Focus: Policy and Politics - Forum to bring lobby groups together

A policy network could lead to more cross-subject working, writes Nathalie Thomas.

A new networking forum for policy officers could enable more charities to cross the 'subject divide' and work with different partners to lobby government.

"Normally the housing sector talks to the housing sector and the disability sector to the disability sector," says John Knight, head of external policy at Leonard Cheshire, who will speak at the forum's launch on 25 April. "This is a means of breaking that down."

Knight hopes the forum, which is being organised by the NCVO, will encourage campaigning organisations to widen the net and work with parties they would not ordinarily think of collaborating with. For example, he suggests disability charities could find new partners among the human rights and housing lobbies.

Knight believes this kind of cross-subject working could strengthen the sector's messages to government. He says: "Joint submissions to government on areas of shared interest have greater weight than just one single organisation."

The policy network will be open to all sector organisations, regardless of whether they are members of the umbrella body or not. As well as providing networking opportunities, meetings will also focus on different policy areas and skills.

"The first event will look at evidence-based policy and how you can use research and the voices of users in your messages," says Mubeen Bhutta, policy officer at the NCVO and co-ordinator of the forum.

"The second will look at how to reflect the diversity of your membership or user group in policy work."

Knight also hopes the initiative will give rise to mentoring schemes or learning groups for policy workers. "Those of us who are working in the policy field sometimes feel a bit isolated and don't have ready access to other policy groups," he says.

He hopes more experienced policy officers could advise newer members of the profession.

Policy teams could also benefit from exchanging practical advice, such as which freelance researchers or analysts might be most appropriate for their area of work, according to Knight. "It's as much about providing practical support as providing intellectual support," he says.

Although many policy teams are based in London, forum organisers are hoping to hold meetings throughout the country. There will also be regular email briefings.

KEY POINTS

- A new forum for policy officers will be launched at the NCVO on 25 April

- Meetings will be held nationwide

- Members will receive policy briefings by email

- It is hoped the forum will lead to more cross-subject working among voluntary sector groups

- The network will be open to all charities, regardless of whether they are members of the NCVO or not.

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