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5 critical questions to answer in any written correspondence to a Minister

· Catriona McNaughton,Ministerial Office,Engagement,Analysis

Engaging with relevant Ministers is an important part of any advocacy initiative. It is critical to influencing government and important for building long term relationships. While writing to a Minister can seem easy, getting their attention and inspiring them to act can be difficult.

There are five key questions that any letter (or other written correspondence like emails or briefing notes) to a Minister should address.

1) Who are you and why does the issue matter to you?

Never assume that a Minister will know who you are or your relationship to an issue. Even if you are a global company with a household name, or if you regularly engage with the office, there may be a lack of understanding about your full suite of services, interests or positions or your letter may be forwarded to someone without the right context. Making it clear who you are, how you relate to the issue and your intentions is important for building relationships, trust and understanding and provides context for the letter and asks.

2) What is the specific issue?

There are a number of challenges facing any Minister, most of which they will be well aware. Writing to a Health Minister to tell them that health is underfunded is not likely to be new information or to get their attention. The more specific you are in highlighting the issue want to change, the more you will stand out and the better chance you have of drawing their attention.

3) What is the solution?

Asking a busy Ministerial office to solve a problem that they have only just become aware of is unlikely to gain traction/secure action. Instead, letters should be phrased in terms of offering practical solutions based on your experience and understanding of the issue. When a reasonable solution is presented in a concise way, it makes the issue much harder to ignore. It is also the foundation for developing a strong relationship because you become a trusted ally rather than an annoyance.

4) What do you want them to do (now)?

Good solutions usually take time and you are unlikely to resolve all of your problems through a single letter. Break the solution into manageable and reasonable steps and ask for one step at a time. Large problems can be overwhelming, but a single meeting about a practical solution is more manageable. Providing a lot of information can be helpful, but in itself will be unlikely to result in progress without a clear action. The last thing you want is to build support for your cause and have it wasted because they don’t know what to do next. A simple and direct ask can be easily managed by a busy office and saves them trying to interpret next steps. Be considerate of competing demands and allow time between your letter of engagement and further action.

5) Can they do it (and should they)?

Take the time to understand the policy, structure and political context of your issue and the relationship that the Minister has to it. For example, if you are writing to a state Minister about a Federal issue you should be asking for something different than writing about an issue in their patch. The state Minister may be able to advocate for the issue, but they will not be able to resolve it. It is also important to consider whether your ask is realistic, within the scope of similar decisions and likely to received significant support or criticism. If you have a problem that affects less than 1% of the industry and will cost more than the full current government investment in that industry, it may be worth reconsidering how to solve the problem. Equally, if you have a problem that affects 100% of the industry, have you clearly articulated this?

FPL Advisory is a team of specialists resolving risks and creating opportunities with respect to government. We work with public sector and corporate clients to execute strategies for owning and managing change