Blog Archives

How to Lobby – Part 1

medlyNeed something from Government?

Over the past year we’ve posted a series of articles about, inter alia, how lobbying works.  Here’s a compilation of the How To Lobby articles so far*, broken up into rough topics.


Why Lobby?

“Why Lobby?” Encore

Who Does It

Who’s a Lobbyist?

Who’s Your Best Lobbyist?

Reality Bites

Lobbying: The Dirty Truth

Myths & Legends of Lobbying

Dogbert Does Lobbying

Regulating Lobbyists: Hardly

Australian Lobbying: Credibility Fail


Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!

Strategy & Delusion

DON’T Increase Awareness

The Basics

Lobbying: 6 Things to Know

Lobbyists Do WHAT?

Lobbying is Marketing


“Get Me The Premier!”

Who’s the Decision-Maker?

Understanding Policy Processes

Mysterious & Mysteriouser

“So When WILL They Decide???”

From Althaus, Bridgman and Davis

From Althaus, Bridgman and Davis

How’s Your Rat King?

The Uber-Rat-King

What IS A “Policy Instrument,” Anyway?

Sax vs. Cymbals

Getting Ready

Lobbying Labor’s Queensland Government: How?

The Meeting

How to Get That Meeting

When you meet the Minister …

What To Ask For

Persuading Government: What You Say

What Makes A Policy Good?

agressive-manHow To Ask For It

Connecting with Decision-Makers

Motivating & Persuading

Persuading Government: How To Say It


Crisis Management 101


What other topics would you like to see covered?


* There will be more!


What Makes A Policy Good?

good_sml“And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good—
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”*

If you roll up not-good policy to Government, there’s every chance they will tell you so: your time and theirs will have been wasted.

You need to know how to ensure what you construct to take to Government is good policy, but “good” is often in the eye of the beholder, and Governments of different styles (e.g. authoritarian/bullying, consultative, conservative, reforming, neo-liberal, or socialist) will see the same policy proposal through quite different prisms.  So too will individual decision-makers who are unable or unwilling to consider policy proposals dispassionately and objectively, and who bring their particular passions to bear upon whatever is before them.

So, you need to know with whom you are speaking, in order to craft a proposal they will see as good:

  • What are their politics, objectives, and priorities?
  • What are those of the Party and of the Government they serve?
  • How do you cast or modify your proposal in a way servicing those layers of priorities, politics, and objectives?

For example, if your proposal needs to pass through a Treasury Department, where the official religion is usually “Market Mechanisms Rule, OK?” your proposal will attract suspicion and opposition as a matter of course, if it interferes with a free market or market-based pricing mechanism.  Benefits will be seen as, at best, secondary.

The text books tell us there are objective criteria any policy must satisfy, if it is to be considered good; for example, it must be all of these:

  • Effective and efficient: so scarce resources aren’t wasted;
  • Equitable: remedying social injustice, providing a “fair go”;
  • Comprehensible: avoiding uncertainty, misapplication, compliance failure, evasion, avoidance;
  • Accessible: avoiding inbuilt exclusions caused by false assumptions;
  • Practicable: avoiding policies made just for show; and
  • Stable: so the outcomes endure and frequent changes aren’t required – this might include consideration of community popularity and/or political sustainability (e.g., would the next Government reverse the policy?).

The Policy Analysis chapter** of The Australian Policy Handbook*** by Althaus, Bridgman, and Davis will give you a good understanding of what lies behind each of those terms.

Original uncaptioned photo: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (RobertHannah89)

Original uncaptioned photo: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (RobertHannah89)

However, in dealing with ideologically driven Governments of a neo-liberal bent, then you will find they treat some of those principles as subordinate to some or all of these principles**** below:

  • Custom and practice: don’t lightly change what has gone before;
  • Precaution: identifying thoroughly the true long-term impacts;
  • Choice and freedom: don’t impose stagnation and uniformity unnecessarily;
  • Personal responsibility and mutual obligation: ensuring individuals take responsibility for their own choices;
  • Small Government and lower Government expenditure: the smaller the Government the greater the freedom of citizens, and you are entitled to the full fruits of your labour;
  • Competition, market-based mechanisms and contestability: competition and free markets deliver efficiency, quality and lowest cost; and
  • Mainstreaming: avoiding ongoing disadvantage by eliminating stigma and policy ghettos.

