Impact Practitioners

Three steps to fruitful communication with policymakers

By 29/12/2022

This 8-page academic paper by researchers Paul Cairney and Richard Kwiatkowski presents a three-step strategy to help you communicate with policymakers more effectively. The authors argue that researchers often hold policymakers to impossible information processing standards when trying to influence policies. But like all people, policymakers have limits on the amount of information they can digest and understand. 

Step one: understand your audience and tailor your response
To increase your chances of influencing policymakers, make sure your evidence is synthesised and isn’t overly complicated. Use simple language and minimise the irrelevant details. Do not use academic jargon. 

Make your content engaging, use both words and visuals and present the materials more than once while giving specific examples and asking for feedback. Remember that the information you mention at the beginning or at the end of a presentation is more likely to be recalled. If you surprise your audience with something unusual, it becomes more memorable. 

Additionally, analyse the way you frame your messages. Effective framing will help policymakers to understand why they should pay attention to a specific problem and attract them to demand more evidence. Simply put, strategic storytelling is much more effective than expecting your evidence to speak for itself. 

Step two: understand the role of timing and identify ‘windows of opportunity’

Timing is important when it comes to influencing. First, you need to know when the political conditions are right for a policy change. During this ‘window of opportunity’, the attention to a problem rises and you have the chance to provide policymakers with solutions: this improves the chances of the evidence being used. 

Second, you need to find the right moment to influence an individual policymaker, based on their current way of thinking. For example, you can more easily influence them if you awaken their emotional interest in the matter through powerful storytelling

Step three: engage with real-world policymaking 

Don’t wait for the perfect moment in the policy cycle to present your evidence and research. Instead, immediately build relationships in the policymaking network and foster an open culture based on trust and collective work. The more you know about the internal groupings and alliances inside the institution the better. Evidence on its own will have little impact unless you know where, when and with whom to engage. 

Overall, Cairney and Kwiatkowski recommend that you view the world through the eyes of policymakers and understand the context in which their decision making takes place.  This will help you to prepare an effective communication strategy enabling you to engage positively with policymakers.

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.

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