Non-profit advocacy work tends to focus mainly on government relations, especially regulatory measures (‘sticks’) affecting the non-profit’s stakeholders, but also policy measures which might fit the tags ‘carrot’ or ‘sermon’. (See also my earlier article ‘Carrots, Sticks and Sermons: sorting policy types’.)
I often find that NFP directors and staff are unaware of the processes by which political parties and government agencies formulate and review public policies, and the methods used to analyse policy options. They can occasionally be inclined to the naive view that when you pick up your megaphone and tell the world your view about a problem, the policy decision-maker will automatically see the logic of your position and adopt your recommended approach.
Helping your directors and staff to understand the different ways in which issues are identified for policy response, and the variations in political perspectives which will lead to alternative responses is a key step in cultivating effective advocacy work. If your representatives and advocates are not sensitive to these audiences, your messages and communication strategies are likely to miss their target. Being ‘tone deaf’ to the policy agenda of a party or department may result in long-term damage to all your advocacy efforts.
Policy making principles
There are many public policy models in the literature, and each has its merits. Australian policy workers and advocates will doubtless be familiar with the 8-step Australian Policy Cycle outlined in The Australian Policy Handbook (illustrated below).
To counter the reader’s inclination to see any sequential process as a rigid lockstep protocol, the authors wisely note:
“A skilled player sees the various heuristics and available models not as constraints to be applied in a legalistic manner, but as basic principles to inform natural talents, invention, ingenuity and imagination in the pursuit of good policy processes. Models help policy makers follow through on the particular requirements of the problem at hand. It is not always expected that a standardised, ordered process will be appropriate.”
While this advice was offered primarily to public sector policy workers, its central message is equally noteworthy for non-profits seeking to advocate policy positions to those workers.
Policy as problem solving
A similar but more compact model is the Policy Cycle Hourglass (See Studying Public Policy: Policy Cycles and Subsystems, Howlett, Ramesh, and Perl, 2009) illustrated in the header image above. This model echoes the key stages in the applied problem solving process, while also recognising that different ‘key actors’ are engaged in each of those stages. Your organisation is only one of those actors of course, and in shaping your advocacy plans, you will be wise to identify who the other actors and stakeholders are for each policy you wish to influence.
Some of those other actors will broadly agree with your analysis and position, and these parties are potential allies in your advocacy work. Others may take such a different position that they will actively oppose your efforts. Being ready with the evidence in support of your position is essential if you are to counter such resistance.
Another approach to policy analysis is to consider the different perspectives or accounts of policy taken by actors and academics writing about policy. Mirko Noordegraaf (in Working for Policy, Colebatch, Hoppe and Noordegraaf, 2010) outlines 1st, 2nd and 3rd order accounts of policy which characterise it as:
making issues meaningful (for individual policy workers)
coping with conditions (for public agents), and
thought and behaviour (for users of policy processes)
Non-profit personnel involved in policy and advocacy work are generally operating from a 3rd order perspective, seeking to understand and make effective use of policy processes and structures to advance their own ‘policy agenda’.
While non-profit directors and staff do not need to obtain formal qualifications in policy, professional development activities designed to improve their understanding of policy processes and perspectives will enhance your advocacy efforts.
(Also, distinguishing public policy from governance policy will overcome some of the possible confusion experienced by ‘novice’ policy analysts within your organisation.}