Calling 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.