Beijing 2008 Olympics Campaign Evaluation: A Summary

This evaluation was completed in November 2008.

Once Beijing was chosen as the site of the 2008 Olympics, the Tibet movement put aside disappointment at the decision, recognising the Games as the best-ever opportunity not only to raise public awareness of China’s long-standing, illegal occupation and radical mismanagement of Tibet, but also to pressure the Chinese government for a realistic and sincere approach to bringing about a resolution. Starting roughly 15 months before the 2008 August Olympics (but with several years of prior planning), the Tibet movement carried out the most comprehensive campaign in its history. Given the campaign’s enormous expenditure of time, thought, energy, and financial resources, the International Tibet Network felt it necessary to evaluate the Olympics campaign as carefully as possible in order to determine what was achieved, build on successes and avoid repetition of errors in future large-scale campaigns.

Given the complexity of the campaign and the Tibet movement, evaluation was not a straightforward task. Some parts of the campaign were easily measured; others could be measured only indirectly or by inference. Another complicating factor was the unexpected uprising in Tibet that began on 10 March 2008 and which garnered enormous media coverage, a brutal crackdown by the Chinese government, and reactions from many world governments. The Tibet movement’s response to the uprising became conflated with its Olympics campaign, and it is impossible to separate out which parts of the increased focus on Tibet were due to the uprising and which to Olympics campaigning.

The three primary goals of International Tibet Network’s Olympics Campaign were to:

  1. build pressure on the Chinese leadership;
  2. raise global public awareness about the situation in occupied Tibet;
  3. ensure that the Tibetan situation was mentioned in all major media political analyses of Beijing 2008;
  4. use the Olympics as a platform to bring about fundamental changes in the political and human rights conditions in Tibet.

International Tibet Network’s evaluation found that:

  • The pressure regarding Tibet that was exerted on the Chinese leadership in the run up to the Olympics was broad, intense, and sustained – possibly more so than at any previous period in the history of the Tibet support movement. While pressure was sustained throughout the campaign, it increased exponentially during and after the uprising, when pressure was also exerted, directly or indirectly, by the Chinese leadership’s allies and peers, including the International Olympic Committee, Olympic Sponsors and other national governments. Individual events combined to create a climate in which China’s rule in Tibet was a serious liability to the Chinese leadership’s image as the Olympics approached.
  • The Olympics campaign raised substantial public awareness internationally about the situation in occupied Tibet and, perhaps more importantly, redefined the issue in global public consciousness as one of the critical problems facing the Chinese government. While the uprising was the largest single contributor to increased public awareness about Tibet for the duration of the Olympics campaign, the awareness and sympathy was magnified and channeled into activity because of the existence of Tibet Groups and their preparedness for the Olympics campaign.
  • The situation of Tibet was covered in the vast majority of mainstream media analyses of Beijing 2008 as one of the critical issues facing the Chinese leadership today. Attention first grew noticeably during the worldwide actions that took place during the One-Year Countdown, particularly those of Students for a Free Tibet inside China. The major western media outlets that have not given Tibet extensive coverage in recent years began to single out and discuss Tibet rather than lumping it with general human rights issues. The Tibetan uprising, and the Olympic torch relay that followed on its heels, brought unparalleled intensity of coverage and placed Tibet front and centre in much of the analysis of China and the Olympics both by journalists and experts. This decreased after May but continued to an extent through the Olympics. As of November 2008, it appeared that Tibet was still attracting a higher level of attention than before the campaign; whether or not this is a permanent shift has yet to be seen.
  • It is unclear how, or whether, the Olympics campaign will prove to have been a catalyst for substantial positive changes in Tibet in the long run. However, it is fair to say that the accomplishments of the campaign detailed above will help contribute to an eventual resolution of the issue and to changes in China’s Tibet policy. As well, the Network is of the opinion that the increase in hostility from many Chinese people to the issue of Tibet in the aftermath of the uprising and the Torch relay protests shows an underlying recognition that Tibet is a major problem facing China. This recognition is an important and necessary development, since acknowledgement of a disagreement is more likely to lead to change than is indifference or obliviousness. It is noticeable that substantially more Chinese people than usual have also spoken out in support of Tibet since the uprising, in part due to the strident attacks from many of their compatriots. Change for Tibet could also come via political change in China, but it is uncertain what the long-term impact of the Olympics will be there as well. Ultimately, the Olympics were only one factor among many influencing political development in China.

In addition to evaluating the extent to which we achieved our campaign goals, we analysed the methods and tactics we used to reach those goals and the impacts of the Olympics campaign on the Tibet movement itself. On the whole, organisation of the campaign was successful, and it had beneficial impacts on the Tibet movement. However, various challenges also existed that can be improved upon in future campaigns.

