Prioritize engagement with the following government departments and system partners. Note that depending on your local community, the departments will differ and the functions may be delivered through varying levels of governments. You should ensure you map these out.
- Child Protection
- Human Services
- Homeless supports
Public System Partners
- Police service
- Public & separate boards of education
- Child, youth and family services authority
- Health services
- Correctional services & young offender programs
On and Off-reserve Indigenous Leadership & Government
Government of Canada
- Indigenous Affairs & Northern Development
- Economic and social development
- Justice Canada
- Community & neighbourhood services
- Social housing corporation
We have identified the key government departments you should engage when planning your consultation approach, but who within those departments should you contact? Unfortunately, there is no set rule for the right person to engage and best approach to doing so. There are however some considerations. Firstly, it’s important to prioritize the target departments and decision makers you want to engage. You may have internal champions who have an interest in the issue or even have a mandate as part of their job to advance it. You likely know representatives of the key departments and public systems you want to engage, or you’ve started making those connections during the research phase of the plan. For an example of how provincial government can build a clear direction across departments, look to the Alberta Youth Plan under Appendix 3 for an example.
Identifying these allies and working to flesh out your engagement strategy with insider knowledge will be more effective than cold calls. However, in some cases you will have to make those calls in the absence of a facilitated introduction. If there is a person or group in government working on a related issue, include a meeting with such individuals early on to exchange information and potentially save each other unnecessary duplicate efforts and/or surprises. Identify potential allies through your personal networks or your planning team.
Develop a strategy to engage elected representatives and various levels within the administration. By fostering personal relationships with ministers, you can increase their ability to move certain issues. They may frequent the same social scene for example. Ministers are also part of interest groups as well. You can also try to influence public opinion, which in turn gains attention from the government.
Politics is all about people. While bureaucratic processes are designed to be open, fair and non-discriminatory; as with many other transactions, building positive relationships with the right people is helpful. It’s much easier to ask for something from someone who already has a positive impression of you than from a complete stranger. The more you understand what motivates politicians, their staff and public servants as well as their plans and priorities, the more readily you’ll be able to determine effective approaches to influence them.
To raise awareness of your ask and build relationships within administration, consider:
- Starting with who you know and work your way up;
- If you’re not getting the response you want, let your contact know you’re going to the next level so they’re not blindsided;
- Taking new ideas to the executive level responsible for that area (usually a director or above);
- Finding someone who can make decisions, think outside the box and see the big picture; and
- Regional officials may not always be plugged into head office developments so ask them who might have the latest information or is the decision making-authority.
Knowing the Key Players
The Be HIPP manual provides useful summary of description of ‘who’s who’ and their role in decision making.
Members of Provincial Legislatures
So what do you want from government?
In an ideal world, government would commit to ending youth homelessness and co-develop an evidence-based approach with community stakeholders to achieve this vision within an aggressive timeline supported by adequate resources. Of course, that may not be feasible at the outset of the planning process. In fact, your plan may raise a new vision of what the government’s role should be.
Carefully consider what you are seeking from various stakeholders in government during the plan development process. You may simply want to keep them informed and seek their participation in consultations. Or, you may indeed develop a covalent advocacy strategy around ending youth homelessness alongside your plan. You can develop a funding ask to support your plan process, test an innovative programmatic intervention or create a new funding stream specifically dedicated to implementing the plan. You may also have specific asks emerging around changes to policy in various ministries that you can advance.
You can also ask government to develop their own ending homelessness plan in conjunction with your community plan and even develop infrastructure mechanisms to facilitate cross-departmental dialogue and policy coordination to advance solutions.
The role of the government should be to:
- Establish a shared vision, provincial priorities and policy directions amongst all ministries;
- Facilitate collaboration among individuals, families and communities to prevent youth homelessness through education and awareness;
- Support the provision of coordinated and integrated supports and services at the community level;
- Provide the legislative and policy framework and funding support to address youth homelessness;
- Support opportunities to share knowledge between policy makers, academics and service providers; and
- Support existing best and promising practices and innovative research and programming.
In Alberta, a cross-ministry committee made up of key provincial departments supported the plan to end youth homelessness and to promote integration. See the Resource section for the Terms of Reference from this committee.
Consider that many people who work in government or within public systems are well aware of the system gaps and barriers youth face. Many share your frustration and want to support change. Personal, one-to-one meetings with casework supervisors or frontline managers (i.e. people connected to the frontline but also involved in systems/high-level work/strategy) can be great starting points for building allies. This, tied with alignment with system planning, can connect the dots between what is happening on the ground and what is being planned at higher levels. Also, if there are resources being allocated specifically to housing for youth this is a great carrot for systems to align, as most can dish out for supports but few can actually deal with housing. Another part of this is the potential reduction in workload for caseworkers/therapists – so many spend a large portion of their time working on housing issues. It’s all about framing their involvement as ‘what in it for you,’ because as a community, there is a lot to be gained by developing more effective responses to youth homelessness.
You’re more likely to have success if you:
● Develop a well-defined advocacy plan focused on one or two policy issues
● Adjust tactics to engage government, depending on how interested the government is in addressing homelessness in general and youth homelessness in particular;
● Align your asks with existing government activities and priorities to increase the likelihood of government buy-in;
● Focus on solutions-oriented advocacy. Either pointing out what government is doing wrong or just raising awareness are useful only if the government is not addressing homelessness, and even then, offer help, rather than simply identifying mistakes and shortcomings;
● Align yourself with other communities doing similar work, and coordinate your asks and messages. This is more effective than having each community act on its own, especially given the competition between advocacy groups.
