Step 1: Developing a research agenda

In order to effectively make the case for policy or regulatory change, arguments need to be fact-based and supported by up to date and relevant evidence.

This requires a holistic and comprehensive understanding of the constraints on enterprises, including constraints that may be specific to women-owned and managed businesses. Even if an EO has indentified a clear constraint on enterprises and has unequivocal information for pursuing an agenda of policy or regulatory change, it still needs a wider perspective.

  • What other issues impact on the constraint?
  • Is the constraint time bound?
  • Is it politically feasible to expect change?
  • Who else is interested in alleviating this constraint?
  • Who is interested in maintaining the status quo?

Effective and permanent research abilities will provide an EO with the answers to many of these questions.

A permanent role of an EO is in many ways akin to that of a watchtower, continually monitoring the policy environment to identify potentially difficulty issues for its member enterprises.

For example, calls for a regulatory change require well-researched arguments that can articulate the regulatory costs to enterprise (e.g. a license or levy) and compliance costs (e.g. the administrative cost to the enterprise of complying, including staff time, etc.). This is vital for the EO's arguments.

But equally important for the EO's strategic approach is to know how much money the government makes as a result of the regulation, and how much it would stand to lose by the changes the EO proposes. Who else could lose or gain from the proposal? (Methodologies for doing this are covered in Part II. Section 2.1 Advocacy Tool 2: Costing proposals)

Gathering "political intelligence" or analysis and research will allow the EO to stay on top of the issues or anticipate opportunities for positive policy change. Continuing analysis also permits the EO to define and track indicators of progress towards its policy goals.

  1. Understanding why the issue is a problem for businesses, including those owned/managed by women;
  2. Understanding the scale and impact of the issue on the private sector;
  3. Understanding the history and rationale for the public policy or regulation that the EO would like to change;
  4. Understanding the harm that the public policy intends to avoid and the associated risk;
  5. Understanding how changing the public policy or regulation will help businesses and also understanding how change might impact other stakeholders;
  6. Framing the issue in language that is clear and appealing to the target audiences;
  7. Being able to communicate the issue in a way that encourages coalitions.

1.1 Identifying issues

EOs will identify the key constraint(s) on enterprises along with other concerns (formally) through its survey function and (informally) through discussions with its members.

It may be tempting to skip this somewhat tedious stage of research and argument preparation, as an EO may feel it simply "knows" what needs to be done and is anxious to start advocating that particular solution.

A danger of the 'we know the problems' approach, is that it prematurely pushes the EO to the next phase of the advocacy process: direct contact with the decision-makers, media, and the larger public. Attempting this external persuasion without paying enough attention to preliminary research can backfire if the EO representatives are caught ill-prepared to talk about the specifics of their policy recommendations or fail to support them with credible evidence.

It is important to think through the issue, define the problem clearly and then test it vigorously. The initial issue may in actual fact not be the major problem. It could turn out that the policy imperative is not the problem itself, but rather the way that the legislation has been framed in order to address that imperative.

The issues identified by the EO have to be concrete. Even if an issue is identified from a survey as a constraint on economic growth perhaps in practice it is not. Say for example that a country has very restrictive regulatory requirements with regard to exporting (in terms of time and procedures to export goods), but perhaps because they are so onerous, in practice they are not applied and a blind eye is turned by authorities. For the EO the question to ask is why waste value political capital on an issue that is not directly affecting enterprises at the moment, when other constraints are actually delaying enterprise operations.

EOs in order to be taken seriously by policy-makers need to take all these issues into consideration in shaping its policy.

In this respect supplementary research will assist the EO in:

  • Confirming that an identified issue is important to members, but also to enterprises who are not members;
  • understanding to some extent the scale and impact, or potential impact, of the identified constraint(s) – for example by determining how many enterprises are affected and whether women-owned businesses are more likely to be affected;
  • understanding the depth of impact, or potential impact, of the identified constraint(s);
  • understand the likely burden that is already, or will be, imposed on enterprises as a result of the identified constraint(s);
  • consider the priority areas of government and assess the chances of the government adopting the EO's proposals (they may be politically supportive of the EOs proposal, but may not have the funds, for example).

