The four ‘must haves’ in any Public Affairs plan: #2 Issue scenario-building

As many Public Affairs professionals will know, the PA department can have many different tasks to handle, some which may not even be core for a PA function. This depends of course on the organization, the raison d’être for the PA function and how many people will be working to execute the tasks. However, every good PA department starts with a plan - and in this extract from his book “The Public Affairs Engine” Ulobby CEO Anders Kopp Jensen gives his two cents on the four essential parts of such a PA-plan, continuing with step number 2:

Issue scenario-building

So now you know your issues, the stakeholders and their position and you have identified the drivers in the public agenda. But an important next step is of course to identify the different scenarios on your particular issues. Most companies in the survey had between 4-8 issues (median of 5), but everyone should know that you will not succeed in the way you desire on all issues. The most likely outcome – like many things in life – is that you compromise or seek out the minimum acceptable solution in the political environment you are facing. Thus, the experienced PA professionals know that politics require pragmatism and a “best possible solution” approach.

Before PA professionals begin to reach out, assess and describe the following template.

Experienced PA professionals approach this by defining each step and also the barriers and enablers between them. Much depends on how the legislative process proceeds and how you can stimulate (push or slow/break) the progress.

This is important for two reasons: 1) this creates an overview and makes it actionable, and 2) it also functions as an expectation management step internally to make sure the PA efforts are not only measured in a binary dichotomy between best case or not.

In the plan, the PA professional must describe the different issue scenarios and also how to handle smaller changes in the political environment as well as larger incidents such as elections. As William Oberman (2017) stresses, this should also include reflections regarding at what level the issues are based. In other words the “venue”, as in local, state, national or supranational, and “branch”, as in legislative, executive, judicial, as well as the specific “unit”, as in committee, agency, etc., of government in which public policy is formulated or acted upon. Remember to draw a distinction between horizontal (venues at same level of government) and vertical focus areas (multiple possible levels). There are differences and you want to make sure that you “attack” the right level and don’t waste your time!

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