The benefits of civil society for Bahrain and for you
What is lobbying?
Lobbying means persuading individuals or groups with decision-making power to support a position which you believe is right.
Lobbying means attempting to influence business and government leaders to create legislation or conduct an activity that will help a particular organizations further its own interest or inhibit those of opponents; or arguing an individual’s or organization’s point of view.
Why does lobbying have such a bad reputation?
Most of the time what we hear about lobbying comes from the United States where the gun lobby opposes sensible measures to limit gun ownership; the “Zionist lobby” urges unconditional support for Israel; and big business lobbies pressure politicians in support of their agendas.
The intensity of lobbying varies from place to place. Lobbying by powerful interests is sadly inevitable in a capitalist society. Economic interest has always ruled the world.
We can probably agree that much of this lobbying is bad; but does that mean that all lobbying is harmful? Not necessarily. The problem is that some entities have the resources and the connections which allow them to have too much influence.
For example, in the Arab world certain political Islamist groups use their contacts, their money and their influence with the public to put pressure on politicians to block legislation or support laws with an Islamic social agenda. These groups are also using many of the techniques of lobbying in a different context.
Maybe the problem is that many of the societies and groups with an agenda that is in the public interest have not been effective enough in lobbying their governments.
Where are the groups lobbying for support for the disabled; women’s rights; greater political transparency and action against corruption; social freedoms; and better standards of living? Perhaps if groups like this became more effective at lobbying in favour of these agendas then we would all see the benefits.
In most Western political systems there are now strict rules governing lobbying: Lobby organizations have to publically declare which organizations they are acting for and politicians often have to disclose meetings with lobbyists and declare sources of campaign funding or gifts.
How can civil society groups make use of the techniques of lobbying?
Lobbying can be used to persuade politicians or others with power and influence to support your organisation’s position. So you can lobby those in a position of power and influence to act in support of the needs and interests of those who do not enjoy direct power and influence.
Building relationships: Lobbying is all about relationships with the right organizations and institutions. Is your NGO interacting with MPs, government departments and other public bodies with an interest in your agenda? If not, why not?
Politicians are not the enemy: Do not start by going on the attack. Aim to persuade and win support. How can politicians look good and gain credit by supporting your agenda?
Using the media: It is easier than you might think to get articles published in the media or to get media coverage of your activities. Media coverage means public attention, as well as bringing your agenda to the attention of decision-makers.
Representation in events: Ensure that your organization always gets the opportunity to speak and participate in major events where key figures will be present. Be clear about what you want to say and what impact you want to have.
Presenting your case: It is important to identify other stakeholders whose co-operation or influence you need. Visit them and have a well-prepared presentation to argue your case. Try and agree about areas of common interest for pursuing your agenda.
Social media: Many of us are comfortable with Twitter and Facebook, but are we using social media in a way which raises awareness and encourages debate about the issues we care about?
Instead of complaining that other groups are unfairly lobbying in support of their own interests, we should learn how political lobbying is effected, so as to ensure that the issues we care about are represented. If you can’t beat them – join them!
ABC of civil society