Lobbying in the digital era
Updated: Feb 16, 2021
by Wouter Lox,Secretary General at AIJN
Digital advocacy is much more than just sending emails, posting tweets, or retweets, having zoom-meetings, or some contributions on LinkedIn. The question for today is: has advocacy and lobbying really changed, and how is the future looking post-COVID?
Advocacy has always been a planned campaign that is organized, structured, systematic, and data-driven. COVID and digitalization have not changed the core. What has changed might be just the tools and the means, but advocacy stays remains a well-elaborated campaign, data-driven, based on intelligence, measurable, and flexible to adapt to unforeseen developments as COVID.
Digitalization has also proven to provide some opportunities to be able to extend the network for meeting institutions as we search for the smart mix of limited in-person meetings, video-conferencing, social media, WhatsApp, etc. Digital advocacy does not augment the number of meetings but only replaces the face-to-face meeting, and meeting opportunities will only be granted, as in the past, either on the relevance of the subject or the stage of the consultations.
Even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, it will remain much more difficult to meet with policymakers in person. Virtual might become the new reality, so it is better for this to be considered and implemented in the planning and advocacy campaigns. If you have not yet built your network, one of the most important strategies to impact policy decisions, this virtual world will not ease the contacts.
Difficult might be the building of advocacy coalitions and alliances as it involves issuing joint statements on the same issue and coordinating advocacy work. The process to align the coalition partners might be impeded by the impossibility to meet and align the different workflows and procedures each coalition partner is accustomed to. This might be even more difficult when creating particular coalitions including NGOs and business associations. Coordinating with partners in the context of a coalition will be impeded by not being able to meet in person and aligning workflows. Building trust between partners with sometimes very diverging positions and interests might be impeded through the new digital channel.
Considering the effects of this extra digital clutter, communicating with the audience a priority is critical. Cadence, volume, and the targeting of information are important in communicating campaigns to the public. The outreach, even privately to some stakeholders, might be helping to initiate the contacts but will it replace the meetings we previously had?
Planning is everything. A public affairs plan rooted in scientific, evidence-based, and practical insights is essential for any organization to prevail in its competitive battles for policy influence, and COVID or digitalization have not changed this. Digital advocacy is still largely supporting traditional engagement strategies and tactics. A crisis can always emerge and COVID is not an exception, rather a factor to be always taken into consideration in the future. It is questionable if the current set-up of Associations can still provide flexibility and agility to leverage new digital trends as they emerge. Further, do we have the appropriate skills inhouse to shift to these new trends? The agility of the Association to adapt will decide whether the Association is fit for the future or its existence is doomed to fade away into the archives of the "Brussels bubble".
The article contributed by Wouter Lox to ESAE's 2020 white paper, "The Association of the Future".