Most NGOs need to influence political decisions at some time or other. Some NGOs work within the political dimension every day. In a democracy the legitimacy of "lobbying" is recognised as being part and parcel of the accountability of the "governors" to the "governed". These brief notes aim to deal with some of the tactics which successful NGOs use in different countries.
It is vital to be well briefed before embarking on representations to Ministers or elected Members. Nothing gives a bad impression more than being unaware of the details of the subject being lobbied for, or the details of the particular individual being lobbied. At its simplest it is important to know the background of the individual, which district he or she is elected from, what subjects he or she specialises in, and what he or she has said on the topic in question. It is also important to have the arguments well thought out in advance, the statistical basis for your case, and good examples of why it would be beneficial to do what you want - particularly if there are examples from the Member's home province. If there are other NGOs dealing with the same topic be sure to consult them in advance, just in case they have useful material, or even in case they take a different view. It is always wise to be forewarned and forearmed. If you do find yourself out of your depth in the discussion don't just press on; it is much wiser [a] to acknowledge that the individual has made some good points; [b] to say that you would like to consider what he or she has said and [c] ask whether you could possibly return at another time to take the matter further. You can then do the necessary research!
It is no use lobbying for something after the decision has been made. It is very difficult for politicians to appear to change their minds! Make sure you know the timetable of decision making on the issue in question, particularly if the party or the Ministry involved is known to be discussing it privately. It is much better to get representations in before a topic becomes a big public issue.And, although, as mentioned above, it is important to be well prepared, it is pointless delaying and delaying in search of the perfect case. There is an English saying that "The best is the enemy of the good" and a good case at the right time is more likely to succeed than a perfect case at the wrong time.
Make sure that you are approaching the right Minister or the right Member of the Assembly. It is no use wasting effort on someone who has no interest in, or responsibility for, a particular subject - particularly if by doing so you alert the right person that you have made a mistake. Politicians tend to discuss such things and it would make a subsequent approach to the right individual more difficult.
Think through the tactics of your approach. Essentially you need to get the individual Minister of Member to say "yes" to your representations. Therefore it is always better to develop the case bit by bit, starting with the less controversial aspects of it, and working up to the tough items. If you get the individual on your side in the early discussion he or she is more likely to keep on agreeing. Do not go into a discussion as if it were a debating chamber in which you have to argue for everything at once. And don't make a long speech to the Minister or Member - he or she is much more likely to be sympathetic if you are concise and invite comments as you go along. It is often possible to have parts of the case in the form of a briefing which can be left with the individual, rather than having to be put orally. This is particularly true if there are statistics available; it is rarely possible to absorb detailed figures at a meeting. It is far better to provide them on paper. Don't be negative - assume that the Minister or Member wants to be helpful if possible. And don't necessarily plunge into the subject straightaway: it often helps to have some brief initial "smalltalk", on the problems of being in politics, or on the individual's home area, or on his or her family.
Don't ever become angry! Always remain cool and polite, whatever the provocation. By all means be firm and even passionate about your subject but never be aggressive. You might feel that you've had a good "go" at the Minister or Member but you're unlikely to get what you want. It is often easier to cope with a difficult meeting if you have one or two colleagues with you - the Minister or Member is unlikely to be alone - as one or other colleague can often defuse an emotional moment with a tactful intervention. However, don't be tempted to take more than or two colleagues. If you do, then the dynamics of the discussion are very different and it can tend to become a public meeting in which the Minister or Member can more easily avoid giving direct responses. Make sure that your colleagues are well briefed and that they are in full agreement with the case being made. Solidarity, particularly in public, is vital to successful lobbying.
Be careful about your use of the media. Good media coverage can often be very useful to lobbying but, if you have appointments with Ministers or Members, it is not usually wise to let your case appear in the press before your meetings. Politicians are often sensitive to being used for publicity purposes and they usually respond better if they feel that they are being treated properly by being given the vital information before the general public has it. In any case, if you are lobbying on a controversial issue, you are unlikely to want to give the politician the opportunity to see your arguments in advance - and to be able to prepare answers to them. Of course, if it is a long-running issue you cannot avoid the press coverage - and the politician will understand that - but then your lobbying will probably be on a different basis. If you intend to give a press statement after your meeting with the Minister or Member, be sure to say so at some point. It is unlikely that he or she is going to say "yes" to your representations at the meeting itself, so you don't want to offend by having a perhaps badly reported press conference before a decision is made. Also, the individual may wish to prepare a comment for when the journalist asks for it. You must judge when it is advantageous to bombard the media with material and when it is tactically more effective only to deal directly with the politician - ie when publicity could harm a developing feeling of trust between you. If you really want to achieve a particular course of action - as opposed to getting publicity - you may well be more likely to succeed if the politician can put it forward as his or her idea.
Remember that most politicians are very busy and that they may well find it difficult to draft motions or amendments or items of legislation. If it is legislation you are seeking then it is therefore important to have what you want him or her to do, drafted in a form which is easy to use. In particular, you will do well to learn the style of drafting that is officially used - or to get someone who does know to do it for you. If the Minister or Member has the Article or the Amendment or the Question well written, and in a form that can be immediately tabled, you are much more likely to succeed. It is also important, if you are regularly dealing with parliamentary matters, to know the Assembly procedures and to make sure that you keep abreast of Assembly Standing Orders and debates. If your NGO concentrates on a particular issue - health, perhaps, or education - it is extremely helpful to your case to provide those Members who are also interested in the topic, with regular briefings on matters before the Assembly, or likely to come before it in the near future. If you can supply a regular, well researched and well written briefing, that can be used in debate, you are more likely to get the individual to feel that you know what you are talking about, and, therefore, worth agreeing with on a key issue.
Try and build up a good reference library on your subject. It is not too difficult - particularly with the immense potential of the Internet - to discover the key sources for information material on any important topic and to develop a good retrieval system which will prevent you from being caught out on a particular aspect of it. In particular, make sure that you know the key sources of information on the subject within your own country. Develop your own filing system for the material so that you can easily find it quickly: the information is useless if it cannot be retrieved quickly when needed. And keep your retrieval system up to date. It may be chore to index items every day, but once it gets behind it is very difficult to catch up.
If you have a good case, you can enhance by good strategy and good tactics. If you haven't a good case, you're likely to be found out! Always be on the look out for an opportunity to advance your case bit by bit. It is very rare to win everything at once. Politics is the art of the possible, and one usually achieves success by grasping the moment for a specific advance. These advances may well build up over the months into something really worthwhile!