‘Extraordinary times call for extraordinary government engagement’
18 June 2020 at 7:30 am
The for-purpose sector must do better, writes Angus Crowther from Spark Strategy.
We are living through times of extraordinary challenge and change, and when we need it to be loudest, the voice of the social sector is just a whisper in the corridors of power. There are however some simple steps to help you play to win, to change this voice from whisper to roar, and to direct the power of government decision making to benefit the communities we live and work in.
If you like to keep pace with the issues of the day, you are perhaps out of breath or confused as to whether the pace was meant to be a sprint or a marathon – or even perplexed at how it has occasionally become both. Pestilence, natural disasters, economic collapse, protests and riots, and challenges to democratic process – all of which are occurring here at home and abroad – are challenging the capacity of governments to respond coherently and meaningfully.
If you pay attention to what is happening in the corridors of power – our parliaments, electorate offices, ministerial offices and premiers, chief ministers and prime minister’s offices – you will see that social sector and for-purpose leaders are barely making it through the door. Leaders across the for-purpose sectors need to up their game if they are to achieve the impact and change they promise and deeply desire. This is particularly pressing because without their voices and contributions to public policy there are big questions about whether our communities will indeed be able to prosper, grow and have the best chance of overcoming future challenges.
It might sound bad – and it is – but I am an optimist. I see where we are in this journey as the approach to the false peak, right before the plateau, where we will get another chance to see the true mountaintop and the destination. For-purpose leaders have a chance to change how they conduct their government engagement, moving away from ad hoc interactions and toward a structural and systemic approach which can weather the distractions and challenges happening around us and ensure for-purpose leaders stay in the room with decision makers and in the corridors of power.
What you are up against
Government is forced to respond to a 24-hour news cycle. This means on any given day your issue can be hit for six, out of the stadium and out of mind, while politicians and the public service pivot to defend themselves from attack.
And just as you’ve left the stadium, professional and well-paid lobbyists are prowling the corridors, looking for opportunities to have that “chat by the water bubbler”, getting business done, sowing ideas and exerting influence.
You’re also up against yourself – the biases you may hold against this or that political party, personally held pessimism or even cynicism in the system of government, or fatigue from the state of the world and our nation. The reality is you have two choices here – change the system from the inside or burn the house down. You get to choose, but what we are talking through here is how to create change from within, which has been very successfully done by lobbyists and private interests for far too long.
What you may not realise is that you have something more valuable to politicians than anything a lobbyist can provide; on a par with the value and reach which the media has; and which very likely is the thing which spurs you to action each and every day. As leaders in the for-purpose sector, you have a heartline to the constituency; the voters who turn citizens into parliamentarians, ministers and prime ministers.
There is great power in this connection to the constituency, but it can only be unlocked and weaponised if you plan and act strategically. Before you get too offended by the concept of weaponising, ask yourself this – are you prepared as a leader to continue to allow vested, private and corporate interests to win the day, and to consign the organisations you lead and the people you wish to better serve, to accept the scraps of rationed funding and compromised public policy solutions?
I should hope not.
What you need to do if you plan to play to win
Continuous campaigning is no longer a new concept in political circles; be they corporates or the political parties themselves. But this concept of the continuous campaign – of keeping your issue and your solution present and at the forefront of debate – has not yet penetrated the collective consciousness of for-purpose leaders. If you operate across jurisdictions – and many do – then there is always an election looming somewhere. For-purpose leaders must look to how they can sustainably and effectively run continuous campaigns, or your solutions and voice will simply be lost in the tussle of government and political life.
Stakeholder constellations refers to the concept that a single star can be a navigating point, but a cluster of stars becomes a vision. You need to understand who your natural allies are across the five government stakeholder groups, and which other stakeholders you should invest effort in to convert them to allies and advocates for your cause and to achieve your vision. This requires organising the latent data in your organisation and mapping it to electorates; determining where your organisation is relevant and has a stake in the portfolio of each and every minister; and how you can link these groups to that heartline of yours: The connection to the constituency.
The frame is a favourite of high school drama teachers and Madonna herself. When it comes to government engagement, how you position the problem you exist to solve, the specifics of your solution and the actions that government must take to address or adopt all of these is critical. For-purpose leaders need to understand how to use policy, research and problem-solution framing to get outcomes from government, and get inserted into conversations where decision making occurs by advocates identified and won through stakeholder constellations.
It might look dark, but there are glimmers of light
The reality is that change is coming – but the type, extent and impact of that change is as yet unknown. If you are a for-purpose leader and are passionate about changing your community, your state or territory, or the nation for the better, we have got what it takes to help you make it happen. We specialise in making government engagement structural and systemic, tailored to the needs of your organisation and in a financially sustainable project model.
It’s time to get better at going to government, and if you plan on playing to win, we can help you achieve it.
If you’d like to learn more about government engagement in these trying times, attend the webinar, Government engagement fundamentals in a brave new world. Expert presenters from Spark Strategy will help you to reimagine what your government engagement can achieve.
About the author: Angus Crowther is a senior strategic advisor within Spark Strategy’s government engagement division. He works with for-purpose organisations to gain traction with and positive outcomes from government decision makers. Spark Strategy works across every state and territory in Australia.