This section contains information on how to initiate a variety of different strategies that can help you in your efforts to influence policy development.They include:
- Start a dialogue in your community
- Form a food policy group
- Build good working relationships
- Start a petition
- Write letters to policy makers
- Write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper
- Meet with policy makers and politicians
- Speak out
- Make presentations to key stakeholder groups
What we learned...
Tips for influencing policy from food security initiatives across Canada
Celebrate the small successes - policy change can be a long, demanding and some times difficult process.
Think big but stay focused - there are so many issues to be dealt with.
Know the political process - learn how government works.
Meet with policy makers - don't be afraid of politicians.
Use the media - it can be a prime driving force for shaping public opinion and political agendas, but before going this route seek assistance from others who have experience with media and be sure to communicate clear and accurate information.
Build broad public support - there needs to be pressure for policy change from outside the political system.
Identify a champion - someone either within the political system, or someone outside of it who knows the system.
Develop clear and palatable messages - avoid an adversarial approach that blames or attacks certain people.
Let policy makers know what they can do to address the issues. Develop action steps and follow through on your efforts.
Start a Dialogue in Your Community
The first step toward doing something about food insecurity is to get people talking about the issue.Public awareness is a good base from which to launch any of the other strategies described in this section.
The activities and information in this workbook offer many topics that would be a good starting point for a discussion, workshop, or series of discussions.You'll find some suggestions for bringing people together below, but if your group has it's own way of doing things, stick with what you know will work for you.
Make a presentation on food security. Present at a regular meeting of any group you’re a member of, for example, a church group or a parent group at your child’s school or daycare. You can also contact other groups in your community and ask if you could speak briefly on food security issues at one of their meetings. You’ll find information on making effective presentations on page 78.
Hold a workshop in your community. Decide who you'd like to invite and send personal invitations to these individuals telling them when and where the workshop will be held. Write the invitation so the invitee feels that their presence at the meeting is important. A sample invitation can be found on 85 of the Research, Resources and Tools section. Target your workshop approach accordingly - focus on an aspect of food security that will appeal to each group's interest or sympathy. If you think you'll have trouble attracting people to your event, offer something extra - lunch, a food basket draw, a door prize or a tour of a community garden. The list of target audiences and some potential workshop topics includes:
- The general public - Everyone Has a Right to Eat Nutritiously!
- The business community - The Economic Impact of Food Insecurity
- Community agencies -Food Security Challenges Facing Our Community and the Links to other Community Issues (e.g. affordable housing, environmental issues)
- Health care workers - Food Security is a Primary Health Issue
- Academics and researchers - Opportunities for Linking Research Findings to Policy
- Community activists and advocates - How Can We Use Food Costing Research and Other Evidence to Influence Policy?
Piggyback onto another community event. - for example, a health fair, craft fair or any public event.Find out if you can have a table or display at the event and use the opportunity to hand out information about food security, circulate petitions, and talk to anyone you can.
Find a high-profile partner.
Look for organizations who are already involved in some aspect of the issue - for example, a local food bank or an organic farmers cooperative.
Use the media.
Contact local radio stations and try to interest them in doing a piece on the evidence you have collected such as the results of your food costing research.Media coverage can be used to publicize a specific event --for example, a public meeting - or as a way to get your message to a wider audience.
Form a Food Policy Group
Forming a Food Policy Group can be an effective way to bring together a range of individuals and organizations with complementary interests and skills to focus on influencing policy.Food Policy Groups address food holistically, in the context of environmental, economic, community and health issues.
Food Policy Groups are usually municipal or regional in scope and in some cases have taken on advisory roles with City councils.Some, such as the Toronto Food Policy Council, have received full sponsorship from municipal governments, including a staff person to coordinate the group.
Food Policy Groups can undertake such activities as:
Working on projects and policies to improve both access to food and overall health and nutrition in their community
Supporting local farmers in the development of sustainable farming practices
Undertaking community based research
Hosting speakers on a variety of topics
Promoting healthier food choices through cooking classes, taste tests, and sharing recipes
Developing or supporting the development of food access programs such as community gardens, community kitchens, farmers' markets, and produce stands
The most effective Food Policy Groups have a diverse membership that includes organic and conventional farmers, food processors, wholesalers and distributors, grocers, restaurateurs, health professionals, anti-poverty advocates, school system representatives, journalists interested in the issue community leaders, researchers, and concerned citizens.The more diverse the membership, the more successful food policy groups have been in developing and implementing creative solutions and in gaining the support of government.
