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Influencing Legislators or Other Policy Makers

In order to achieve a legislative advocacy goal, advocates must influence legislators or members of parliament, government officials and other policy makers. Advocates should also reach out to their constituents and allies to ask them to influence policy and decision-makers. First, advocates should identify decision-makers who are sympathetic to the views and issues, and who are willing to work collaboratively. These individuals will be able to assist advocates to widen the network of supporters by recommending others to call, visit and write. 

Next, advocates should also identify and interact with officials whose views vary from the views of the supporters. These individuals will be able to voice the arguments that are likely to be raised in opposition to the advocacy goal. Even if these individuals cannot wholeheartedly support the entire effort, they may be persuaded to support a part of the effort or a single objective in the larger goal.

Whether advocates meet, call or write to those who support or oppose the advocacy goal advocates should be respectful and always remember the importance of long-term relationships. This includes being courteous and respectful of the staff of parliamentarians, government officials and policy makers. Staff have a great deal of influence and ability to persuade policy makers. 

See: Legislative Advocacy Resource Guide: Promoting Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Global Rights, 18, 2005.

Methods for Influencing Legislators

Individual Meetings or Briefings: A briefing is designed to present facts and analysis of proposed legislation to a group of parliamentarians and their staff whereas an individual meeting literally occurs with a single parliamentarian and possibly his/her staff. 

In planning individual meetings, advocates should:

  • Consider the most appropriate time to hold the meeting or briefing based on the schedules of the legislature and whether they are in session or not;
  • Research where individual meetings and briefings are typically held – in the legislative office building or at the offices of an NGO – and consider the most appropriate location based on the message you want to convey;
  • Determine what information will be highlighted in the meeting, the purpose of the meeting and the outcomes that are expected; and
  • Send advance information – position paper, talking points, bill summary, etc. – but keep the information to a manageable length.

In planning briefings, advocates should:

  • Make sure to invite the other NGOs and/or government officials well in advance – at least 5 to 6 weeks – and send a “Save the Date” message with the official invitation 3 to 4 weeks in advance of the briefing.
  • Make personal invitations to the meeting or briefing as appropriate and include the legislator’s staff to attend.
  • Research the position of the legislator or policy maker in advance of the meeting and anticipate questions and concerns.
  • Develop and practice a concise and understandable three minute message.
  • If more than one individual attends the meeting, meet in advance of the meeting to determine the roles each person will play (substantive expert, person providing testimonial, constituent) and at the meeting, introduce each person and their role.
  • If multiple individuals or NGOs participate in the meeting or briefing, make sure to settle internal disputes privately in advance.
  • Make arrangements for the meeting or briefing, including arranging for an appropriate meeting space, reserving audio-visual equipment, requesting needed seating, tables, podiums and flipcharts or other inputs as appropriate.
  • Listen to the legislator or policy maker and address concerns and questions
  • If you do not have information requested, send any information you offered to send later.
  • Follow-up on the meeting with a letter of thanks.
  • Keep in touch with supportive individuals.

Letters and Telephone Calls: These methods can also be effective tools for influencing legislators and policy makers. Advocates should keep the following suggestions in mind. 

Letters should:

  • Clearly state the issue and objective;
  • Explain why the legislator or policy maker should support the position;
  • Acknowledge the individual’s ability to influence the issue;
  • Tell the legislator or policy maker how to support the position and how they will benefit from doing so;
  • Address potential concerns;
  • Be concise;
  • Use the individual’s correct title; and
  • Be respectful.

In telephone calls, advocates should:

  • Outline the issues that will be covered and place the priorities at the top of the list;
  • Capture the legislator’s or policy maker’s attention within the first 30 seconds;
  • Be polite;
  • Summarize any outcome of the conversation in a letter; and
  • Thank the individuals for their time.

In addition to individual meetings, letters, and telephone calls; advocates will likely have the opportunity to engage in more public discussion about the issues.  Advocates must carefully prepare for such opportunities as much or more than for the private meetings and calls. The public debate may take the form of a legislative hearing or perhaps a less formal discussion or forum. 

Public Hearings: Public hearings are a more formal way of working with the legislature or parliament. The advantage of public hearings is that it is a way for advocates to have a substantive discussion with those who have power and jurisdiction to address the issue at hand at the parliament and during the parliamentary session. The disadvantage of the public hearing is that typically, public hearings are subject to parliamentary procedure, which may limit or otherwise encumber advocates who wish to participate.

Public Discussion: Another way to engage public debate is through a public discussion, which is more informal than a public hearing, but still subject to the rules of procedure.  Advocates may benefit from a public discussion of the issue at hand because more people have the opportunity to participate when a discussion is held outside the parliament. The disadvantage of the public discussion is that while civil society experts on the issue may be present, not all members of parliament or the desired policy makers will participate.

Public Forum: A final way to engage in public debate is by organizing a public forum.  The public forum is organized by the NGO leading the advocacy effort.  The NGO may invite those it wants to participate, hold the forum in a neutral location, and select those it wishes to make presentations to those attending. The disadvantage is that members of parliament need not participate and if they do, the impact on policy may be minimal because the forum is held outside of the official dialogue.

Despite the disadvantages of each type of public debate, advocates should explore these options and consider which one might be most useful to the effort.

See: Legislative Advocacy Resource Guide: Promoting Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Global Rights, 38, 2005.

 

Example: The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the United States has published a handbook on taking legislative action to protect women from domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Legislative Action Guide contains suggestions on how to understand the legislative process, how to track legislation, how to organize meetings and build coalitions as well as sample scripts for writing letters to legislators or contacting them by telephone.

 

 

CASE STUDY: Gender is My Agenda Campaign

One common mechanism used for advocacy, especially at regional bodies, is the NGO pre-forum or sideline meeting. This technique is effectively used in many areas to develop NGO consensus and prepare for lobbying efforts prior to the convening of a policy- or law-making body or a human rights mechanism. This technique has been used, for example, in the African context by civil society groups undertaking advocacy at the African Union. The NGO Femmes Africa Solidarité coordinates regular Pre-Summit Consultative meetings before each session of the African Union. These meetings focus on increasing involvement of African women in AU processes and on monitoring and implementation of the AU’s Solemn Declaration on Gender Equity in Africa as well as other regional women’s rights instruments, such as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.