Top tips for virtual political engagement

Tosin Adedayo, 26 June 2020

I recently heard this powerful statement: ‘Social housing saved my life’.

These words may sound familiar for many of us in the sector – but it carries great power when made in the chamber of the House of Commons by an MP on the government’s backbenches.

And for many people during this pandemic, this sentence has never been more true. So we must find a way to get the message out there.

Uniquely placed in every constituency, the diversity of housing associations allows us to offer bespoke engagement to every MP, drawing out regional nuances as well as individual policy interests, to make the case for investment in social housing.

Even with a semi-virtual parliament, MPs continue to hold the government to account and advocate on causes they are passionate about, so it is important that our sector continues to engage with politicians on the difference housing associations make in their constituencies.

Since the lockdown began, my team at the NHF has met several politicians every week using various virtual platforms, and we’ve learnt a lot. So here are my top tips for virtual engagement.

1.    Get zooming

Despite the general perception of parliament as archaic with its traditions and practices, this crisis has shown how swiftly it can adapt to the modern world. Members of Parliament have embraced Zoom and other video conferencing platforms to continue carrying out parliamentary business. This includes meetings with organisations and local businesses to better understand the impact of coronavirus in their constituency and the country.

This is an opportunity for you to strengthen existing relationships and, with a relatively new intake of parliamentarians, build new ones.

In addition to this, during this period, MPs have been inundated with emails and correspondence from constituents. So if you proactively engage they are able to get the answers and context they need to address some of these concerns, without having to reach out. This will save them time and position your organisation and the housing association sector as problem solvers.

2.    Highlight the highs

Coronavirus has brought to the fore the breadth of work housing associations do. Whether it’s providing care to older people, homes for rough sleepers and domestic abuse victims or simply delivering food and groceries to vulnerable residents, housing associations have been at the front line of this crisis. Our Communities Together case studies have shone a light on this.

MP meetings are an opportunity to showcase the brilliant work housing association staff are doing locally and the impact this work has made to better the experience of many people during what has arguably been one of the most challenging times in recent history.

So use your case studies, which you can also package up as briefing documents to share as a follow up after meetings, or in between meetings, to create an open dialogue with MPs and their offices. 

3.    Keep it simple and relatable

Less than 10% of communication is verbal and, with so much body language lost on a video call, it’s inevitable that attention spans will also dwindle over time.

It is therefore important that meetings are kept short and simple to effectively land key messages. As far as is it possible, aligning messaging with the MP’s policy interest is a sure way to ensure their attention is sustained throughout the meeting. It is always worth doing a background research into the MP’s recent contribution in parliament, in the media and their social media channels to gauge these interests.

4.    Stick to the facts and figures

Having a strong evidence base when meeting with stakeholders strengthens the arguments and helps to create vivid and powerful story telling.

Our constituency data tool allows housing associations to estimate the national and local economic impact of housing associations every constituency across the country, including the number of jobs it creates and supports. It can be broken down by local authorities, regions, and combined authorities, which is useful when engaging with different political audiences.

5.    Be creative

With many MPs working remotely now, social media is an important tool for them to stay on top of things and engage with the public. While traditional email and letters are still essential in political engagement, MPs are increasingly using social media – Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

I encourage you to use your social media channels to highlight the sector’s creative #HomesAtTheHeart campaign and tweet your MPs directly. You'll find a range of campaign resources, including graphics and briefings.

Don’t forget to tag your MPs and other political stakeholders in your posts – it’s a simple, but effective, way to engage.