The Policy Funnel – a way to sharpen up our advocacy?

August 3, 2011 8 By admin

We had an interesting blue sky session last week on the nature of campaigning, and looked at the ‘Policy Funnel’, an idea developed by Nick Mabey and Anita Neville at E3G. The funnel tries to capture the dynamics of public  policy formulation, whereby a generalised public concern turns into a debate, then particular policy proposals and finally a specific text or other kind of agreement.

policy funnel

Outside players (NGOs, businesses, academics etc) can influence at any stage, but they need to adapt their tactics and communications according to whereabouts in the funnel a given issue has reached.

For NGOs like Oxfam, when a new idea is still in the general  public debate stage, we can use our presence in developing countries to bear witness to the human impact (of food prices, climate change, user fees or whatever) and our media skills to make sure that message reaches a lot of people. A typical example would be the ‘climate change is about people, not just polar bears’ approach in the early stages of the current climate talks (see pic).

Once things start to funnel down into particular decision processes, we shift gear into advocacy mode, building coalitions of allies, targeting blockers, winning over waverers. It’s also important to find ways to express our concerns in ways that fit with the particular process – e.g. the UNFCCC agenda on climate, the Doha round on trade, or the G8 or G20 on aid and development. ‘Stop the world and start again’ is unlikely to get much traction, whereas ‘change the agreement on agriculture by adding this paragraph to allow governments to protect small farmers’ is more likely to get a hearing.

Once the negotiations are well advanced, that moment for initial framing disappears, and it’s about pushing particular text (e.g. more money, or polar bears in Balia particular minor change of language). That means working closely with allies inside the room, but also using an outsider strategy with media and public to push good solutions and prevent backsliding.

I’d be interested in reactions to this model – I found it helpful but it doesn’t entirely describe how we work, in that we are often acting simultaneously at several points in the funnel – e.g. on climate change we are simultaneously bearing witness to human impact and arguing over details in the text. So maybe the funnel is conceptual rather than chronological.

It also doesn’t capture the importance of opportunism – spotting and reacting to windows of opportunity, eg picking up the Robin Hood Tax in response to the European and American fiscal crises.

Any thoughts?