Policy influence may be broken into four types : expanding policy capacities, affecting policy debates, affecting policy regimes, and developing new policy regimes :  

1. Expanding policy capacities refers to the strengths developed within an NGO and among its partners: 1) to conduct and create useful policy-relevant research, 2) to translate the research into policy positions and knowledge which policymakers can use, 3) to communicate that knowledge and those positions to diverse target audiences for the purpose of educating, convening, mobilizing or influencing policy changes, and 4) to build and use networks for research and exchange. It encompasses the improvement of the capacities of the NGO’s researchers, as well as those of the NGO’s own policy-making bodies (boards, committees), education and campaign staff, or volunteer groups at national or local levels. It tries to determine if research contributed to the policy capacity of the NGO and its (domestic or overseas) partners such that these bodies are now in a better position to understand the value of research to influencing work, to grasp the policies themselves, and to represent the findings more effectively to target audiences whose policies they want to change.  

2. Affecting policy debates (process and/or content) refers to the interaction between the NGOs and its partners on the one hand, and the groups that are the targets of NGO influencing activity (governments, corporations, multilaterals etc.) on the other. It is an attempt to gauge whether the NGO and its viewpoints are seen more credible, even if these views differ from those of the target group(s), and/or whether the terms of debates with these target audiences have noticeably changed- in either process or content- as a result of the dialogue and influencing activity. Or have NGO efforts created a broader policy horizon amongst policymakers? All this is independent of whether any actual policy change has taken place.

3. Affecting policy regimes refers to actual changes of policy by target groups which can be ascribed in some measure to the influence activity of the NGO and its partners (the evidence rarely shows a one-to-one cause and effect relationship). Such policy changes can come in several more formal (and perhaps) rarer forms: new or amended laws, regulations, rules of trade, or structures for decision-making, implementation or monitoring. Or they may be manifested through changes in positions to target audiences bring to the discussion on the negotiation table.

4. Developing new policy regimes refers to emerging issues an NGO may have been able to pressure a target group, which responds by establishing policy in an area where there was no policy previously.

Criteria for competence of an NGO in trade policy, research and influencing

  • Ability to understand policy processes and develop effective strategies to engage with them (ability to locate the ‘policy change windows’) taking into account internal/external and macro/micro contexts. Must have a finger on the pulse of the policy process.
  • Ability to gather ‘hard’ (e.g. data) and ‘soft’ (e.g. stories) credible evidence, from local, regional and global levels, primary and secondary sources, as appropriate to the various stages of the policy process.
  • Ability to use research evidence to formulate proposals having a realistic potential for changing trade and investment policy in order to advance the cause of the poor and marginalized and/or enhance the environment.
  • Ability to use a range of tools to engage directly and indirectly with policymakers, gain their trust, build relationships based on tow-way communication, and establish the NGO as a credible voice.
  • Ability to communicate evidence and policy proposals to policymakers in ways policymakers can understand and use.
  • Ability to combine forces with other organisations in networks and coalitions for learning and greater political impact.
  • Ability to engage in a peer review process to validate research findings.
  • Presence of a strategy for development of trade research and influencing capacity, whether in-house, within grassroots or networked partner organisations, or through contracted expertise.
  • Ability to self-critically reflect on their own research and influencing performance and apply lessons learned (monitoring and evaluation)
  • Persistence over the long term, to follow the entire policy process.
  • Ideally, the ability to anticipate issues before they surface on policymaker agendas so that research and proposals can be readied beforehand.
  • Ideally, some successes in getting their issues onto policymaker agendas changing the terms of the debate, or affecting policy regimes.

  The above criteria are not only for large well-funded international NGOs. There is enough space to include smaller, local/national/regional NGOs, which are important links in the chain. 

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