At the weekend, I was one of the speakers at a session on government and society at the Emerge Conference at Said Business School, Oxford University, run by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Student Hubs. Liam Black, our panel chair asked me what my 3 tips for Social Entrepreneurs wanting to engage with Government were. I replied:
- Engage with Civil Servants, not just Ministers: Too often we can get trapped into thinking that speaking to a Minister means that our cause will be advanced by the Government. But more often than not the Minister will be involved in setting vision but not in the detailed design or implementation of individual policies. This is usually undertaken by individual Civil Servants who we should also engage with. It is now a lot easier to find out who does what in the UK Government as it has published its organisational structures, known as organograms, online. You can find them here on data.gov.uk or you can Google the Department you want to talk to with the word "organogram". With a bit of Googling and detective work you'll be able to work out what Civil Servants' email addresses are.
- Help don't hinder: As my co-panelist, Jim Robinson from the Office for Civil Society at the Cabinet Office said, Civil Servants "will bite your arm off" if you offer to provide them with information that helps them with the development of their policy, either by collaborating with them on your social innovation or by assisting them in policy formation. If however Civil Servants feel that you are solely trying to promote your cause, they'll feel lobbied and will more often than not be less inclined to engage with you. In this process, also be clear about what is your Intellectual Property and what isn't so that it isn't accidentally tendered out.
- Speak to the Opposition, other political parties and think tanks: Teach First is undoubtedly one of the UK's social innovation successes of the last decade. One of the many things that they did (and do) excellently is engage with all of the main political parties in the UK, whether they are in Government or not. One of things this has achieved is that political parties don't see Teach First as one party's toy but instead, there is cross-party consensus that Teach First is an excellent intervention in the UK education system. As well as speaking to Ministers and Civil Servants, make sure you talk to the Shadow Ministerial teams from all the main political parties. Don't worry if some of them don't agree with you, at least you know some of the arguments against what you're doing, which will help you make your case stronger. Think tanks are also a really good way of allowing you to shape Government and Opposition policy; have a look to see which think tanks are engaging in the areas you are interested in. Good think tanks on the centre-right (Conservative leaning) include Centre for Social Justice, Policy Exchange and ResPublica, on the centre-left (Labour leaning) include Demos, IPPR and it's dedicated Northern think tank IPPR North. Centre Forum is a good think tank which heavily influences Lib Dem thinking.
9:35 update: @SimonSimply has just tweeted me to suggest an excellent tip: Never raise a problem without suggesting a solution