Adapted from: Borron, S.M. (2003). and Community Food Security Coalition, 2000.
"The Toronto Food Policy Council partners with business and community groups to develop policies and programs for the promotion of food security.Our aim is a food system that fosters equitable food access, nutrition, community development and environmental health."
Some Major Accomplishments:
- Wrote and championed the City of Toronto Declaration on Food and Nutrition
- Assisted with fund-raising efforts for community organizations that led to $3.5 million in grants to increase access to food.
- Contributed to many planning processes for City of Toronto land use.
- Initiated a "Buy Ontario" campaign to increase the amount of local food served in hospitals.
- Founded the Rooftop Gardening Resource Group.
- Helped expand the number of community gardens in Toronto from 50 to over 122.
- Wrote a series of landmark discussion papers on various elements of a food systems approach to public health policy. These are available at: www.city.toronto.on.ca/ health/ tfpc_discussion_paper.htm
- Toronto Food Charter: www.city.toronto.on.ca/ food_hunger/ food_charter.pdf
To form a Food Policy Group:
Think about all the different groups that might want to join the Food Policy Organization
You may need to do some homework on the different individuals or groups:
What do they do?
Are they involved in other community organizations on different issues?
What are their views on the issue? Related issues?
Who are their members?
Think about how you will approach them and get them involved
You can use the other strategies in this section (letters, meetings, speaking engagements, and presentations) to help attract interest, support and involvement.
Approach the groups in a way that will appeal to their interests.Be sure to highlight the benefits to their community, their members, and their organization.Organizations that are truly interested and passionate about the issue are ideal, as they will be more willing to contribute to the Food Policy Group, and contribute more than what is expected of them.
Once you have a Food Policy Group, you'll need to determine how to proceed
Use this workbook to identify the issues that need to be addressed. Remember, as a Food Policy Group, it may be possible to address more than one issue at a time.The membership of your organization can be broad and different sub-committees or working groups can be formed to work on different issues - such as inadequate income, transportation, buying locally, farming practices, and/or supports and services.
You can also use this workbook as a resource for finding out more about the policy process, connecting with policy makers, and using different tools to influence public policy.
Build Good Working Relationships
No matter what path you take in your efforts to change policy or take other action on food security in your community, you will need to develop cooperative, constructive relationships with many different people.The people you engage may include politicians, public servants, people in your community, the media, policy makers, influential people, experts and researchers, health professionals, and people in other organizations who are concerned about your issue.
To build good working relationships:
No goal is worth your integrity.Be yourself and tell the truth.Good relationships are built on trust.If the people you are working with or trying to influence think that they cannot trust you, you will not be effective.Honesty and sincerity are very powerful.
Be calm and polite.
Keep your temper in check and be polite to everyone you meet.Thank anyone who helps you.This includes secretaries, receptionists, administrators and constituency workers.People in these positions can be a big help if they are on your side so don't burn any bridges.Community action (like lobbying for policy change, for example) can go on for a long time and you may see the same people again and again.
If you are trying to influence people, lobby or change policy, there is great value in putting yourself in the shoes of the people you are trying to influence.Don't just ask them to see your side - try to see theirs as well.People will be more willing to listen to you if they see that you are willing to listen to them.You don't have to agree with their position, but you will be able to make your points more effectively if you understand their position.It is very effective if you can state your case as "we would like to work with you to solve this together."
Be well informed.
Many aspects of action on food security involve lobbying and advocating for changes in policy. Good policy is based on good information.Know your issue and come to meetings prepared to explain it clearly and answer questions.Lobbying is most effective when you not only bring a problem to the table, but you can also suggest a solution.Your insights, ideas and suggestions can contribute to good policy.
People will be more willing to help you if you are willing to help them.Look at activities like lobbying as an exchange - you want something from the people you are trying to influence.What can you offer in return?For example, public officials all need to know about the outcomes and effects of the policies they are responsible for.You can offer information about the effects of policy on your community and seniors in your community from your group's unique point of view.
Take the long view, and celebrate your small successes.
Community action can sometimes be a long, drawn-out process.This is especially true of actions like lobbying or advocating for policy change, but applies to all kinds of community action-.Before you start you need to be reasonably sure that you have the energy and enthusiasm to keep at the job for what could be a long haul.Don't give up and don't expect things to fall into place immediately.Don't take conflicts and defeats personally.Keep talking.Keep coming back.Be willing to compromise as long as you're still moving toward your goal.A small step in the right direction is better than no step at all.
