Advocacy from the Receiver's End

Most of my experience as one of the lobbied has of course been as a member of Parliament. But I'm sure the key points to make about lobbying are pretty much universal, whether we're talking about local politicians, local or national government officials, other relevant organisations, or even to some degree the media.

Probably the simplest and most useful way to approach the topic is to look at what is good effective lobbying.

The first point to make is don't assume that the person you're lobbying knows nearly as much about the subject as you do. And don't assume that some of the words that you may use necessarily mean the same to the people you are lobbying. Words can be slippery creatures, so be sure you are speaking the same language.

If I were one of a team of local councillors being lobbied, say, to establish a cycle lane along a certain stretch of road, I'd want information on a whole range of things.

What is a cycle lane?

First I'd want to know precisely what you wanted:

  • what do you mean by a cycle lane?
  • are you wanting a margin of the existing road to be separated by a painted line?
  • do you want barriers between the road and the lane?
  • are you talking about a lane totally separated from the road?
  • where, exactly, does the lane begin and end?

Why do you want this lane?

If it is a safety issue, I'd like the see the record of accidents along this stretch of road. I'd also like to hear any anecdotal evidence relating to safety - the near misses and so on (but keep it brief).

Is there statistical evidence from other parts of the country or overseas that demonstrates that the type of lane you are talking about reduces accidents?

How do I know these accidents can't be prevented through other, cheaper means, such as reducing the speed limit along that stretch of road?

If you want a separate lane simply because it makes cycling that much more pleasant, that's fine. But do others share your view?

What support do you have for your proposal?

I'd want to know what evidence you have to show your proposal is well supported by the community.

You can add considerable weight to your proposal when you can show widespread support. This will involve lobbying other organisations and community groups before lobbying at the political level.

Support demonstrated through public meetings or petitions can be useful. Or it might be easier logistically to get endorsement for your proposal from other organisations.

Any number of organisations might be willing to sign up to the establishment of a cycle lane. For example, organisations linked with safety and injury prevention, environmental groups, those concerned with promoting exercise and good health. Who knows, you might even get a tick from the Heart Foundation.

Then there are local residents and any establishments along the route that may see benefits of a cycle lane, especially if they include a school or an employer of large numbers of workers.

Budget matters

As we all know, politicians - whether local or national - do not have access to unlimited budgets. They have to balance budgets against competing demands. They will want to know why money spent on your project should have priority over other proposals.

They may need to hear the arguments - not just to be convinced themselves of the merit of your proposal, but also in order to convince their colleagues who collectively make the decisions.

If you can demonstrate widespread support for your proposal, then you've got a head start. Nevertheless, you could strengthen your case if you had some idea about the ballpark costs involved in your proposal and what could offset those costs.

For example, the establishment of a cycle lane in this particular stretch of road may not only increase use of cycles but may help to reduce traffic. If there is evidence to show this from experience elsewhere, then put it forward. The internet is a wonderful resource in this respect.

This may mean less congestion in the city centre, less need, perhaps, for that planned multi-million dollar bypass - whatever.

How would a lane fit in with current plans?

It would be useful to know how your proposal fitted in with the local authority's vision for transport and the environment. If it complemented that vision, then that's another point in your favour. But you will need to state that explicitly. Don't assume that it is acknowledged.

Also, check you as much as you can the position of the people you are lobbying have taken on matters relating to cycle facilities in the past. Get an idea of where their sympathies lie.

Compromise plan

It would be prudent also to consider some acceptable compromises, should your initial proposal get turned down. For example, you might be able to compromise on the type of cycle lane, or you could look at a longer timeframe for establishing the lane.

Perhaps it could be established gradually, in sections, over a number of years. You will need to be clear about what your priorities are.


All of this means there is a lot of homework to be done. Once you've done your homework, the next step is to look at how you are going to present it.


At this point it's handy to remember that the person or people you are lobbying most likely spend their days hopping from one issue to another, often from one place to another.

If they are politicians, they will probably be on the receiving end of an endless stream of faxes, letters, emails, newspaper clippings, internal memos and telephone calls.

So while on the one hand your task is to fully inform, it is important that your presentation is short and snappy. This might sound a little contradictory, but you might also be surprised at how, with a little work, you can hone down a lot of vital information into a few paragraphs.

At the meeting

Before you arrange to meet the people you are lobbying, send a succinct letter outlining your proposal and why it's so good that they would be crazy to turn it down. The meeting itself will then be so much easier.

To start with, it gives them an opportunity to get a briefing on the issues from their officials, and time to think it through. (Give them a few weeks if you can.)

It also means you don't have to waste time at the meeting starting from square one; rather, you are reinforcing and perhaps clarifying the points already made in your letter.

It's usually a good idea to leave them something that sums up the points you have discussed. You don't have to load them up with reels of paper and reports. But you should have any relevant documents on hand and explain that they are available on request.

Remember, you'll probably just get half an hour to convince the people you are lobbying that your proposal is a great idea. Once you've negotiated that hurdle, you can deal with more of the specifics, as need be, later.


Plan for the follow-up

If you can, leave the people you are lobbying with some action to undertake. And keep the channels of communication open, even if you haven't initially achieved what you wanted.

Follow up your meeting with a thank you note or phone call. Forward any information on request. Don't plague them with phone calls but keep in touch.

There is of course a lot more that could be said about effective lobbying. When you go along to meet someone, don't overwhelm them with lots of people - make sure that everyone has a task or role.

If the message is complicated, or if the task of persuasion is hard, then meet and do a dry run beforehand.

I could give you many more practical tips but Labour's Christchurch Central MP Tim Barnett has already done the work for me by producing a very informative resource document called "Political Lobbying".

It covers the sort of issues that I've covered today, plus much more. I'm sure Tim would be happy to provide anyone with a copy on request.

Don't give up! Every conversation you have raises our awareness. Talk to us as if it's the first time you've presented the issues. And good luck with your lobbying.