Engagement Makes Good Policy Happen

Commentary - published on

The power of social movements — mobilized public opinion — is undeniable. Just ask lobbyists who have recently fallen short of their clients’ objectives at the hands of the opposition’s superior grassroots engine.

According to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “policy change follows political change, which itself follows social change. The most durable policy changes are those that are undergirded by strong social movements.” For those entrenched in traditional lobbying strategies, this realization creates considerable angst.

Successful policy change begins with aligning your approach to the reality all politicians understand: To govern, you must get (and stay) elected.

There is admittedly discomfort in having it put so bluntly. Yet no matter how well-intentioned or principled the politician, few will support a policy option on merit alone and without considering risk and repercussion. Most, in fact, will support what they can as long as doing so doesn’t create too much threat of electoral defeat. In the inner circles of politics, what elected officials need most is “cover”— defined as sufficient public support to prevent the wrath of constituents at the next town hall meeting, but more critically, to avoid blow back at the ballot box.

As a result, smart policy advocates seeking substantial changes will both assess the state of public opinion, and then get to work informing and swaying that opinion to provide the cover legislators need. There’s nothing devious about connecting public opinion to politics; there is no need to hide or apologize for these tactics. In fact, everyone wins if an advocacy process replaces smash-mouth, old school lobbying with a transparent, inclusive process designed to incorporate broad stakeholder collaboration.

Creating grassroots support from diverse groups, including those previously viewed as opponents, is the noble—and most powerful—form of issues advocacy.

How can leaders navigate successfully from contention and opposition to consensus? Thinkspot’s Community Coalition (C2) process is a peerless and proven method. Our staff experts and consultants have tested and applied these concepts for Fortune 500s, governments, and global foundations. We win success for our clients on a range of critical issues using expert analysis, real-time data and market intelligence, and a unique approach to outreach and grassroots network cultivation in markets ranging from rural communities to booming and diverse metros.

Thinkspot’s C2 is built on the premise that policy change can be achieved through shared understanding and support for mutually valued solutions. This requires engaging the public and the full spectrum of stakeholders to create a shared understanding and support for change. Case studies in fields, such as land use planning, community justice, and public health have documented the
effectiveness of grassroots campaigns built on a foundation of community-based engagement.

The decision to pursue public involvement and to welcome collaboration represents a bold move. As we know, a shift in policy follows a shift in public sentiment and culture. Good leaders understand the value in transparency and inclusion, and want to help the efforts they care about succeed in ways that will last. They want stakeholders and partners informing their strategies and policy plans.

Leaders can and should move beyond ineffective or stale approaches to policy challenges. The proper strategy, expertise, rigorous project disciplines, and strategic deployment can surpass transactional customers of old-school lobbying tactics to stewards of systemic change for their communities and organizations.

The outcomes of an intelligent approach to community-driven policy change translate to true buy-in from community partners and stakeholders, and ultimately from elected officials who serve within the sphere of public sentiment.

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