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Your organisation has some major opportunities this year. Do you know what they are?


3 June 2020 at 4:02 pm
Neil Pharaoh
Being attentive to the election framework (and budget cycles) is critical for policy, funding or legislative change – it also helps if you know what you want, writes Neil Pharaoh.


Neil Pharaoh | 3 June 2020 at 4:02 pm


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Your organisation has some major opportunities this year. Do you know what they are?
3 June 2020 at 4:02 pm

Being attentive to the election framework (and budget cycles) is critical for policy, funding or legislative change – it also helps if you know what you want, writes Neil Pharaoh.

It is only 90 days until the next election (well if you live in the Northern Territory that is), and what is worse we have two more elections in 2020 – the ACT on 17 October and Queensland on 31 October.

They will be followed closely by WA in March 2021, meaning four Labor jurisdictions are up for election through to early 2021. 

To an organisation that has their game plan formulated, these elections provide an opportunity to speak directly to lawmakers and would be lawmakers about your wish list.

But you will only be successful if you know what you want and can communicate it clearly to those who make the decisions. Otherwise, your message will be lost in an avalanche of noise.

It is critical to do your planning early around advocacy, engagement, policy and regulatory reform, and ask how do you as an NFP or social purpose organisation manage your election goals? Have you written them down? Is your board and management clear on what they would like government to do for them, both in the short-medium and long term given these elections are just around the corner?

One of the biggest challenges I have seen during my advisory work is organisations getting agreement as to what they actually want from a government in an election. Many will want more money, but being consistent, unified and prepared for elections sooner rather than later usually leads to better outcomes. 

The first thing to do in preparation for an election, ideally about 18 to 24 months beforehand, is actually plan what you want from the government. Is it a policy or regulatory change? Is it funding? Do you want a new administrative process, or a legislative change? Often it is hard to get clarity across board and management as to what you want from government, and saying you want money just doesn’t really cut it. Take the time to map out some requests, think in frames – short, medium and long term; small, medium or large amounts of money – and map a number of different options and considerations. 

Next, develop the messaging, materials and documentation. Things sound different on the Labor and Coalition side of politics – where do your projects fit, who are the stakeholders, what portfolio, how does it relate to local MPs and how can you persuade and engage based on both sides of politics? 

What’s next? Here is where you get let in on a little secret, absolutely nobody reads your massively researched, highly referenced, detailed policy statement, which is 50-pages long and released right before the election. What is read is the nice short sharp executive summaries, the child friendly version or the infographic version, something that is tied back to local electorates and involves the local MP or candidate and has been written for the media, social media, and can be easily understood by both the local politician or candidate, as well as other stakeholders. 

Policy statements (better known as election monologues of grandeur) seldom get read outside a small cohort of public servants. While having evidence and sound policy is the foundation for your work, it is important to think creatively about how you best make the ask and communicate, as opposed to spending all of your time on a lengthy document which won’t even get put on a shelf.

If step one is to work out what you want, and step two is to plan the documents and materials, then the final step is to run your campaign. 

Running a campaign can be as simple as a few things on social media, a couple of letters and meetings, through to entire websites, paid advertising, focus groups and everything in between. Even a small voluntary-led organisation can do a successful campaign, as can large well resourced NFP and social purpose organisations. 

There are a number of parts to planning a campaign, this checklist below may help with yours:

  • Analysis – is it winnable? Popular? Is now a good time? Is it relevant? Who will support or oppose? What resources will I need? What does change look like? When do we know we have won? What difference will this campaign make?
  • Planning – who are the key people we need, and who do we need to convince? Who will make the change, and who will oppose and support, who can you influence?
  • Action – how will people respond? Have you appealed to their needs and interests, what other pressure can be applied or made to complement what it will look like in the media or in a MPs office?
  • Impact – can it be scaled or replicated? How do we back it when we win? What lessons did we learn?

Analysis, Planning, Action and Impact is a useful framework to consider your campaign, but a campaign is only worthwhile if you know what you want, and have planned your materials, research and documentations first. 

A good board will also have election dates as key dates in their agendas, because being attentive to the election framework (and budget cycles) is critical for policy, funding or legislative change. 

Remember too, that federally we need to go to an election before May 2022, which will all happen around the same year as Victoria, SA and Tasmania. NSW will round out the next cycle with its next election being in 2023 – so for most organisations an election will be just around the corner.  

About the author: Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy. Neil has been behind many leading social policy and advocacy campaigns on gender rights, equality, medical research and education, and ran for Parliament in Victoria in 2014 and 2018. He regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems. @neilpharaoh on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

Happenings on the hill is a fortnightly column focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy. Stay tuned for updates around political trends and elections, lobbying and advocacy news, and hints, tips and ideas on government engagement that are specifically written for the social purpose/for purpose sector.

If you have any ideas, suggestions, tips or questions, please feel free to email Neil Pharaoh at neil@neilpharaoh.com.au or reach out to him via social media at LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @neilpharaoh.


Neil Pharaoh  |  @ProBonoNews

Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy.

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