The text on this page is inspired by Judith C. Meredith and Catherine M. Dunham’s Real Clout. More info can be found here.
1. The hero opportunity
As human beings, most elected or appointed policymakers got into the business because they wanted the power to make good public policy. The logic is sound: make policy that will make a measurable positive difference in the lives of your constituents and you will get re-elected or re-appointed and be able to make even more public policy.
Being human, most elected or appointed policymakers love their jobs and are often ambitious to move up. They love the excitement of being in middle of the political action in a capital city. They love being able to really make a difference in the lives of their neighbors and friends by exercising their power and influence. They love the satisfaction of being and feeling important, of knowing they have been key players in important policy changes that have improved the lives of thousands of people – most of whom never give the state capital, county seat or city hall a second thought. And, that’s why as politicians they are especially responsive to a critical mass of constituents offering them a “hero opportunity.” They are always eager to champion a public policy initiative that will win them respect and gratitude.
2. The three rules of influencing public policy
- The first rule of influencing public policy: Elected and appointed decision makers make different decisions when watched by the affected constituency
Most policymakers are very busy with all kinds of issues, proposed laws etc. They often don’t know what their constituents think about these things, until you let them know! Let them know you’re there, how you feel and that you’re watching them. If you also offer them a hero opportunity, they’ll definitely be inclined to listen.
- The second rule of influencing public policy: Get the Right Information to the Right Person at the Right Time.
The right person is the specific policymaker who can effect the change you want. In the case of a divestment campaign this will often be a financial director/manager or elder.wo.man (schepen/échevin.e) for finance. The right time is usually just before a specific policy is to be considered by the most important policymakers.
- The Third rule of influencing public policy: Public policymakers weigh opinion equal to fact
Policymakers don’t have the resources to make a fully-informed decision about eveyr issue, so they often go with their gut feeling. In this they aren’t that much different from ordinary citizens. They suffer just as much as the rest of us from idealogical bias, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias and everything else. Take this into account when presenting your issue to them and choose your arguments carefully.
3. How to craft and deliver your message
You want to present your idea as a proven and tested model to provide a solution to a real problem. Fill in the blanks: _______ is in crisis because __________. You should care because _________. We know that _________ would be a step to fix it.
- Message vehicles
You can choose to deliver your message in different ways: one-page fact-sheets, a ten-page research report, a five minute speech, a petition, … To choose the right vehicle it’s interesting to take a look at the way Zeynep Tufekci talks about power in her book ‘Twitter and Teargas’. Winning a campaign/negotiation is also about power. Of course it’s very difficult for someone to accurately assess your power, so according to game theory players send out ‘signals’ to indicate their power. These signals can be divided in different categories: they can be cheap or expensive to broadcast and they can be bluf or truthful. Given the interest in bluffing (to make your opponent think you’re stornger than you actually are), signals which take more effort to send, tend to work better.
Concretely: sometimes it may be better to attend a meeting of the financial committee with 200 people than to deliver an online petition with 2000 signatures. Although the latter has more support on the surface, it’s realtively easy to gather online signatures, while actually showing up at a meeting requires more effort. Along the same line phone calls tend to have more impact than e-mails, etc. etc.
- During negotiations (inspired by Lee Staples’ ‘Roots to Power’)
Ask big favours first: if you ask for a lesser favour first, they may feel “off the hook” already. On the other hand: if you get a negative answer to your first request, you can work your way down the ladder of priorities. Combining the request for a lesser commitment with he “guilt” of having refused your first request, increases the chance of success.
Establish a “yes psychology”: avoid questions that might produce a “no” answer to get your negotiating partner in the right mindset. Start of with easy statements like: “climate change is a serious problem”, “fossil fuels are a main driver of climate change” or “we need to work for a renewable future” before getting to “and this is what you can do to help!”