Today in Europe, Lobbying, Public Affairs (PA) and Government Relations (GR) practitioners suffer from low recognition, a shortage of qualified practitioners, a lack of regulation and a lack of credibility. Althoug the industry has grown at a fast pace, especially at the Brussels level, the profession has not yet matured in terms of achieving professional status in the eyes of society as a whole. It is precisely due to the lack of any appropriate regulations that quasi-lobbying in many member states is perceived as an activity which is illegitimate, privy of a narrow circle and latent. This, undoubtedly nurtures the image of negative stereotypes in society's consciousness.

Under a universal accredition programme, professions like medicine, law and accountancy have met and maintained the criteria of professionalism such as gaining competencies from accredited educational institutions, becoming members of a professional body, and abiding by codes of ethics. Four pillars of professional development can be distinguished:

1) The profession must become a "terminal occupation" (full time). This is compulsory for the process of professionalism because it entails "routinization" of the work and a relatively high level of commitment to the development of the profession;

2) The establishment of exclusive training schools (approved by a professional association) where a steady development of approved curricula is established. Exclusive academic and/or professional qualifications must be clearly set up to demonstrate the substantial and rigorous knowledge and skills of the profession;

3) On completion of such training (2) all graduates must join the professional association and adhere to membership criteria and regulations set by the association. Qualifying examinations are offered to evaluate the levels of practitioners' competencies. Continuous professional development (CPD) is mandatory for all members to expand their knowledge and kills and the profession is seen as élifelong learning";

4) All members must abide by rules of conduct (a formal code of ethics) and the stringent regulation formed by council members of the professional association. Eliminating unqualified practitioners, minimizing internal competition, protecting clients and focusing a service ideal are parts of the regulation sanction that is clearly stated in the code of ethics.

Unlike medicine, law or accountnacy, Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations is not exactly a "learned profession" because there is no one solution which can be applied across the board. Activities are essentially on a case by case basis.

Accreditation (registration) is an important requirement to professionalization of the Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations practice. There is a need to develop a universal professional body in this field to regulate and serve the community.

Concerning the quality of the competencies of Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations practitioners, nurturing professionals in this field is vital to meet the growing needs and demands of the industry and this requieres the establishment of an exclusive qualification and training school. Possessing the right academic and professional qualifications as a knwoledge base is what will enable practitioners to practice the profession professionally.

Importantly, adhering to a code of ethics is very, very important for the practitioners. Indeed, managing trust, transparency and good governance to gain credibibility from their stakeholders is an imperative.

Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations can be a "true profession" if all parties involved are united and committed to develop standardized, universal forms of practice. The most critical factor that diminishes the value of Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations is the quality and precision of the practice. Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations must be seen as a "terminal" occupation that maintains its exclusivity to balance its dual role as advancing stakeholders/clients importance and protecting the public interest.

The forming of an independent professional association in EU member states is vital, provided that it follows global standards in terms of several key elements: strategic plans; universal accreditation (registration); global benchmarking standards; international relations; continuous professional development; a code of ethics; membership beenfits; and training and qualifications. It is arguable,however whether, even if all/the majority of Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations professional associations in the world developed and practised global standards of professionalism under "one profession and one voice", Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations would be recognized as a profession. In order to realize this vision, developing a universal body of Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations knowledge is the top priority towards professionalization of this field. Competent practitioners need to be accredidated to differentiate between real practitioners and the non-qualified practitioners. The nuturing of real practitioners and especially the enhancement of the levels of competencies among the Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations community will be a long process.

It is AALEP's view that the public image and recognition of the persons involved in Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations activities can only be improved by using an accepted official qualification framework which describes the knowledge, skills and competencies practitioers need and the maintenance of such qualifications through mandatory continuous professional development.

To conclude:

Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations practitioners must reach a consensus about their role and function. Formal training programmes should be instituted, which means that competent trainers should be identified and cultivated. As these training programmes become more established, professional associations should emerge to represent the interests of the community of practitioners and to enforce a stringent code of ethics. In turn, as these associations grow stronger, they should strive to educate the public and potential clients about the role of Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations practitioners and the importance of hiring a trained professional. They should also establish a good working relationship with the relevant authorities who may wish to regulate the profession. A credible certification programme should be developed to encourage practitioners to obtain proper training and to instill public trust in the profession. This is not a linear process, but a circular or spiral progression with each stage influencing both the preceding and succeeding ones.

As a result of this process, Lobbying, Public Affairs and Government Relations will be a strong and respected profession with a recognized body of knowledge and credentialing process, a financially and intellectually rewarding occupation that will attract the most qualified pratitioners. It will not be a smooth or easy process, but it will be well worth the effort.

Comments are most welcome.



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