along the way, so e-mails can also be helpful to encourage other people to collaborate with us.
Professor Angie Hart, University of Brighton has supported us to develop our email writing skills. She promotes the use of a well-crafted e-mails as a system interventions saying….
‘I’ve seen the major difference the right email, to the right people at the right time can make to children’s lives. So I am totally sold on getting good at them. I’m the adoptive parent of 3 children from the cares system, have worked at CAMHS for years and support lots of people in the community so I’ve had lots of practice. My skills were crafted composing ‘yours a little bit miffed/sad from Brighton, how about you do this, I’m sure you really want to and then you will save lots of money and/or the world will be a better place’ type emails. This is my basic formula to which I return time and time again. I write these kinds of emails to senior people in higher education, to MPs, headteachers and senior administrators in local councils. To mix it up a bit my target might get an actual letter on my Forever Friends note paper. Or it can be sometimes more impactful for the communication to come from someone else so I support  others to write and send it. I can be quite hot headed so I keep my communications calm and if I am especially miffed I get someone else to take a look before I send the email. Well that’s the theory, sometimes I do just send them but I am not advising that… You should see some of the replies I’ve got when I’ve done that!’
For those of you out there wishing to develop your skills in this area of activism, here are a few basic pointers we have found helpful:
  • Before engaging your fingers in keyboard activity, be really clear in your mind what the purpose of the e-mail is. What are you hoping will happen as a result of your correspondence? What are you hoping to achieve?
  • Ask yourself, am I e-mailing the right person? Does this person have some power in the system to make the changes you would like to see? Do you need to copy other people in? Will this impact on the relationships you have with other people in the system? We sometimes think of strategies as big, long term plans, but in this case developing a strategy for the change you want to see is really important.
  • Depending on the purpose of the e-mail, the language, content and tone needs to be thought through. For example, if the e-mail is to encourage someone to do something you know will help your cause then a more informal, personal approach might be more appropriate. However, if the e-mail is to highlight a problem in the system then a respectful but assertive tone, with links to local and national good practice may be needed. Remember, unless you mark it confidential, once an e-mail is sent you don’t have any control over who else might read it, it is potentially out there for the world to see.
  • Keep the e-mail concise, receiving a very long and complicated e-mail can be off putting and counterproductive. Use short sentences and paragraphs where possible.
  • Read the e-mail at least twice before sending, have you made your point clear? Or is it still a bit waffly.
  • Having someone else to edit/proof read is helpful, preferably someone you feel has expertise they are willing to share with you. If you can’t think of anyone then imagine you are the person you are sending it to, put on a different hat and read the e-mail. How do you imagine they will respond? Do you need to make any changes?
  • Use the spelling and grammar check on your computer, if you’re in education you can always ask a teacher/tutor to look over it for you.
  • If you don’t have access to a device or WiFi see if there is a community venue that has. Libraries, community centres, even some buses have free Wifi now.
  • Consider whether you are actually the right person to send it or might it be better coming from someone else? Could you help someone else to write it?
  • If you are really angry and that comes across in the email sleep on it before you send it.

If you need any help from the Resilience Revolution get in touch with us at [email protected] or see the Resilience Revolution website for more information. We’d also love to hear about how you got on.