Confronting no


For policy advocates, as Sean Moore articulates, a key skill is recognizing and confronting the many ways dominant actors and decision makers say "no".  It is critical to anticipate and have responses to these objections, many of which are part of the dominant narrative but not actually accurate. Each advocacy effort will be unique, with unique responses, but objections commonly employed in the food system are:

We're already over-regulated

Companies often think regulations are impeding innovation. It is not usually the case that there are too many regulations, but rather that governments aren't always nimble at updating them with changing circumstances. Proposing changes that can contribute to nimbleness is part of thinking through the transition.  Effective regulation shapes market activity in the direction of social objectives, which for private businesses often feels like over-regulation because their purposes are often at odds with public ones.  This is a critical indication of market failure.

We can leave that to the market

Regulators are typically reacting to market developments rather than proactively attempting to shape how markets function. Market failure, however, is widespread which is of course why state intervention is often required. Having a solid understanding of how market failure plays out, with evidence, in an issue area is important for countering this, as many decision makers are not well informed on market dysfunction.

The changes cost too much

Firms are usually looking to minimize costs and that often means trying to get someone else to pay them.  Departments have particular processes for changing budget allocations, and the annual setting of the budget by the government of the day  is also a specific process that can be influenced with the right campaign.  But, departments will often balk at proposals because they have other priorities for the budget process. So, it's not necessarily the case that proposals cost too much, but rather how they fit with a department's internal priorities.

The proposals are too vague

This is often accurate since advocates often fail to think properly through the details.  Other times, however, it is an indication that regulators or firms don't really understand what is being proposed.

We're too busy

This is often a problem when dealing with firms because decision makers are very tied up with operations and don't want to think about big picture changes.  Often, in fact, the big issues are rarely discussed in an organization.

Senior management will never agree

Middle managers often use this as a dodge, deflecting attention from their own disagreements with the proposals or lack of knowledge.

The changes are too complex

Commonly, officials will ask advocates for their top 3 proposals.  Of course, most issues are so complex, that three changes will not be sufficient.

That's not our department

This is often true, as advocates pitch their proposals to the wrong place in the system.  But it can also represent gaps in governance, whereby no department wishes to take responsibility.  It's critical for advocates to have a clear idea of jurisdiction and responsibilities.

We just changed the rules on that and no one wants to discuss it right now

This can just be bad timing, or another deflection.  Having as much knowledge as possible of internal discussions is important to work through this obstacle.

We'll never get the stakeholders to agree

A classic dodge, and one historically deliberately propagated by decision makers in consultations.

I can't talk about that

Firms consider alot of matters to be confidential business information (CBI).  Governments can claim ministerial confidentiality.  It is increasingly the case that employees of firms and governments are "muzzled" by senior management.

It's a dangerous precedent

A common no when governments are worried not about your proposal but what it might mean for future interventions and implementation.

The silent no

Nobody gets back to you.