  • In general, there was a high level of participation in the Olympics campaign from Tibet Groups. However, there were also some noticeable gaps in participation due to lack of full buy-in from all Network members to the campaign plan. Most aspects of the campaign plan were successfully implemented, but some projects fell short of their goals, due in part to shortcomings in planning and organisation.
  • The Olympics Campaign Working Group provided an important vehicle for member groups to contribute to global campaign strategies, but also struggled with low participation and varying degrees of campaigning expertise among members.
  • While coordination was not complete or perfect, the Olympics campaign achieved a high degree of coordination among Tibet Groups worldwide that increased the movement’s impact. Almost all of respondents (95%) to an online Olympics campaign evaluation survey sent to Tibet Groups believed that working in a coordinated campaign increased the overall impact of Tibet Groups’ Olympics activities. Eighty-seven percent said their organisation’s impact grew at a local and/or national level and 89% felt that the experience of working together on the campaign increased the capacity of the Tibet movement as a whole, making it more likely that future campaigns will be successful.
  • The movement’s impact also increased because of the campaign’s global implementation. Throughout the campaign, our work had more legitimacy because activities were taking place not only in the West but also Latin America, Asia, and other regions.
  • The capacity of individual Tibet Groups grew because of the Olympics campaign. Sixty-six percent of member organisations that responded to the Network’s Olympics evaluation survey said their capacity increased (their budget grew, they got new volunteers, supporters and/or members, or developed new media contacts or contacts in government) because of the Olympics campaign. Small member groups were strengthened by the knowledge and resources shared by larger groups.
  • The Olympics campaign, as well as Tibet Network’s coordination work during the uprising, increased Tibet Groups’ understanding of the Network’s role and of its value as a coordinating body that can connect different Tibet Groups, move information between them, and bring groups together for decision-making at key times. The value of the Network’s provision of materials and strategic direction was also newly appreciated by small Tibet Groups.

Olympics Campaign: Lessons Learned

Campaign Strategy

  • The multi-pronged strategy behind the Olympics campaign – pressuring the Chinese leadership directly, via peers and allies, and indirectly through international media coverage, as well as increasing public awareness and engagement on the issue of Tibet – was sound and is relevant for future campaigns. International Tibet Network has laid out its strategic direction in detail in another document, the Post-Olympics Strategic Plan.
  • The Chinese leadership is difficult to influence, and determining the most effective ways of doing so must continue to be a priority. International Tibet Network’s Strategic Plan is a strong starting point for this process.
  • Tibet Groups’ impact could be increased significantly if groups had more expertise in the use of strategy and strategic campaigning. International Tibet Network should continue and increase its efforts to foster a culture within the Tibet movement that prioritises strategic action calculated to achieve a specific strategic objective that will in turn help bring a resolution to human rights violations in Tibet and Tibet’s occupation. International Tibet Network should frequently include reminders of the importance of strategy in its communications with Tibet Groups, and should offer strategy training wherever possible, including at regional meetings and in information on its website.
  • Evaluation of our work at all levels should become a regular part of what we do. Future campaign plans should define goals and objectives in a more measurable way, and should include more benchmarks in order to enable more precise evaluation.
  • Acknowledging that not every campaign can be designed with easily measurable goals, International Tibet Network should try to increase its ability to measure successes and failures by more frequently requesting information from Network members about which aspects of the campaign they have participated in, what materials they have used, etc.


  • Having the entire Tibet movement do one thing with one message may never be possible due to regional differences and variations in goals. Complete unity is not necessary given the diversity of the environments Tibet Groups are working within, but to avoid having this appear as a problem or weakness, campaigns must be designed with an array of tactics and ways groups can participate effectively.
  • Tibet Network campaigns must include a certain number of components that are compelling, have clear objectives and fixed timelines, are easy to participate in, and have significant staff support, as this will increase participation and Tibet Groups’ ability to work together effectively. However, since robust, well-rounded campaigns also require substantial participation in seemingly mundane actions (e.g., letter-writing, telephoning), Tibet Groups should be encouraged to increase their participation in these activities as well.
  • International Tibet Network facilitation is immensely helpful in smoothing the way for Tibet Groups to work productively together and should be continued where possible.

Planning and Implementation Mechanisms

  • The Olympics Campaign Working Group was an imperfect planning and implementation mechanism, but was also effective in several ways. International Tibet Network should assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Campaign Working Groups, compare them with mechanisms used by similar networks or organisations, and make a recommendation on future mechanisms to be used.
  • Face-to-face meetings at key points in a campaign are extremely important for the smooth functioning of coalitions and to maintain good relationships between Tibet Groups and the Network.
  • International Tibet Network should make greater use of software that allows individuals to send automated messages to targets as part of a campaign, and should make this available to members.

Coordination and Capacity Building

  • The Network Secretariat should make an effort to identify which Tibet Groups particularly want to build their capacity and strongly encourage them to take advantage of what training and financial assistance the Network can provide. A greater number of Tibet Groups with campaign staff would substantially increase the impact of the movement.
  • New ways should be found to support and publicise the work of Tibet Groups in regions that have traditionally had less Tibet activity (regions outside North America and Western Europe) as even relatively small activities in these regions have a significant impact.
  • International Tibet Network should investigate the feasibility of translation into languages in addition to French, German, and Spanish. Whilst the Network cannot pay translators for every language, the Secretariat may be able to work with Tibet Groups to find volunteers or facilitate this in some other way.
  • More could be done to promote sharing of materials between Tibet Groups. International Tibet Network should remind and encourage Tibet Groups to make their materials available to other groups – possibly by creating a space for this on the Network’s website – and should also encourage them to permit editing of materials with logos, wording, etc. This will increase the materials available to Tibet Groups without increasing the burden on the Network to produce them. (International Tibet Network is currently designing a new website that should make sharing materials easier.)
  • The movement would be strengthened if various tensions among groups referred to in the body of this report could be reduced—for example, between some larger and smaller groups and some groups working in the same region.