Saturday, July 21, 2018

6 tips to help you make policy submissions

One of my big frustrations with people is how they are so quick to complain about policy, yet when they have the chance to have their say, for example during a consultation, they do not engage in any way with policy makers.

I have to be honest and admit that I am as bad. Only the other day there was a local consultation on a new bus route which I felt reasonably passionate about because it would impact on my ability to get to work, but I did nothing to get my views heard.   

I think there are a number of reasons for this. People are too emotionally drained, and do not have the energy to get involved, or cannot make the time. They may not hear about the consultation, or they feel that there is no point in making a submission because decisions have already been made. Another big barrier is not knowing to what say in a submission.

If you are someone who would like to become more involved in making submissions but don't know where to start, here are six tips to help you have your say, be it a national government consultation or your local club wanting to know your opinion about something.

1. Keep abreast of the news
If there is a particular topic, area or organisation you are interested in, sign up to follow them, join their Facebook page, subscribe their email lists, check their website etc, so you know when they are consulting on a topic. For example, you can find out about government consultations on their consultation web page, and sign up for emails to "receive updates on proposed policy or regulation changes and details of how you can have your say." The Senate also has a webpage that lists all its inquiries.

Organisations and other bodies have similar information, for instance, the Nursing and Midwifery Board has a web page where you can see current consultations, and previous ones.  The Australian College of Midwives  has a consultation page here.  

2. Read the instructions for the consultation
When you decide to make a submission, check the instructions for how to do it. Consultation take various guises including online survey, written template, email comments, or face-to-face meetings. For the most part, there is no strict hard and fast rule on how you respond eg formality of the language you use. However, some government consultations will refuse to accept a submission if it does not follow the format that is prescribed.

If all else fails, don't be afraid to contact the identified contact person if you need advice on how to respond to the consultation. There's some great advice about how to make a submission on the Parliament of Australia website that applies across the board.  

3. You can make a difference
It can be very daunting when faced with a national consultation where you know there will be some very vocal and powerful stakeholders involved. And it can be easy to be dissuaded from putting in a submission because you think no-one will pay attention. This is not true. If you submit a cogent piece that is easy to follow, it will be read and taken into consideration.

A great example of how stakeholders were able to overturn a consultation was the 2017 national maternity services framework. Stakeholders, including consumers, were so disgusted with how the consultation was being run that they protested, and the government was forced to start again with a new strategy and consultation

4. Tell your story
Another thing that puts people off from making a submission is the fear that they won't do a good enough job, or that they do not have the ability to make an academic response. My answer to that is not to worry about writing academically, or regaling reams and reams of research but rather, to tell your story. Obviously, you may have a framework or template within to work, however do not be afraid to weave in your story: why you have an interest; what your experience has been; what research you would like to share, and what your recommendations are.  

5. Learn from others
Having just said that you should write your own story, it also doesn't do any harm to see what others have written, either in past consultations or current ones. Many organizations and government departments publish submissions once consultations have ended which provides an opportunity to see how others write submissions.

Some organisations even publish submissions before the consultation period has ended. Recently, I was tasked with writing a response to the Senate about stillbirth. I was a little hesitant about how to start, so I found it really helpful to be able to see other people's approaches on the Senate inquiry website.

6. Join a collaborative submission
For whatever reason, you may not be able to make an individual response to a consultation. If this is the case, have a look at what others are doing in the area and see if you can contribute to a submission that they are developing.

Often organisations develop key points for their members to use as a guideline and get you started. If you are affiliated with an organisation, such as a representative body, and you want to know what the party line is, do not be afraid to contact the policy unit for their advice on what to say. For instance, you may belong to a union and wish to make a submission about workloads. It would make sense to be giving the same message as the union, who is also advocating for improved work conditions.

Having worked in a policy unit for a peak body for nearly six years, my personal plea is that if you are a member of an organisation, and there is a call-out for feedback on a submission they are writing, please take five minutes to drop them an email or call, with your ideas and information.  It makes life so much easier for policy staff, and facilitates a higher quality submission from the organisation.

Have you ever made any kind of submission? What was it for, and how did you find the experience? What are your top tips for making a submission?