On the other side of the political fence in Australia, a leftish or centre-left Government tends to regard those text-book criteria above, together with consistency with their own policy manifesto, as the starting point for assessing policy quality.  Governments closer to the centre will demonstrate affection for some of those neo-liberal policy principles listed above, while retaining a commitment to the text-book criteria.  Individual members of centre and centre-left Governments might regard the impact on such things as, for example

  • community empowerment,
  • income redistribution,
  • social safety net,
  • jobs and working conditions,
  • infrastructure investment, and
  • environmental sustainability,

as additional key tests for the quality of policy.

But don’t be fooled by these apparent ideological categories and constraints: you have to do the research so that know your audience, because, to cite two examples, some centre-left politicians are concerned to ensure personal responsibility and mutual obligation, while some on the right have a commitment to community empowerment.



* No, not Phaedrus by Plato, but Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
** If we could find our copy (long story) we would provide the Chapter number.  Sorry about that.  I know you’ll forgive.
*** It’s pretty easy to get as it is the prescribed text for several courses at and, and across Australia
**** These words aren’t necessarily our words!



Australian Lobbying: Credibility Fail

in-suit-pocket-95When lobbying and Government relations consultants market their personal access to Ministers, what are they really saying?

Are they claiming that the Government in question is insufficiently accessible, and prefers to talk with businesses and community groups introduced by “friends”?  Are they suggesting Government makes the best decisions when founded on input from their circle alone?

Are they admitting they offer nothing by way of strategic, tactical or communications advice, or that such advice is unimportant compared to access via friends?

If the Government is inaccessible to those outside their circle, is it right to reinforce such behaviour by facilitating it rather than trying to change it?

If a lobbyist is skilled at securing policy outcomes from Governments, as all claim, and if they are committed to Government making best quality decisions, as most too claim, how can they not make an effort to persuade a Government that it needs to be accessible to all?

I assert that whether they market their access ahead of other advisory capabilities, and whether they make a pro bono effort to improve Government decision-making, are tests of lobbyists’ integrity, and of their real commitment to good Government.



Lobbyists Do WHAT?

burke grill chargedMany misunderstand what lobbyists do, and it suits some practitioners to keep it mysterious.

Here’s a list of some of the sort of things lobbying/Government relations consultants* do for clients.

  • Government relations – devising, supervising and/or implementing client profile-building inside Government;
  • Stakeholder relations – similarly, with non-Government stakeholders;
  • Strategy – advising clients on the most effective and likely way to achieve their objectives;
  • Tactics – advising clients how best to respond to events;
  • Communications planning – devising, supervising and/or implementing client communications into Government and the broader community;
  • Message delivery advice – advising clients how best to get their information and messages through to their audience;
  • Lobbying/advocacy – directly conveying client representations to public sector influencers;
  • Research – researching issues, their background, perceptions within Government, processes within Government, and so on; in particular, identifying possible barriers to success;
  • Stakeholder mapping – a specialised kind of research, identifying and categorising stakeholders;
  • Analyse – taking the results of research, and simplifying, summarising, clarifying and organising that material;
  • Synthesising – taking research and analysis from multiple sources or perspectives;
  • Recommending – using analysis to propose strategy, tactics or activities;
  • Open doors – using your contacts and networks to ensure client issues get in front of the right people;
  • Negotiation – directly liaising with public sector influencers to reach agreement on issues;
  • Presentation – directly conveying client information to public sector influencers;
  • Briefing – bringing stakeholders and/or client staff up to speed on issues;
  • Marketing – persuading people in Government to “buy” client credibility or proposals;
  • Public relations – devising, supervising and/or implementing communications programs about your client, in the broader community; and
  • Consulting/reporting – engaging with clients to make sure they are happy with what you’re up to, and getting their take on changes.

burke-grillNot every lobbyist/Government relations consultant does everything on that list, and in fact most do only some of them.

