Seeking to influence Government or Parliament? Get the building blocks right

Posted: 15 February 2021, in News

As a social enterprise the thought of engaging with Government or Parliament may be a daunting prospect.  With the impact of a global pandemic, the uncertainty of Brexit/IndyRef, the pressures on health and education systems – you might be unsure how to position your issue in a way that will command the attention of policymakers given resources are already stretched and focused elsewhere. 

Yet, believe it or not, most politicians do have a genuine desire and interest to learn more about the work of social enterprises, especially in their local communities.  Your experiences from the front line are invaluable and I am sure many of you reading this will have had some form of engagement with your local representative – whether it has been at a constituency surgery or inviting said representative round for a coffee and chat – when times were normal of course!

But how do you take that conversation to the next level and sharpen up your political engagement to open a dialogue that seeks to drive change?

Well firstly, you must ask yourself some difficult questions.  What kind of campaign do you want to run and what kind of change are you seeking?  The best and most effective campaigns are those that have both a logical side to them but also an emotional element that is rooted in the experiences of the population at large.  You need to be clear why you are getting into the debate and what you want to achieve.  If it is just a case of having your voice heard to raise your organisation’s profile, then perhaps you’d be better off investing in advertising. 

Perhaps most importantly is to ask yourself whether you have a workable solution to the problem.  It is all well and good being able to talk about a problem (we can all do that).  The key to successful influencing is knowing what is required to solve the problem and being able to articulate that in a constructive manner.  

And finally, do you have the resources (both time and financially) to embark on a campaign for political change.  These campaigns can be hugely time consuming and it is quite easy to get dragged down rabbit holes.  So, can you be disciplined in your campaigning to know where best to focus your efforts but also when the right time is to say no.

Once you are able to answer yes to these questions…then you can start planning out how to execute your campaign.

For me, all good public affairs strategies are built on five pillars.

  1. Know the landscape – in most instances the officials or politicians you are seeking to influence have been immersed in these issues for years.  So, you need to know the policy landscape, what’s been tried in the past and how taking action in one area will impact another.
  2. Stakeholder Mapping – use your resources efficiently and know which of your stakeholders have an interest in your work but more importantly who has the ability to influence the type of change you want to see.
  3. Key Messages – be clear on what it you are asking for and why.  Repeat and do not deviate.
  4. Intelligence and Horizon Scanning – Use your stakeholder relationships to gather intelligence and know what is coming down the track so that you can flex your public affairs strategy as appropriate.
  5. Timing & Relevance – use the political intelligence you’ve gather along the way to know when best to deploy your arguments in a manner where politicians are likely to be at their most receptive. 

If you can be honest with yourself and build your campaign on these pillars then you won’t be far away when it comes to grabbing the attention of Government and policymakers.

Colin McFarlane, Director & Head of Public Affairs at Pagoda PR