On how to win friends and influence government

It's been a long week for many working in the public policy space. But as the dust slowly settles on the Federal budget, it is worthwhile reflecting on the capacity for good policy process. In this policy Q & A, Shorna Moore (Senior Policy Lawyer, Wyndham Legal Service) writes about what it takes to gain traction and create change when advocating to government:  

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

A: Strategic partnerships! Nothing is achieved when a person or organisation is working in isolation. Partnerships are essential for brand recognition, especially when advocating to government.  It is important for organisations to consider cross-sector partnerships and to think outside of the box. For example, if I had a social justice policy idea that relates to housing, as well as thinking about the typical partnerships within the not-for-profit sector, I would also consider the issue from an economic perspective and the possibility of partnering with a construction company.

There must also be an ongoing strategy. Advocacy doesn’t end with the publication of a report that simply sits on a shelf.

For example, in April 2014, the Law Institute of Victoria, on behalf of the Wyndham Legal Service (WLS), launched the WLS’s Outer Sight Out Of Justice: Finding pathways to justice for Melbourne’s outer metropolitan areas report. At a high level, the comprehensive report focuses on the lack of appropriate access to justice infrastructure in one of Melbourne’s outer metropolitan areas, the City of Wyndham. In late March 2014, the WLS and the Committee for Wyndham, the peak advocacy body for the region, held a Wyndham Justice Precinct Round Table event with a large number of stakeholders including representatives from the Department of Justice, Victoria Police, Metropolitan Planning Authority, Werribee Magistrates Court, Neighbourhood Justice Centre, Wyndham Council, WLS, Committee for Wyndham and a host of senior attendees from various justice ancillary support services such as the Salvation Army. Initial discussions focused on the provision of and proposed requirements pertaining to 'bricks and mortar' facilities. The discussion ended on the notion that the group had a unique opportunity to factor in 'global best practice' and 'futurist' planning methodologies based upon lessons learned from similar opportunities across the globe, this included a distinct focus on community needs relating to the digital age. The positive outcome from the round table was that representatives from the above mentioned organisations and entities have agreed to participate in an Advisory Group moving forward.

And finally, and probably most importantly, a good policy idea MUST be able to bend in the wind. There are so many factors that impact on and influence whether an idea ‘washes out’ or gains traction (i.e. political, economic, social, cultural, international or plain luck) and therefore it is vital that a policy idea remains fluid.

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: A common misconception about the community legal sector is that we are only able to provide frontline and basic legal services to people who cannot afford private solicitors. This is a myth. There are many community legal centres across Australia that are heavily involved in social policy change and law reform and are significant contributors to the conversations within and outside of government.

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: I think all of it has its place in an advocacy strategy, however in my opinion, more energy should be put into networking and informal conversations. Again this leads into my earlier point about strategic partnerships and brand recognition.

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

Put down your pen and make sure to leave the office and meet with people face to face. Think outside the box!

Posted by Pauline McLoughlin