Q&A: @gavindufty on social policy change: 'success is participation"

A Q&A with Gavin Dufty (@gavindufty), Manager of Policy and Research at the St Vincent de Paul Society in Victoria on achieving social change.

Q: From your experience, what makes the difference between a policy idea that ‘washes out’ and one that gains traction and creates change?

A: I’m not sure if policy ideas wash out – I think that policy ideas have their time. The policy conversation/debate is always moving, however your particular policy interest may not be front and centre of that policy debate.

This may not mean that your policy idea is not important, – it just may be it’s not important relative to other ideas.

One other thing to consider is that if your policy idea involves change, the current policy supporters will defend the status quo and will seek to stifle new ideas entering the debate.

Q: From your perspective, what are the myths or misconceptions about your sector or other groups in the policy process that are getting in the way?

A: The sector tends to seek change, which others may resist. One way to minimise conversations around change are to undermine, belittle or say “we will only listen to ‘evidenced-based’ policy ideas”, and other strategies to affirm their legitimacy or imply a particular type of process, structure, engagement and so on is legitimate.

Q: Where should we be putting more energy when it comes to engaging with others (e.g. formal submissions, informal conversations, committees, linkage grants)? Where should we be putting less?

A: All of these. Policy is about a conversation of ideas – the trick is to read the policy cycle, and work out which conversations to engage in.

In my view, by the time the policy debate has gone to submissions it tends to suggest the general direction of the policy conversation has been set. The more informal conversations that preceded the submission process put the policy issues on the table.

Q: What would be your number one piece of advice for those interested in making policy change (whether inside government or out)?

A: Focus your energy on being engaged in processes, formal or informal, that promote a conversation around ideas. Through this process your policy ideas may have merit – they may be taken up, captured or owned by others. Success is participation, not necessarily the immediate outcome.

See Gavin Dufty's work on energy issues for people living on low incomes here

Posted by Marie McInerny