A little bit about my background before beginning. I’ve been working on influencing decision makers for the last ten years.
I’ve helped write reports for the likes of the Europe Commission, World Bank and Department for Transport. I’ve pooled evidence regarding onshore and offshore wind renewable energy so to influence decision making of government.
I’ve been an activist attending several rallies, filled in dozens of petitions, have helped manage a political movement to shift public opinion, and I’ve met with several MPs to ask them to implement change within legislation.
Within this piece I’m not going to talk about what policies we need to influence but how do you influence.
When considering work around advocacy the key question I think is ‘What change do you want to see in the audience you are advocating to?’ That means actually considering beyond wanting to have an emotional response from the person you’re engaging, what you actually want them to do.
People often get this wrong - they pick the highest audience they can think of and ask for really difficult to achieve things. I started exactly the same. I wanted people to join my club and do my bidding. I wanted to put as little effort in as possible and get the biggest outcomes.
They will say things like ‘I want my MP make a zero carbon economy’ but that’s a massive thing to ask one person to achieve… If the request is ‘I want my MP to write to the secretary of state for the environment to ask them to make a zero carbon economy before 2050’ then that’s a more reasonable request…
I would say there are three levels to influencing decision makers, and then the other is to become the decision maker.
Influencing public opinion: Through demonstrations, petitions, letter writing campaigns etc.
My opinion of this type of action is that it’s vital to demonstrate to decision makers the level of unease. This problems with this type of action is that it often can appear to be radical fringes of society that conduct this action, which aren’t representative of the population.
Many MPs I’ve met have become incredibly dis-enfranchised by this type of action. Petitions especially from the likes of 360.org have been heavily criticized as when MPs write back for more detail often the people signing these petitions know little about the issues.
Engaging influencers: Policy makers, civils servants, CEOs of businesses, NGO engagement, communicating/creating demonstration projects, publishing reports
This can be incredibly powerful - especially demonstration projects. If we’re able to find the best practice for a zero carbon economy that helps nature recover then it’s much easier to get decision makers to engage. This is part of the reason why Better Century exists, to pool information from people who are doing great practical things, we can then create reports which will influence decision makers through influencers.
Direct decision maker engagement: MPs, Councillors, House of Lords Representatives.
By far this is the most powerful way to achieve our ends. If we are actually able to go and see our democratically elected representative we can achieve a great deal. However, an engaging approach to this can make a massive difference. Asking ‘what they think of the issue’ or making some light ‘human’ conversation before launching into a tirade about a particular issue can make a massive difference. Also if your ask is feasible it’s likely they’ll do it.
I’ve built relationships with MPs and councillors I’ve met over time and they know that I’m a nice person with reasonable requests. We need to build relationships, or if we don’t like what they stand for, we need to engage in a political process to get others elected. I’ve also had direct experience of doing that… it’s difficult and takes a long time…
I would argue that we should try and get more progressive politicians in place but we also need to persuade the old guard. There are tonnes of them out there, and actually it represents a huge swathe of our public, so if we can persuade them we can also do the same with the general public.
Becoming the decision maker: Neighbourhood planning committees, parish councils, members of committees at work etc.
It is easier than one thinks to become the decision maker. Neighbourhood planning committees are a classic place where the devolution of our current system means that a neighbourhood plan takes precedence over the local plan or even national plans for the area. It’s incredibly powerful to join neighbourhood planning committees and put forward your own views of how the locality should be developed. If there isn’t one already in your area you can set one up!
In the same light it’s also possible to get onto parish councils or even become part of a sustainability committee at work… Often people are looking for members to join these committees. We may need to attend a few meetings and be patient with what you have to say but eventually you’ll be given the opportunity and you can engage and lightly influence.
Edward Bernay’s, the founder of PR said the great way of influencing is through groups, as people’s identity is shaped by where they go to work, school, church, the gym, bike clubs, WI etc etc. If we really want to shift public opinion that’s we way to do it, to reach through into every group and have an advocate for a zero carbon economy that helps all life thrive.
Please chip in your own opinions and experiences on here… It is the place where we can collect experiences so our members can help transform the prospects for people and nature…