Tips for advocating with MPs
Advocacy and lobbying Members of Parliament (MPs) is not a science. There are many factors, some unforeseen, that can lead to successful advocacy outcomes. Cancer Council NSW (CCNSW) want to contribute to the conversation and influence decision making to reduce the impact of cancer. To achieve this we need partnerships and relationships across community, including government and Members of Parliament (MPs), built on trust.
While advocacy is not a science, there are many resources available that can provide valuable pointers on how to advocate effectively. The Policy and Advocacy team have compiled the following information on how to foster a good working relationship with MPs. These ‘handy hints’ are based on feedback from MPs* and a combined 50years policy and advocacy experience working at Cancer Council NSW and in other organisations and government.
Handy tips to effectively engage with your MP
First things first
- Get to know your MP. The NSW Parliament website is a great place to start. parliament.nsw.gov.au There is an abundance of resources on all MPs across the state as well as links to further information, including MP biographies and inaugural speeches. Research recent media statements. View social media accounts and follow, where appropriate. The aim is to build knowledge on MP interests and priorities and to understand how to approach cancer issues with them.
- Know your issue! This does not mean you need to be an expert; however, you need to talk to the issue with confidence. If you are representing Cancer Council NSW, you will be provided with relevant documents and information from a state perspective. In discussion with local staff, try and understand what the local impacts are of the current policy and the likely benefits with proposed changes to policy. Find out what the position of the MP’s party is on the issue? Who opposes our position, why and what is our response to the opposition? Does your MP oppose our position? Why and what would convince them to change their mind?
- Build a relationship. Make contact regularly, not just when you want something. Make the content relevant to the MP’s interest or the communities they represent. MPs are busy people so try and be flexible and accommodating with timing and locations of meetings. If you cannot meet with the MP, be willing to meet with electorate staff instead. Be clear and specific about the reason for contact – some examples include:
“I would like your support for ….”
“I know that you’re interested in obesity in children. New research on the issue has found that …”
“COVID has impacted on Cancer Council’s ability to transport cancer patients in the region. This could mean higher costs for cancer patients in the area….”
“I understand that you’re interested in the issue of e-cigarettes. I wanted to update you on the latest advocacy efforts…”
Or change in service or new research that will impact or benefit the MPs constituent “I would like to let you know that our new support service will help cancer patients in your area….”
Always be prepared
- Be confident. Understand your own motivations for doing this work and your personal story. What makes you most comfortable in attending these meetings? Do you need someone else to attend with you? Are you comfortable talking about your story in front of other people? Have you practiced talking about your story? Do you need to practice before you meet with an MP? Finding the answers to these questions is best done prior to meeting with an MP.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Create a one-page summary of all the information that you want to present to the MP. Even if you have been provided with a document to give to the MP it is good practice to provide an overall summary for yourself, in your own words. What is the issue? What are the state statistics? local statistics? Do you have a local story from someone in the electorate to explain the human impact of the current policy and what the benefits are for the proposed policy? Have you met with this person? Have you heard their story firsthand? Is there new evidence? Has the MP done any work on this issue that you need to acknowledge? Remember, only provide information from reputable sources.
- Be clear. Clearly and concisely talk about your issue and why you want the politician to change the policy. This is where your prior research and practice will pay off. Be aware of the time you have for the meeting and allow time for the MP to ask questions, time for general discussion, and for the MP to raise other issues with you. However, its important to stay focused on the issue you are there for. If questions are raised that are not relevant to the issue let the MP know that you will find further information and get back to them, then bring the conversation back to the topic.
- Discuss! This is a two-way conversation. Ask the politician what they think of the proposed change to policy. Do they agree or disagree? Do they agree with what you want them to do about it? Is this issue relevant and important to them at this time? Again, it’s important to stay focused on the issue including when discussing any opposition to our advocacy position. Also, remember to only talk to points that are supported by evidence. If you are unsure of any questions raised by an MP let them know you will get back to them with the correct information.
Remember to say thank you
- Provide a summary. End by thanking the MP for their time and letting them know that you will send through any additional or follow up information that was discussed. Provide a concise one-page document summarising the issue – this should be the formal document and not the summary that you created for yourself at point 5.
- Email follow up. Provide additional information requested by the MP including further information on concerns or queries raised during the meeting. A note or email to say thank you will always be appreciated by the MP and their staff. If an MP has participated in fundraising activities, in addition to thanking them, follow up with information on how much was raised and what the fundraising money will be used for, especially how the money raised will help the MPs constituents.
- Electoral staff. Always include electoral staff in acknowledgement of the support of the MP.
The purpose of this document is to provide you with some helpful hints on how to engage with MPs. How you work with your MP will very much depend on the individual characteristics of your MP, the party they represent, and the constituents they represent. Effective relationship building and advocacy is often an organic process and opportunistic. However, like any professional and personal relationship, sustainable relationships are based on some key principles including:
- Respect and empathy,
- Integrity and honesty,
- Evidence based,
- Positivity and authenticity, and
- Fair, balanced and non-partisan.
By staying true to our mission and values, we can demonstrate to MPs that we are trusted partners in service to their communities.
*Feedback from MPs refers to information from Survey of Politicians’ Lobbying Preferences (2006) Committee Bulletin and Ten top tips for engaging with politicians (2012) by Emily Murray.