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Advice and guidance on influencing policy makers

Foreword By Kursat Levent Egriboz

I am delighted to present this guide – produced by ECOTEC in partnership with the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) – on how to reach policymakers with your European project success stories. As a Director of the UK National Agency for the Lifelong Learning Programme, I can recall dozens of examples of profoundly innovative European Union funded projects. The positive impact they have had on learners, local communities and on improving education and training across the project partnerships is unquestionable. That is why we want these proven examples of best practice to be accessible to everyone in the education and training world, whether they are practitioners, learners or policymakers. Here, you will find some simple but extremely effective ways in which you can maximise your project’s impact ― locally, nationally and at European level ― by conveying your message in the right way to the right people. This is just one of the ways in which ECOTEC, as National Agency, is working to help you get the most out of your involvement in the Lifelong Learning Programme.

Kursat Levent Egriboz is Director of the UK National Agency for Leonardo, Grundtvig and Transversal ― three parts of the European Union Lifelong Learning Programme.



Influencing decision makers is described in many ways: advocacy, lobbying, campaigning and public relations. Some of these activities might sound intimidating and out of reach to small locally focussed projects but in essence they all entail the same simple concept: communicating messages in such a way that they favourably persuade those that influence policy decisions. Influencing is like having a conversation. It’s a good idea to speak to the right person in the right language, and it’s always good to think about what you want to say before you start talking. But this kind of conversation is not only about putting across the best message to the right people in a compelling way, it is also about ensuring the message is understood and about converting others to champion the message as their own. The target audience in this exercise are policymakers; people with the power to influence or determine policies and practices at an international, national, regional, or local level. This guide will focus specifically on Ministers, civil servants, special advisors, Members of Parliament and Local Councillors.

The task of influencing consists of three focal points: the message, the audience and the method of communication. Effective lobbying requires these elements to be clearly identified and defined in relation to each other. This brief guide will set out the basic steps for achieving this.



The desire to influence policy starts when an individual or a group believes that an important issue is being overlooked or mishandled. Whilst delivering services or attending to community issues it is quite common for local groups to gain a deep understanding of policy initiatives and their implementation. Remember MPs, Ministers and local councillors are not usually experts in the fields they represent so community projects, researchers and providers of services hold valuable information that could benefit the policy cycle. 2.1 Building your case Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP) projects must collectively translate the information and experience gained in the field into a clear message, a case or an argument. Although this might sound pretty straightforward it is crucial for groups to invest time in defining their message and what they want to achieve. There will be many conclusions and lessons derived from specific projects but not all will be relevant or necessary when influencing policymakers. Some questions that can help shape the message are:

• • • • •

What are we cross about – and what do we want to achieve? Where do we want to be? What is getting in the way? How will we recognise a win? What are we proud of and want to show-off?

There are many different types of policy issues and therefore messages that can be developed. They could address a flawed policy, a lack of policy or an incomplete one. However, regardless of the type of policy issue raised it is imperative that the message can be expressed in a short and simple form. The ground rule is KISS (keep it short and simple).

This might feel like oversimplifying a complex and multi-layered problem but initially a message needs to immediately let a person know what you are about, get their attention and be memorable so you can get your foot in the door to further discuss the issue. The details and complexity can be raised later. The message is not necessarily a slogan (it can be if one decides to set up a campaign) it is rather a 20 second ‘elevator pitch’ that all involved could easily use when the opportunity to influence arises. It should contain both the problem and the action that is being proposed. 2.2 Making your case It is important to identify at this point whether you are simply trying to raise awareness of a problem or actually proposing a way forward. One criticism frequently levelled at VCOs (voluntary and community organisations) is that they are very good at publicising the terrible state of the world but often unclear and unspecific about what they want done to put it right…policymakers have told us that VCOs usually approach them and ask them simply to ‘take up an issue’. This is not very useful. Policymakers need specifics…what causes the problem, clear evidence to back up the case and proposed solutions.1 Projects should consider the wider policy context in which their issue currently sits. Think about the impact that the changes you are proposing might have regarding other policies or their cost. If funding is an issue you are addressing, develop your argument to include: where the money would come from (employers, government, individuals); whether longer term savings might be made in other areas (e.g. investing in adult learning for people with mental health difficulties could result in reduced drugs bill); and whether the solution you propose is achievable all things considered. This will help you prepare for any counter-arguments you might come across. It is also important not to make any assumptions and to build up relevant evidence and a sound analysis that supports your case. This could include a combination of case studies, expert quotes, testimonies and hard-hitting statistics that should be kept readily at hand. Keeping track of all the policy documents is a time consuming task but effective influencing does require you to be familiar with the policies surrounding your issue. In addition to looking at Government websites and reading the summaries of the policy documents you can also monitor the websites of other organisations which have an established role in advocating on your subject. NGOs, trade unions and think tanks are likely to provide monitors of policy developments and summaries. 1 Kingham, Tess and Jim Coe (2005) The good campaigns guide, NCVO, p.25




