Advocacy in the political sense means creating awareness of an issue in order to influence public policy and funding decisions. The methods you use can be wide-ranging, from communications and media campaigns, to public speaking; from commissioning and publishing research to conducting polls.
Lobbying is a type of advocacy that involves approaching politicians directly about a particular issue, policy or legislation. The phrase comes from the gathering of Members of Parliament and peers in the hallways (or lobbies) of the Houses of Parliament before and after parliamentary debates.
WHO DOES IT?
Individuals and organisations might lobby as part of paid work (a Project Manager or Government Liaison Officer meeting a politician about an issue related to his/her organisation) or in a voluntary capacity (an activist meeting with a politician in an unpaid capacity). There are also professional lobbyists who may be part of a PR or lobbying company.
If you work for a music or arts organisation, lobbying and advocacy may be seen as the role of the communications department/manager, but it’s something that should be considered at the highest levels in your organisation, and part of your overall strategy for making change happen in your sector.
WHEN SHOULD YOU DO IT?
Lobbying’s for life, not just elections. Ongoing relationships are the key.
Whether you want to influence national, regional or local politicians, the approach remains the same: don’t just target your efforts around general/assembly/parliament, county or town council elections.
You’re more likely to get your message across by developing a relationship with those you need to influence – or at least by positioning yourself and your organisation as experts in your field and/or people who’s views are worth taking seriously. And you can only do this over time.
FOUR FIRST STEPS
1. Keep informed and form alliances
Make sure you keep informed and involved in what’s happening politically in your area of interest by signing up to/following one or more of the following organisations. They’re all active in lobbying and advocating for the arts in varying degrees, and all share news, case studies and evidence that you could use in your own work:
- http://www.culturallearningalliance.org.uk/ – a collective of organisations promoting the value of cultural education
- http://www.ism.org/campaigns – the Incorporated Society of Musicians who as part of their wide-ranging work, develop campaigns on behalf of musicians and music education
- http://www.creativeindustriesfederation.com/ – formed in November 2014, this is a lobbying group that represents all of the arts, cultural and creative industries
- http://artsdevelopmentuk.org/ – professional association originally of local authority arts officers but now representing all involved in arts/cultural development
The Arts Councils and major national arts organisations also provide useful advocacy and lobbying information and tools, eg:
- Arts Council England – http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/what-we-do/value-arts-and-culture/advocacy-toolkit/
- Arts Council Wales – http://www.artswales.org.uk/what-we-do/advocacy-toolkit
- Arts Council England Bridge organisations – http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/what-we-do/our-priorities-2011-15/children-and-young-people/bridge-organisations/
Consider who else may be needing to promote the same cause locally, regionally or nationally, and think about sharing skills, resources, and creating a joint approach/campaign.
2. Do your research – on local, and interest-specific remits
You’ll probably already know some of the key politicians you want to influence – but it’s worth also doing further research online. For example at a national level, you could look at members of committees covering the relevant policy area:
- Culture Media and Sport committee
- Education committee
- Chair of the UK Parliament’s Education Committee: grahamstuart.com
National Assembly for Wales:
- Children, Young People and Education Committee:
Chair of the National Assembly for Wales’ Children, Young People and Education Committee:
- Minister for Education:
Deputy Minister for Culture:
Northern Ireland Assembly
- Culture Arts and Leisure committee:
- Education and Culture committee:
If you find an MP, AM (Wales), MSP (Scotland), MLA (Northern Ireland) or prospective candidate with an interest in your area who may also be local to one of your supporters/advocates, they can lobby and advocate on your behalf, including by attending politicians’ surgeries locally.
It’s a similar approach for local politics – find the town/district/ county council website, and they will list the councillors and the relevant committees they’re on.
Of course politicians don’t have to be on a particular committee in order to have an interest in particular subjects, The only way to identify these sort of interests is to keep informed and involved in your local area and your area of interest – Google Alerts for are also useful and will alert you to who’s talking about your area of interest.
3 Use social media and online communication for research and making connections
Following politicians on Twitter and Facebook is a great way to connect – giving you the ability to understand what’s important to them and if appopriate, to contact them directly.
Influencing politicians using social media campaigns is the subject of a whole other blog – but unless you have the time and expertise to mount a full campaign, keep it simple. Make sure to follow what they’re saying and take the opportunity to make a connection when you have something relevant and useful to contribute.
Elected representatives receive a huge amount of communications in the post and online. All this is in addition to all the information and paperwork they have to sift through for their plenary and committee meetings. So any information you send them should be concise, well researched (in terms of what will motivate and interest them) and should clearly spell out your message in a way that’s relevant to them, and considers the benefits to them, to their consituents, and to society.
4 If it’s appropriate, meet face-to-face – but do your homework first
There are various ways to get to meet politicians face-to-face. You could attend a local surgery, or invite them to one of your events or activities (ostensibly for their benefit in order to raise their profile, and give a photo opportunity, but it also gives you the opportunity to casually raise an issue with them).
Attending a party conference on the off-chance that you meet the member you wish to communicate with is also a possibility, but a bit hit and miss. Another alternative is to book a stand at a conference, but this is costly.
Either way, before you approach them, decide exactly what you want to achieve. Do you want to call for policy change or to include something specific in a policy that’s being drawn up? Or do you simply want to make them aware of your issue so that they’ll agree to advocate on your behalf, perhaps as part of their electoral campaigns/manifestos?
The Cultural Learning Alliance has put together some questions and advice on approaching MPs, candidates and local councillors to talk about cultural education (the aim was to include these priorities and actions in party manifestos – although too late for the 2015 election, they’re still useful areas for conversation):
No matter what your primary aim is, you’ll also want to:
- find out from them about their views, and their commitment to your field of interest. Make sure to go prepared with well-researched questions relevant to their areas of responsibility and interests
- establish yourself in their minds as a trusted representative/source of information and expert in your field. Make sure you back up your message with evidence – stories and facts (these will be useful to them too)
Communicating with politicians is really no different to any other form of communications in that keys to success are understanding a) your audience, and the benefits to them/those they represent of what you do b) the key message/s you want to convey and c) what you want them to do as a result.
OTHER USEFUL DOCUMENTS AND LINKS:
http://www.whatnextculture.co.uk/ – a movement and series of conversations to help articulate the value of arts and culture to society http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/apr/28/arts-chiefs-what-next-culture
Arts Advocacy Guide from the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies http://media.ifacca.org/files/FINALAdvocacyGoodPracticeGuideJan2014.pdf
If you work in Arts and Health, the Kings Fund has put together a useful 2015 Election tracker: http://election.kingsfund.org.uk/