This Lobbying Playbook is by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Australia CCL. The CCL is a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organisation focused on national policies to address climate change.
This guide useful for anyone who is new to lobbying and wants to learn more.
Note: The Commons has edited the original guide to be applicable to all issues. Here is the original guide with references to climate change and the CCL.
What is Lobbying?
Lobbying is about making friends with people in power. Lobbying isn’t as hard as it might seem…Anyone can meet leaders and other citizens.
- It doesn’t require any special skills
- You’re already completely qualified to lobby by being part of a democracy!
- You can lobby other people like you, business and community leaders, or politicians
- We always lobby in teams so we can learn from each other
New to Lobbying?
Everyone’s new to lobbying to start with! Citizen lobbying is a bit of a lost art, and most people feel like it’s not something they can do until they have a go and discover they love it.
The goal of this playbook is to lay out three types of citizen lobbying.
Meeting your political representatives to talk about an issue in a caring, non-partisan way that’s all about listening.
This is all about citizens talking to citizens, whether it’s setting up a table at a local farmers’ market, or an event with a local politician.
Making friends with community leaders, including executives, religious and cultural leaders and our elders.
Democratic systems are built on the principle that our governments are elected to govern for the benefit of all citizens, especially people in their own electorates.
They are expected to consider the views and needs of individuals, groups, institutions and organisations that represent the interests of citizens. They are expected to do their best to enact the wishes of as many of their citizens as possible.
There is a big catch – they can only do this if we tell them what we want!
When we consider whether our representative is doing a good enough job, we also need to ask ourselves
- are we doing a good enough job as citizens?
- are we doing our job in sharing our thinking, expressing our wishes, asking questions and supporting them to do their job as well as they can?
In a complex society where politics is dominated by parties, powerful lobby groups and the imperatives of our economic system, it may sometimes feel like there is little or nothing we can do as ordinary citizens, or small community groups. It’s an understandable feeling, but fortunately it is only a feeling – the reality is that we can have power and influence, particularly when we are focussed, connected and part of a group with a common purpose.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead
Lobbying on our own can be useful. Lobbying with a group of people with a common purpose is likely to be much more powerful. And lobbying as part of a national or international organisation with a common purpose is likely to be even more powerful.
Finding Others Who Share Our Concerns
All we need is 3 or 4 others. We can approach them individually or organise a meet-up in a café, a park or our home; or if we are spread across some distance, online.
3. Getting a Meeting with your MP
Once we have 3 or more interested people from our own contacts or from your organisation’s membership, connecting with our MP/MPs is a logical next step.
Our relationship-building now extends beyond us, towards our elected representatives and their influencers.
Crafting a personal approach
While each team will find its own way to connect with their MP, these are some of the steps that help us get there.
- Share our knowledge about our MP/s and any connections we have with them
- Do plenty of research to get to know who they are, what they value, which community groups they link with, what they said in their first speech, what they are posting on social media, etc
- Find out who their influencers are, people with power and influence in the community
- Record key findings in a bio
- Work out who wants to lobby and who would prefer a background role in research or support roles
Writing to a politician
The standard way to get a meeting with your MP is simply to send an email requesting a meeting, but first, it’s important to decide who in your group is going to be your liaison, the main point of contact with the MP’s office.
It is probably best for your email to be brief. It needs to include
- information about you and/or your organisation
- your wish to discuss solutions
- reference to other connections you may already have with your MP
- anything that may help you get a meeting
Follow up with a phone call a few days later to ask how the request is progressing. You may get put through to the ‘diary secretary’ who may be able to give you an appointment there and then.
MP’s diaries are pretty full so it may take weeks to secure a meeting. Be patient, keep in contact and stay friendly.
Every contact with the office is a valuable opportunity to build relationships so be friendly, respectful and appreciative.
Great Phone Calls
Some people prefer making contact by phone. If this is you, the thing to remember is that you are unlikely to be put through to the MP and will find yourself talking to a staffer. No matter! Staffers are integral to the process and this is your chance to establish rapport.
You will need to prepare a short pitch beforehand with a few key points. The most likely result of your first call will be that the staffer will promise to follow up your enquiry and get back to you. Try to suggest instead that you will call back in a little while and then do so anyway if you haven’t heard back within a week. Repeat as required, remaining friendly throughout these exchanges.
Other Ways to Get in Touch
- A neat hand-written letter always gets noticed.
- Presenting yourself at the MP’s office is also a sure way of getting attention.
Staffers, allies and influencers
Everyone who works in an MP’s office is important to us. So every interaction we have with any member of staff is important. Building relationships is central to everything we do so making friends with our MP’s office needs to be central as well.
- get to know them,
- learn their names,
- understand their roles and interests,
- make notes so you don’t forget the details,
- engage regularly and thoughtfully are all important.
- give a gift. Even small valueless gifts and gestures can be appropriate. One volunteer famously gave a bottle of home-made ginger beer to a staffer which exploded but they already had good rapport and the incident became a humorous incident in a valuable relationship with the office.
4. Having a Great Meeting your with MP
There are four stages involved to make a meeting go really well
- Planning and preparation – researching and learning all you can as a team
- Briefing – final team meeting just before the MP meeting
- The Meeting itself
- De-briefing – team meeting straight after the MP meeting to reflect what happened and maximise learning
This article gives a simple outline for a standard MP meeting that is a great starting point for planning and preparing for any lobby meeting.
