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  • Writer's pictureDarcy Nicolle

Lobbying for Innovation

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

Do rules help or hinder your innovative product? To help, the rules often need to be changed, requiring both political impetus and input from you.

Political impetus is the game changer - consider that it usually takes between four and seven years for a new ventilator to get through the regulatory approval process – but with the Covid 19 crisis and politicians pushing hard, timescales have come down to weeks and months instead of years. An extreme example maybe, but it illustrates how political impetus can rapidly change regulatory environments and markets. And a similar acceleration may well be seen in the rules for vaccine approvals and Artificial Intelligence (AI) for tracking and facial recognition.

Typically, the political challenges facing a new technology are several – that little is known about it or its potential; it could be unclear which ministry is in charge of regulating it; multiple ministries maybe involved; and there maybe several agencies vying to regulate it. And the political risk you face can vary from no regulatory action being taken, through to overreaction and overregulation. A key determinant in shaping the outcome is external input from you, your competitors’, activists and academia.

To be influential, you do not need to be a large company with huge resources. The first and most important thing you need to do, is to decide whether you can accept the political risks of doing nothing, or if you cannot, take the decision to go out and get your voice heard. The second, is focused effort on generating political impetus.

Step 1

Identify the key problem your new product faces in getting to market and think what a solution could be. For example, if there are potential safety fears holding up progress, would a code of best practice allay them?

Step 2

Formulate your message –

· State what is the broader benefit of your technology (for society, the economy, the environment) not just your narrow concerns – as it is the broader message which is politically important;

· Identify the sticking point – your key problem; and

· Put forward your solution.

Proposing a solution is a vital political element, as it sets you up right from the start as a positive seeker of solutions, not just a negative complainer. Focusing on a single problem gives your message clarity.

Step 3

Identify which government departments and agencies could be involved in regulating your product and plan to meet with them over a defined period. A 3-month period is good to work with – less intimidating than a year, while still being a decent and achievable timeframe to allow you to take stock and review progress.

Step 4

Reach out and put forward your arguments to the government departments. Aim for the senior working officials (usually Heads and deputy Heads of departments, or “Units” in the European Commission). They are usually in their positions for longer periods and can be valuable contacts to build on when you broaden your contact making.

Use your advantage of being outside the system to encourage linkages between different departments. Capitalise on opportunities to encourage political action, for example if your technology is “green” use the political impetus for a “Green Deal” in Europe to make your case.

Take opportunities to become “a stakeholder” and give your input directly into public consultations (these usually happen when a government is considering future policies). Government officials and agencies are often at trade shows and they can help guide you to who you should be speaking with.

Look to see if you can gain allies in your efforts – and be as creative as you can. These allies could be peer companies as well as associations or even activist groups. Alliances act as “multipliers” to your efforts to spur political impetus.

For new technologies, the political problem nearly always boils down to the fact that the rules and the rule-makers are designed and structured to help existing technologies, not to encourage new ones. It seems almost surreal to think that at the dawning of the internal combustion engine in the 19th century, British laws stifled innovation by limiting the speed of automobiles in town to two miles an hour (3.2kph) and on top, stipulated that a man had to walk in front of the car with a red warning flag.

Make sure there is not a red flag holding up your innovation!

Darcy Nicolle is CEO of Political Solutions and author of “The Secret Art of Lobbying” the essential business guide to winning in the political jungle. Learn more

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