Home > Building, Conference, Policy > Policy without the Wonks?

Policy without the Wonks?

May 30, 2016

I’ve often said here that people join political parties because they care about specific issues, and they think the party is the best way to advance that issue. Having policy on an issue is one way to encourage people to join in the first place; being the kind of party that would do the “right” thing is another. If we want more people to join the Lib Dems, and to be enthusiastically engaged in our activities and campaigns, then we need to make sure that they’re getting traction on the issues they care about, and that often starts with a policy – a statement of what the Lib Dems think should be done about a particular issue.

Currently, policy making requires a certain amount of expert knowledge. There are a lot more people that care about issues, than know exactly what levers of power are available to be pulled, particularly at different levels such as council and Parliament. So how can we make policy formation more open to non-experts and more responsive? Firstly, we need to know what makes our members tick – what are the issues that move them? You’d be surprised how few local parties can answer this question, particularly about the members who aren’t already activists. Member surveys as part of your member communications process (whether that’s by phone, online or by post) can play a key role here, as can collecting this kind of data at a social event – get people to write down one reason why they joined on a post-it note, and collate them on a handy wall.

Secondly, we need to know what’s possible; this is where the policy experts do come in handy. We need to put the people who have the knowledge in touch with the people who have the desire. Ask around your current and former councillors, candidates and Parliamentarians. Nearby local parties or regions might be able to lend an expert; ALDC might be able to give guidance. How you put these together is up to you; different approaches will work for different local parties. Currently I’m planning some free-form discussion online, either using a forum over the space of a couple of weeks, or some online chat sessions, to flesh out proposals. I’d like to finish this with a day-long face-to-face event, perhaps structured like an Unconference.

Of course, the Lib Dems have a regional, state and national policy process for “official” policy which involves detailed policy motions being debated, amended and voted on at a conference. This requires a certain amount of expert knowledge, and the time and money to attend the conference. The approach I’ve outlined above is hopefully a little more flexible and can serve not only for local manifestos which tend to be a bit more ad-hoc, but also as a way of generating policy input into Conferences.

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