To an outsider the world inhabited by policymakers can seem confusing and impenetrable. However identifying the right person to target and learning about that individual’s interests, profile and job is a key element for successful advocacy. It is important to remember that if the issue you are looking to change does not fall under the remit of the policymakers you are talking to it is unlikely they will show any interest. Secondly, policymakers are normal human beings like the rest of us. Doing your homework by learning about their careers and individual trajectories and passions will allow you to approach them in a more personal way. 3.1 Ministers Ministers are elected MPs or Peers chosen by the Prime Minister to lead a specific department. It is important to bear in mind that each department has a further set of Ministers who have each been assigned a specific policy remit. The new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has, for example, 11 Ministers each with very different responsibilities: ranging from UK trade and investment to adult skills. Therefore do not simply assume that a Minister within the department you are targeting will take an equal interest in you particular policy issue. Rather, find out which Minister deals with your subject and only send information to that particular person. However there are some cases where policy issues are inter-departmental, crossing boundaries and involving a number of Ministers in their development. For hints of cross-departmental issues you can take a look at Government policy publications (White and Green Papers) and see if a specific policy proposal has being jointly signed by a group of Ministers. Cross-departmental co-operation is relatively new but increasingly common. You can find out about Ministers’ responsibilities in each of the Department’s websites, all of which can be found through One thing to keep in mind is that Ministers are not as readily available as MPs.

3.2 Civil Service While Ministers are prone to constant changes, civil servants who conduct much of the detailed thinking about the development and implementation of policies are usually permanent and apolitical. For these reasons they become experts in their individual areas of responsibility, are more immersed in the nuances of policy and provide significant advice to ministers. The most senior official in a department is the permanent secretary who is followed by several deputy secretaries or directors overseeing individual policy areas. Each directorate is subsequently split up numerous times making it possible to work down the chain of command to determine precisely who works on a specific policy issue. Officials probably five or six grades from the top of a department are the ones who draft the first version of policies and documents. Building a relationship with these civil servants and providing them with helpful and timely information and proposals is a way of getting your ideas into the policy cycle. To identify the top officials, a department’s annual report or plan are good sources to start with. These can be found on each of the departments’ websites. Alternatively there are two annual publications which list every senior civil servant and their details: The Civil Service Year Book and the Whitehall Companion. Remember that if you are not sure who deals with a precise policy issue don’t be afraid to ask. Calling or emailing a civil servant you do have a contact for is usually the fastest way of finding out. 3.3 Special Advisers One of the most important sources of political intelligence for ministers is their special advisers (Spads). They are full-time political appointees selected personally by the ministers but subject to the approval of the Prime Minister. They write political speeches, advise them of the political impact of issues and brief the media on political matters. When talking to them remember they are fiercely loyal to their minister as their careers relies on them being in office but they do have direct access to them without having to go through a civil service filter.

3.4 Members of Parliament Members of Parliament are elected to represent their constituents’ interests and concerns in the House of Parliament. They divide their time between attending Parliament during the week and working in their constituency offices on Fridays and during parliamentary recess. Getting an MP to back your cause is a great way to get your voice heard. However MPs get hundreds of letters every week so it is unlikely that if you send a standard letter to all of them that they will show interest. Rather it is advisable to target the MPs whose constituency has a direct involvement with the issue, as MPs only respond to enquiries from their own constituents. It is also advisable to get constituents themselves to lobby their MP. 2

The results of a survey by the Hansard society asking MPs what were the most important factors when dealing with lobby organisations, showed the importance of constituency and also showed that MPs are not particularly tied to their party’s stance on an issue. If your message is trying to change a specific policy you might find it easier to influence MPs rather than Ministers directly.

