Campaigning and lobbying

 

Campaigners at Charnmouth Library, DorserCampaigning and lobbying is about winning the support of key decision-makers who will ultimately decide whether a particular asset transfer proposal should proceed.

The foundation of any campaigning and lobbying activity is both a convincing business case and widespread community support. Aim to show that with public investment your organisation will be producing surpluses, and social benefit. Without this basis campaigning and lobbying is unlikely to succeed.

In putting together a campaigning and lobbying strategy, prioritise agreeing the core messages that you want to convey. Clarity is essential to make sure that everyone sings from the same hymn sheet. Mixed messages will confuse decision-makers and undermine confidence in your organisation.

Prioritise your messages. Be ruthless – you should be able to get them down on one side of A4. Think about the people you are trying to convince to support the transfer. Which messages will be most persuasive to these people?

Campaigning and lobbying should have a strategic focus. This means identifying who needs to be persuaded to support the transfer and how this should be done. In most situations this means engaging political representatives at all levels and council officers.

These key decision-makers will be looking for three essential features in each development:

  1. Level of support across the community.
  2. Economic and financial viability of the project.
  3. Potential social benefits for the area.

It is sometimes the case that local authorities will undertake some form of cost-benefit analysis of the transfer proposition in reaching a decision. If the asset is transferred at less-than-market value, then the public benefit must outweigh the lost capital revenue, (which could potentially be re-invested in other council services).

This is a political as well as an economic decision given the non-financial nature of some benefits. In many cases the ultimate decision on whether to proceed will be taken by a council cabinet or policy committee. This means understanding the political views of the lead councillors is important. What are the arguments that resonate with them? Did their last election manifesto contain any details which can support your arguments?

Be aware that political representatives and council officers may have different interests and views on a given project. Councillors are generally likely to back a project that has high levels of public support, but council officers will raise concerns if they feel the asset is being undervalued. Council officers are influential as they often write the papers for the cabinet or policy committee and it is essential that you spend some time and effort to make sure they are supportive.

Get a handle on the political dynamics. This will be different in each case. Things to look for are party political and geographic divides. Do not allow the project to become a political football but do not be naïve about the political implications. Try to identify champions among both officers and elected officials. This will give you an inside track on the political situation and the best ways to influence it.

Campaigning and lobbying represent two sides of the same coin. Campaigning is the ‘outside’ game, putting public pressure on decision-makers. Lobbying is the ‘inside’ game, negotiating and persuading through private meetings. You need to make sure that the inside and outside games work to form a coherent strategy.

A typical outside campaigning activity is to get supporters of the transfer to email / write to a key decision-maker encouraging them to back the scheme. This should be timed and phrased to aid the inside lobbying game, such as before a key meeting. Campaigning and lobbying work best when they are coordinated.

Successful lobbying is about building up relationships. Be persistent and assertive but avoid aggression or arrogance. Make sure your passion is channelled positively. Make sure you have a network of supporters in place able to implement your strategy. This will enable quicker and more unified action when needed. An obvious way to do this is through a petition or community share issue. This demonstrates a level of seriousness to decision-makers and encourages a sense of ownership among supporters of the project.

If you want to put pressure on the local authority think creatively about how to attract media interest in the issue. Traditional methods like petitions, letter writing and demonstrating are good places to start. Recruiting journalists, prominent business people and celebrities to your cause could also help.

Avoid self-indulgence. Campaigning is not about venting anger or feeling self-satisfied. The aim is to persuade others to support the project. Focus on what they are interested in not what you are interested in. Be aware of their agenda and see where that collides with yours. Home in on areas of common interest.

It may be necessary to compromise on certain parts of the project. Protect the essential elements of your vision but do not be dogmatic.

Key Question

  • Does the campaigning and lobbying strategy give appropriate emphasis to the essential ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ factors involved?
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