Connecting with Decision-Makers
Posted by Mike Smith
The answer is different for every individual, for every issue, for every process.
So, you can’t just do the first thing that comes to mind – you have to research it, think about it, and plan it.
If your decision-maker is a politician, you might ask for a meeting or send a letter, or ask your local Member of Parliament to make representations on your behalf, or launch a petition, advertising campaign or protest movement. But there are plenty of circumstances in which each of those can be counter-productive.
Never forget that in many cases it is easier to have an initial discussion with their staff than with a politician.
Because politicians often make decisions, small and large, by endorsing the recommendations in a briefing note or minute from their Department, the real decision might happen when a mid- or junior-level public servant decides what to recommend, which options to offer, and what to leave out of the briefing.
Or, your decision may rest with the public service rather than a politician – and getting information to public servants can be tricky. You can try for a meeting, but many will resist – they’re generally under no obligation to meet with every stakeholder. Staff in agencies that aren’t used to dealing with the public or stakeholders are much harder to connect with.
As a rule public servants will read relevant correspondence, even long material – but you must keep it focused, structured, minimalist, relevant, balanced and clear – i.e., persuasive.
Often, the biggest hurdle you’ve initially got is identifying the criteria they use for deciding a recommendation*. The best way to get that is via a discussion, and often the best way to have a discussion is through being referred – e.g., it is very helpful to be able to say something like “The Minister’s office told me that you are the person to talk with about XYZ – can I come and see you?”
Once you know those criteria, effectively shaping your information and message becomes much easier.
Many businesses launch a program of continuous engagement with Government, so they are already networked with key decision-makers before they need to talk with them. Alternatively, some choose occasional networking at business, professional or political events; some try to get politicians and senior public servants involved in their business – by, for example, inviting the head of a Government Department to give a speech to a boardroom lunch. It’s much easier to get someone to hear you out, if you’ve met them previously: if your first discussion isn’t one where you are asking something of them.
For every discussion, with politician or public servant:
- Plan the best way to get Information across
- Know who is important in the decision-making chain
- Ensure your information/message is short, sharp, accurate and persuasive
- Know what you want from the discussion
- Have your “ask” clear
- Get agreement on a follow up – whatever that might be.
And, of course you need to get your best information, the best way, to the right decision maker, at the best time – but timing, and just what you say, is for a later posts.