Focus: Policy and Politics - A masterclass in the art of lobbying

Indira Das-Gupta

Hansard is training charities in ways to influence policy-makers.

There may be a perception that only powerful business interests have the ear of government, but as the legislative process becomes more consultative, ever more opportunities are opening up for charities to influence policy-makers.

The Hansard Society has responded to this change by organising a series of training sessions to help voluntary sector organisations understand the political process and communicate more effectively with MPs, MEPs and ministers.

Dr Philip Parvin, the director of the study programme at the Hansard Society, said: "The policy-making process used to be very centralised, but it has changed and there is more pre-legislative scrutiny. We have a Government that is ready to listen, if charities are able to effectively put forward their case.

"With only a relatively small amount of knowledge, it is possible to have much more influence. It's not rocket science, but you do need to know the issues and be able to spot the relevant developments."

One way that organisations can operate more effectively is by carefully targeting who they approach.

Richard Mollet, director of public affairs at Edelman PR and a political consultant, said: "It's important to avoid the scattergun approach. MPs are horrendously busy, so you need to target those who are more likely to be receptive.

"You can do this by looking at the issues on which MPs have spoken. Then, having met them, you should whittle it down further to those who have the most time."

Mollet cited the League Against Cruel Sports as an example of a successfully orchestrated campaign.

He explained: "I think what was most effective about its campaign was the breadth of its coalition. It went for the slow burn, but eventually it paid off.

"Another example would be Ash's campaign to get smoking banned in workplaces. It was pushing against an open door, of course, but it is an issue close to many Labour MPs' hearts."

But what are the options for charities that are pursuing causes not so close to MPs' hearts?

Mollet believes the answer is to propose a winning argument that does not attempt to sway people's emotions.

"A charity that is trying to persuade an MP to back its campaign against animal testing is more likely to succeed by using research that shows the results are inaccurate, rather than concentrating on the cruelty of the tests," he said.

"Sometimes it might be necessary to argue in a cold, dispassionate way.

"At the same time, the fact that charities are passionately committed to their causes can also be an advantage, and one that perhaps the commercial sector can't compete with in the same way."

For information on the masterclasses, contact Dr Philip Parvin on p.parvin@hansard.lse.ac.uk or telephone 020 7395 4009.

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