Lessons in influencing policy and practice

Rachel Cain, Public Affairs and National Programmes Officer, shares five top tips from Transform project leaders in influencing policy and practice in the domestic and sexual abuse sectors

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What does a good influencing project look like? It’s something we’re thinking about as we’re developing our new Criminal Justice National Programme, and as many Transform projects come to an end.

Transform was our first national programme aimed at influencing policy and practice and has enabled 16 organisations to bring about change in the domestic and sexual abuse sector.

Whether developing a training programme or campaigning for policy change, the impact of these projects have been wide-ranging. Recently, charity leaders from the Transform programme reflected on what they’d learnt, what made their projects a success and how they overcame challenges.

We’ve gathered together their top five tips to help anyone planning a similar project around influencing change:

  1. Be flexible in your approach

Opportunities or challenges in the policy environment, the media or the political sphere can quickly change the landscape in which you are working. Being able to respond and adapt can be crucial to success. For example, the Domestic Abuse Bill was brought to Parliament during the Transform programme and some projects used this opportunity to advocate for better provision for the groups they work with.

There may also be opportunities to capitalise on important media stories on a related topic, or finding ways to work around barriers such as Brexit dominating Parliament. It’s also important to adapt plans in response to feedback from target groups. Consider what has worked well so far and how you can build on this.

  1. Broaden your reach

Whether building a case to influence policy or strengthen your network, success depends on engaging the right people across a range of organisations beyond those you already work with. This can be difficult, particularly when trying to get buy-in from busy people working in charities, public services or government who have conflicting priorities.

Identifying those you haven’t yet reached is a crucial starting point in broadening your reach. It can be a real challenge, for example, to find or connect with people who are affected by an issue but who have never engaged with services before. Consider how you can break down these barriers, and ensure their voices are not otherwise lost in evidence or debates.

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  1. Take the lead from those who have been affected by the issue

Many of the Transform projects have been led by, informed or co-created with victims/survivors. While this can have a number of positives, you also need to tread with care and commitment.

Consider whether your organisation has the capacity to meaningfully engage people, remove barriers to participation, provide necessary support and create safe spaces for people to share and be involved. If not, how can you find the capacity?

Projects that the Foundation has funded under Transform highlighted the need for sensitivity around the issues of domestic and sexual abuse, regardless of who they were working with. In every situation there will be people with a range of different experiences, so these issues should always be approached with care and consideration.

  1. Think early about how to enable others to put your work in to action

Many people reflected on the value of having tools or resources that enable others to put work into action. Plan this as early as possible rather than waiting until the work is done. Ask yourself how you can follow through to ensure a campaign is implemented effectively. Perhaps you might provide briefings so that service users understand their rights and that service providers are held to account in delivering on this. Similarly, if your aim is to get practitioners in other organisations to improve services for a group of people, how could you take it further than a training course? Longer-term engagement and providing tools to help busy people embed a new approach into their organisation whilst managing existing work will lead to more sustainable change.

  1. Build capacity to deal with surprises

Staff turnover and capacity poses one of the biggest challenges to organisations and is often unpredictable and difficult to plan for. However, doing so successfully can have a big impact on progress. Some reported that project schedules slipped due to lengthy academic approval processes while other organisations experienced unanticipated levels of interest, appetite and engagement in their work which, while positive, can put additional demands on capacity.

In building capacity, consider that new aspects of a project will require more time for staff to get up to speed. If working in partnership, have you been clear about roles and responsibilities, and included time for developing and maintaining good working relationships? Tips included building extra flexibility into plans to allow for change and ensuring that your initial proposal accurately reflects the level of resources needed to make the project a success.

Whether you’re interested in our new criminal justice funding or looking to change policy or practice in another area, there are many ways to put this learning into practice when planning your next steps towards influencing change. We’re looking forward to sharing more success and learnings from out Transform programme in the coming months.

About Transform:

Transform is a one-off grants programme launched in 2016 that offered grants worth up to £100,000 over two years, aimed at stimulating innovation and improvements in the domestic and sexual abuse sectors.

 

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