Sax vs. Cymbals

Never ask for Cymbals when a Sax will sound sweeter!

Businesses and community groups who talk with Government always want something, but often ask for the wrong thing:

Policy Instruments & Difficulty

Policy Instruments & Difficulty

Talking about wrong instruments:

There’s many ways to skin a cat*, and usually multiple policy instruments capable of delivering your outcome: it helps if you can be as flexible as possible about how your outcome is delivered.

It’s also vital you can answer this question: “Which policy instruments are the minimum necessary to deliver my outcome, as opposed to the most desirable?”  You need to be able to make do without the cherry, on the cream, on the icing, on your cake.

Your prospects are increased if you are asking for something easier to deliver.  If you’re asking for something hard, you are frightening away potential support, and increasing the prospect of rejection.  Or embedding delay: it’s almost always slower to deliver harder outcomes.

If you are asking for an instrument that can’t actually deliver what you are after – e.g. asking for a policy change when you actually need a change to legislation – here’s a few things that might happen:

  • Your proposal is rejected on the grounds it can’t do what you say it can;
  • Assessment of your proposal takes way longer than expected while public servants try to work out what you really want, how to deliver it, and whether to support that;
  • You look like you don’t know what you are talking about, which depletes the credibility of everything else you say; and/or
  • The debate within the public service and political spheres is not focussed solely on the issue you’ve raised: it can easily become broader, slower and more complicated, and deliver quite a different result from that you were seeking.

So before you go to Government asking for something, make sure you have carefully researched and considered which policy instruments are best and most feasible, in your circumstances.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking a decision (e.g. a Cabinet or Ministerial decision) is a policy instrument – all too often decisions have been ineffective, because it wasn’t implemented through an appropriate instrument that delivers change.  Decisions must activate a policy instrument if they are to be effective.

Regarding the attached table of policy instrument options: a letter from a Minister isn’t included because that might sit anywhere at all on the scale depending on the issue; and often enough to make it worth noting, it is easier to get a directive or determination than it is to get a policy or program change.  These are all a bit generic – in some cases you could treat a media release or an election promise as policy instruments, but they are each probably directives of a sort.


* I like cats, so don’t do this

About Mike Smith

Partner in Ethical Consulting Services:; Ethical strategies and programs which get you where you need to go ... * Exceptional government & stakeholder relations, * Thriving governance systems, * Specialised project facilitation, * Inbound investment assistance, * Successful marketing, communications and PR campaigns ... and customised training in each of these areas.

Posted on January 28, 2015, in Communication, Government Relations, how to lobby, Lobbying, marketing, Public service, public service decision-making, Stakeholder engagement and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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