It enables the team to allocate roles to each member and suggests a format for the first five minutes or so – introductions, appreciation, asking how much time we have, stating our purpose and making our ask. From that point the meeting will follow the interplay between the MP and your group.
Meeting of Minds
Once we have made our ask, we listen – we pay close attention so we can hear their response as clearly as possible. We then respond to what they have said in whatever way makes sense to us at the time and has a chance of moving them towards supporting our request.
Our planning and research may give us a good idea of their position on an issue but there is no way of knowing how they will actually respond to our ask. They will range from interested questioning to outright dismissal.
Equip yourself with sound knowledge that will enable us to respond flexibly and constructively to wherever the conversation takes us.
It’s important to be logical and rational in our thinking but it’s equally important to be aware that there are strong emotional and identity-based components of people’s positions on issues such as climate and energy, including our own! This requires significant empathy and understanding of the person we are meeting with, and awareness of our own emotional drivers.
By building and maintaining a genuine connection and open communication we are more likely to achieve breakthroughs than an exchange of differing positions that might lead to defensiveness and a closing of minds.
The power of listening – building connection and empathy
As a rule we aim to
- listen more than talk
- speak no more than three sentences at a time
- ask open questions in a relaxed and interested tone
- listen closely to the answers
- reply thoughtfully in ways that meet their needs, not ours
- keep building a relationship such that we will be welcomed to a future meeting
Be aware of the power of listening. The words we use are only a small component of what is communicated in a meeting. Our posture, tone of voice and facial expressions say a great deal more.
Approaching our representatives with respect, appreciation and generosity makes it much more likely that we will be communicating in ways that enable our representative to relax and be open to us. And having empathy for them – the position they are in, the pressures they endure, their life experiences to date, etc, – are important ways to connect. All of these can help disarm the defensiveness that MPs have had to build up to protect themselves in the rough and tumble of politics.
Another useful resource is Political Lobbying: Listening and Empathising.
Following up afterwards
Follow up is very important. Here are the main steps:
- Send or hand deliver a hand-written card, signed by all or by one on behalf of the team, thanking them for the meeting
- Write an email and/or a letter
- Outline what you think were the main achievements/outcomes of the meeting
- Answer any questions you were unable to answer during the meeting
- Provide information that you said you would send – or that you subsequently decided would be useful
- Give thanks for the meeting and for their time and attention
- Keep an eye out for articles, papers, letters to the editor that relate to your discussion in some way and share them with the MP and/or key staff members
- Try to have regular contact of some kind, always respectful, thoughtful and generous
Your MP and their staff are busy people and are dealing with large numbers of people, requests and communications every day. So regular friendly communications and expressions of gratitude from us help to keep us in their consciousness.
Our gratitude may also lead to them returning our favours by sharing information and inviting us to events and meetings that may be useful to us as well. And importantly, it may lead to them seeing us as a reliable valuable source of policy advice.
5. Other Ways to Lobby
Meeting and building a relationship with our MP is only one way to lobby. There are other activities that can complement our direct contacts with our MP:
- Meetings with prominent people, State MPs, and Shire Councils who may have influence on your MP
- Letters to the editor, articles or op-eds showing how carbon pricing can address local issues. (Resist the temptation to dwell on issues other than carbon pricing – be creative by using energy, climate and environment issues as an opportunity to write about carbon pricing
- Articles in local newspapers about your group and its activities – and pricing carbon
- Activities at community events, markets and fairs that inspire and give hope about climate and solutions
- Tabling and clip-boarding at events or in shopping areas to inspire and give hope
Engaging friends and colleagues
Friends, family and colleagues are all potential allies who for all sorts of reasons may not have been able to think about your issue and its solutions yet.
A relaxed conversation with you could be a useful start – planting a seed that could overcome any resistance they might have about getting to understand what is happening.
Our solution focus, being optimistic, ‘for rather than against’ can create some safety for them to take a peek at a scary subject that has become confused and conflicted due to misinformation and partisan politics. They may want to know more and may choose to join you, even in a small way.
- An Overview
- Local Groups
- Writing to Your Newspaper
- Social Media
- Tabling: Planned occasion where volunteers or organizers greet the public, engage them in their cause, and ask that they take further action towards their cause.
About the Author
Citizens’ Climate Lobby Australia is a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy and education organisation focused on accelerating solutions to climate change through democracy.
CCL started in the USA in 2007. Since then it has expanded and is now located in 30+ countries across Africa, Europe, UK, Asia and Central America. CCL Australia was started in 2014.
In order to generate the political will necessary for effective action on climate change they train, support and provide the tools for volunteers to engage with leaders, the media and the public.
Text, photos and graphics © Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) Australia or used with permission. All rights reserved. Text available under Creative Commons NC SA licence.
- Citizens’ Climate Lobby Australia
- Citizens Climate Lobby Resources (US)
- Learn how Marshall Saunders, the founder of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), had to overcome his own fear of failure before he could launch CCL, Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2024
- How to get your local MP to listen to your community: ACF Community Toolkit
- Tips for meeting MPs (or asking your members to)
- How to Contact Australian Members of Parliament
- Eleven websites about the Australian Federal Government and MPs
- Lobbying Workshop Guide
- How to Write a Powerful Submission to Government – in as little as 10 minutes!
- Lobbying and Advocacy Collection in the Commons Library
- Government - Members of Parliament MP
- Government - Members of Parliament MP - Meeting
- Movements_Campaigns - Climate action and justice