I have been asked too often “how do you measure success working in Brussels”. What they often mean is how can I show if the work I am doing here is influencing things.
I have taken advantage of an enforced sick leave to go through some old notes and books to write up some “metrics” to answer that question. I am drawing on more than 20 years working in Brussels, drawing from my time legislating in the EP and Commission, working as a lobbyist for NGOs and industry, and sometime academic.
What does success look like
As a political consultant I guess I am not meant to say this, but I often don’t think the political path will work, and sometimes there is no point in doing down a political course.
But, when it is needed, it makes sense to have some clear objectives and goals from the very start.
By that I don’t mean whether we’ll have a clean ocean by 2020 or for EU politicians to all back sound science in all their decisions. They are aspirations or dreams. I mean whether the policies and laws will help get you what you want.
Sometimes the end game is clear. Can you help a client stop a proposal to ban their product or service? At the end of the day, the proposal is adopted or not. They are in business or not. Sometimes, the goals need a lot more precision, but they can all easily be crafted down into clear and precise words.
A rule of thumb I use
Three books have influenced my thinking on this question:
Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, John W.Kingdon
Washington at Work: Back Rooms and Clean Air, Richard E. Cohen
From a US perspective, they look at who influenced the public policy debate and law making, and why. I have co-opted many of the conclusions as my own.
From this reading and 20 years I use this rule of thumb to work out if a campaign stands any hope of succeeding before a cent is spent. It works every time. I ask for a copy of the work plan and annex of the people who will make the key decisions they want to change. Most of the time no plan or list is forthcoming. The idea of changing the debate, let alone the law, is just an idea in someone’s head, and that idea is dead on arrival.
Cheerleaders not needed
I am adamant that there is no point just turning up. Its expensive to do and a waste of time and money. You go into this to change things. That said, in reality, a lot of organisations turn up to observe, and have little influence.
I will go further. Whilst many spend a lot of lot of resources (whether industry and not for profit groups) they have no influence at all on the process. You can speak to the key decision makers at the end of the day, and they point blank tell you that they had never heard of such an organisation. It is hard to influence if you existence is not known about.
How Do Salespeople and Politicians measure success
Often people playing in the political and policy process are reluctant to list clear tangible deliverables.
This is strange. Salespeople don’t find it hard to do. Sales is relatively easy to track. You sell your product or service at a price and make sure you make a profit on it. There is little point in selling things at a loss, although that said, a lot of firms seem more than happy to do so.
Politicians don’t find it hard to do. They face an election every few years and elections are quite simple. You either get elected or you don’t.
How do you measure success?
Having seen a lot of proposals from all sides of the spectrum they tend to list different activities to measure, including:
- Meetings with MEPs
- Meetings with MEP advisors
- Meetings with Group Advisors
- Meeting with Commission Officials
- Meeting with Commissioner(s)
- Meeting with Cabinet of Commissioner(s)/Senior Officials
- Meeting with Perm Reps
- Meeting with Senior Official in National Capital
- Meeting with Minister/key adviser
- Article published in influential press (e.g. F.T, Times of London)
- Quoted in influential press (FT, Politico)
- Commissioned Report mentioned in debate, media
- Commissioned Reported used as the working basis for proposal/Parliamentary report
- Amendments tabled by Commission in original Commission draft
- Amendments adopted/supported in Inter-Service Consultation
- Amendments adopted in final Commission proposal
- Amendments tabled by MEP/Council
- Amendments adopted by EP/Council
- Amendment adopted in final legislative agreement
- Amendment as adopted is implemented in practice
- Social Media re-tweet by key player as endorsement
- Website views
I am sure there are more. Please let me know and I’ll update this blog piece.
80/20 – who counts
Whilst many people will be involved in the adoption of a piece of legislation, the people who really count, and who you should work on influencing, are not that many.
As a believer in the 80/20 principle, whenever I list out the key players involved in deciding on any piece of EU law, I come to around 500 men and women across Europe. Over time, around 100 of them are more heavily involved and influential, and the vital decisions are taken by about 20.
Sometimes the key people are going to be obvious, the Commissioner or their Cabinet lead. Sometimes, it is going to be a relatively unknown official who has the ear of the Commissioner/Minister. And, more often than not, a few unknown players will emerge that have a vital role in decisions. With experience, you’ll develop a gut feeling for identifying the vital few.
3D Chess – Often played blindfolded
At different times different processes are important. But, all too often people lump the key players into one list and presume they’ll play a similar role throughout the whole game. Such thinking is lazy. At different moments in the game different people will have vital roles and at other times not. Who counts when the Commission is adopting adoption a proposal is very different from when the EP and Council start haggling over the final deal at 2 am.
Recommendations for Foundations and Funders
I am sometimes asked by clients and Foundations how they can find out whether the work they are doing is having a positive impact. I have come up with two solutions:
- Track the work
- Interview the key players at the end
At the age of 45 I start to see things quite simply. I have given up on claims of accomplishments that within a second of thinking amount to nothing more than “correlation is causation”. I have laughed to myself at the claims people have made on the pivotal role their organisation played on a key decision to only find out after interviewing the key official who made that decision “sorry Aaron, I have never heard of them”.
It is useful to keep a track of meetings and accomplishments. It is important to let your client/donor know the result of the meeting and show what comes of it. A weekly or monthly report should help you get a good idea whether their money is working.
What really counts
For me, really only 3 things count:
- Do your ideas dominate and win the debate?
- Are your ideas taken up in the law?
- Is the law implemented as you wanted?