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All case studies
3 November 2020

Sheila McKechnie Foundation

For a programme of work including a conference to showcase the possibilities of using the law for campaigners and change-makers
Strengthening Civil Society

About the project

In 2018, the Sheila McKechnie Foundation’s (SMK) released the insightful and well-received Social Power report into how social change happens. Their analysis of social change suggested that there was more potential for civil society organisations to use the law in pursuit of change. SMK were keen to reach beyond their usual audiences into parts of civil society that could consider the law as an option but, for various reasons, do not.

In 2019, the Foundation awarded SMK a grant for a programme of work to include research, educational materials, discussion and a one-day conference, aimed at change-makers from across civil society.

Chloe Hardy

Director of Policy & Communications, Sheila McKechnie Foundation

We knew, from our Social Change Project investigation into how social change happens, that many change-makers were barely aware of how the law could work for change or knew too little to approach it with confidence. This applied to campaigners in organisations of all sizes, specialisms and locations.


The Baring Foundation grant allowed us to put together a thoughtful programme. We began by reaching out to both campaigners and lawyers to find out where the law was being used well, and to identify the critical gaps in people’s understanding.

Working with Baring, we then brought together representatives from civil society (Friends of the Earth, Dignity in Dying, Children’s Society), the lawyers who work with them (Deighton Pierce Glynn), and organisations that support that work (Public Law Project, Just for Kids Law). The sounding board were generous with their time and expertise, supporting both the event and associated research.

The event

Around 120 people attended the conference, which was opened by Jo Maugham QC (Good Law Project), who addressed the question ‘why use the law, and what’s possible?’

We offered practical sessions on: using the law in campaigning, integrating legal approaches into your organisation, thinking about costs, partnership & collaboration, and the broader demands of strategic litigation.

The day ended with a panel discussion on the big picture issues, featuring senior leaders from the Small Charities Coalition, Independent Workers of Great Britain, Shelter, and Friends of the Earth.

Tom Baker, the highly respected campaigner and campaigning commentator, said, ‘Before attending, I’ll be honest in saying that I’d not spent a lot of time thinking about how the law could be used in my campaigning’.

By the end of the day, 95% of delegates said the event made them feel confident about considering the law as an option.

A wider conversation

We launched the free Using the law for social change: a 101 guide at the conference. It still forms the backbone of our online Law & Resource Centre.

Before and after the conference itself, we published blogs and a podcast (Messing with the ‘constitutional plumbing’: law, politics & implications for civil society) to stimulate wider thinking and conversation.

Longer-term impact

The research and relationship-building we did allowed us to build our knowledge, expanded the free resources we offer to change-makers, and has increased our profile amongst civil society organisations interested in using the law.

In 2020, it has enabled us to play a part on groups addressing the Government’s proposals on judicial review.

We will maintain the Social Change & Law Resource Centre for as long as we can keep it current. We are also offering a unit on the law and social change in our Campaign Carousel training course, which launches in November 2020.

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