How can political leaders mobilise public will to secure political will? This chapter from the World Bank’s book Governance Reform Under Real World Conditions examines communication strategies for securing political will. These involve defining the issue, focusing attention on the issue and affecting policy. Securing public and political will involves a complex interplay of factors; it is advisable to use a number of approaches simultaneously.
Public and political will have the power to mould opinion and shape legislation. Public will campaigns focus on a particular issue with the goal of defining how it is perceived by the public and setting a specific policy agenda for how to address it. The goal is often to target average citizens, political leaders, policymakers and legislators to effect change through the political system. In contrast, political will is demonstrated by broad leadership support for change, which often results in policy change. Some of the same strategies applied to mobilising public will can be extended to securing political will.
There are three main elements to securing public and political will: identifying and defining issues for attention; focusing attention on an issue; and affecting policy on an issue. The first two processes involve building public will and the third results from securing political will.
- Social problem construction theory suggests three strategies for influencing public will: First, defining the social problem and providing examples that will resonate with the public. Second, using statistics to demonstrate the importance of the problem. Third, tying the problem to an obvious solution.
- Many theories and models address how an issue gains public and political attention. These include agenda-building theory, redefining and framing social problems, agenda-setting through the media, and leveraging social capital.
- Policy makers are likely to be aware of issues that have received public attention. The issue attention cycle explains the transitory nature of the policy agenda, encompassing five stages: (1) pre-problem stage; (2) alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm; (3) realisation of cost; (4) gradual decline of public interest; and (5) post-problem stage.
Securing political and public will involves a complex interplay of factors. Recommended actions include the following:
- Define problems in terms of a group’s particular interests. Pay attention to defining the problem and connecting a solution to a chosen definition. Winning a place on the public agenda requires passionate advocacy.
- Recognise that methods for focusing attention on an issue may vary within and between countries; tailoring campaigns to a global constituency of policymakers creates challenges. Theories have been predominantly tested in democratic societies and may not apply in the same way in nondemocratic societies.
- Remember that issues that are abstract, long-term, low in complexity and new with a broad impact are more likely to gain attention.
- Frame issues for access and content to improve chances of media exposure. In some countries, media access is vital to mobilising public and political will.
- Use informal networks to help gain supporters and widen recognition of the problem. Once an issue gains some momentum, policymakers begin to focus on it. Constant redefinition of the problem can help keep it on the policy agenda.