When you’re trying to change what government is doing… the first step should always be political.
So you’ve identified that you have problem. The issue requires government involvement. Once you have decided that you need to negotiate with the government on the matter, you’ll have to begin the process of trying to initiate a meeting with the appropriate government official. One of the first questions you’ll have to answer is who do you meet?
We typically start with the political side. And we don’t recommend trying to “start at the top” by trying to arrange a meeting with the Minister. Ministers are deluged with requests for meetings so, if your issue is urgent, going for the Minister is a non-starter. And Ministers are also surrounded by people who are dedicated to protecting the boss from surprises.
Politicians (and their staff) hate surprises, so your aim when you make contact is to make it very clear that – far from intending to spring anything on the government – you’re looking for advice. And your search for advice should start with a telephone call to the Executive Assistant of Chief of Staff for the Minister involved.
The majority of your negotiations should be with political staff. The Executive Assistant (chief of staff) typically oversees all the issues in the Ministry. If he/she doesn’t work with you directly on your issue, they will forward you to the political staffer in the Ministry that is in charge of the file. And when we talk about “the political level” we include:
- Executive Assistant (Chief of Staff)
- Senior Policy Advisors Responsible for Your Issue
- Parliamentary Assistant
- M.P.P. in your Riding
- Deputy Minister
- Assistant Deputy Minister
In many cases, you may be able to resolve your issue without ever involving the Minister, by working through his/her staff, you’ll make it clear that you’re working for a “win-win” solution. That makes everyone – political staffers and bureaucrats alike – much more likely to give you a fair hearing and work with you for a solution.
Securing the Meeting: Five Things You Should Know!
1. Call and Ask
The best way to initiate a meeting is to call the Ministry and request to meet with the Executive Assistant. The Minister’s office is very busy, and 95% of the time you can expect a voice mail. Don’t be worried if you don’t get a response right away. We typically follow up every two days. You also shouldn’t get frustrated if you get voice mail. When initiating a meeting, our office has become “voice mail specialists.
2. Remember -- Persistence is the Key.
Persistence will get you the meeting. Make sure that even though you’re frustrated, it doesn’t show in your voice. Policy Advisors have to meet with various stakeholders. It is the one part of the job that they often identify as difficult and uncomfortable.
3.Check your Belligerence at the Door.
It can be frustrating trying to make contact and arrange that first meeting: after all, your issue is important to you. But the people you’re calling are typically juggling dozens of issues that are important to dozens of people. Be pleasant and make it easy for them to talk to you. In a short discussion with one of the Policy Advisors from the Ministry of Labour, she shared a story about one of her more belligerent interest group and how she responded to their request to meet:
|After I finished crying, I sent an e-mail to everyone in the office. I laid out in my e-mail all the things I was willing to do if someone would go in my place. I didn’t get any willing volunteers: I did get a whole lot of sympathy though. I finally met with this group, but I tried every delaying tactic in the book before agreeing."|
In short, government is run by people who have feelings like everyone else. Taking a belligerent approach won’t get you very far. So, make it clear you’re not trying to bully or pressure anyone. Sometimes, if careful negotiations fail to yield results, it can become necessary to try to put pressure on governments – but that’s risky, and it’s certainly no way to start your efforts to find solutions. So, when leaving a message requesting to meet, make sure to detail your needs. The most effective way to initiate the meeting is to indicate that you are looking for a meeting to “seek advice”: not to make any demands.
4. Follow Up Your Telephone Call With A Request in Writing
Bureaucracies both run on paper, and risk being buried under paper. That’s why you should be prepared to make your request in writing, but make it brief. Try to keep it to one page. You may one break it down in terms of:
- Your Organization (who you serve, type of business, etc)
- Your Issue (2- 3 lines)
- Location of the Meeting and Time
5. Continue Following Up Until You Get Your Meeting
We make additional polite telephone calls every two days. We ask if there is more information they’d like to make it easier to schedule the meeting. We offer to be available at their convenience, but we don’t go away. The key to setting a meeting is to be persistent and very polite!
So – what do you do once you’ve secured your first meeting?
That’s where the process of building
the relationships, gathering the information and laying the basis for
negotiations really begins.
If you’re interested in talking about how that works, please call us at 416-723-4499.