Have your campaigns lost impact?

British politics has been changing at a dizzying pace so it is not surprising that many charities feel that their campaigns have lost their way

Totalpolicy offers tried and tested tools and a wealth of experience to help you navigate your way through this new terrain. Get in touch to find out more about how we can help sharpen up your policy and campaigns work. And read on for tips for effective campaigns.

Understanding the changes around you

Brexit and a narrow parliamentary majority have dramatically shrunk the time the UK Government can dedicate to policy. At the same time, power is shifting to the four nations and devolved regions while social media opens up public debate in a new and unexpected way. New forces for shaping thinking have emerged: just watch how the House of Lords and select committees have come into their own while the four nations and devolved regions quietly shape a very different way of doing politics.

Taken together, these changes mean that the return your charity will achieve through traditional Westminster based lobbying is likely to diminish. In its place, you will need to consider afresh the people you are seeking to influence and target a wider set of stakeholders. 

Filling the vacuum

Whilst the policy vacuum at the centre will be frustrating, it also presents you an opportunity: can you work to fill it with richer debate? Charities are here for the long term, and naturally think holistically so can raise debates that will feel foreign to Westminster.

For example, the recent manifesto fiasco over social care may make the Government reluctant to embark on a new policy debate but charities should not be afraid to seize the new profile given to this area and build a bigger conversation that gives profile to quality alongside affordability or raises the case for social care for working age adults as well as for older people.

Building a case for change

A good case for change strikes the right balance between winning over hearts and winning over minds. Make clear the very human consequences of the status quo, provide a platform for those who are directly affected to speak out but make sure that the passion is balanced with cool rationale .

Your case for change will be one among hundreds competing for attention. Stand back and ask yourself what more you need to do to make your issue distinctive.

Remember also that inertia is a powerful force in policy making just as it is in the rest of life. If doing nothing is the default, you will not only need to persuade people to act, but make a good case for why they should act now.

Timing is everything 

Effective organisations need to be single minded about their end-point but flexible about how they get there. They will need to “dance with the system” taking advantage of new opportunities as they emerge rather than operating to a set formula.

When working to influence policy, timing is everything. The right idea, backed by the right set of allies and promoted at the right time are the ingredients needed to change policy. Understanding where your campaign sits on the policy lifecycle is critical so that you can adapt and tailor your approach.

Propose specific solutions and ensure that they are feasible as well as affordable

Too many campaigns are long on problems and short on solutions. Be clear and specific about the policy change you want to see – or even better demonstrate the difference that it makes in practice by highlighting a country, region or place that has made the change happen.

A lot of charities have understood the importance of realistic costings in their policy work and affordability is obviously a core concern right now. But don’t underestimate the importance of feasibility. Many good policy ideas have failed because the administrative or legislative challenges of putting them into practice were just too big. Anticipate the feasibility hurdles ahead and ensure you can counter objections before they are raised.

Focus on the who as well as the what

Now this is the big one. Too often, we get caught up in what needs to change and spend too little time focusing on who needs to think or act differently in order to realise a policy ambition.

A cool analysis of who has the power to make change happen, and who can block it, with a realistic assessment of how warm they are to your issues is a good place to start. This should lead you to a targeted list of people to approach and persuade as well as a clear idea of where your critical gaps are.

Katherine Rake