In addition to targeting local MPs affected by your issue you can also contact those that have already expressed an interest. With 659 members in the House of Commons the task can seem a bit daunting but there are two initial ways to identify MPs’ interests. One is through Commons Select Committees4 which are cross-party groups of MPs which monitor the work of specific Government departments. If MPs are for example part of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families you can be sure that they will be attentive to those issues. Other groups you should analyse are All Party Parliamentary Groups5. These are cross-party groups of MPs that get together informally around a common interest or passion. They are arranged by subject or country and range from the Jazz Appreciation Group to the Genocide Prevention Group. 3.5 Local Councillors A further group to consider is that of Local Councillors and Local Authorities. Local Councillors are elected in their local community to represent its views and provide policies for local services. They hold surgeries to help local people, support local organisations and campaign on local issues. Local authorities have a wide range of powers and duties. National policy is set by central government, but local councils are responsible for all day-to-day services and local matters. Although not all advocacy issues will fall under the remit of local authority services they can still provide good networks and a platform to get your local community involved in campaigning for your issue. The world of Local Authorities is very complex; it includes county councils, metropolitan district councils, English unitary authorities, London boroughs, shire district councils and Welsh unitary authorities, along with fire authorities, police authorities, national park authorities and passenger transport authorities6. To find out which type of council is responsible for your area and which services they deal with telephone any of the councils and ask for help from someone in the Chief Executive’s department or approach your local councillor and ask him or her.

It is also important to do some research about their track record and interests to pre-empt if they will be sympathetic to your message. To identify MPs, their constituencies and their profiles you can log on to the House of Commons Information Office.3

2 Parvin, Philip (2007) Friend or Foe? Lobbying in British Democracy, Hansard Society 3

If you would like to address a local education or training issue that is being considered by a local authority you will need to know which councillors will be involved in reaching a decision. Councils work by meeting in committees. Decisions are taken either by the full council or by the committees. It is also important to find out what type of political balance there is in your council. When the council is not controlled by a single party it gives campaigners a greater possibility to influence outcomes.

4 Commons Select Committees: 5 All Party Parliamentary Groups: 6

3.6 National Agencies National Agencies are Government intermediaries or quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations that are given devolved power by Government to manage and provide services. As such they are key stakeholders in implementing learning and training opportunities. Some of these agencies you can also consider approaching are: Regional Development Agencies, Sector Skills Councils and the Learning and Skills Council (soon to be the Skills Funding Agency and Young People’s Learning Agency). 3.7 Devolved Administrations A further thing to consider is that throughout the years some major areas of Government were devolved to elected assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For example while matters relating to education are devolved, policies under the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury remain UK wide. Because the relative size of the Devolved Administrations allow a much closer relationship between services, providers and Government, decision makers and policies tend to have a stronger sense of accountability to local communities and tend to depend less heavily on national targets and performance measures. When researching your issue do not assume the policies in these regions are minor variants of the English model.


Written parliamentary question: every MP and peer can table as many written questions as they wish. This are usually used to obtain data or factual information from ministers but cost about £165 each to answer. Projects can help MPs formulate both oral and written questions.

Methods of communication

The ground rule for any communication with policymakers is to keep it short, timely and simple. Charities, researchers and community projects have a natural tendency to elaborate and to focus on the detailed processes of their work while policymakers just want a short briefing! This kind of constrained drafting can be very difficult to produce but it is definitely key for successful advocacy. The scale of your advocacy activities will depend on your issue and aims, how much you can invest and whether your priorities are local, regional, national or international. Small projects or groups might feel that modest efforts might not have an impact but research shows that this is not necessarily true. A study conducted by NfpSynergy, asked MPs to say what they would spend a limited advocacy budget on, were they working for a charity; “Building a relationship with 10 MPs” topped the list above relatively expensive approaches such as hiring a public relations agency.7

4.1 How MPs can help MPs can be great allies to shine the spotlight on issues within Parliament. All MPs, even backbenchers, have several channels to directly impact Parliamentary activities such as debates, parliamentary questions, Early Day Motions and influencing a Committee or an All-Party Group. If you can sufficiently engage MPs they can use these activities to encourage Government to address your issues. Adjournment debate: debate within the House of Commons where a backbench MP will talk about a subject for 15 minutes and would receive a reply from a Government Minister. You can ask an MP to table a debate regarding your issue. Oral parliamentary question: each Government department answers them about every four weeks. MPs wishing to pose a question would have submitted the question a fortnight in advance and would be selected by means of a ballot to ask it. Minister will respond by reading an already prepared answer. However this can be followed-up by a supplementary question related to the original issue but one that is not known in advance by the Minister.

