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30 October 2017

197: How to deliver reform

According to David Miliband, the core to any successful reform programme is Government leadership, business innovation and popular mobilisation. But this takes a lot of effort to put these into place, not least using public affairs techniques.

Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary and now President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, was speaking on an episode of the Axe Files podcast specifically about the moves made against climate change.

But what should a good public affairs campaign do to secure these necessary pillars?

Government leadership – it is not always the case that ideas come from Government themselves, even less Cabinet Ministers. Instead, ideas need to be drawn to their attention. These can come from businesses, charities, NGOs etc but critically they need to be communicated in a way that will appeal to their intended political audience. That means knowing, understanding and work with their motivations.

If commitment can be secured from Government then they might need help maintaining it over time and even over Governments, not always of the same political colour. Friends and allies across Parliament and the wider stakeholder environment will always help with such campaigns as well. But, on the flip side, they need to be on board to make sure the reform is as straightforward as possible to be pursed. In other words, address concerns or be ready to respond fully to them.

So a proposed reform needs to box off and address some of the potential opponents, and maybe even have worked with them in drawing up the plans.

A classic example of a reform just being dropped onto people were the social care reforms proposed in the Conservative Party manifesto and we all know what happened there.

You might also need to capture the political attention through the media, making it a post bag issue or through grassroots campaigning. This might be particularly necessary if the idea is slightly more challenging to existing Government positions.

Business innovation – I would widen that to include innovation from any source. Innovation could be in terms of policy, a technological advance, a change in operations, a new way of doing things, changed behaviours – anything new or different. It may not necessarily relate to spending.

Much innovation has come from the charity and campaigning sectors in recent years as well. But reputation plays a critical role here as well for any body engaging with government and hoping for change. Reputation in such circumstances is much about trust as it is motivations. If Government is to have any faith in the changes being proposed then it needs to know and trust you, preferably over a period of time as well.

Innovation itself may require changes in a government’s approach, policies or maybe specific tax or incentives. So there could be steps before the main reform that need to be considered, mapped out and campaigned for first.

Popular mobilisation – there is a slight ‘chicken and egg’ situation here. Popular mobilisation could help to secure the reform in the first place if Government appreciates that there is public support and sentiment behind it.

Charities and NGOs can often be particularly good at popular mobilisation as they know how to fully apply and utilise their key strengths – popular support and a motivated membership / supporter base. They also often have expert committees who can help act as advocates.

On occasions, government may even look for help in the mobilisation. Those outside of government may be freer to pursue a course of action and directly challenge behaviours in a way that Government cannot. This is not to suggest that this means organisations act as an ‘organ’ or ‘mouthpiece’ of Government but that there can be a common approach and shared aims.

Friends and allies again are needed with the mobilisation element.

Miliband appears to be suggesting a groundswell of opinion in favour of the proposed reform but it should be a little more than that. A successful mobilisation is also about a willingness by people to implement the reform as well. Support is good but a willing audience is needed as well. So communications is a thread throughout all stages of the reform process.

None of this happens by magic. Every stage needs to have been considered, mapped out and scenarios planned for. When it comes together, with all three elements in alignment, as Miliband suggests, that is when reform can be achieved.

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