For many organisations, their public affairs activity will focus on Westminster and Whitehall but the real threats can come from outside those narrow confines. Without taking the time to look elsewhere, we could be missing our next big political challenge.
For most public affairs matters, the key decision makers are those around the Parliaments and Assemblies. These officials and politicians, draft policies and legislation, scrutinise and pass it. But as we have to understand the decision-making processes and influences on it and the people involved, we should think outside of national lines as well. In other words, we need to think beyond the domestic and look what is happening globally.
The pressures and influences, as well as fresh ideas, can come from outside of narrow national borders. Just as campaigners can learn from examples around the country, what has worked or hasn’t, the way organisations react, how projects have been stopped, the same is true from what happens in other countries as well. They too can be applied.
If one Government passes a set of regulations or new regulations, does that help to apply pressure on our own politicians? Can it be used as an example by others? Can we even think about this as a globalisation of public affairs?
There are a few examples that spring to mind. The introduction of plain packaging for tobacco in Australia certainly gave the UK government more room to introduce their own version. The moves by countries such as France and the UK on the taxation of tech companies has helped make it more mainstream policy option for governments.
The recent news that Australia and Google are coming to serious blows over an alleged misuse of market power, possible regulation and Google’s threat to shut down its service there should be taken seriously by all. It appears to have all been triggered by the Australian government’s desire for Google to pay for news content on its site.
Laws and regulations in one country can, in effect, give permission for others to take a look at the options as well. This is especially the case if those on the receiving end of the laws or regulations fail to challenge them or campaign against them. In that setting, you can see why Google are taking the Australian plans so seriously.
The tech firms, given their very global nature, seem particularly susceptible to these sort of knock-on effects. But we should not think about this just in terms of sectors. The environmental agenda, which is relevant to all organisations, should be in our thoughts. But reputations too are increasingly global. Actions, behaviour or mis-behaviour in one country are quickly communicated around the world. We often know how badly a company or chief executive has behaved even if we have never heard of them before! So it is not just about policies.
So, what can you do to help have this wider perspective?
- Make sure your monitoring picks up on key issues wherever they occur.
- Take some time to read articles on relevant issues even if they are from outside your normal jurisdiction.
- Listen to some podcasts from around the world (I quite like the NPR Politics, Guardian Australian Politics, New Yorker: Politics and More, and RNZ: Focus on Politics).
- Have public affairs you can talk to, formally or informally, in the countries where the issues blow up.