Early Day Motion: each Government department answers them about every four weeks. MPs wishing to pose a question would have submitted the question a fortnight in advance and would be selected by means of a ballot to ask it. Minister will respond by reading an already prepared answer. However this can be followed-up by a supplementary question related to the original issue but one that is not known in advance by the Minister. Outside of Parliament sympathetic MPs can also help. They can speak at relevant events, they could issue a press release or they could sign your pledge of support. 4.2 Approaching MPs 4.2.1 Writing to MPs For written contact with MPs, remember that they usually only respond to enquiries from their own constituencies. Here are some recommendations to keep in mind when drafting your letter: • • • • • •

Keep the letter brief, ideally to one or no more than two sides of A4. Identify yourself as a constituent. Be polite, not angry. Avoid jargon. If you share your MP’s political affiliation, say so! Write in your own words – be sure to make your letter personal and explain how and why this issue relates to you, as a constituent. The impact of your letter will be blunted if it is identical to 50 others on his/her desk. Be clear about what you are asking your MP to do (for example sign Early Day Motions 292 or 313 depending on party; ask a question focusing on local provision; accompany a delegation of constituents to see the Minister). Request that your letter is forwarded to the relevant department Minister. That way the Minister and her civil servants are reminded of the issue as well as your MP. By convention, a letter forwarded by an MP to a Minister must receive a reply and remember that the response from a Minister can be used for publicity. Keep a copy and ask for a reply.

4.2.2 Meeting MPs Meeting an MP can happen at their local surgery, at a mass lobby in Parliament, in a local event at election time or in a pre-arranged meeting. The same rules apply for meeting MPs as for writing to them. Be concise and straight to the point, engaging rather than confrontational, do not confuse them with too many messages and be clear on what you are asking from them. Here are some key recommendations: • • • • •

• • •

• • •

• •

Arrange the meeting in advance – don’t just turn up. Make your MP aware in advance of what you would like to discuss. Tell your MP who will be coming – between 2 and 4 people in total is a good size. It will do your cause no good at all, if the meeting is swamped by a dozen campaigners. Be professional – arrive early for your meeting, thank your MP for agreeing to see you and do not exceed the agreed time limit. You may only get a half-hour meeting, so make time count by preparing carefully and deciding which issues are the most relevant. Don’t worry if you don’t cover every point you hoped to make – write a thank-you note as a follow up. Your MP is unlikely to be an expert on all areas of Government policy, nor fully understand the consequences of policy. Be prepared to explain the issues and the background, but make it relevant to your constituency. Leave a piece of prepared information that your MP can use to help make your case. Be prepared to answer questions, not just ask them. After all, a successful dialogue is never one sided. Offer solutions, don’t be wholly negative. Make your MP aware that you are willing to act as a local resource on the issues discussed. This offer is likely to please and surprise your MP, as it will set you apart from other campaigners who may only want to “take” from their MP. Invite your MP to any local events, such as courses, celebrations or prize-giving ceremonies, and make sure you invite your local newspaper photographer along. End the meeting by recapping on the points you have both agreed to undertake. Send a follow-up letter within a week to 10 days. It should be both short and cordial, thanking them for the meeting, re-iterating what was said in the meeting, and suggesting that you continue to meet periodically. Remember you are trying to build a long-term relationship, so be positive, polite and friendly. If you are in London when Parliament is sitting, ask your MP to meet you at the Houses of Parliament.

4.3 Influencing committees and policy papers Another way of expressing your voice to Government is through their consultation mechanisms. Before most major policies are put in place, Government will often publish a consultation document where they will set out what they are thinking of doing and ask stakeholders their views. Most consultations have a specific set of questions but groups or individuals can bring out further issues in their response. Consultation rules8 oblige departments to read and consider every response even if they don’t answer the questions so don’t be afraid to take risks in your answer. Nevertheless even in these situations it is important to be as concise as possible. They can also be good opportunities to present relevant case studies that have come out of local projects and initiatives. Sometimes Departments will then use these as examples to support certain policies. Other documents that are worth responding to are calls for evidence from the House of Commons Select Committees. Committees dealing with subjects relevant to your issues will, throughout the year, set up inquiries to examine specific Government policies. They will set up a theme and ask for the public to submit written evidence related to it. They are generally very eager to get evidence from projects and academics. If the committee is sufficiently interested in your evidence they will then ask you to give oral evidence in the House of Commons to the Committee. Both written and oral evidence are recorded and published in the report produced at the end of the inquiry and Government has to produce a respond to the Committee’s report. To be aware when these calls for evidence or consultation documents are announced it is important to monitor the websites of any relevant departments to regularly keep track of policy announcements. On most of these pages you can subscribe to receive emails when the site has been updated. To keep track of Select Committee reports and inquiries you should monitor Parliament’s website.9