Adapted from: Nova Scotia Women’s FishNet, 2002
Circulate a Petition
A good petition contains a clear and concise request for action or policy, as well as a brief explanation of why the request is being made. Remember to attach plenty of pages for signing.
Include the petition statement and space for each person to sign. It is important to print their full name, list their address and/or organization, and provide their phone number.All of this is needed to ensure that the signatures appear valid to the person receiving the petition. There is a copy of the sample petition on 87, you will need to add more signature pages.
Food for All and Food for Health
(Title of Petition)
A petition of: Project X and Project Y
(your group or organization)
Addressed to: MP
We the undersigned, ask that:
Wages and Income Assistance rates in Nova Scotia be set to reflect the cost of a nutritious diet.
We make this request because:
Food costing shows that the cost of purchasing a very basic nutritious diet for a family of four in NS is $572.90.The income of people living on income assistance or minimum wage is too low for them to afford healthy food and other necessities such as housing, heating, transportation, child care, personal care, education, and recreation. Ensuring all citizens have access to nutritious diet is critical to healthy child development, healthy communities and environments and a strong economy. As a result many Nova Scotians are unable to eat a basic nutritious diet.
Write a Letter
Letter writing can be an effective way of communicating your issue and views. You can write to a politician to say that you don't like something, and also to let them know when you support something they do, when you feel more action is needed, or to thank them for supporting your view.
A letter may be more effective than meeting face-to-face, as a letter provides a record of your communication.Even so, it's always a good idea to follow-up after sending a letter to ensure it has been received and interpreted correctly. A sample letter can be found on page 88 of the Research, Resources and Tools section.
Tips for Writing a Good Letter
- Personalize the letter, don't send generic letters.
- Keep it short, definitely no longer than 2 pages.
- Always close with a statement regarding their response or comments, e.g. "I look forward to your response."
- Keep a positive tone to the letter.
- Write on only one subject per letter.
- Attach other relevant information, such as a key messages sheet or newspaper clippings.
- Have someone else read and edit.
- Include your contact information.
- Follow-up with a phone call.
What to include in your letter
- Begin with who you are and why are you are concerned.
- If you are writing on behalf of a group, state your name and your role.If you have a lot of members or supporters, you can also say how many people make up the group.
- State the problem or issue.Be sure to note its impact on health, the environment, the economy, or some sector that the official receiving the letter is concerned with.
- Discuss the importance of putting this issue on the public agenda.
- Include a local example.
- State what actions you think are needed and why.
- Indicate that you look forward to working with them in taking this action.
- Finish in a way that encourages a response.
Did you know that you can send letters to MPs for free - No Postage Required!
Don't know your representative?
The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities has contact information on all of Nova Scotia's municipal units:
Click on "Membership Directory."Then click on "quick list of municipal units" for addresses and phone numbers.
You'll find contact information for all MLAs at:
Contact information for all MPs - both in Ottawa and in their home ridings - can be found at:
Click on "Senators and Members."The click on "House of Commons - Current."This page has a handy "Find your MP using your postal code" feature.
Meet with Policy Makers and Politicians
At some point in any activity that involves lobbying for policy change - and often during other kinds of community activity as well - you'll need to meet with political representatives.These can be at the municipal (councillors, mayors), provincial (MLAs/MPPs) or federal (MPs) level.
During a meeting, your goal is to make your point quickly, clearly and memorably.Most politicians meet with a lot of people and you want this person to remember you and support your issue.
Before your meeting, you will need to plan, organize and prepare.Plan
- Decide what you want to talk about.
What's your issue?What aspects of the issue do you want to address during this meeting?What do you want the person you're meeting with to do for you?What result do you want?
- Decide who you want to talk to.
Who is the best political representative to talk to about the aspects of your issue that you want to address?Who can do whatever it is you want done?Is your issue best addressed at the local, provincial or federal level?Depending on the issue you're working on, you may eventually want to talk to political representatives at all levels.No matter who you're meeting with, you'll be talking about the parts of your issue that the specific representative can do something about.
- Find out how to contact the person you want to meet with.
You'll find contact information in the box on the previous page.
- Make an appointment with the political representative you want to meet with.
You can telephone, write or e-mail.Be sure everyone is clear about the date, time and place.
- Decide who will go to the meeting.
Most people feel better if they have company, but you don't want to bring a crowd.Two or three is a good number - you won't be alone and there will be time for everyone to have a chance to speak.If you have partner groups working with you on your issue, bringing representatives from several different groups is a good idea.
There are two goals in an effective meeting:make your point and make a friend - or at least make an ally.You want to leave the meeting feeling that the person you've met understands your issue and is on your side.This takes preparation!
