How to frustrate the unprepared lobbyist

Westminster - squareCalling all policy makers and business leaders! Do you want to frustrate civil society lobbyists, deflect public pressure and avoid changing our mind or making any commitments? You can of course just say no. But that would make you seem rude and it might provoke the lobbyists into taking more effective advocacy and campaigning actions. So your alternatives are:

  1. Sympathise. Be as nice as possible to the lobbyists and make them feel important. Agree with them on the seriousness of the issue and express every hope that it can be resolved. Make vague promises but no real commitments. Hopefully the lobbyists will be so flattered and confused that they will fail to pin you down to any action.
  2. Pass the buck. Tell them that it is not your responsibility – the lobbyists should be speaking to someone else (the Government, the IMF, God, etc). You’d obviously like to help but your hands are tied. This will work well as long as the lobbyists haven’t done their homework and identified areas where you are responsible and produced arguments for what you can do on your own.
  3. Delay. Find any means possible to put off taking any decision or action so that the lobbyists run out of energy or resources before you have to do anything. Methods could include commissioning a new study of the problem, requesting time to consult colleagues, proposing setting up a working group or task force, etc. Hopefully the lobbyists won’t have prepared compelling arguments for why you should take action now.
  4. Dispute evidence. This can be part of the “delay” tactic but is also useful in its own right. You should challenge the validity of the evidence that the lobbyists quote and dismiss it as anecdotal or biased. Cite your own data as being more objective, comprehensive and up-to-date. Hopefully the lobbyists haven’t got independently verified evidence or evidence from independent sources, or worst of all, use your own evidence against you.
  5. Challenge their legitimacy or motives. The lobbyists will have come from some NGO or other civil society group and are unlikely to have any official status. If they are supporting poor people, call them communists or tools of some foreign or colonial power (see “provoke” below). Don’t give them an opportunity to talk about the basis of their support.
  6. Side-track. Pick on a less important side issue and spend as much time as possible talking about that (and make some concessions if necessary). In this way you can avoid talking about the really important issues. This will be easier if the lobbyists present a long “shopping list” of concerns rather than focus on their main issue.
  7. Divide & Rule. Try to play one lobbyist off against another, exploiting any apparent divisions between their positions. Of course, this won’t work if the lobbyists have carefully prepared a joint position that they are all committed to.
  8. Distractions. Try to fill up the time allocated for the meeting with lots of distractions (for example, phone calls, refreshments, bringing in numerous colleagues and introducing them to the lobbyists, etc). If possible, end the meeting early by inventing an urgent commitment.
  9. Intimidate. Having the meeting in your office is a start – never agree to meeting on neutral ground, or even worse at the scene of the problem. Have your chair higher than theirs and have plenty of your colleagues with you, while ideally only meeting one lobbyist at a time so that they don’t have the moral support from their colleagues.
  10. Provoke. If all else fails, we can try and provoke them to be angry (perhaps by being rude, patronising or attacking their integrity). If they take the bait and lose their temper, then we can justifiably end the meeting and claim the moral high ground.
Barclays HSBC HQs - square - by George Rex

Photo by George Rex

You may come across new and even more effective ways of frustrating the unprepared lobbyist. If so, we would love to hear about it so we can share it with others – please add your comments to this blog.

Let’s just hope that the lobbyists haven’t read the new Lobbying Mini-Guide from Ian Chandler at The Pressure Group!

New Mini-Guide on Corporate Vulnerability

Another Mini-Guide for free download, and this one is unique – helping campaigners to identify where companies are most vulnerable to pressure.

It is hard to influence any target unless we can understand what makes them tick. However, the only experience that many campaigners have of the corporate sector is as customers. This leads them to adopt consumer action as the default strategy, ignoring the potential of other strategies.

Many years ago, when I was leading Oxfam’s campaigning programme, I completed an MBA with the Open University. I wanted to understand business strategy and how they could be influenced more effectively. I learned how they developed their business plans. I studied their financial, human resources and marketing strategies and how they deal with competition. Using this knowledge, I then developed the Corporate Vulnerability model.

Corporate Vulnerability modelAs far as I know, this model is unique – I don’t think anyone else has looked at planning corporate campaigns in this way. It explores the four key external relationships that companies have to manage, helping campaigners to identify where individual companies are most vulnerable to pressure.

It has long been my intention that I will write a book on how civil society can stand up to the private sector – a practical book of tool and strategies that would include this model. One day I might have enough time free to finish it. In the meantime, I thought it was time that I put this model out into the public domain through this Mini-Guide. Download it here.

Please share, and let me know what you think of it.

Advocacy & Campaigning Mini-Guides

I’m excited to share with you the first three of a series of Advocacy & Campaign Planning Mini-Guides – and you can download them for free from . Each guide is just four pages of clear, focussed and accessible help to anyone wanting to make our shared world a better place. They are based on my 30 years of working in advocacy and campaigning, using tried and tested models and tools. I’d love to hear what you think of them, and please share if you like them.

Reckless or Timid? Risk Management in Advocacy

When I talk with campaigners, policy specialists and advocacy managers, they all agree that advocacy, while having the potential to achieve major changes, also entails significant risks.

