Learn to lobby

Summary

Learn to become a lobbyist aka "public relations expert".

How this helps

A large part of our work is convincing politicians and journalists that the knowledge we have collected and refined is accurate and relevant.

Explanation

From Wikipedia:

Lobbying is a concerted effort designed to achieve some result, typically from government authorities and elected officials. It can consist of the private cajoling of legislative members, public actions (e.g. mass demonstrations), or combinations of both public and private actions (e.g. encouraging constituents to contact their legislative representatives). As a professional occupation it is also known as "public affairs". Practitioners may work in specialist organizations or as part of public relations consultancies. The term does, however, have other meanings.

Achieving a result from government authorities and elected officials means:

  1. Knowing clearly what result you want to achieve.
  2. Building suitable communications infrastructure.
  3. Learning how the decision making processes work in the organisation you want to lobby.
  4. Identifying the key players in those processes.
  5. Understanding the political and personal motivations of these players.
  6. Changing their motivations through any combination of education, dialogue, or pressure.

Lobbying is 30% preparation, 50% on-the-ground research, and 20% action.

Defining your goals

Every lobbying project must have a clear goal, based on realistic analysis of the situation. Planning is essential, even in projects that seem dictated by outside forces, where things change constantly. You need a clear timeline, goals and dates, and analysis of all risk areas, for example where the processes you are lobbying can change direction. Having someone clearly in charge is very useful.

Communications

The FFII is brilliant because we use communication tools well. Email, irc, wikis, face-to-face meetings, phone calls. Build wiki sites for each lobbying effort; collect data and documents and links. Use the wiki to focus people, and make sure the contents are well structured and updated. Afterwards, the wiki becomes an archive that documents the work.

Use email lists carefully. Email is an event system, it is good for telling people about news, but very bad for discussions, negotiations, storing information, etc.

  • Make sure you have face-to-face, irc, or phones for any kind of rapid discussion.
  • Use wikis for all recorded information.
  • Use PDFs for information you send out formally.
  • Use face-to-face meetings when needed.
  • Use irc, pick up the phone…

In the FFII we use workgroups as our building block. There are many kinds of workgroup, and a lobbying project should be a workgroup. So choose a clear name, adopt the FFII workgroup standards. Workgroups can request funding. If you need to travel, make photocopies, etc. then make sure you get budget in advance, and make sure you are able to handle the paperwork. A lobbyist without funds is handicapped, and an association with bad paperwork is in trouble.

Learning the terrain

Mostly, you need to be sociable and smart and able to go to events, meet people, discuss with them. Do not jump on people and try to sell your point of view! Almost without exception you will get rejected and find people more hostile to you. No-one likes a salesman except a guard dog.

When you are learning the terrain, be neutral and honest and explain who you are, and that you are doing research into whatever terrain you are in. Most people will open up and explain anything, if you show interest in their work and organisations.

Document this so that your colleagues don't need to learn everything themselves. The information will be out of date in a year but if you find yourself with a growing team, and you have not provided some briefings, you are putting your project at risk.

Identifying the key players

In every process there are key players; these are policy makers, heads of committees, experts who help policy makers decide, and sometimes, opposing lobbyists. A very good lobbyist is invisible and it may take you months or years to discover who is really pulling the strings.

Often the key players are not individuals but groups, and groups have their own special kind of identity.

Understanding motivations

People are economic animals. Well, all animals are. Nothing happens by chance. So every decision that happens is driven by laziness, greed, ambition, ignorance, stupidity, pride, etc. It is rarely driven by brilliance or ethics… indeed if you are an FFII lobbyist you can mostly assume that the brilliant, ethical decision makers will not to be lobbied at all, since they will Do The Right Thing in any case. But they can often use your help in fighting off the others.

It's worth being cynical about motivations because mostly no matter how cynical you are, you are still not cynical enough. Few people actually accept envelopes of cash these days, but promotions, job offers, consultancy contracts, etc. are common rewards for good behaviour.

Effecting a change

Of course the hardest part is changing someone's behavior. Let's hope you did your homework properly and you know who is where in your gameplan.

Here are some good ways of effecting change:

  • If you are facing a hostile group, split the group by focussing on some issue that divides them, but which has been covered up so far. Politics is about temporary alliances between people who often hate each other but hate the other groups more. You can simply ask people to explain their alliances, and often they will, quite happily.
  • If you can create the illusion of power, you can change people's minds. Power mostly means heads: gather many faces who represent the "consituency" and have them say the same, sensible, urgent thing.
  • Name and shame can work well with individuals who are lobbying unethically. You do not need to be nice about your opponents, but of course you are always, always polite.
  • Education: clear material that explains your position, given to the key players and explained in conferences, etc.

Practical first steps

Most of this is impossible to learn by theory. You need practice. Here is what I suggest…

You live in a city or town, and it's run by some local authority. Decide on a good change you want to make. For example, to ban cars from some street, reduce the speed limit on a dangerous street, improve street lighting, etc. Now make it happen and try to use the techniques I've described here. Use a wiki and email lists. Start a petition, recruit activists, hold meetings, and define policies. Then get politicians to read these policies, and journalists to write about them.

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Author

  • Pieter Hintjens <gro.iiff|hreteip#gro.iiff|hreteip>