Many for-purpose organisations aspire for their chosen innovation or initiative to secure core government funding or even become a government program. This begs the questions – what is likely to be backed by government in the first place and for the long term? And what systems and processes can you draw upon to support you along the way?
Every day, we work with impactful organisations who have brilliant ideas, solutions and services with the potential to address the wicked social problems of today and tomorrow. Many of these ideas and solutions align to government priorities, but few secure government funding. A recent Spark project with a national peak body led us to reflect upon what organisations can do to enhance their approach to, and relations with, government – and even embed their programs within government.
To get a government agency to announce your initiative as a government program, you need two things: government engagement capacity and capability; and a transition framework to get ‘government-ready’.
Government engagement capacity and capability
How you engage and partner with government is absolutely critical and its importance cannot be understated. Effectively engaging government can increase funding, enact policy and legislative change, and raise the profile of an organisation or issue.
At Spark, we break this down into a number of components, which range from strategic to tactical engagement, and ensure that framing speaks clearly to problems and solutions. In regards to the latter point, painting a clear picture of the positive outcome of your solution can be an inspiring and effective way to engage government.
So how else can not-for-profit leaders develop and strengthen relationships with government? We’ve outlined five design principles that underpin effective government engagement.
Design principle 1: Build in-house capability – this is about developing enduring relationships within your organisation, which are owned by your board, executive and team.
Design principle 2: Be a tortoise, not a hare – to see meaningful results, government engagement is a medium to long term game. Being patient is key.
Design principle 3: Ensure relevance and provide evidence – focus your approach on mutual benefit, and only share news and updates that pitches to your audience’s interests.
Design principle 4: Have a heart – remember that individual politicians and bureaucrats have their own aspirations and agendas… but that they also have feelings and families. A human gesture of sending congratulations or commiserations can go a long way.
Design principle 5: Don’t be a one man band – ensure your government relations brings in your board, executive, team and other supporters. This mitigates risks of turnover and better shares the load.
If you’d like to read more about our government engagement learnings, experience and insights, take a look at our free whitepaper.
A transition framework
Aside effective government engagement is making your initiative ‘government-ready’. This is no easy task. Governments are looking to service diverse and even disparate communities, to balance competing priorities, and to allocate limited resources effectively. They are required to align to a portfolio of policies, and they know to expect criticism regardless of whether they change or don’t change. In addition, governments often have particular bureaucracy and compliance requirements that may make them risk-averse and can prohibit innovation.
Having a framework that provides strategic and operational guidance in securing major government support is vital. This is something we often collaborate on with our clients, especially those seeking to assess a program’s readiness to be scaled into government.
We recently came across a Stanford Social Innovation Review article that outlines a great framework to support you in getting your initiative ‘government-ready’. We’ve pulled out some of the key insights and overlaid them with our own experience:
Solution design – what actually is the solution you are suggesting? Are you able to articulate it in a clear and compelling way? What is your evidence that your solution is effective and preferable to other alternatives? What is needed to manage and operate this solution, and how might these things change if the solution is run by you or by a government department? In our experience, we often find co-design to be a valuable activity in developing, reviewing and articulating a solution.
Resourcing and structure – what human, financial, technological and other resources are required to deliver the program or initiative? Do you have some or all of these in abundance? And what about the government agency you are seeking to partner more closely with? Looking at the resources in government, could some assets be substituted for others that are readily available? How might your current organisational or program structure be integrated into government? The key here is trying your darndest to understand the government perspective and resource status.
Financial management – how do government budgets and finance differ from yours? How might current program costs grow and evolve with (economies of) scale?
Policy and regulation – what are the specific laws, regulations, policies and other government mechanisms that are required to achieve the outcome you are working towards? Are these in place or do they need to change? Might they differ during a transition to government as opposed to ongoing implementation? If you’re not across how to change government instruments, it’s well worth looking into. For instance, alterations to regulations tends to only require Ministerial approval whilst legislative change needs Parliamentary approval.
As a leader looking to drive positive social change, what does all this mean for you and your organisation? We’ve outlined the five key steps that we consider to be critical in securing major government support to scale up your idea or initiative.
Step 1: Commit to a combined approach and the required resources to get your program ‘government-ready’ in conjunction with structured government engagement activities.
Step 2: Develop a government engagement strategy with consideration to the design principles we mentioned earlier.
Step 3: Determine whether your program is ‘government-ready’ by answering the questions, and work towards your idea or solution meeting all of them.
Step 4: Review whether you are ready to take your idea to government. Do you have the right skills to engage, advocate and transition? Are you able to exit gradually (and gracefully)? Have you identified and mitigated the risks? Is there appropriate funding and resourcing in place to drive success?
Step 5: Communicate. Collaborate. Review. Repeat.
We strongly believe in the power of cross-sector collaboration, be that not-for-profits partnering with the private or public sector. Our hope is that this article provides some assistance with the latter- specifically, how to navigate and more effectively engage with government.
At Spark, we work with organisations to increase their capacity and capability to engage and collaborate with government at a local, state and federal level. We assist for-purpose leaders and their organisations to embed a structural and systemic approach to government. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to chat with us about what we’ve learned about engaging government to raise awareness, change policy and legislation, or secure funding. And if you’re a previous Spark client, we’re very happy to give you a complementary assessment and initial recommendations on your government engagement approach.