1.2 Understanding the issue

Once the EO has identified the issue it wants to purse, and a course of action towards change, it needs to undertake further research to build a comprehensive understanding of the issue. This is likely to include:

  • Researching the history and rationale for the policy/regulatory measure and understanding the cause of the issue(s);
  • considering the implications, certainly for business, but for the other stakeholders also;
  • consideration of the possible solutions to the identified constraint(s), and the likely implications of each for business and for the other stakeholders.

This provides the evidence that the EO needs to support its position. Additional information required:

  • The decision making processes for the specific issue;
  • the current opinions and attitudes of policy makers.

Having an understanding of both of these will help the EO plan its advocacy strategy.

1.3 Analyse the background

If an identified constraint is a specific law, then a mapping exercise should be undertaken. (Methodologies to do this are covered in part 1 Section 1.2 Assessment Tool 5: "Assessing the regulatory environment"). The following questions are relevant in this respect.

  • Where did the legislation originate from?
  • Which interest group advocated it?
  • Was it widely supported?
  • Is it still widely supported?
  • Has the policy/regulation been modified since its original implementation? If so why?
  • What other government actions are related to the policy or regulation?
  • Is it widely implemented?

For the policy process, precedent is important. Action builds on prior action and knowledge of precedents will help the EO to frame problems and find solutions.

Context is also important. The "Record" will show deliberation and debate that will inform a law's original intent together with the intent of amendments to it. If the EO is proposing new action, credibility demands that the EO know the history of prior action and the surrounding deliberation or debate.

Tracing the origins of a law can exemplify its irrelevance or relevance as the case may be. In many developing countries some legislation has been inherited from colonial legal systems and may have remained unchanged over generations. Equally, redundant legislation can remain on the law books long after it has served its purpose.

The right statistics can make the case far more persuasive; however, they need to be used with care. EOs need to explain the figures so they are not open to misinterpretation, or worse, ridicule ‒ which would be seriously damaging for the organization's credibility.

If the EO draws conclusions based on its analysis then it needs to ensure that they are supported by the evidence. The EO will almost certainly want to be selective, but not to the point that people opposed to the EO's position can use the omitted figures against its proposals. It is better to provide as complete information as possible, for it is likely to make the research appear more credible and trustworthy. Finally, emphasize the facts that support its conclusions.

1.4 Categorize information

As the EO gathers the information, it should begin to select and summarize the most pertinent aspects into a working paper. This will help identify deficits in information and areas to strengthen. It will additionally provide to the EO the basis of a paper that it can use to consult more widely. This can also be a space to list and categorize the opposing arguments to the EO's potential position.

Evidence reported from other sources needs to be cited. If the EO's arguments are challenged, it then needs to have the ability to refer to empirical data underpinning such a claim.

1.5 Sharing the research workload

Collaboration with other business organizations means that research and preparatory work can be shared. Different organizations can focus on different, but mutually-agreed areas.

Collaboration shouldn't be confined to other business organizations. Universities or research institutions may have undertaken studies that can be useful to the EO in developing its own policy positions.

Choose areas where an EO can add value. Do your research based on your mandate and your specific added value – your angle and what you want to know.
Do not replicate what others are doing.
Bear in mind what the EO wants the research as starting point. What point do you want to prove?
Know the limitations of research. For example trying to ascertain the 'total costs on firms' is next to impossible. How could you track everything from the cost of energy, to paying for training as one aggregate figure? You would be asking a huge and impossible job of your members.
Sweep other information sources to see whether data can be used by the EO for its own ends.
In determining whether collective efforts at research should be used, consider how valuable or not such an association may be for your EO; for example if the research brings out things that the EO may not agree with or does not want to be associated with – notwithstanding other useful elements of said research.
Are there current opportunities or ones that might emerge in the near future that could facilitate the timing of the EO's proposal?

Can the EO's proposal be linked to other ongoing similar reform proposals?

(1) This approach is adapted from the Business Advocacy Network "Research Strategies":