When researching and planning your launch, it is usually advisable to talk to the government. To have government allies on board with your plans and intentions from the very beginning could be invaluable. It is more likely that your organization will be listened to and trusted. This may also reduce obstacles encountered down the line – such as when processing bureaucratic registration requirements, when negotiating the resolution of individual cases, or when later lobbying for policy change. In addition, your organization may be invited to working groups and other governmental spaces where there is potential to influence.
Therefore, this section will provide some practical advice on how to strategically position and frame your organization’s work in a way that fosters a trusting and effective working relationship with the government. Keep in mind, however, that there might be times where it is wise to not introduce yourself to the government, especially with hostile governments. In this case, you might choose to work under the radar.
Before you are registered, your interaction with government officials essentially constitutes your first ‘advocacy strategy’: you are advocating for the ability to get registered in a way that does not compromise what you are trying to achieve. You do not want to agree to register in such a way that you are forced to give up core issues. Therefore, you must attempt to frame your work in a manner that will be effective in relationships with authorities.
It is important to identify the actors and decision makers within the government that will influence your work, and then target these stakeholders to build a relationship. Remember that ‘the government’ is not one actor: different branches of the government may contradict each other and have different attitudes towards your organization and its goals. Therefore, it is important to identify friendly official government actors and individuals who might also be potential allies.
Consider the composition of your board. Your board can be a great resource to help build relationships in the community. Having contacts and networks may even be an explicit requirement when selecting new board members.
Governments are more likely to be responsive and open if they perceive your organization as serving their interests. When establishing a relationship with the government for the first time or re-orienting an existing relationship, keep your audience in mind, and remember that you may need to be judicious about describing your plans. Being judicious is particularly important before your organization’s registration has been secured. For example, if you know that the government is going to be sensitive to a new organization promoting refugee rights – and if it is likely that your organization is going to challenge state violations of refugee rights – then you need to be strategic in how you present yourself to the government during your presentation.
Specifically, compare these two statements:
- “We are going to help people understand your processes, so as not to waste your time”
- “We are going to seek redress for refugees in the courts.”
The first sentence, stating how you are going to benefit the government, is much less combative than the second statement, which outlines that you will be challenging them. In all of your communications, but especially when you are building your image at first, be careful and think about the message that you are communicating to your audience.
In addition, always remember to learn and respect local customs when interacting with government actors, particularly if you are an outsider who may be viewed with suspicion or disinterest. For example, in some countries, you might not demand or strongly request government officials to do something even if it is a part of their job. Flattery and use of personal relationships could be a more effective way to get things done by the government, rather than reminding them of their responsibilities and lodging an official complaint if they do not act.