Have I missed anything?


*     I’m using the terms “lobbyist” and “Government relations consultant” somewhat interchangeably – in part, that’s because most lobbyists spend most of their time doing things other than lobbying, as you can see from the list above.


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

What IS A “Policy Instrument,” Anyway?

WWI Surgical Instruments

WWI Surgical Instruments

A Government decision is just a starting point: unless something comes after it – action – nothing happens.

A decision might be made by Cabinet, or an individual Minister, or a public servant: but unless somebody implements something or does something, as a follow-up, the decision means nothing.

In Government, the things that give effect to decisions are called “Policy Instruments”.

Here’s a list of some examples*, which I pinched from a Queensland Government website:

They give you an idea of the kinds of things that can be done to deliver outcomes – note that none of them are decisions, but all are actions giving effect to decisions.


* Not a complete list, and they use categories particular to their own needs, but it will give you an idea of the range of instruments available to Government.

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Mike’s personal blog, mostly about the Australian Labor Party and occasionally about food:

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Mysterious & Mysteriouser

flying blindEvery observer of Government or politics has been flummoxed, sometime, by a decision: unable to envisage how it came about.

It might be the winner of a tender, the rejection of a development proposal, or a tweaked policy or program, but we shake our heads and ask “What made them do that?

And often enough we never know the full story, even when we think we do.  Unless we’re right inside the process, it’s almost impossible to know what has influenced the decision, and what hasn’t.

As said Horace:
Amphora cœpit instituti; currente rota cur urceus exit?
A vase is begun; why, as the wheel goes round, does it turn out a pitcher? **

You need to know what might turn your vase into a pitcher!

If you want a particular decision from Government, you have to ensure you know as many as possible of those influences, accommodate or rebut them as far as possible, and perhaps create a few of your own.

For example, if you’re a residents’ action group seeking to block a development, you’ll need to know whether the developer has credibility or a bad record, whether the environmental assessment is thorough, who supports the development, and whether the Premier has ever taken her children for a walk through there.  There are other suggestions about different kinds of influences here and here and here.

The bottom line is: if you fly blind, you’re also flying unarmed **, and it is too easy to crash into an unexpected mountain or be shot down in flames – early and thorough research is vital.


* Horace, Ars Poetica (18 BC), XXI. in Hoyt’s New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 93-96
** Just cope with the mixed metaphors, OK?



“So When WILL They Decide???”

demandingA consortium proposing a complex development a few years ago had one consortium member under financing pressure – he needed speedy completion.  Stressed, he went to the Minister, and said he needed a decision immediately – so the Minister, not ready to be confident the project was suitable, made the only quick decision he could, and the project was dead.

Another project: a senior manager was instructed by his CEO to go to a Director-General and tell him that if the Department committed to a project before 30 June (just weeks away) they would get a big discount – the CEO, who had never sold to the public sector before, had no idea at all that public sector decision-making is never the same as the private sector, nor that his ask was simply impossible as the decision had to go to Cabinet.  The other message this “incentive” proposal delivered was that the price was inflated and could be reduced – which slowed things down!

Almost every client has at some point vented about the time it takes to get a decision out of Government.

The reasons for delay are often valid, unseen and unappreciated.  Sometimes, of course, delay is just ridiculous.

The first thing to know about public sector delay: Public servants are not spending their own money, they’re spending the public’s money (and resources, time, etc) so decisions have to jump through rigorous hoops* that make sure money is being spent on the right things, for goods and services that meet real needs, in an efficient way, at the right price, and on a supplier who provides product of suitable quality.  The same applies when it’s not a money decision, but a policy decision: are they making the right policy decision on behalf of the public?  They need to be sure they have the facts, all of the facts, and nothing but facts.  The bigger the decision, the more extensive the process of ensuring it’s the right one.  And public sector policy making, particularly for new things, can by involved and complex – see here.

