Update > Internal Party Relations

Internal Party Relations


Political parties should be organized and managed no differently than other successful organizations. At the most basic level, this means that a successful party will have a clear internal management and communication structure that is well-known and understood by its members.

Each party leader and organizer from a volunteer organizer in a village to the head of the party must have clearly delineated and well-understood roles and responsibilities. Party organizers must also understand the party’s position on major issues and plans for the future, and have a way to ask questions, voice opinions and receive honest, useful responses from the party leadership.

In summary, for a party to be successful, its organizers and member activists must:

  • Have defined, complementary roles and responsibilities within the party.
  • Understand the party’s mission, goals and strategies.
  • Have established methods for reporting information to the party leadership.
  • Have the ability to engage party leaders in an exchange of ideas and in decision-making.

Communication within the party

Within many parties, the internal party communication does not work very efficiently. There is a lack of regular information to the members about decisions, and the position of the party on current political issues. It is important for party members to be aware of these decisions and positions if they are to represent or defend them outside of the party.

Sometimes, there is a lack of the basic conditions for effective communication. It happens quite often that regional party associations do not have an up to date list of local party leaders and members with complete addresses and emails etc. Party leaders, therefore, should always try to improve the intra-party communication.

Some ways that parties can improve internal communication include:

  • Regular assemblies of the party members at a local level where information is distributed and intraparty developments and decisions are discussed.
  • Planning and coordination of a yearly programme for communication between the different levels of the party.
  • Election or appointment of a communication officer at all levels of the party organisation and efficient coordination between the communications officers. For example, the general secretary and the intra-party communication officer should be responsible for effective intra-party communication at the national level, while at the regional level, there should be officers with similar functions.
  • At all levels of the party organisation, periodic internal reports on important internal and external evolutions should be prepared. The reports shall be submitted to the next higher level in the party.
  • Publication of a membership information sheet or party magazine, which should be distributed among all party members. The coverage shall consist of current political topics being reviewed by the party, as well as information of important inner-party events; furthermore, a space in the sheet or publication should be given for party members to contribute to the discussions.
  • Continuous evaluation of the efficiency of internal communication.

Two-Way Communication

A party must have good channels of communication not only from the local level to the national level, but also from national level to the local level. To be effective as the local face and voice of the party, local organizers need dependable, regular sources of information from the party leadership, including:

  • Information about the party’s position on issues.
  • Advice on how to discuss difficult or controversial issues.
  • Up-to-date information about political events and developments within the party, parliament and country.

Vertical and Horizontal Communication

Effective inter-party communication requires communication to go between the national and lower levels of the party organization on the one hand (vertical communication) and between different geographical and functional units of the party on the other (horizontal communication).

Vertical Communication

Leaders and members in successful parties communicate openly and regularly. In part, this means that the leadership of the party regularly sends information to party members. This might include party messages, positions and achievements; national press releases, newsletters, articles, petitions, surveys and ideas for photo opportunities; or leaflets for door-to-door campaigning and other material to support local voter outreach.

Vertical communication is not just top-down orders. It also includes eliciting and including the views and experience of party members on candidate selection; policy development; positions on controversial issues; campaign priorities and legislative priorities.

One method for facilitating communication among party activists and leaders is through a regularly published party newsletter. A monthly or quarterly newsletter could be supported with special issue “alerts” (i.e., specific information on important, recent political developments that organizers need to know). This information can be transmitted the traditional way, via print or through face-to-face contact; telephone; faxes; email; SMS/pagers, websites, social media, radio and/or television.

Open communication will provide the national party with detailed information about politics and the concerns of people throughout the country. For example, regular reports from the base to the leadership can focus on: general political information; an evaluation of a fundraising event; membership recruitment efforts; or public opinion about the party’s policies.

Horizontal communication

A party must also have effective horizontal internal communication. This means that if the party has functional structures such as a women’s wing and a youth wing, that the two wings regularly send each other information on their activities. Another example would be local branches of the party within a state or region sharing information. This can help spread ideas between members in remote regions, strengthen weak parts of the party, and spread best practices and share experiences.

These are all essential for building an effective internal party structure. Acknowledgment and understanding of the views of local party branches is essential for building loyalty at the local level for national party goals. Without such acknowledgment and understanding, party members can lose their enthusiasm for supporting the party, and without members, parties cannot survive.

Branch Meetings

The most common method for party members to interact is through Branch meetings. In many parties today, branches have difficulties in attracting members. The reasons are many: members no longer feel that they have a real influence over party policy-making; people are too occupied with other activities etc. It is a key challenge for all political parties to find ways to communicate and interact with its members when there is so much competition for people’s time and interest.

Still, it is necessary to hold branch meetings and the meeting principles that apply to the Branch meeting apply to all levels of the organization.

Reporting Relationships

Once a party’s organizational structure is defined, communication procedures need to be established. The first step in ensuring effective communication is to develop reporting relationships. Every party leader, organizer and active member, from the village level to party headquarters, should know to whom they report and, in turn, who reports to them. In a well-organized party, every organizer and leader should be able to describe his or her position.

Organizers and activists at each level should know the name of the person to whom they regularly report and who, in turn, provides them with information. To promote accountability and enthusiasm, it is not enough for a local organizer to know that he or she reports to someone in the party headquarters. Each organizer will be more committed to the party’s mission and believe that they are important if reporting relationships and other interactions are on a person-to-person basis.

Creating and maintaining an explicit chain-of-command and decision-making is a methodology used by every effective organization. A chain-of-command requires well-defined job descriptions for every worker in the party’s organization. Job descriptions are written explanations of each person’s duties and responsibilities. A job description should include both general areas of responsibility, as well as specific assignments. When new jobs are created, it is often desirable to involve each organizer in the writing of their job description. The job descriptions of party organizers will also reflect the priorities of the party. What organizers do and how they do it should be consistent with the overall goals of the party.

Reporting Schedule and Guidelines

Regular reports from party organizers and other workers to party leaders is one essential way in which a party organization can evaluate its success (or failure) in achieving predetermined objectives. One of the most important reasons to establish a clearly defined internal structure is to build a communication network that provides the national party with detailed information about politics and the concerns of people throughout the country. For example, regular reports can focus on: general political information; an evaluation of a fundraising event; membership recruitment efforts; or public opinion about the party’s policies. Because good, insightful reports are essential for improving a party’s strategies and programs, it is important to establish a regular schedule and guidelines for reports at every level of the organization.

Regardless of how often party organizers report (once a week or once a month), specific schedules should be established and followed. If local organizers are expected to report to the party’s national headquarters twice a month, then a date should be set. For example, on the 1st and 15th day of each month, local organizers submit reports. Similarly, if district organizers are expected to report to provincial organizers, then a date should be set so that provincial organizers can see the district reports before they write their own.

Newsletters and other printed materials from party headquarters, as well as regular re- ports from organizers and other workers, are all essential for building an effective internal party structure. But two-way communication must also include regularly scheduled meetings between organizers and party leaders.

These meetings provide opportunities for inclusive discussions and debates. Face-to-face meetings should be held as often as possible, so as to promote participation in party decisions. Party leaders must be aware that acknowledgment and understanding of the views of local organizers and other workers is essential for building loyalty at the local level for national party goals. Without such acknowledgment and understanding, local organizers and others will lose their incentive to support the national party. If distance and lack of money limit the opportunities for such meetings, a satisfactory substitute could be a telephone call between local organizers and party leaders.