Persuading Government: What You Say
Posted by Mike Smith
What you’re asking for has to have passed a few tests before you are ready to be its advocate: it must
- be legal,
- be feasible,
- remedy a problem or grasp an opportunity*
or you’re wasting your time.
When you present – in your first three minutes, first three slides or first 400 words – what you say must demonstrate
- why your idea,
- why not the alternative idea, and
- why now.
Why your idea?
This isn’t about why you like it – it’s why Government should like it, and that’s entirely different – you have to understand Government priorities, processes and people. We’ve seen many clients destroy their project by listing the virtues enthusing them, not the virtues that might attract Government support.
What compels adoption of your idea? Which of the social and economic environment, public and political pressures, current policy failures, and so on, drive the need for it? What will happen if your idea isn’t adopted? How does it deliver on Government promises and values? How does it satisfy the principles** of good policy? What are the benefits, the State interests? How are the community’s interests served? How can it be afforded? What can be done to improve prospects of success and minimise opposition? Which credible scientists, academics, public servants, stakeholders, or economists support what you say and will be advocates?
Why not the alternative?
Don’t forget that one competing alternative is making no change, so you must be clear why things can’t stay as they are: unanticipated opportunities or problems, gaps or failings in current policy or programmes, impending doom, changes in circumstances that undermine current policy settings, political risk, and so on.
More generally, you’ll need to show that alternatives fail to satisfy or offend principles of good policy, deliver poor results, are more likely to fail, will agitate key stakeholders and cause them to campaign against the Government, are politically dangerous, offend Government values, are impractical, are too expensive … as many as possible of that sort of problem. Again, don’t talk about your needs here, but the Government’s and community’s needs – why Government priorities and values should drive them to reject the alternatives.
What negatives arise if action is delayed? What advantages accrue from timely action? What timeline gives the community and Government the best outcomes, and why? What’s happening next year that wastes money if this idea isn’t adopted now?
Be mindful of the timing of major events, Parliamentary sittings, the election cycle, the Government’s budget, the grand final, school holidays, commencement of major policy initiatives, release dates of economic and unemployment statistics … and everything else.
Shape and Tone
Your presentation needs to tell a concise story addressing all of those things, with your idea as the heroine saving the day. (If you haven’t read Winning the Story Wars or something similar, you should.)
The tone of your presentation is important too: make a strong factual argument, with language that is empirical and not emotive or aggressive, nor demeaning of others.
Don’t forget that you’ve got to make your case in the first three minutes, three slides or 400 words – there’s rarely a second chance, so preparation is critical.
Finally, and Always: 2 Things
Include a clear and thought-out “ask” that furthers your objective: a future meeting, someone in the Department to talk with about the issue, delegation to someone, decision-maker to investigate and respond, and so on. Make sure you secure the opportunity to respond to future criticism of your idea by internal and external stakeholders, if that’s at all possible.
… and leave behind a one page summary, a more detailed summary, sources of more information, and contact details for credible supporters and referees for your idea, where appropriate.
* Never just go there with a problem – always have a well-developed solution, or a way to find the solution.
** Principles of good policy can vary from Government to Government: we’re preparing that article right now, and it will probably be next in this blog.
About Mike SmithPartner in Ethical Consulting Services: www.ethicalconsulting.com; sometime University lecturer; previously Government Relations consultant; before that Labor Party State Secretary in Northern Territory; union advocate with LHMU/United Voice in NT and NSW; hobby – election campaigns!
Posted on May 13, 2015, in Change, Communication, Democracy, Government decision-making, Government Relations, how to lobby, Lobbying, marketing, Planning, Political tactics, Politics, Public service, public service decision-making, Stakeholder engagement, Strategy, Values and tagged Election Policies, motivation, persuasion. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.