It’s all very well knowing that there’s something you want to change, but how do you actually go about making that change? Whether it’s a change in the law, or a change in policy, understanding how that change might happen and who you should talk to about it is crucial. It can also feel like you have a huge challenge ahead of you – even getting started can feel intimidating. In this blog, Helen Mary Jones, Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales shares her advice for anyone – whether an individual or a community – wanting to influence decision makers and change the law or policy to make things better.
Identify the decision maker you need to influence
This will depend on who is responsible for what you want to change. If there’s a problem with a local park, the local council will be responsible, so you need to be contacting the Councillor in charge of parks. Something that’s not working in your school could be raised with the head teacher or the school governors, or might need to be raised with the education committee in the County Council. If there’s a bigger issue you want to address, you may need to be approaching the Welsh Government, or even the UK Government. You might need to approach your Assembly Member or Member of Parliament as your representative.
You may not always be able to approach the decision maker directly, but he or she will be influenced by individuals and organisations, perhaps a committee which supports him or her in decision making. Do your research and try and establish not only who the decision maker is who can get things changed, but who the decision maker listens to.
Find out what the decision maker already thinks
It’s helpful to know if the person you need to influence is likely to support your case or not. This is something you need to take account of when you’re building your case. You may be able to ask a committee member, or take a look at someone‘s voting record or the written questions they have asked in the Assembly or UK Parliament.
Build relationships as early as possible and think about what you can offer in return for help/support
If it’s got to the stage where you know that something needs to be done, and perhaps you’re starting to research it in more detail, it’s a good idea to engage with the decision maker (or the person you’ve identified as influencing the decision maker) early on. That way, once you’re ready to make your case, you will already have a relationship with that person. Perhaps you’re holding an open day or a fundraising event. Invite that person (or people) you think will be able to help you along – remember that often, the people you will need to have ‘onside’ will be glad of the opportunity to meet with members of the community and to perhaps get some publicity for him or herself.
Work out who else is on your side
Allies are always helpful. Work out who might also be interested in supporting the change you want, and get them on board to support you. There may be something that you can do to help them – working together can cement relationships within the community not just on your particular issue but more widely.
Identify who may not support you
Inevitably there will be some people and organisations that do not agree with you, and may oppose your proposals. It may be that this comes from misunderstanding, so talking to people who object to your campaign may neutralise the objection. It’s always better to try and bring people together working to a common aim, but there may be cases where you can’t achieve this. If this happens, be prepared to stand up for your campaign and if necessary, take steps to discredit your objectors. Your research may have given you powerful evidence to help you – don’t be afraid to use it.
Use research and evidence to get people to listen to you
However important your issue is to you, you won’t convince a decision maker to do anything about it without some solid evidence to support the changes you are asking for. You need to research the issue on different levels – who else is affected? Is it more than one section of the community? What’s the impact, both short and long term – of what’s happening? How does it affect other people for example families, friends? What would change mean? Once you’ve done your research, gather together the evidence in a way that’s easy to understand.
You may not be the first person to bring up the problem that you’ve identified, and the decision makers may already know about it. If you can come up with a possible solution to the problem – one that’s supported by evidence – it makes the job a whole lot easier. You may not have all the details, but even an outline solution is better than simply presenting a problem and asking the question “What are you going to do about it?”
Be realistic about what you want to achieve and your timelines
Set clear goals and objectives throughout the project. Even if you don’t ultimately get the law/policy changed, you will still have achieved a huge amount and raised the profile of the issue that’s concerning you, and you should celebrate this. It can take a long time to change the law too. Breaking your objectives down into achievable targets will help you see results as you go.
Be specific about what you want the decision maker to do
Whether you want someone to write a letter, to make a speech, to introduce a private members’ bill, attend a function, be specific.
Use stories to bring your issue to life
Evidence, facts and figures are important to back up your case for change, but it’s the stories of the individuals who are affected that will really hit home and win the argument for you.
Be creative in how you present your issue
Thinking about how you present the issue and the solution you’ve come up with can also be a challenge. Make sure written documents are easy to read, short and snappy. If you can come up with a really creative way to get your message across, so much the better – remember it doesn’t have to be in writing, either!
Don’t unnecessarily irritate the people you are asking for help
Sounds obvious but making sure you’re always polite and respectful when talking to the decision maker or other influencers is a must. It can help to understand the culture of the organisation you are trying to influence too. Think about what would be appropriate to wear for any meetings.
Don’t be afraid to follow up on promises that are made
If the decision maker or influencer you are speaking to promises to deliver something, you can hold them to account. Remember that you’re not being a nuisance – the individual will have agreed to help you because they think they can make an impact and will want to do something positive. So if they haven’t done what they said that would do, follow it up – appropriately! And if what was promised doesn’t materialise, don’t be afraid to escalate it to someone else explaining that the situation is.
Changing the law or a policy approach can take time – the wheels of government, local and national, can turn slowly so you’ll need patience and persistence to see results. At the same time, don’t be disheartened – there are many examples of when young people acted together and changed the law in Wales – and your change could be next!