● Produce well-researched positions and data to aid your ability to influence, especially if the government does not already have this information;
● Recruit charismatic, well-positioned leaders who are respected by government and administration to help deliver your messages and requests;
● Identify the right elected officials and administrations to approach. Work your networks for someone you already know in your community who might open a door for you, particularly with government ministers;
● Leverage solid relationships fostered with policy-makers at different levels of government,
● Be mindful of the economic environment: no matter how well-prepared you are, if you ask for funding during a time of restraint, you are less likely to get it; and
● Cultivate a reputation as a useful and credible source of information.
Here is a useful example from Newfoundland and Labrador where Choices for Youth analyzed the new government's mandate letter relevant to youth homelessness . By understanding where government is at with respect to diverse social issues relevant to youth homelessness, you can find levers to hook your issue into as opportunities arise.
Table 23: Provincial Ministers Commitments
Public policy tactics
Effective advocates develop deliberate messages, use savvy lobbying techniques and build organizational capacity. Key strategies include press conferences, op-ed pieces and guest articles, phone calls and letters to elected officials. They also plan local events such as site visits and ceremonies.
You can increase support for the ending youth homelessness initiative by:
- Raising concerns; for example, point out the negative consequences of existing or planned actions,
- Swaying decision makers’ thinking,
- Letting other opinion leaders know where you stand,
- Finding out about the priorities, concerns and interests of decision makers and who has decision-making power,
- Building new relationships, create a positive image, raise profile, build ongoing support and new allies,
- Offering solutions, exploring options and partnership opportunities,
- Raising public awareness and concern to build wider spread support for your cause.
Public Policy Tactics
The Be HIPP manual to engaging in public policy advocacy provides a number of useful tips for selecting your public policy tactics.
• When relaying a simple message;
• As a follow-up to letters, concerns, invitations;
• Alert to upcoming actions;
• To try and secure a meeting date;
• To relay the importance of an issue; and
• To get information (e.g. identifying who’s the best person to deal with).
• Use to formalize invitations; advise of your interest in meeting; raise a concern; give recognition or show appreciation; pass on congratulations or thanks.
• Can reach several people at once with the same message, making it easier to reply if your message is not complicated,
• Useful as a quick reply to those comfortable with this technology.
STRATEGIC MAILINGS: QUARTERLY UPDATES/NEWSLETTERS
• Raises awareness, ensuring others know about your ongoing contributions to the community,
• Keeps your organization on the radar screen,
• Creates a positive impression,
• Don’t create information overload by sending irrelevant information that appears unprofessional.
INVITATIONS TO A SPECIAL EVENT
• Opportunity to show what you do, others can see what success looks like and better understand what is required to succeed,
• Allows politicians to hear firsthand from the front line and those affected by your issue,
• Include politicians in fundraising efforts, educate them on how your work links to their constituents.
SHARING RESEARCH FINDINGS
• Adds legitimacy to your issue,
• Gets your issue on the government’s radar screen,
• Reinforces other messages by demonstrating evidence, especially if it adds to existing evidence.
• Write an op-ed piece, an opinion piece that appears opposite the editorial page, to raise public awareness and understanding about your issue,
• Send a letter to the editor to correct any information that is wrong or to show your organization's support or position for an issue raised in the newspaper.
ORGANIZING A TOUR OR VISIT
• Raises awareness and understanding, builds relationships,
• Invite politicians for breakfast or lunch or to see a part of your organization they would not normally see,
• Allows people to see first-hand the impact of your work, especially if personal testimonials are included.
HOSTING A COMMUNITY FORUM
• Positions you as a leader, builds momentum,
• Draws in others and gains their commitment and support,
• Raises community awareness and concern,
• Provides a venue for those affected to speak to decision makers.
ATTENDING PUBLIC PRESENTATIONS, HEARINGS OR CONSULTATIONS
• Opportunity to provide technical information and advice and share knowledge or research,
• Good for raising awareness, increasing support.
• Good for generating media attention, showing strength if other tactics are not getting desired attention.
MEETING PUBLIC SERVANTS
• Gain information about what’s happening,
• Helps to better understand constraints, concerns, possible competing interests,
• Explore possibilities; raise profile; build relationships.
BRINGING PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS TO MEET POLITICIANS
• Helps politicians put a human face to the situation and to see first-hand the realities,
• Helps build greater commitment to addressing your issue.
MEETING WITH POLITICIANS
• Provides a forum to make your views heard and to raise any concerns,
• Enables you to find out more about the government’s perspective on an issue; to hear first-hand their concerns, priorities and interests,
• To look for common issues and win-win opportunities; can explore opportunities for partnership,
• Good opportunity to make your case and position your organization in their minds,
• Recognize that meetings rarely lead to tangible commitments.
MEETING WITH POLITICAL AIDES
• Can help increase attention to the issue,
• Can assist with securing a meeting with key people,
• Can help build internal supporters or champions,
• Get advice on how to proceed, other contacts and possible strategies,
• Gain a political perspective for an issue raised in the newspaper.
MEETING WITH LEADERS IN OTHER SECTORS
• To gather support and build allies by building cross-sectoral support for your issue,
• To raise awareness and increase understanding,
• To line up representatives from sectors that normally would not be involved, to speak out, showing how widespread and mainstream is the support.