Image: 'Tannoy'

Monday, July 16, 2018

5 tips for working in the policy space

I have just finished working for nearly six years as the policy adviser and manager at the Australian College of Midwives. As you can imagine, I have learned heaps about lobbying, advocacy, writing submissions, researching, and reacting to issues that arise very quickly. 

 Reflecting on the last few years, here are 5 tips for anyone wanting to move into the policy sector, from paid employee in a government department to volunteer role in a not-for-profit.

1. Be consistent with your message
It is very important to know what your organisation's position is and be consistent about it through the weeks, months and years. This applies not only to your own work, but also to the messages that are coming from the rest of the organisation, be it the communications' department, or key staff such as CEO or president. 
If your organisation and you are giving out mixed messages, not only will you confuse your audience, but your credibility will be damaged and your ability to influence will be reduced.

2. Use any opportunity to send the same message
If you are wanting to make a point or send a particular message, use every opportunity to emphasise it. For example, in the last three submissions I wrote before leaving the ACM,  I talked about continuity of midwifery care which is one of the ACM's key messages, yet the consultations/topics were very different - maternity services in general, breastfeeding, and stillbirth. 

It's like being a leaky tap - drip , drip , drip until someone takes notice!

3. Keep a track of the latest research that will support your message
I found it so much easier to write a credible submission, or give a strong verbal message if I had current research to back up what I was trying to say. It's worth keeping a database or record of research that you know is credible and influential, and know it inside out so you can quote it whenever you are asked.

4. Build up a network of experts
Leading on from the last point, it is also worth building a network of experts who you can approach to help you understand a topic, critique research, and update you on the latest issues. It is likely that you will not be an expert in everything, so it is invaluable to know who you can turn to quickly for advice and information. 

5. Collaborate with like-minded people and organisations  
One of the most beneficial things I did in my role was connect with people doing similar work to me in other organisations. We kept each other updated with the latest news, collaborated to support each other on joint projects, and came together to send united messages. Collaborative action is often far more effective than working on one's own, especially when you are trying to influence government policy and politicians.  

I hope you find this helpful information. 

What have you found to be useful strategies when working to lobby or advocate in the policy space?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

I'm white and privileged! What should I do about it?


I'm white and privileged! I am white, and I am privileged because I am white.

There you are. I said it.  I feel like I should be at an AA meeting...”my name is Sarah and I am white and privileged”. Clearly it's not a secret that I am white -you've only got to look at me to see how 'white' I am. And when I open my mouth, that Southern Counties English accent (used to live in Salisbury, England) still summons up images of thatched cottages and Pimms on the lawn...or so I've been told. I was 16 years old before I spoke to a 'black' person, and that was only because I had gone to the East End of London for a week to do some volunteer church outreach work. Before that time, the nearest I had got to a person of colour was when reading Enid Blyton's golliwog stories.  

I am not sorry about who I am, nor that I am white. I am who I am, and I am proud of the family I have descended from. So why is it, as I write this, I feel an unease in my gut; I'm almost embarrassed to admit to being white. I know how privileged I am when I watch the persecution of the Rohingya people, or bombing of Syria on TV.  But what does white privilege mean in the Australian context, and especially in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

I have only recently become aware of the idea of white privilege, which is a theory that explains the inherent privilege and advantages that white people have over non-white people because of skin colour. Having lived in New Zealand for nearly 20 years, I have been fully conversant with cultural safety which somehow was always tied up with the Treaty of Waitangi, and did not have a deep, personal  impact on me.  But it was recently since I moved to Australia that I have been challenged about white privilege at a workshop facilitated by the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, and how it feeds into my attitudes and beliefs about the world.

What white privilege means in reality, has been especially driven home to me on two recent occasions.
Close the gap!
The first occasion was when I met a wonderful Aboriginal woman who I immediately felt a real connection to. Although she was ten years younger than me, we found we had many similarities and shared experiences, and we become friends very quickly. It is not often I make those sorts of deep relationships because usually I am a bit of an introvert. What dawned on me and saddened me greatly, was that despite the age difference between us, she was likely to die the same time as me because Aboriginal women have a life expectancy of nearly 10 years less than non-Aboriginal women

Institutional racism 
The second occasion was when I was supporting an Aboriginal family receiving healthcare in a hospital. The family described the care they received and the attitudes displayed by staff, which seemed to me to be sub-standard to say the least. But when I arrived, it appeared to both myself and the family that attitudes changed, communication improved, and the care provided was much more in line with what I would expect.  It is my perception that me being there made a difference to the attitudes of staff and care provided, and I sincerely believe it was because I was a white woman.   

