Keeping track of political intelligence is the lifeblood of public affairs. But having information is not enough. The critical element is what you do with it.
The first set of decisions to make is where to draw your information from.
Parliament – Always a good starting point – across debates, questions, committee proceedings, bills, early day motions etc. The Parliament could be any of those across the UK.
Government – Departments issue a range of documents including press releases, consultations, policy documents.
Speeches – Pay attention to what politicians say and do.
Think tanks, third party reports etc. – These often shape the wider policy setting so pay attention and know what conversations taking place are.
Media and social media – Especially through the likes of Twitter. Politicians, and other stakeholders, make comments, get involved in debates and make their support, opposition or positions known.
This isn’t an exhaustive list but should be the type of information that you are aiming to collect. You can do this yourselves but, as may be clear from the list, there can be a lot of sources to consider. This is why many prefer to outsource their monitoring.
But once you have all the information, what should you do with it?
There should first be a prioritisation of the information that comes in. That process should be led by your overall public affairs strategy enabling you to be considered in your approach rather than simply reactionary.
That prioritisation could be based around the issue, or the people involved.
Critically, and in my opinion the basis of all good public affairs, the information gathered enables you to be proactive. It facilitates outreach. It enables new contacts to be established. Existing contacts can be reinforced through the offer of support, for instance when debates are tabled.
Monitoring also enables you to identify emerging issues or trends but equally you may see attention moving elsewhere. All these risks and opportunities need to be managed and exploited.
But it is not just about you and what the team do with the information. Does it need to be distributed to others as well? This could be internally but also maybe telling others externally as well if that helps your programme. Maybe partner organisations need to be brought up to speed on developments. At all times, consider how you deliver that information, internally or externally, to ensure that there is an explanation and maybe an action point to go with it. Otherwise, it is all too easily ignored.
Of course, this only captures the ‘formal’ information that is gathered. That is only part of the story. You also need to be gathering information ‘informally’ as well through your networks, by attending events etc.
My plea is that rather than the focus of activity being having a monitoring system in place, it should be having a plan to make of most of the information when it arrives. It is too easy to put monitoring at the bottom of the list of priorities, but its output should be at the very top of your list.