- Decide what you want to say.
Meetings with politicians usually last about 30 minutes - at the most.You won't have a lot of time, so it's important to know what you want to say and to get right to the point.A good rule is to pick three points that you want to make and know those points well.Make a short list or outline of your points and send it to the politician a few days before your meeting.This gives him or her a chance to prepare, too.
Prepare your presentation.
For each point you want to make:
- State the issue: Be very clear about how you see the problem or issue.
- Give examples that make it real: Politicians get elected because people vote for them.It's very important to them to know how issues affect their constituents.Use examples and stories to show how your issue is affecting the lives of people in your community.
- Offer solutions: Describe the changes you think will help improve conditions in your community.Explain why you think your approach will work. Tell the politician what you want him (or her) to do. Be prepared to answer questions.
- Decide who will do the talking.
Everyone who comes to the meeting should have something to say. One way to make sure this happens is to give each person a point to make. That is, for each of your points the same person states the issue, gives examples, offers solutions and answers any questions. Another approach is to have one person introduce all the points, another give all the examples or tell their story and a third offer solutions. Questions could be answered by whoever feels comfortable doing it. You should also work out the order of the speakers —know who will speak first, second and so on.
Quick Advice for Meeting with Policy Makers
- Be prepared, come with fact sheets or brief notes, and leave them there.
- Stay focused, concentrate on only a few issues (you can go a little broader with a meeting as opposed to a letter).
- Bring local examples of how a policy is impacting on your community.
- Be clear about what you are asking for or want them to do.
- Anticipate questions and practice responses.
- If you can't answer a question, don't panic, offer to send the information in a follow-up, and do it.
- Arrive early!
- Before leaving, summarize what you want them to remember.
After the Meeting
Within a few days after the meeting, write a brief letter to the person you met with.Thank him or her for the meeting and summarize what was said.End the letter by saying that you look forward to continuing to work together on this issue.This is an important step because it provides both parties with a written record of what was said.
A letter like this is also a handy way to let the rest of your group know what happened. You can print it in your newsletter or pass copies around to other members of our group.If you have a meeting place or community center, post copies there for everyone to read.
Adapted from: Good Policy, Good Health.Nova Scotia Women's FishNet, 2002.
Speak OutReaching People in Your Community
The best way to reach people in your community is to talk to them - either informally (whenever you happen to run into someone) or formally (through meetings and organized discussions).Your group can hold public meetings to talk about food security issues or you can ask to speak at meetings of other community groups.Places where you can speak out
- Talk Radio
- Town Meetings
- Public Hearings
Once you've got your organization and immediate community interested and involved in food security, you may want to share your information or involve a wider audience.This means working with media - the press, television and radio.The most common ways that community groups interact with the media are through press releases and interviews.Press Releases
You use a press release to let the media know about an event or issue.Your press release will attract more media interest if your topic is interesting to the media.In other words, if it's "newsworthy."
Newsworthy stories are about something concrete - an event, a meeting, an award - that can be described and reported.Newsworthy stories can also follow-up on another news story - for example, your group's response to a new government policy or a statement on food security by a Minister.It can also be newsworthy to give a local or human-interest perspective to a bigger story.
A good press release:
- Is short and to the point - preferably one side of one sheet of paper.It should be double-spaced and have short paragraphs.
- Has the name and phone number of a contact person - someone a reporter can call for more details.Your contact person should be well informed, comfortable talking to the media and easy to reach.
- Has all the important information at the beginning. Within the first few sentences you should answer the questions who, what, where, when and why.
- Is timely. Reporters will only pay attention to your press release if it's relevant to a current story or issue.Old news doesn't get covered.
- Is interesting. A press release is more likely to be used if it includes an interesting and informative quote from an identified speaker.
Before you distribute a press release, contact media outlets to find out to whom the press release should be addressed, how it should be sent (E-mail? Fax?) and what the deadline is.Interviews
You may be asked to give an interview in response to a press release or because a reporter has contacted you or your group looking for information.
The best way to get your message across in an interview is to:
- Be brief and clear. Most news stories are very short, so focus on the information that's most important to you.Make your point clearly, quickly and in as few words as possible.If the reporter wants more details, he or she will ask for them.
- Be accurate. Stick to the facts.Don't say anything you can't back up.If you can't answer a question, say so.Offer to get back to the reporter with an answer.
- Stay calm and be careful. Don't get angry or upset or allow yourself to be pushed into saying something you'll regret later.Don't say anything that you don't want to read in the paper or hear on the radio or see on TV.No matter how friendly the reporter seems, everything you say is fair game.Nothing is "off the record."
