Beyond Government Relations: Effective Government Engagement For Social Impact
26 June 2018 at 8:18 am
George Liacos, managing director of Spark Strategy, offers practical tips on how to embed government engagement within your organisation, ahead of the launch of Spark Government Engagement.
Traditional approaches of advocacy and lobbying are failing the social sector – but there is a better way.
Embedded understanding and capability can drive greater funding, influence and impact. In line with the launch of our new joint venture in partnership with Neil Pharoah, Spark Government Engagement, we share with you our thoughts on how to influence for impact.
Government engagement today
Too often, organisations underestimate the importance of successful government relations and engagement, creating a finite tipping point for mitigating risk and ensuring long-term sustainable success. A recent survey with over 2,100 executives found that only 20 per cent of companies actually experienced regular success at influencing government.
Why does government engagement matter?
Effectively engaging government can deliver significant benefit at the organisational, industry and sector level. It can increase funding, enact policy and legislative change and raise the profile of an organisation or issue.
When implemented effectively, advocacy and government engagement can:
- influence the actions of federal, state, and local agencies;
- secure policy victories in state and federal legislative bodies;
- win ballot measures;
- educate the public and the media about the need for better policies; and
- encourage more voter participation and candidate debate during election season.
Our design principles
Based on over 20 years of experience in this space, we’ve developed a number of design principles that underpin effective government engagement.
- Build in-house capability
It is crucial that enduring and sustainable relationships with government are built within your organisation and owned by management and team members, thus allowing the transfer of knowledge and building of your team’s capabilities.
How can this translate into action? Build capability by providing training to a range of people within your organisation, including your board, executive and other staff.
- Be a tortoise, not a hare
We’re not going to beat around the bush here – to see meaningful results, government engagement is a medium- to long-term game. Major funding, policy or awareness raising wins are not going to be achieved overnight. Success in this arena requires building, maintaining and strengthening relationships, ideally at multiple altitudes of government…which takes time.
Instead, many organisations engage government at points of crisis or during an election – these are typically the worst times to reach out and ask for assistance. Relationships need to be built before issues arise, with systems and strategy laid down that can be activated when needed.
How can this translate to action? Develop a 12 to 18 month activity plan, which you update on a quarterly basis.
- Ensure relevance and provide evidence
If the goals you are working towards align with a politician’s personal and party priorities, you’re one lucky duck. Feel free to move onto the next point. For everyone else, it’s key that your approach is focused on mutual benefit and you only share news and updates that are relevant to your audience. Pitch to their interests by asking yourself what their drivers and motivations are. This may mean changing your language or framing so that what you’re saying hits home.
Once your message has been refined, it needs to be backed by credible evidence. This can range from providing stakeholder insights or postcode data to organising for a politician to meet your team or see a problem/opportunity for themselves.
How can this translate to action? Read their maiden speech and undertake electorate mapping.
- Have a heart
Government and the people who work within it are often demonised. We repeatedly hear how they lie, cheat, steal and lust for power all whilst operating at snail’s pace. This dominant rhetoric can sometimes cloud our judgement and cause us to forget that these are (predominantly well-intentioned) human beings. Of course, individual politicians and other bureaucrats will have their own aspirations and agendas…but keep in mind that they also have feelings and families. So go on – have a heart.
How can this translate to action? Send a thank you card, an invite to an event or a consolation note.
- Don’t be a one man band
Establishing relationships, whether that’s with other not-for-profits, businesses or government at the organisation-to-organisation level is a no brainer. By working across your team, board and supporters, you can: leverage individual’s networks, expertise and passion; mitigate risks associated with staff turnover; and better share the required resourcing – after all, many hands make light work.
For optimal results, government engagement requires a systemic and structural approach which exists above and beyond the movements and contacts of individuals and is owned by the whole organisation.
How can this translate to action? Ask your key supporters and board members to write to their local MP, mentioning issues and organisations that matter to them.
We hope that this article has provided practical tips on how to embed government engagement within your organisation. This is an evolving conversation – if you have thoughts to add, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We also have a white paper available which delves into these concepts in further detail. If you would like a copy, please request one at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Spark Government Engagement: In partnership with Neil Pharaoh, we are launching Spark Government Engagement on 1 July 2018. For more information, please contact us at email@example.com or by calling our head office on 03 8804 1731.
About the author: George Liacos is the managing director of Spark Strategy, an agency that works with not for profits and social enterprises to realise their social impact objectives. Liacos has advised not for profits, social enterprises, governments and commercial organisations for more than 20 years in the areas of new business and funding models, business and digital strategy, and system transformation. He has also held roles as the national lead partner for transformation at Grant Thornton, program director for the Department of Premier and Cabinet as well as chairman and non-executive director positions on a number of technology and service businesses.