There are several ways to engage elected officials in municipal, provincial and federal governments. Social media, emails, letters, phone calls, community events and in-person meetings are all common channels for reaching legislators.
The channel you choose will depend on the nature of the discussion you wish to have. For example, if you wish to comment on a policy or ask a question to an MP in a public forum without a formal agenda, you can engage the MP via social media or at a community event. On the other side of the spectrum, if you wish to have a formal discussion where your objective is to discuss a specific issue, you are better off writing a letter or scheduling an in-person meeting.
Regardless of the type of engagement, there are some best practices for communicating with legislators that will help you have a constructive conversation:
- Do your research ahead of time. Before you open the dialogue, take the time to really understand the issue/policy you plan to discuss. Your research will help you narrow down the key influencers within government who are worth engaging. Once you have a list of people, dig a little deeper to find out where these individuals stand on the issue/policy.
- Keep it simple. Elected officials want messages to be as concise as possible. That goes for all forms of communication, including letters and in-person meetings. If you have more detailed materials to reinforce your case, offer to provide them as further reading.
- Don’t go straight to the top. It’s important to respect the bureaucracy of government when engaging legislators. In fact, it’s often more effective to communicate through political staff or public servants. These people serve as information gatekeepers, so nurturing relationships with them and respecting their role as the first point of contact within an elected official’s office will increase the likelihood that your message reaches the official.
- Stay patient and be professional. Keep in mind that elected officials and their underlying staff are bombarded with requests and messages each day. That makes engaging with them a slow process. Trying to force the issue for a response or advocating too aggressively is likely to just result in you being ignored. Be patient, courteous and professional.
Just remember that the above suggestions apply only if you are an individual or small group contacting the government as volunteers on your own time. If you are being paid to contact the government, you are considered a lobbyist and therefore subject to registration and other regulation.