Second: Junior public servants, and even mid-level public servants aren’t authorised to spend much money or make big decisions, but are the subject-matter experts, so the operational or policy people have to ask their seniors to make the decision, by writing a comprehensive briefing note.  The bigger the spend or decision, the more senior the decision maker to be briefed, and the more content and effort in the briefing note.  If the decision is big enough, it will require a Cabinet submission – which takes weeks and months from first draft.  Delay is increased if there is a need to brief intermediate managers, who also have to tick off the proposal as it proceeds up the hierarchy … and any or all of those intermediate managers might ask for amendments to the briefing note or Cabinet submission.

Third: Contention or competition will delay a decision, as multiple alternatives have to be assessed and compared, a consensus sought, objections overcome and a business case developed for a preferred recommendation: that’s much more detailed than just a “yes” or a “no” on a single proposal.  You may be quite unaware of competing proposals; they may include such things as impending new policy, other Departments wanting the money that might be spent on your project, other vendors entering the market, alternative policy or development proposals, and so on.  Often, for larger projects, consultation with other agencies will discover some objection that needs to be accommodated or negotiated away.  And, it is rare for something to go to Cabinet while disagreements remain among Ministers, nor proposals go forward within the public service while major divisions continue.

Fourth: Unenvisaged implications – perhaps a special kind of contention – might also cause delay or blockage.  For example, your proposal or project may require public sector monitoring or staff training, which Departments are reluctant to pay, or may set a precedent they don’t want to be stuck with.

Fifth: Consultation can take time.  When public servants analyse a proposal, they need to know, and/or advise more senior decision-makers, what the impact will be on stakeholders, clients, communities, other agencies, other Governments and so on.  Working that out, and engaging with stakeholders, can take enormous time.

Sixth: Public sector priorities can never be the same as yours – they don’t work for you, aren’t driven by the needs of your business, and are subject to the priorities and obligations imposed by Government and their managers; anything at all can displace consideration of your issue: impending election, by-election, Ministerial scandal, Ministerial reshuffle, Departmental reorganisation, announcement of a new policy, a bigger project, a more politically significant project – and you will probably not have an inkling that many of these kinds of things are on the agenda.

And there are more!

Good decisions are rarely instant decisions, and some delay is always necessary, to ensure money is being wisely spent, that the decision is appropriate, economical, in the best public interest, and will deliver necessary or desirable outcomes; your assertion that’s the case is not sufficient and has to be tested properly.

Read the rest of this entry

The Uber-Rat-King

Rat-King - Naturkundliches Museum Mauritianum Altenburg. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rat-King – Naturkundliches Museum Mauritianum Altenburg. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

More rarely than you might think, the real decision-maker on your issue might be a politician.

To help ensure their decision is optimal, you must first understand where your issue is up to in the political system; you’ll need to set aside your prejudices about the political system and politicians – so many projects have crashed and burned because they have proceeded on the basis of beliefs about politics rather than reality.

If you thought the bureaucratic status of your issue could look like a Rat-King, just wait until you test the political status: the uber-Rat-King is possible. In the political arena, many things can crash together in ways that are hard to predict.

For example:

  • Politicians and Ministers are not necessarily selected for their skills at absorbing complexity and making decisions – though some turn out to be superb. There’s very little training for them, in how to do their jobs;
  • Some of the simplest issues can unexpectedly carry broad and complex political implications, and this can involve the interests or views of multiple politicians;
  • When’s the next election? By-election? Ministerial reshuffle? Scandal? Corruption inquiry/allegation?
  • Which Government Members of Parliament are impacted? Which Opposition Members of Parliament?
  • Which stakeholders in the Minister’s office are impacted? Which Party donors? (Not that this should be relevant, but some think it is)
  • Do they trust advice from the Department? Are they asking for outside advice?
  • Is this an election promise?

and so on.

If the interaction is hard to predict, then to make it predictable – and thus manageable – you need to uncover those factors making it complex, and try to devise ways to address any implications pushing the decision against you.

That’s research, high-quality research, and after the research, then thoughtful development of tactics and messages.