It takes time to develop media skills and to be comfortable talking to reporters.Many groups pick several members to be their spokespersons.This gives them a chance to develop skills for talking to the media and helps ensure that your group's message is always the same.Groups can help their spokesperson rehearse by spending a few minutes during each meeting asking tough questions so the spokesperson has a chance to practice answering.
Adapted from: Nova Scotia Women’s FishNet, 2002
- Start with your key messages.
- Give local examples.People are interested in what's going on in their own community.
- Outline what needs to happen and who needs to act.
- Summarize your message.Let people know what they can do and how they can become involved.
- Allow for questions.
- Give them information sheets to take away and let them know where to get more information.
Giving presentations can be a good way to attract partners and allies to your cause.You may want to send a letter to local community groups to tell them about what you are doing and that you are interested in speaking to their group.
This can be a good way of getting in touch with the business and professional community, through Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, Lions Clubs, the Chamber of Commerce, and women's professional groups.These groups meet regularly, are often looking for speakers, and are interested in learning about what's going on in the community.
There are four key components to an effective presentation: plan, have a point, prepare, and practice.Plan
Who will you be talking to? Effective presentations are tailored to meet the needs and interests of the listeners.You would make different kinds of presentations to a community group, high school students or a municipal council.
How big is the group? An informal chat with a small group requires a different approach than a formal presentation to a large group.
How much time will you have? Speakers who go over their time limit wear out their welcome very quickly.Be sure to find out if your time includes a question period.For example, if you have 15 minutes including questions, you should plan to speak for 8 to 10 minutes so that there will be time for questions from the audience.
What facilities are available? There's no point in preparing overheads or a Powerpoint presentation if the necessary equipment isn't available.Have a Point
Know WHY you're giving your talk.Do you want to inform people?Persuade them to do something?Knowing what you are trying to achieve will help you decide what to say.Prepare
Effective presentations are short, clear and to the point.Every presentation has a beginning, a middle and an end. Most are followed by a question period.
Beginning: Thank your audience for the opportunity to speak to them and summarize what you're going to talk about.For example:
"Thank you so much for inviting me to speak with you tonight.Food insecurity is a serious issue for many people in our community, especially children."
Middle: This is where you make your points and inform or persuade your listeners.Usually, you won't have time to cover more than two or three points, so choose them carefully.Make your most important point first - that way, if you run out of time, you'll at least have covered the most important thing.If you plan to use overheads, Microsoft Powerpoint on your computer, or other visual aids, don't get carried away and use too many.Use only those that support or illustrate the points you're making.A good rule is to use no more than one overhead for every two minutes of your talk.
End: This is where you very briefly summarize what you've said.If the point of your presentation is to ask the listeners to do something, this is where you tell them what you want them to do or ask for their support.For example:
"As you can see, food insecurity has serious consequences for many children in our community, but by working together, we can make a difference.My group is advocating that social assistance rates be raised to reflect the real costs of feeding growing children. We'd like your organization to support this effort by circulating our petition and writing a letter to the Minister.."
Questions: Most presentations end with questions from the audience.Part of your preparation is to try to imagine the kinds of questions you might be asked and have answers ready.If someone asks you a question you can't answer, say so.Tell the questioner that you appreciate the question and will get back to her with an answer.Ask her to see you after the presentation so you can get her contact information, then get back to her as soon as you can.
Points to remember when speaking publicly
- Be clear and stick the point.
- Bring your fact sheets to share with people interested in more information.
- Anticipate questions and prepare responses.
- Don't be afraid to let your feelings about your issue show. Honest emotion is very powerful.It's okay to be passionate, as long as you don't get incoherent.
- Share your own stories or stories from your community. Personal connections can have a real impact on people.
Once you've prepared your talk, practice the presentation by saying it out loud.Most people get bored listening to someone reading a presentation.You need to know your talk so well that you don't have to read it.
- Make notes to remind you of what you want to say.
- Stand and practice your presentation out loud.If you'll be using overheads, slides or powerpoint, practice using them at the same time.
- Time yourself.You may find that you need to adjust your talk to fit into your allotted time.
- Practice in front of an audience.Rehearse in front of family, friends or anyone who'll listen.Ask for honest feedback and suggestions.Do you sound clear, informative and convincing?
- Practice answering questions.Ask whoever is watching your rehearsal to ask questions and give you feedback on your answers.
Adapted from: Nova Scotia Women’s FishNet, 2002.