Influencing public policy has been described as a journey, not a race. This is an apt description given that the policy changes that you seek can often take years – or not occur at all.
So why do it? Why go through the lengthy and often frustrating process of trying to work with elected officials and bureaucrats to shape public policy? Of course, the promise of getting institutional support for your organization’s goals and interests is always a strong lure. But it’s important to recognize that the path to policy change reaps other rewards.
For example, pursuing policy change garners on-going intelligence about government strategies, plans, opinions and perceptions that often cannot be otherwise obtained. This information is invaluable to an organization’s management of issues and provides insight that can help favourably position itself on issues with members, funders, elected officials, media and other stakeholders.
Perhaps the greatest reward in pursuing a sustained program of influencing public policy (commonly referred to as lobbying) is the opportunity to build positive relationships that pay long-term dividends. You may not always be successful in getting the policy change you want today but a consistent, well thought out and executed approach builds goodwill that you can bank and use tomorrow.
On any issue, it’s vital that you educate before you advocate. Other keys to success:
• In making the case, be sensitive to political realities, timing and other issues of the day.
• Clearly and succinctly articulate the issue, solution and benefits.
• Identify and get to know who the key players are and where they stand on the issue.
• Recognize and deal with objections up front.
• Follow protocol but use all of the avenues open to you to make your case heard and understood.
• Find someone of influence inside the bureaucracy or among the elected to champion your position behind closed doors.
• Be patient and above all, remain committed and in touch with those who can effect change.
Being effective at influencing public policy reflects the same reality as making it in Hollywood. There are no “overnight success” stories. Just hard working, dedicated and persistent people plying their trade skillfully so that in the end, there are more positive outcomes than negatives ones. At the end of the day, it is time well spent.