8 Government Code of Practice on Consultation: 9

4.4 Media Policymakers are great followers of the media so sometimes getting press coverage for your case is a good leverage to get them involved. Using the local media is a really effective way of raising awareness and support. A simple way to raise awareness is through the letters page of your local newspaper, but you can also send press releases, offer yourself for interviews and stage a photo call. People often think that only the national media count, but local and regional media have large and regular audiences. The media really likes stories about how national policies and decisions affect local people. 4.4.1 Getting a piece in your local newspaper Whilst there are no guarantees of success, offering a journalist a strong, interesting story, presented in the right way, will greatly increase your chances. 4.4.2 Who to contact Call the News Desk of your local newspaper or radio station. You can then talk to a journalist about your story and what you are doing locally. This is often enough to get their interest, and the journalist will usually follow up by arranging an interview with you, either over the phone or in person. 4.4.3 What makes a good story? Journalists are extremely busy and work to tight deadlines, so you need to make it as easy as possible for them to grasp the story. The key issues are: • What is the local angle? • Is there a human interest story? • How do I find out more? Journalists are not the monsters of legend. They have a job to do, and if you can make their job easier, by providing them with everything needed to produce the piece, they are more likely to cover your campaign. They rely on people like you to come up with material, and there is nothing they like better than a good story.

Also don’t forget the new digital and social media. Raising awareness and support through facebook, blogs, twitter and YouTube is an economic and innovative way of putting your message out there. Using online tools for communicating campaigning messages is called e-campaigning and it is proving immensely popular both in Government and the charity sector. It offers many advantages as it is relatively cheap and has the potential to reach a very big audience. It is also easier to manage than normal paper-based data collection. Using a website, email lists and newsletters can save you a lot of time and money. If things like blogs, facebook and twitter seem alien to you don’t be afraid to ask a more media-savvy colleague to introduce you to them. There are probably a couple of people in your organisation that use them privately and can help you get started.



The presence of smaller organisations and projects lobbying policymakers can be very valuable to a democratic society. As projects gain knowledge from direct action and grassroots activities they will seek to express their voice to those that can change the status quo. Doing this effectively consists of having a clear message and aim, identifying and researching the right person to lobby and communicating appropriately. Small but focused influencing activities tend to be more effective than large and vague ones. To summarise, the basic steps to influencing decision makers are: • Build your case: create a short and simple message to pitch to policymakers. That message should be backed up by evidence and more detailed arguments but remember that simplicity and clarity is essential to getting your foot in the door. • Study and target your audience: understanding who within the Government machinery has responsibility over your issue and what are the pressures they encounter in their work will allow you to better target your message. • Choose the appropriate method for communicating: take advantage of the numerous channels that formally exist to give the public a voice in Westminster and Whitehall. Also express your message in ways that are familiar to policymakers’ ears. Taking these three steps as a basis, remember to use your unique resources as grass-roots projects to be creative and innovative in how you communicate with policymakers. Get your community and learners involved, lobby an MP on his or her twitter page, celebrate your achievements in a public event, the possibilities are endless.

Useful websites: Department for Business Innovation and Skills: Department for Work and Pensions: Number 10 Downing Street: UK Parliament: Welsh Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS): Welsh Assembly Government: The Scottish Government: Directorate for Lifelong Learning (Scotland): Northern Ireland Executive: Department for Employment and Learning (Northern Ireland):

References and signposting Amnesty International Campaigning Manual: Dubs, Alf (1988) Lobbying: An insider’s guide to the parliamentary process, Pluto Press: London. Kingham Tess and Jim Coe (2005) NCVO Good Campaigns Guide: Campaigning for Impact, Lattimer, Mark (2000) The Campaigning Handbook, Directory of Social Change: London. NIACE Resource Pack: Shout it Out! NIACE: Leicester NfpSynergy (2005) Ten Campaigning Tips for lobbying MPs Parvin, Philip (2007) Friend or Foe? Lobbying in British Democracy, Hansard Society: London. Thomson, Stuart and Steve John (2007) Public Affairs in Practice: A Practical Guide to Lobbying, CIPR: London.

Find out more about the Leonardo, Grundtvig and Transversal Programmes: Leonardo – Training and Skills Helpline: 0845 199 2929 Email: Website: Grundtvig – Adult Education Helpline: 0845 199 1919 Email: Website: Transversal - Study Visits Helpline: 0845 199 3939 Email: Website: For general enquiries call 0845 199 2929 or email Please visit any of our websites to subscribe to or unsubscribe from our mailing lists. You can also write to us at: Communications Team UK National Agency – Leonardo, Grundtvig & Transversal Programmes ECOTEC Research and Consulting Ltd Haines House 28-34 Albert Street Birmingham B4 7UD


Advice and guidance on influencing policy makers Here, you will find some simple but extremely effective ways in which you can maximise your...


Advice and guidance on influencing policy makers Here, you will find some simple but extremely effective ways in which you can maximise your...