Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Insight: So Many Consumers, Too Many Obvious Analytics?

By Jean Lukaz MIH, MTS

I’ve got a consumer analytics tool for restaurants: it tells you when consumers visit the washroom while on your premises, how often they do that, which percentages are men, women or kids, whether they visit before eating, in the middle of eating or after eating, what they buy after visiting the washroom and whether the washroom visit influences their dining experience rating…

This may sound stupid but so far, with third generation analytics, there is no such thing as a ‘stupid consumer’ or ‘stupid metrics’ either. It is all about what you use the data for. The analytics frontier is much more than the apparent: it is around the identification of very non-obvious insights to bring transformational growth to your business, otherwise how would you differentiate if all your competitors are using the same obvious analytics tools that were erstwhile manually captured and called research but now digitally transformed and christened ‘analytics’ and ‘metrics’.

Customer satisfaction may not necessarily improve because you have superior metrics. Just wait till your customers visit your niche competitor and retake their metrics when they return…

Consumers have become amoebic in their emotional engagement with no objective basis for evaluating their behaviour let alone predicting it. Consumers have become evolutionary in their thinking. For example, will the presence of security guards or police at your business premises make consumers feel safe or unsafe? Read your own caveat to the same consumers who parked their vehicles at your heavily guarded premises shifting your liability and putting responsibility for theft on them for being your customers at the wrong time. What if your guards are thieves in uniform? And why are they there if not to make consumers feel safer but rather more insecure? So even consumer protection here could be a bad metric?

What if some of your consumers are also armed with powerful analytics tools using them to evaluate the number of washroom visits against menu items ordered and vehicle break-ins against particular guards on duty? Your customers would now collaborate on social networks [not necessarily your business page or micro-site] or even on a mobile app [which may be harder to monitor] to find out which security guard is on duty on any day and what’s on the ‘washroom’ menu. Now determining why your customers are changing their behavior will become a lifetime test for your business life cycle.

These kinds of highly engaged influencer-consumer super-advocates will be the outcome of your own creativity. Your business will definitely score high on customer engagement and other touchpoint metrics but not on the ‘so what?.’ Your customers are better informed on your business problems than you or your business itself and how are you going to grab this missing piece of the puzzle? Getting into the pitfall of revenue analytics and their associated yield management tactics will only bring your restaurant business’ analytic proposition back into the cycle: ‘all restaurant customers are hungry’. Valid but not true.

By jumping into to murky territory of bland restaurant promotional tactics, rebranding and menu reengineering, you will only be making a case for ‘creating convolution without value’...and marketers can do it very well.

Business and consumer analytics are now on an inevitable head-on conflict with consumer behaviour unless one of the players blinks in this game of analytics ‘chicken’.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Consumer Clout, Consumer Power

By Jean Lukaz MIH, MTS

There’s nothing more vexing than the continual dripping of consumer clichés from consumer rights champions hoping to inspire consumer revolutions through declamatory ranting of ‘consumer rights’ and ‘consumer power’, when the horse is actually ‘consumer clout’. Consumer clout is about ‘being influential’ in getting immediate or later redress when you are wronged without necessarily ‘threatening to use your influence’. Consumer clout is a form of soft power, consumer soft power.

By putting the cart of consumer rights and consumer power to the fore without teaching consumers how to gain influence and become the change they want through educational self-preservation-oriented consumerism, most consumers go about quoting consumer champions and threatening to report to the latter rather than citing and insisting on what they know to be their rights in the particular situation.

CASE STUDY: One fine Saturday, while playing with my little nephew Miguel Yeboah and his friends at his parents Tenth Wedding Anniversary, I got a phone call from Alex Yeboah, Restaurant Manager at Mazera Restaurant, Osu-Accra…
The problem: a consumer is threatening to report the restaurant to a Consumer Rights ‘Don’.
The reason: their Grilled Tilapia is too expensive!

Well, I personally trained this manager as a Consumer Advocate while he worked with me also as a Hospitality Expert. Now this consumer, after being reeducated on the theory and practice of Consumer Protection, and the Manager also referring him to the National Expert on Consumer Protection, could foresee his sudden fall for climbing hastily on an overused prank employed by those with good taste but impecunious. This time the trick was not going to work. Consumer power is not about whom you know and whom you believe to be powerful enough to get you undeserved redress.

Pro 18:17-18 KJV He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him. (18) The lot causeth contentions to cease, and parteth between the mighty.

The customer in question, who was surely on a consumer power trip (eventually turned sour), like many revolutionized Ghanaian consumers, had a default complaints reflex: threaten in making your case and you will win because the consumer is always right! Wrong! His power trip had an unexpected denouement to his dismay. Consumer hard power is for revolutionaries, not advocates and influencers.

As I mentioned earlier, declamatory ranting does not win favours or solve consumer problems. In this age of digital consumption, collaboration=self-preservation=consumer protection.

Firstly, in a free market economy, where prices are determined by the forces of demand and supply, ‘expensive’ is not a business wrong, ‘defective’ is! This consumer seemed to reminisce the coup d’état days of Price Control Laws in Ghana during which period women were stripped naked and flogged in public by the military for hoarding, in order to profiteer from hyperinflation, locally termed ‘KALABULE’. I thought he would rather call the military! This was a typical consumer wrong, no pun intended.

Secondly, Restaurants are licenced and graded by the Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA), which grading will give you a fair idea of what you should expect in terms of quality and price when you resolve to test your consumer power. Fine Dining is not for hungry consumers, but rather for those seeking a fine dining experience for the right price. Street food is the other alternative for hungry consumers who are determined to lose their right to redress for the right price in their haste. At least, you will not be able to trace the seller let alone rant about your consumer rights.

