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?