2. Developing an engagement strategy to influence policy

2.6 Write your engagement strategy

You should now be able to begin to write your full engagement strategy. This will set out:

  • Your policy-influencing objective(s) (Step 1);
  • The forces for and against change (Step 1) and your theory of how change will happen (Step 3);
  • The outcomes you would expect, like and love to see (Step 2);
  • The communications activities you will undertake to achieve them (Step 4);
  • Your communications strategy (Step 4);
  • The resources available to you to implement your engagement strategy.

Wider issues to consider when formulating a strategy

ROMA helps develop the broad outlines of your engagement strategy. But there are a few wider issues to consider.

Be careful with political players. Those pursuing change are often urged to identify champions, brokers or policy entrepreneurs. These types of people are said to be influential within policy circles, highly supportive of a particular proposal, willing to take ideas forward to decision-makers and able to translate and spread them through networking. These people may well exist, but we offer a few words of warning. In some very fluid political contexts, it may be difficult for political actors to remain wedded to specific policy issues: what they say formally may well differ from what they think informally. Individual actors may have very little real power when leadership is distributed widely among a large group of people.

There are many other players. Given the politicisation of the civil service in many contexts, commentators and practitioners advise that, in order to work with public agencies in the long term, it is better to target and build relationships with second- or third-tier officials. These will be the ones to survive any cuts and are also the ones who possess the institutional memory that always strongly influences decisions and implementation. However, this is highly context-specific: in some countries, these officials simply do not have the political power to make decisions so your efforts can often yield few results.

Identify how to influence actors indirectly. In situations where you cannot directly influence an actor, you need to determine who you can influence who will in turn influence that actor. Identifying existing coalitions or networks, building them and finding common areas of interests with such actors will be crucial. Being a member of certain existing networks may boost practitioners’ credibility.

Interactions between different actors affect behaviour. As OM shows, one person’s behaviour (or an organisation’s behaviour) may be influenced by the calculation about the likely strategy of others. Personal and professional decisions are generally related to decisions taken by those around them and interactions between actors play an important role in the determination of policy outcomes. Those pursuing change need to recognise they may be influenced by others, even those who are not directly part of the change process.

Organisation type will shape your approach. Factors that will shape the approach taken will include the type of organisation you work for. For instance, a research centre is unlikely to want to organise a public demonstration (but this does not mean it cannot go into coalition with an activist organisation willing to do so). The approach taken will likely evolve depending on the target stakeholders’ response to successive efforts. For instance, at first you may engage in closed-door meetings where research findings are shared (an inside-track approach). If you feel there is little response, you may decide that going through the media may pressure policy-makers into considering your proposal more seriously. This will differ from context to context. In some contexts, you may be censured for appearing confrontational; in others, your issue will not be taken seriously unless it is the focus of media attention.