March 4, 2016

The Science of Strategy in influencing Public Policy

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Turning an idea that will benefit your members or shareholders into public policy

By Bob Goulais

From time to time, I get a bright idea. It could be something that will benefit my family, my clients, my fellow Anishinaabeg or even the broader public. But whether I’m ready to act on my public policy idea and see it to completion, takes a whole lot of planning and persuasion. Importantly, it always requires building relationships and partnerships with my governmental partner.

I very rarely see a shoot-from-the-hip approach succeed and become public policy. Government can’t possibly work from a laundry list of a dozen, half-cocked ideas. But give some well-strategized, well thought-out ideas, and you’re more likely to come away with success.

Does this make Public Policy sense?

The first thing we need to ask ourselves is: Does this make “public policy sense”? Will your public policy idea benefit more than just your membership or shareholders? Will it benefit other Ontarians or other Canadians? Will it be seen to benefit your governmental partner? If we can’t illustrate win-win for our partners, or demonstrate the value to them, how can they see it as a good public policy idea?

Speak the Language of Policy

I hear a whole lot of fist pounding and grass-roots indigenous people calling for a “rights-based” approach, a “nation-to-nation” approach or a sovereign approach. This really doesn’t resonate with government because very few elected officials and even fewer civil servants understand what that means. Help them along by speaking the language of policy, and taking a pragmatic approach to achieving your goal. One. Step. At. A. Time. Methodically. Patiently. Win them over, and bring them along with you.

Every idea requires a Plan

Every good idea should have a plan. A plan isn’t a plan unless you write it down. A well-developed strategic plan should clearly outline your vision. It will clearly spell out your goals and objectives. What resources are you going to require? What tasks and deliverables need to be completed along the way? TIP: Make use of small project management to manage your idea from concept through development and implementation. Who is doing what? What has to happen next? Etc.

Other considerations:

  • Options.  That’s options, plural. You will need to develop and analyze more than one way to achieve your objectives. Sure, give the pie-in-the-sky billion dollar option. But be careful with giving the low-end option too. Low hanging fruit is sometimes way too sweet for your partner. Make sure to give several options in the middle. This doesn’t mean just funding either. Consider operational complexity as well as analysis and impacts to our members, shareholders, and our partners.
  • Recommendation.  That’s singular. Take one option that you’ve considered above, follow through with a rigorous analysis and make it your recommendation. But be prepared to be flexible. Your final outcome or deliverable may be similar to your recommendation, but it may also turn into a bit of a hybrid through negotiation (see analysis below).
  • Policy Analysis. If you are going to propose an idea, make sure you know something about that particular subject matter. Make sure you have a thorough analysis of your options, your rationale, business case and fiscal considerations from the perspective of a subject matter expert. You may need a specialty consultant and a lawyer that specialized in that particular discipline to work with you to see your idea through. Know what you need to achieve your goal. Know what you are willing to live with, and what you are willing to live without.
  • Risk Analysis. This is your insurance. You need to make sure your idea not only makes sense, but measures the risks of your various options and recommendation. An idea with too much risk, politically or financially, may not be in your or your partner’s best interest.
  • A Business Case. Your idea needs to have all fiscal considerations put on the table. How much is this going to cost? For you? For your partner? Where are you going to get the funding? What is the economic or social return on investment?
  • A Communications Plan. Public policy is about bringing people along to support you. You need internal approvals and advocacy from your members and shareholders. You will need official approvals from Chief and Council, from Cabinet. You will need public support for big ideas. All this requires internal and external communications plans.
  • Government Relations Plan. If your idea requires government investment, support, decision-making, regulation or legislation, you will require a plan to bring government along with you. Your plan is your plan. Remember, government will also need to bring forward their plan, their options, their recommendation, their business case. Help them along with that. Your GR plan has to include which public servants and elected officials to meet with, including messaging and asks.
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One Comment

  1. The points you raise are a relevant part of our seizing the opportunities that exist and dealing with the challenges ahead. To move forward in a strategic way we must identify where it is we want to go and the roads we must travel and the detours we will encounter to arrive at our destination. We must identify what vision we have for our community, define what we mean by self government, adopt and enforce a system of governance. Our leadership must be empowered by community members. The first step is to recognize that “leadership is submission to duty and not elevation to power”, in the words of the late Gordon Tootoosis. The community members must be engaged in developing a vision for the community which includes governance structures. For success, community buy in is important. Whatever we do we must remember what it means to be a First Nation and that we are different culturally and legally. Otherwise, we will move down the slippery slope of assimilation.

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