Blog Archives

Elections & Lobbying: Early Birds Get Worms

early_bird_smallTo be the cat that’s got the cream, remember that the early bird definitely gets the worm … when it comes to ensuring an election campaign embraces your policy proposal.

Many people looking for a decision from Government see election time as an opportunity. It can be, but only if you approach it in the right way.

It is true that at election time Governments, parties and candidates are all intent on compiling an attractive and differentiating package of policy and program proposals, and some of them welcome input from industry, community groups and individuals.

However, be warned: capable Governments, political parties and candidates start putting their election policies together a long way out from Election Day, and finalise them months out from Election Day. As a general rule, the bigger the policy announcement or the bigger the budget associated with a policy announcement, the earlier will work commence.

Most advocates looking to make use of election timing as an opportunity to press the case for their particular proposal leave it far, far too late.

What constitutes timeliness varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and depends a lot on the tier of Government with which you are dealing; this makes it impossible to advise a general rule, but a year out from an anticipated Election Day is not necessarily too early to begin advocacy of your proposition.

If you leave your intervention too late, then you have created an additional burden for yourself: as well as proving the validity of your idea or proposal, you will also need to prove that it is of sufficient political or community (i.e. campaigning) importance that the candidate or Party should reopen their policy development processes, and consider incorporating your proposal.

cat_cream_smallAs an outsider to the process you might think that this is quick and easy, but depending on campaign resources and Party resources, and in particular the budgetary impact of your proposal, it can be a significant organisational or time burden to a candidate or a Party late in the campaign, to reopen their policy development processes.

The barriers to raising a new idea in the months immediately before Election Day are substantial.



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 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!



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.


How to Get That Meeting

knock-minister-door-smallIt’s no use having the best idea in the universe, if it requires Government input yet you can’t get to talk about it with a Government Minister* or senior public servant**.

There are many ways to secure that meeting, but all require effort and planning; not all are suitable for every issue, nor all the time.  They include

  • Write a letter/send an email,
  • Ask a Member of Parliament or political advisor to secure it,
  • Meet at a Community Cabinet,
  • Meet at a Party Conference business centre, or
  • Meet at a Party fundraiser.

Letter or email

Ministers are busy – I’ve never met one who isn’t – and time-poor.  To manage their workload, they have to prioritise, and be convinced that your particular meeting has value, or they will avoid it in favour of more pressing or important business.  Your meeting request must persuade them of that value.

They will need to see your issue is significant to the Government or Minister and of public interest (i.e. the outcome goes beyond impacting just you), the Minister can have a role in the solution or needs to be alerted to a problem, you can add value to development of a solution, and the Minister is the right person to talk with.

Even if you use a lobbyist to organise the meeting, they need to demonstrate the same things, or they will wear out their welcome with the Minister or Department, and maybe yours too.  A lobbyist asking a Minister for meetings will find it harder to organise meetings if they get a reputation for wasting Ministerial time.

Member of Parliament

If you’ve got a Member of Parliament enthused, and they will champion your cause and open the Ministerial door for you, they must be persuaded of those things, too, and able to persuade the Minister or senior public servant.  It’s the same with political advisors.  Local MPs are often easier to get on board with your idea than Ministers, and if your MP-champion is from the same Party as the Minister, a meeting is easier to get.

Community Cabinet

In jurisdiction that has Community Cabinet meetings (e.g. Queensland) and not all do, get your meeting request in early, follow the forms, in your request demonstrate you are local or the issue is local, demonstrate the issue is important, and prepare for the brevity of the meeting***.

Party Conference

Major parties tend to have a business centre at their annual conferences; those centres include opportunities for business observers to request short meetings*** with Ministers.  Entry to the business centre, which normally includes a wide range of briefings and networking activities, isn’t cheap.  Meetings are rarely long enough to conclude any discussion – usually these are used for an introduction, to be followed by a further discussion.

Party fundraisers

Major parties often have comparatively cheap fundraising events (BBQs, golf days, trivia nights, etc.) to which members and supporters are invited – it’s hard to hear about them if you’re not a member or a supporter, and if you’re neither you shouldn’t go – you will stand out.  They also often have more expensive and smaller fundraising events (dinners with speakers, business briefings and the like) mostly targeted at the business community.  It’s normally really bad manners to try to conclude important business at these functions, but it is quite fine to flag to a Minister that you would like a proper meeting, and ask who you contact to make it happen.  At some of them you get a chance to nominate with which Minister you want to be seated.

* Two inviolate rules: (1) Be prepared and don’t waste their time and yours by under-delivering, or you’ll struggle to get the next meeting, and (2) Do your research and make sure you’re meeting the right person.
** This applies to the Australian system of Government, but the principles are the same in most democracies.
*** You often get really short meetings, in some case only 15 minutes – which requires very careful preparation to ensure you are relevant and focussed, and very careful and planned delivery.  Such meetings are sometimes used as a means to generate Ministerial interest in a further, more detailed discussion.

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.


Lobbying Labor’s Queensland Government: How?

migraineFirst, don’t just do something, sit there – take a little time to research and plan your approach.

Know who they are, not who the Courier Mail says they are; the current Labor Ministry are not the same as the Beattie or Bligh Ministries, and very different from the Newman Ministry.  Many Ministers are new to Parliament, and most have had no Ministerial experience; although more of the Palaszczuk Ministry have past Ministerial experience than the fresh 2012 Liberal National Party in 2012, fewer have substantial Parliamentary experience.

Check their (brief) biographies here.  Deeper knowledge is better e.g. does the Minister have a past policy interest in this area?  Past experience?  What are their internal Party alliances and networks? Have they made a speech on the topic?  A media release, or blog or Facebook post?  There’s rarely value, in asking for something that’s already been rejected – you’ll need to modify your proposal.

Know what Labor have said and done previously about your issue: what did the Beattie and Bligh Governments say or do?  Did Labor release a policy impacting your issue, during the campaign?  Is it referenced in the Party’s new Platform?  What does the Premier think about the issue?  Other Ministers?

Understand who is responsible for what: there’s been a significant Ministerial restructure and portfolios aren’t structured the way they used to be.  Is the issue more appropriately handled by a Parliamentary Secretary rather than a Minister?  Here’s the list of the new administrative arrangements.

democracy_not_for_saleLabor has a different approach to transparency than had the previous Government: some of their intentions are highlighted in their “Our Democracy Not For Sale” policy, here, and some are outlined in this news report relating to the “Fitzgerald Principles”.

Appreciate that there is always lengthy and unexpected dislocation (hence delays) upon the accession of a new Government, even a re-elected Government, and Ministers won’t have a full complement of staff for weeks, so will struggle to deal with things quickly, initially.  As of 17 February, not all of them have appointed Chiefs of Staff.

Start early: the standard turnaround time for a reply to a Ministerial letter is four weeks, and complex issues can take longer.

Understand that some public servants and Ministers can be hard to find directly: the Newman Government took down the most useful website in the Queensland public sector – the directory of senior and executive staff – because they didn’t want the public going directly to anyone in the middle ranks of the public sector.

Understand that the person you need to speak with may well not be a Minister or a Ministerial advisor – it may be a public servant.  The public servants are still there and their continuity in their roles can speed things up.  Going unnecessarily to a Minister can slow things way down.

meetingOnce you’ve sorted all of that out, you need to work out how to persuade them most effectively: how to get the message to them, and the right message – remembering that the things that persuade you aren’t the things that persuade them!

And, there’s so much more – these are just a few, quick, initial tips.


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