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:

What we learned...

Tips for influencing policy from food security initiatives across Canada

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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.

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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:

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 was formed in 1991 as a subcommittee of the Toronto Board of Health.It has 21 members with representatives from City Council, conventional and organic farms, food co-ops, large food corporations, multicultural groups, anti-hunger advocates, and community development groups, and three full-time staff members.

"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:

To form a Food Policy Group:

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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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:

Be honest.
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.

Be fair.
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.

Be helpful.
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

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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.

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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

What to include in your letter

  1. Begin with who you are and why are you are concerned.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Discuss the importance of putting this issue on the public agenda.
  5. Include a local example.
  6. State what actions you think are needed and why.
  7. Indicate that you look forward to working with them in taking this action.
  8. 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.

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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 Organize Prepare

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!

Quick Advice for Meeting with Policy Makers

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.

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Speak Out

Reaching 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 Reaching a Bigger Audience

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:

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.


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:

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

Presentation Pointers

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Make Presentations

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.


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.


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


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.

Adapted from: Nova Scotia Women’s FishNet, 2002.

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"It is like the drip of water and it is going to eventually create a hole in the rock."

"You can't be all things to all people... keep the same message... be aware of what your focus is."

"The process, the structure and how government works, that is really important."

"In the end, that's what clinched the deal for us... one councilor became very excited about what we were doing and really moved for us."

"The Minister, at the end of the day, needs to know that the work is supported on the outside."

"I don't think bra burning gets anybody anywhere."

"If you're going to be an activist, you have to act."