Different Futures Influencing Policy screenshot

COVID-19 and influencing decision makers

Published: 10/06/20 | Categories: Author: Jess Blair

The latest in our series of COVID-19 events focussed on what the pandemic has meant for influencing decision makers. Jess Blair summarises the discussion.

In the fourth of the Preparing for Different Futures event series from WCVA, the issue of influencing policy was examined. With a Senedd election scheduled for less than a year away, how has the COVID crisis impacted on how organisations build relationships with decision makers and influence policy?

The event was chaired by Stephen Brooks, Executive Director of External Affairs, Sustrans UK and WCVA trustee, and saw around 90 participants join the discussion.

The current pandemic has impacted how organisations influence politicians in many different ways. Decision makers are also working in crisis mode. This combination ensures it is not business as usual for the political world in Wales.

This clearly raises questions about how we as organisations respond to these changes and challenges, especially ahead of next year’s elections.

How relationships with decision makers have been affected

Participants in the event shared their experiences of how their relationships with decision makers had been affected.

A selection of people reported positive interactions with Welsh Government since the crisis began.

A participant from Lloyds Bank Foundation said, ‘We have found that the Welsh Government are really in need of solutions so they’re keen to find out what’s happening on the ground’ and compared the ability to interact with Welsh Government favourably to the UK Government.

However, it was highlighted that in some sectors this hasn’t been the case. The health sector, in particular, was raised as one where organisations were struggling to continue the relationships and work that they had prior to the pandemic.

A participant from Cancer Research UK said, ‘It’s been difficult for us in the health sector as people have been pulled from all over the place into the COVID response…. It’s improving now but there is a question about how you get services back up and running’.

In the social care sector a participant reported that ‘Something we’ve noticed in Disability Wales is that during the pandemic the conversation has switched from a social model to a medical model. For example, attitudes to people with disabilities have changed. We’ve found this frustrating. Things have gone backwards’.

On a wider level another participant suggested that the current issues with influencing and interacting with decision makers had ‘highlighted the patchy coverage and capacity and influence of third sector infrastructure’, with ‘very different impact and effectiveness in different parts of Wales’.

Others raised a question about levels of engagement with opposition parties and said that while engagement with Welsh Government had been positive, it was clear that officials often were struggling with capacity and that they had had no interaction at all with opposition politicians, who were focusing solely on the pandemic. This raises questions about how the manifesto process and elections next year would be affected.

Moving towards the Senedd elections

With a complete change from the typical work of party conferences and face-to-face meetings with politicians, organisations are struggling with how they work with parties to ensure their policy asks are featured in party manifestos, a key goal of any campaigning organisation.

There were calls for greater clarity on how the parties were responding to this change, with a participant saying, ‘I think we need a clearer outline from political parties on how their manifesto processes will be affected. It’s clear that the pandemic is rightly the focus for decision makers right now, but we should also encourage decision makers to engage with longer term issues and solutions, especially around areas like the economy which will be critical’.

For those that have already published their election calls, there have been significant shifts in policy in the last few months that will require organisations to revisit their policy asks.

‘For us at the Welsh NHS Confederation we published our Election calls in March (on behalf of NHS leaders) and now we will be rewriting the briefing as a result of COVID because so much has changed’, said one participant.

Another agreed, saying ‘We launched our manifesto asks in February. Quite a lot of what we were advocating was deemed aspirational but have now become essential. We need to be mindful not to go back to the status quo. Let’s not slip back into old habits. This means we need to rewrite or refresh our manifesto asks’.

For others who have yet to publish their election calls, the processes have been heavily affected.

‘We’ve been really collaborative on our manifesto development, where we’ve been able to previously organise events and bring people in, but obviously that’s now much more difficult’, reported a participant, who also outlined major concerns about the inclusivity of moving to a collaborative process online for those with learning difficulties or hearing problems.

With the election just eleven months away, it is clear that parties will need to set their sights beyond the crisis currently facing us to the next five years and organisations will have to support them in this. Yet, with the COVID pandemic quite rightly the focus of decision makers’ time, both parties and organisations will find this incredibly challenging.

More from Jess Blair on the events in our Preparing for Different Futures series

Jess Blair sums up discussions with the voluntary sector from the events in our Preparing for Different Futures series.

Next up in our Preparing for different futures series

COVID-19 has impacted on everybody’s lives. The lockdown has forced us all to do things differently, and to do different things. It has opened new possibilities – good and bad.

As policy-makers start to look ahead, these events provide a space to share learning, consider implications for the future and discuss what this means for decision-making today.

You can sign up to our COVID-19 daily updates (Mon – Fri) for the latest COVID-19 news for the voluntary sector in Wales, and get the booking link straight into your inbox as well as other useful information on COVID-19. You can also email amonteith@wcva.cymru to register you interest for these events.