Organisations risk their reputations by speaking out – their analysis is exposed to all to see and may be seen as flawed or biased, and their objectives or methods may be perceived as being ‘too political’. This may lead to loss of support, reduced funding or an inability to work in certain areas.

More seriously, if the advocacy threatens to be successful, a backlash may come from those whose power or vested interests are being challenged. Advocates and affected communities (especially their leaders or representatives and their families) may suffer intimidation, imprisonment, violence or even death. These security risks are real and cannot be ignored.

But when I ask them what processes they have in place to monitor and manage those risks, some confess that they do nothing, while many others admit that their safeguards are limited to some ad-hoc sign-off procedures.

There are two possible results to this. The first is that people and organisations are exposed to unnecessary and unacceptable risks. The second is that organisations become overly cautious, scaling back their advocacy efforts and failing to exploit opportunities to make change happen. Sometimes both results can happen in the same campaign!

We don’t want to eliminate risks altogether. If there is no risk, it is probable that our asks are too modest or our methods too timid. A risk management system, properly applied, can (strange as it seems) both reduce risk and encourage risk taking.

A proper risk management system involves three stages:

First, all the potential risks need to be identified. We need a long and comprehensive list to ensure that no risks are being ignored.

Secondly, the risks should be assessed against two factors:

a)    How likely is it that the risk will take place?

b)   How serious would it be if the risk takes place?

For each of these factors we can assign a score on a scale of 1 – 5 or 1 – 10, which should then be multiplied together to give an overall risk score. When we have done this with all the identified risks, we have the risk profile for the campaign.

Thirdly, starting with the highest scoring risks, we identify actions that we can take to both reduce the likelihood of the risk occurring and the impact of the risk if it does occur. We can then re-assess the risks and decide if the resulting risk profile is acceptable or if we should drop the campaign. If our risk assessment identifies significant risks to the livelihoods or safety of others, then they should be consulted on how acceptable the risks are to them.

Advocacy managers should not sign off any advocacy plans that do not include a robust and comprehensive risk assessment and management plan – it is one of their key responsibilities as a manager. But I have to ask why so few appear to demand this of their staff when the process can be so straightforward?

Ian Chandler

Campaigning with rights

Campaigning with rights

We often talk about how to campaign for human rights, but less often do we talk about how to campaign with rights, so that the act of campaigning respects the rights of those affected.

The first question we need to ask ourselves when doing a rights-based approach to advocacy and campaigning is “Whose advocacy is it?” Do we see campaigning as something that we do as concerned citizens on behalf of disadvantaged and excluded communities, or do we see that our role is to support affected communities to do their own advocacy? Or do we see civil society working in partnership with the affected communities to advocate for the realisation of their rights?

No one option is inherently better than the others. In my view, it all comes down to the context – in particular the power relationship between ourselves as progressive and concerned civil society actors, the affected communities as the “rights-holders”, and those with political or economic power who as the “duty-bearers” are the targets of the advocacy. But whichever approach we take, we need to be clear about who is setting the agenda.

Have communities undertaken their own analysis and identified their own issues and objectives, or have we simply sold them our analysis? Have they truly participated in the planning of advocacy strategies, or have we intimidated them with our resource power, our confidence in our supposedly ‘superior’ knowledge? If we are supporting affected communities to do their own advocacy, can we be sure that they don’t see our support as being conditional on them choosing certain issues to do advocacy on, issues that coincide with our own advocacy agenda?

If we are doing our own advocacy for the benefit of different affected communities, we need to be clear where our legitimacy comes from, and on what basis we have determined our objectives. We need to be transparent about who we have consulted and how we have reconciled differing voices – for there will always be differing voices. And we must ensure that our speaking out does not occupy the available media and political space, excluding the affected communities from having their own voices heard. At the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves: Have we respected the right of affected communities to control the advocacy that is about them?

Our second challenge is, through choosing to advocate for a particular group, we may have also adopted the mantle of “duty-bearer” and all the obligations that it infers. In particular, we have the duty to be as effective as possible – focussing our efforts where they will make the most difference to the affected communities, rather than what is easy or will most benefit our organisation.

This also requires that the methods of our advocacy promote the long-term interests of the rights-holders, and not just the short-term needs of the advocacy. This is most apparent in how we describe and illustrate affected communities and the situations that they are facing. Do we show them as helpless victims or as positive actors engaged in the struggle for justice? Do we represent the problems they face accurately, or do we distort them in an effort to maximise our response rates from the public? Are our prescriptions for solving their problems realistic, or do they reflect an over-simplified quick-fix that will have little real impact on the lives of affected communities?

Finally, if we are respecting the rights of those who are the intended beneficiaries of our campaigning, then we should be committed to holding ourselves accountable to them. We should submit to their judgement on whether we have involved them appropriately, whether we have respected their dignity in our campaigning, and whether we have made best use of the opportunities and resources available to us.

Ian Chandler

This blog is an edited version of a speech given to a conference on “International Advocacy: Potentials and Challenges” held by CISU in Copenhagen on the 30th August 2012.