Nursing and midwifery Codes of Practice
So, maybe acknowledging our whiteness SHOULD be embedded into the Codes of Practice - we should acknowledge that  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are likely to die younger than us; more likely to be incarcerated, die of suicide, diabetes and heart disease than non- Aboriginal people. And maybe that is why there is such push back over the new nursing and midwifery Codes of Practice - because we know in our hearts that we're privileged, but we're not doing anything about it!

It is time us whities stop being snowflakes and acknowledge the universal truth that being white does give us an inherent advantage over non-white people.

There's nothing wrong with being white. What is very wrong is being white, knowing how that plays out especially in healthcare, and doing nothing to redress the inequity that our privilege fosters and promotes.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Fake news and lies! Nurses, midwives and white priviledge

In the last few days the main stream media has picked up on a story that should have died a death months ago. The word going around, propagated by Grahame Haycroft of the Nurses Professional Union of Queensland,  is that the new nurses and midwives' Codes of Practice require nurse and midwives to tell the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that we work with, that we are sorry that we are privileged because we are white.

There's so much wrong with this, I do not know where to start. Needless to say, this story is one of life's fabulous examples of fake news.

The significance of this is that the Codes of Practice are issued by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, which makes the content of the Codes a regulatory requirement whereby nurses and midwives can be notified, disciplined and even de-registered if we breach them. According to Haycroft, we could lose our registration if we do not admit our 'white privilege'  to every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person we care for.

Firstly, before you jump up and down, and join in with Haycroft denouncing a politically correct world gone mad, take the time to actually read the Codes because clearly, most of the journalists reporting this story have not! No where in the Code does it say that we have to declare our white privilege – this is a lie! The Codes are easily available on the NMBA website where you can check this out yourself:

What is cultural safety?
In the definition of cultural safety in the Codes,  nurses and midwives are encouraged to “ undertake an ongoing process of self-reflection and cultural self-awareness”. The Code goes on to say “cultural safety provides a de-colonising model of practice based on dialogue, communication, power sharing and negotiation, and the acknowledgment of white privilege.”  The NMBA have already discussed why this definition of cultural safety,  and if you're not sure what cultural safety is, have a read of Janine Mohamed's explanation of why it is so important in healthcare.  Ruth DeSouza has also written an excellent piece called The Five Myths of Cultural Safety.

The NMBA process of consultation and collaboration
Secondly, you need to be aware of how the Codes and other regulatory requirements are produced. The NMBA do not just wake up one morning and say “We're going to make you naughty nurses and midwives do this, this, and that....because we feel like it!”  The Codes and similar regulatory documents go through an extensive process of research, collaboration, and industry and public consultation, for instance, the NMBA carried out a serious of  road shows around the country which gave nurses and midwives an opportunity to give their feedback in a face-to-face environment.

Rather than being divisive as Cory Bernardi claims, nursing and midwifery peak bodies and organisations have been united in accepting the Codes as they are, because we were involved in the drafting and development of the Codes right from the start. As a member of the working group who consulted on the midwifery Code, I am extremely proud that it acknowledges racism as an unacceptable behavior. You can see all the consultations the NMBA held on the Codes, as well as the feedback submitted to the consultations on the NMBA website, and guess what...there's no submission from Haycroft, so I guess he was not that concerned about the content of the Codes that he felt driven to make a submission.  You can also see various joint statements from the likes of the Australian College of Midwives and the National Rural Health Alliance that confirm that the professions value and support the new Codes.    

Thirdly, you have to be aware of the politics around the dialogue generated by Haycroft. You do have to ask who he is, what his political agenda is, and what he aims to achieve by driving story.  He is in competition with the Queensland Nurses Union, so he will see the publicity he is currently receiving as a nice piece of free marketing. Needless to say, he has been thoroughly discredited, and this story should be put to bed now!