Lobbying for change

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You wanna change the world

To achieve political change, you need more than an idea. You need to have a clear path for how you’re going to engage people’s hearts and minds.

You’re one person. One person lobbying for change does not have a very big impact. That’s why people form groups. Groups of people do have an impact: especially when they’re organised and directing their efforts appropriately.

Einstein is quoted as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he’d spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution

Identify the issue

Usually the ‘idea’ that you have is an improvement to the current situation. There’s a problem and what you’re trying to sell is a solution to that problem. Politicians and senior bureaucrats really like it when people solve problems for them. That’s how politics works. Sometimes they don’t even know that the problem exists. Bringing their attention to the problem is a good place to start.

How do you bring attention to a problem? Start public debate.  Write letters to the editor, comment on newspaper blogs, respond to posts on social media, write to Ministers and senior agency staff, start an issues-based group.

To really understand the problem you need to do a situational analysis. This doesn’t have to be difficult and full of jargon. Here’s a few simple ideas to get you started:

  • What are others doing around this problem? Who is working in this space?
  • What does science / social research tell us? Collect baseline data. Check out Google Scholar and good ‘ol academic journals. Talk to researchers. Take photos.
  • Undertake a simple stakeholder analysis or do some market research. Talk to locals. Talk to those affected or those who’ll be impacted upon. What do they know? How do they feel? Is there general support?
  • What are the institutional, political, social, economic factors affecting your project? Do these factors have some bearing on the effectiveness of your project? Are they a threat?
  • What’s worked and what’s failed in the past?
  • What don’t you know about this problem? You don’t know what you don’t know.

Ok, Ok, I understand the problem

OK, so you have a very clear picture of what the problem really is. Now you can start to flog your idea – which should be presenting a solution to that problem.

More than an idea

So, you want to change something. Whether it’s an environmental, social or cultural thing, there are a few elements that make an idea popular with politicians. We’ve stolen this from our mate Nick Heath at WWF Australia (the wildlife group, not the wrestling one).

Nick says that for lobbying to be effective, your solution has to be AFFORDABLE, POPULAR AND DOABLE.  Let’s explore each of those elements.

Affordable

OK, for your idea to be affordable it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be cheap. When you save governments money in other areas, your idea becomes economically viable. Your solution might cost money, but it might be reducing the risk of an even greater cost.

For example: installing lighting along a foreshore boardwalk is going to cost $100,000. However, the potential of an elderly person tripping over in poor light and injuring themselves is quite high. Even though your project is going to cost $100,000, the cost of not doing so is much higher.

Popular

You need to prove to people that your idea is building momentum. That there are lots of people on-board and if nothing happens, there’s going to be a lot of vocal people in the community. How do you do this?

Well the answer will be different depending on your community make-up and the people you are trying to win over. The bottom line is that politicians want you to show them the numbers. How many people want this? How many groups are on-side? What businesses are on board? What evidence do you have that people care?

A few ideas that have worked for other groups:

  • Facebook and Twitter followers, retweets, mentions, sign-ups and shares
  • Signatures on a petition
  • Letters to the editor and votes on newspaper or online polls
  • Subscribers to an e-newsletter or website
  • Letters to Ministers and senior bureaucrats
  • Submissions to policies and legislation open for public comment
  • Members of your group
  • People attending rallies, protests or meetings

Doable

This is an easy one. If you’ve done your research, your idea is going to be doable. But the trick lies in convincing decision makers that it is. This comes back to how we communicate. Some tips for communicating for change:

  • Communicate with the right people. Make sure you know who is actually responsible for making decisions about the thing you’re campaigning for.
  • Communicate clearly and consistently about the solution you have in mind.
  • Engage local community and business leaders to lobby on your behalf.
  • Make sure you are communicating with the right people (we don’t get koalas listed as endangered by lobbying the local park ranger).
  • Have facts and figures on-hand and use them appropriately.
  • Keep the media abreast of what you’re doing and why (that doesn’t mean writing reams and reams of media releases).
  • Make sure you have genuine community support for your idea.
  • Never miss an opportunity to lobby the right people.
  • Try to get bipartisan support. That is, work with the government and with other political parties.