Your lobby group – the best influence money can buy?

When Australia had a wool reserve price scheme, a woolgrower could judge how influential farmer representative groups were by how successful they were in campaigning for higher wool prices. Similarly, when the dairy market in Australia was regulated, a good barometer of the strength of dairy-farmer organisations was the price farmers received for milk.

However, the deregulation of almost all agricultural markets in Australia over the past two decades has dramatically altered the roles of farmer organisations, and they now have a much less obvious and measurable impact on the farmgate returns of farmers.

Other changes in the Australian economy over the last two decades have also dramatically altered the operating environment of farmers advocacy organisations. Even a decade ago, the internet was not as universally available as it currently is, and nor were smartphones. Both these developments have made information almost universally and instantly available, and broken down the monopoly that farmer organisations had on information about government policies affecting their members.

Advocacy organisations in Australia and internationally are struggling with the implications of these dramatic changes in society over the past decade. Many are looking for ways to improve their effectiveness and to regain membership support.

In its latest research, Opportunities to improve the effectiveness of Australian farmers’ advocacy groups – a comparative approach, the Australian Farm Institute has conducted research with the aim of identifying the factors that are likely to make an advocacy organisation more effective. The research has identified that there are six important factors that contribute to the effectiveness of advocacy organisations, and while these by themselves cannot necessarily guarantee that an organisation will achieve ‘wins’ for its members, it appears difficult to be effective if these factors are not addressed. The critical factors are:

  • Strength of business model: the long-term capacity of the group, seen as a business, to finance its activities and objectives.
  • Coverage: the extent to which a group covers members’ issues from local to international levels, and in sub-sectors of its membership population.
  • Legitimacy: the extent to which an advocacy group is recognised and respected by policy-makers, the media and the wider community.
  • Consistency: whether the values underpinning the group’s collective activities are clear, strong and consistent over time and across issues.
  • Competitiveness: the capacity of the group to successfully respond to counter-arguments by opposing interest groups.
  • e-capacity: the extent to which the group successfully uses different communications tools, focusing mainly on electronic and multimedia communications.

The research involved a detailed analysis of international farmer advocacy groups and some non-farm Australian advocacy groups using these factors as a means of comparison. The same approach was taken to assessing the Australian farmer advocacy system.

The figures below show a comparison of how each of the organisations included in the study ranked against the six criteria listed above. Some obviously scored better against some of these factors than others did, and the standout organisation included in the comparison was Choice, the Australian consumer organisation. The research highlighted that there is no obvious ‘magic bullet’ that can automatically make an advocacy organisation more effective and sustainable

The research report will be released at a seminar to be held in Canberra on 3 March 2014. The research report also contains the results of a national survey of farmers’ perceptions of farmer advocacy groups, and the results of a survey of journalists and media about their perceptions about the effectiveness of agricultural advocacy groups. 

Figure 1:  Advocacy effectiveness criteria applied to the agricultural advocacy systems of New Zealand, Canada and France.

Figure 2: Advocacy effectiveness criteria applied to CHOICE, ACCI and the Australian agricultural advocacy system.

Images:  C Downie, Lock the Gate, NFF, The Petite Four

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