Social media is often dismissed by “serious lobbyists”. Why go public when you can go to the opera? Of course, this is rubbish. It’s key to modern public affairs – and an open democracy that people understand and have the ability to campaign.
Look at Spartacus. Spartacus became well-known in political circles in January 2012 after months of careful planning by this small group of disabled people came to fruition with the publication of their first report – Responsible Reform.
Copies landed on the desks of members of the House of Lords who, later that week, would be debating and voting for amendments to the controversial Welfare Reform Act.
The contents – a damning, evidence-based account of the mishandling of the consultation and subsequent reform of the Disability Living Allowance – went viral on Twitter for a week, with celebrities and big political hitters joining thousands of others all tweeting their support for the #spartacusreport. Unfortunately, whilst the Lords took note and voted to amend some key aspects of the welfare Reform Bill the amendments were overturned the following week in the Commons.
This was interesting. Spartacus enabled many disabled people to have a voice. From home they could, collectively, shape the political discourse. A few hundred people could band together and enlist thousands of supporters – imagine the Chartists if they had have had access to this kind of technology.
Another report has been released – by the indomitable Spartacus Network, looking at the implementation of ESA reform and the Work Programme. Spartacus II has been lauded in many policymaking circles. It’s good lobbying. The report is stellar; not so much a campaign document as a serious piece of research. The evidence gathering, international review of alternative welfare to work and labour market models and subsequent analysis of the findings – with supplementary appendices – are something one might see from an academic research unit or Cabinet Office wonks.
The presentation is compelling, yet sober. It avoids hyperbole or damning indictments in favour of evidence-based identification of problems and – crucially – potential solutions to them.
It doesn’t simply articulate a problem and propose the undoing of legislation or a policy U-turn as a response. It is not crying out ‘stop the cuts!’. It makes sensible, workable, sometimes costed recommendations that would make ESA and the Work Programme more efficient.
In an era of Open Policy Making, such research – which includes gathering the insights of 1,200 people with direct experience of the ESA process and welfare to work – should be seen as a gift to the Government in providing a range of policy suggestions to improve welfare to work support, suggested by disabled people themselves.
Spartacus II is leading the way in evidence-based campaigning. Rather than simply opposing change, Spartacus is working within the constraints of the new regime and suggesting interim changes and longer term reforms to improve efficiency. It even suggests where the money might come from to pay for some of the small but important investments it recommends.
As the report explains, ‘It is easy to produce a report which merely criticises the status quo, and much harder to propose solutions. Some may be obvious, but others require imagination and ambition.’
Where is the corporate world on this? Nowhere. Lobbying by corporates is often conducted in isolation, in silos, where companies and trade associations rarely talk to others, rarely think about the design principles of legislation and almost never have a research base.
At Keene, we’re developing social lobbying; getting data, trying to help clients to look at that data and build a case, using comparisons – where possible and build a new relationship between companies and government. Typically campaigning organisations have been dismissed as not being serious, made a big noise and faded slowly into the distance. Spartacus has done something new here. Making a bold and brave call to action amongst the powerful from those in a position of weakness. It is particularly powerful that this call is made by a group of disabled people, on behalf of thousands of disabled people. In writing a constructive report, with detailed and large-scale evidence, Spartacus has made the first move. How will the Government respond?
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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