by | Mar 28, 2022

Why a voice inside Whitehall matters for campaigners

Campaigning for social change is a vital part of the work of UK charities.

It is fundamental to the sector that they have a voice on the issues that affect them and the people they represent – to create debate around issues, to call out unfairness, to demand policy change, and to hold the government to account. Charities ensure the voices of the community are heard, often those who are most disadvantaged. And polls show that the public are widely accepting of a campaigning role, with 58%, in a 2014 opinion poll by NFP Synergy saying that charities should be able to campaign to change laws and policies relevant to their causes. It also showed that 96% of people didn’t see campaigning as a reason not to give money to a charity.

Many organisations have great relationships with those in Parliament – not least through monitoring and lobbying on legislation, All Party Parliamentary Groups, backbench groups and other shared areas of interest. But less clear is how much effort the sector puts into its relationships with Whitehall – with key civil servants and with government. It may feel that when campaigning against government policy it’s not possible to have these communications open, but we would assert that organisations should work just as hard on developing relationships with key movers and shakers across Whitehall. These will often be ‘back channels’ and not for public consumption but they are excellent for impacting thinking.

Here’s some things to consider:

  • Civil servants need interactions and expertise from the outside world – as they develop policy, they benefit from as wide a range as possible of views and suggestions, as well as real-life experience on how different elements might impact the policy 
  • Offering to support and assist the development of policy is a key opportunity – you won’t always get everything you want but you could just make the difference somewhere
  • Data and insight is key – government departments won’t have commissioned research in every area of public life – you have the opportunity to share your findings and this gives you permission to also express a view
  • Ministers like to get out and about – have you got projects or activities they can visit which chime with their policy priorities?
  • Special Advisers are extremely influential – think about how you might connect with them or at least ensure you are communicating with them over your issues.

You also need to think about these three things:

  • Find the right people – do your research to find out who the relevant folks in Whitehall are and cultivate your relationships, remembering this could take time
  • Get your message right – be open, honest, and offer to help
  • Get your timing right – consider the political cycle and what issues are most important to the government and at what time.

Whitehall may feel a little less accessible than Parliament but, a bit of persistence and the right approach, could bring you huge benefits.Find out more about how Whitehall works and who the key players are by joining SMK’s three-hour, online Influencing Whitehall and Parliament workshop. The workshop is for participants to hear from insiders in the central government machine, who draw on personal experience of working in Parliament, No.10 and Whitehall, all pivotal to the policy-making and legislative process, to help you understand how central government works, and how you can go about influencing it.

To find out more and book your place, click here.

Co-authored by Jo Gibbons and Deb Hermer – SMK Associates

Jo Gibbons

Jo Gibbons is an SMK Associate.

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