Most government officials that you speak to are genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say. People who run for elected office usually do it because they want to make a difference in their communities. They like talking to others and hearing their ideas on how to improve policies and programs. As an elected representative, speaking to constituents and members of their community is also part of their job.
The staff that develop and run the programs within the government are also interested in hearing about how their programs are working. They are not always able to fix things quickly and easily, but they do listen and will consider the feedback they receive from individuals and organizations.
You can send a letter to your MP, MPP or to a governing body, such as CADTH (Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health) or PMPRB (Patented Medicine Prices Review Board) to voice your concerns over a specific policy or program that is impacting you and other breast cancer patients. While you need to identify the problem, solution and a call-to-action as outlined in our “Communicating Your Story” worksheet, you need to go more in-depth with this when contacting someone in government. Doing this ensures that the issue and the solutions that you propose are in fact within the scope of the government.
Below, we outline (downloadable as a Word and PDF document worksheet) how to identify and ensure that your issue is within the scope of the government. If you are unable to answer a lot of these questions, then you might need to find another strategy and avenue for your advocacy.
What is the actual need for breast cancer patients and how is it not being met by the current policy or program?
What needs to happen to reduce or eliminate the gap between what is needed by breast cancer patients, and what is available? Are there existing models, best practices or successes that can be replicated or expanded?
Who are the people that have the authority and/or jurisdiction that can make changes? Who are the people that can advocate for, or influence others to make changes?
What are the tangible, measurable changes that will result from the proposed solutions?
There are various strategies you can use when advocating for an issue if you choose to engage government relations. Depending on your issue, you may decide to employ a single strategy or a combination of strategies to have your issue addressed. Regardless of which strategies you decide to use, the key to successful advocacy is persistence and patience. These strategies include, but are not limited to:
A petition can be a helpful tool to demonstrate support for a particular issue to influence decision-makers. Petitions are a collection of signatures from people who support change for a given issue. Petitions are particularly useful for straightforward issues - for example seeking to implement a new policy or program. A typical petition includes a brief explanation of the issue, a clear statement of what you are asking for, and a list of signatures supporting the petition.
If you use other strategies and avenues to advocate for your issue, you can ask others to sign your petition as a call-to-action.
Demonstrations are public events that can help bring widespread exposure to an issue. There are many different types of demonstrations, including marches and rallies. A march involves the advocating group moving from one location to another. The movement of the march can often attract attention from the community, resulting in greater public awareness of the issue. A rally typically takes place in one set location, often of political or symbolic significance. Regardless of the type of demonstration, the intention is the same - to invoke public interest and media attention to your cause.
Social media can be extremely useful in planning, promoting and documenting a demonstration, as well as for disseminating information to fellow advocates, the media and the general public. If you use other strategies and avenues to advocate for your issue, you can ask others to join your demonstration as a call-to-action.
Lobbying involves engaging key decision-makers about your concerns. It can be done through writing letters, emails and meeting with elected and appointed representatives. It can be done at the local, municipal, provincial, or federal levels and you can lobby on your own or as part of a larger group. When lobbying a decision-maker, it is critical to keep your messaging brief and concise. You should be able to summarize your issue in a few short statements, propose 1-2 potential solutions to the issue and have a specific ask for the decision-maker. Sharing a relevant personal anecdote can help convey the impact of the issue and forge a connection with the decision-maker.
If you use other strategies and avenues to advocate for your issue, you can ask others to join a lobbying group as a call-to-action.
You can use these sample letters to government officials, CADTH and PMPRB as examples of what engaging government relations via letter writing looks like.