Blog Archives

The Story You Sell To Government

story_timeWhen you are asking something of Government – a decision, a non-decision, a policy change, that your bid win a tender process, whatever it might be – there’s a right way and a wrong way to ask it.  Earlier articles identified the things you need to say, how to say them, and the things you need to avoid saying.

All of those considerations needs to be packaged up into a neat, concise, persuasive Narrative.  Once you’ve got your Narrative, every single thing you say and do needs to be directed at persuading Government to accept the truth and necessity of your Narrative.  Nothing should stray from or undermine the Narrative.

Many, passionate fanatics in support of their own proposition to Government, find it really hard to understand how to develop a short and focussed Narrative, but when you’re communicating with Government, you have a very small opportunity to get your message across, so you can’t spend time on the things that make your heart burst with pride – unless you already know those things do the same for Government.

In this circumstance, a Narrative:

  • is never off the cuff – must be thoroughly prepared;
  • must be structured like a story;
  • encapsulates and summarises the main facts around the issue;
  • encapsulates and summarises your proposal;
  • persuades the audience your idea is the best solution to a pressing problem;
  • rebuts major alternatives by making clear their inferiority;
  • is focussed entirely on the audience’s needs and motivations, not yours;
  • resonates with the audience – usually emotionally;
  • contains an unambiguous and feasible request; and
  • is short – as short as is possible while meeting all of these criteria – you might have only 2 minutes or 250 words, to make your case – our target is usually six or seven two-line sentences*.

Try to write it so you can leave behind a copy of your Narrative when you meet a Government representative – it saves them taking notes, makes you look organised and competent, and reduces the chance of misunderstanding.

You can’t deliver all of that off the cuff; nor can you deliver it if you are clumsy with words, or can’t set aside your passions when drafting or speaking, or if you are mistaken about what motivates your audience.  You may need help.

 

* OK, we’re often enough off-target here, but never by more than 50%

 

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

Why Lobby? http://wp.me/p4xOhB-r

“Why Lobby?” Encore http://wp.me/p4xOhB-A

Who Does It

Who’s a Lobbyist? http://wp.me/p4xOhB-N

Who’s Your Best Lobbyist? http://wp.me/p4xOhB-23

Reality Bites

Lobbying: The Dirty Truth https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/lobbying-the-dirty-truth/

Myths & Legends of Lobbying https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/myths-lobbying/

Dogbert Does Lobbying

Regulating Lobbyists: Hardly https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/regulating-lobbyists-hardly/

Australian Lobbying: Credibility Fail https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/australian-lobbying-credibility-fail/

Strategy

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There! https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/dont-just-do-something/

Strategy & Delusion https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/strategy-delusion/

DON’T Increase Awareness https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/dont-increase-awareness/

The Basics

Lobbying: 6 Things to Know https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/6-lobbying-things/

Lobbyists Do WHAT? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/lobbyists-do-what/

Lobbying is Marketing https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/lobbying-is-marketing/

Targeting

“Get Me The Premier!” https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/get-me-the-premier/

Who’s the Decision-Maker? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/who-decision-maker/

Understanding Policy Processes

Mysterious & Mysteriouser https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/mysterious-mysteriouser/

“So When WILL They Decide???” https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/when-will-they-decide/

From Althaus, Bridgman and Davis

From Althaus, Bridgman and Davis

How’s Your Rat King? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/rat-king/

The Uber-Rat-King https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/the-uber-rat-king/

What IS A “Policy Instrument,” Anyway? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/what-is-policy-instrument/

Sax vs. Cymbals https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/sax-vs-cymbals/

Getting Ready

Lobbying Labor’s Queensland Government: How? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/lobbying-labors-queensland-government-how/

The Meeting

How to Get That Meeting https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/how-to-get-that-meeting/

When you meet the Minister … https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/when-you-meet-the-minister/

What To Ask For

Persuading Government: What You Say https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/persuading-government-what-you-say/

What Makes A Policy Good? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/policy-good/

agressive-manHow To Ask For It

Connecting with Decision-Makers https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/connect-decision-makers/

Motivating & Persuading https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/motivating-persuading/

Persuading Government: How To Say It https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/persuading-government-how-to-say-it/

Specialties

Crisis Management 101 https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/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 www.uq.edu.au and www.qut.edu.au, and across Australia
**** These words aren’t necessarily our words!

 

 

Persuading Government: What You Say

breakthrough-smlYou’ve finally secured that vital meeting with the right Government decision maker, the one who can make or break your project – congratulations!

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.

head-in-the-sand-smlWhy now?

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.

 

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.

 

Motivating & Persuading

The_Hidden_Persuaders_2010DON’T be asking for a “courageous” decision from the risk-averse, when you’re lobbying!

Public sector decision-makers – public servants and politicians both – are diverse:

  • atheists, and devout;
  • socialists, conservatives, and everything in between;
  • middle-aged men, and young women;
  • leaders, and followers;
  • foolhardy, and risk-averse;
  • courageous, and over-cautious;
  • energetic, and exhausted;
  • arrogant, and humble;

and so on.  Believe clichés at your own risk!

The things that constrain, guide, motivate and persuade them are diverse, too:

  • government priorities and policies;
  • Ministerial, and departmental, objectives and priorities;
  • political or stakeholder fallout;
  • the community’s needs and the public interest;
  • professional and public sector codes;
  • public sector processes and rules;
  • their personal ambitions, values, policy interests, ideology, and political beliefs;
  • proximity of the next election or Ministerial reshuffle;

and so on.

Unless you are across these pressures and possibilities, you’ll end up asking someone who’s never yet made a decision, to endorse something that breaches the Financial Administration and Audit Act and conflicts with Government policy – you’re wasting time and resources.

Careful key messages need to be constructed, that demonstrate your proposal

  • solves a Government problem (not your problem!);
  • reflects Government and Departmental priorities and values;
  • is in the public interest;
  • minimises stakeholder conflict;
  • minimises risk;
  • conforms with every code of behaviour and legal requirement;
  • addresses anticipated objections; and
  • passes the “front page” test.

In constructing such messaging, you’re inevitably researching and applying that which persuades/motivates/determines the decision!