Besides, complaints have got a procedure and there is an International Standard for Complaints Management for businesses developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Next time you choose to go on a consumer power trip, please test your budget first.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Teaching Consumers to Fish

By Jean Lukaz MIH, MTS

Have consumers been spoonfed to their detriment that anyone would think of teaching them to fish on their own? Spoonfeeding consumers with Consumer rights and responsibilities, consumer protection laws, consumer-business arbitration, small claims courts, consumer associations, consumer organizations, consumer pressure groups, etc, seem to work on the surface but the days of formal movements and bureaucratic resolution of consumer problems are so 1990.

Advanced World Counterfeiting, Global Contamination
Recent problems of melamine contamination in milk damned China until the Netherlands popped up for fake beef products using rat and other disgusting stuff. Unethical business at the highest level requires expensive technology and, thus, the advanced world lurk as prospects with their fingers pointing to the developing world for counterfeiting. Do not the powerful pharmaceutical companies covertly sponsor the counterfeiting of their competitors’ products with the objective of undermining them? And are not consumers the world over equally affected?

Necessity, Mother of Consumer Justice
Since the days of Martin Luther King Jr and Ralph Nader, consumers have been spurred on by necessity, and their outbursts have engendered change that was not brought about by organized formal institutions that have been established by governments for the sake of civil and consumer protection. Talk about the Arab spring, London Summer, etc… Was it not a consumer problem which triggered the Arab Spring that serially dethroned despots, demagogs and democrats alike?
I call it amoebic consumer reengineering, some call it customer advocacy and even more lately, customer power. The constantly evolving consumer in the digital world has neither shape nor form.

The emergence of the buyer to consumer to customer to client has morphed into another trend all together in this digital age. Consumer Injustice eventually breeds Evolutionary Customer Advocacy, negative as it may be. Love is blind, and so is Consumer Injustice. On March 15, 2013, Consumers International (CI) themed the World Consumer Rights Day on the issue of Consumer Injustice, wherein justice could be churned directly from the injustice, if the consumer microscope is not that maladjusted.

Fishing Businesses in their Own Murky Waters
Some may call it fishing in murky waters. But if the murky waters are unethical business practices then teaching consumers to look for murky waters will almost likely yield results as there’s definitely a fish blinded by their own stirring of the waters to make it muddy for others and thereby entrapping themselves in the cloudiness for the unsophisticated consumer-angler to nip them in the bud. If in the business world, entropy rules, in the consumer world amoebic justice rules.

Digital technologies and web sites like Amazon.com and Epinions.com facilitate communication among customers enabling them to share information about their consumer experiences in purchasing and using products and services and even specialized services such as health care.
Consumers are savvier now due to infinite online information search capabilities including the capacity and tools to verify business claims and do comparative shopping.

Social Consumption, Customer Advocacy
Since consumers began to share their consumption on consumer forums and social network platforms, the scales in their eyes began to fall off. Instead of negatively tagging vociferous consumers as tyrannizing the rest, more consumers awoke to the reality of shared problems from common businesses, thereby raising eyebrows on unscrupulous business practices.

Consumer Protection Advocacy usually championed consumer education and product information in labeling as critical in guiding consumers to make well-informed choices. However, since consumers resolved to take the bull by the horns and began to seek their own form of justice through name and shame on social platforms, businesses have been forced to champion consumer-customer education to the extent of even creating platforms for consumers to do comparative shopping vis-à-vis their competitors’ products. No consumer advocate, consumer protection organization or pressure group invented this. Necessity did!

Those who can, Teach; those who can’t, Act now!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Dark Tourism in Ghana: A Pathology of Consumer Protection

By Jean Lukaz MIH, MTS

Yesterday a family of nine was kaput from eating contaminated food. Well, call it food poisoning, suicide, homicide, or consumercide, the culprit this time was food that was injurious to health and unfit for consumption and the victims are already dead.

When consumers die from food poisoning, the culprits go free...it is a dog’s world. Anytime the cause of death is food-centered, authorities in Ghana seem to play a certain kind of music reminiscent of the world of ‘let the dead bury their dead’…life is so cheap, who cares? All deaths from food poisoning are treated as if they are cases of cholera: the cause is in the corpse. Like Thomas Hobbes observed on the effects of rationalization,
men have undertaken to kill their kings… provided before he do it he call him tyrant. For they say not regicide, that is, killing of a king, but tyrannicide, that is, killing of a tyrant, is lawful.” [LEVIATHAN, XXIX].

School children die from food poisoning and the traceable food vendor is back the next day to sell and kill more kids: business as usual. It is much less disconcerting to take credit for having a reducing balance formula for number of deaths caused by food poisoning as the years go by in order to show how we are improving.

In a country, where imported vehicles that have been declared not road worthy in the originating countries, after being involved in motor accidents, are a luxury and are free from legal encumbrances, deaths from motor accidents caused by defective vehicles bearing tested and passed license plates instead of ‘DV’ number plates do not receive much attention. Grim and gory photographs of motor accident deaths are a big sell for newspapers because we have grown to become thana-tourists of our bereaved existence.

Just stand by the roadside each morning and watch soon-to-happen disasters: school children being transported in smoking and decrepit buses like bags of rice packed on top of each other destined for quasi-luxury private schools and ask yourself who really do not care…PARENTS! And they will blame the government for lack of regulation when the former have got brains, eyes and two feet to vote with.

Do we have to go far? Presidential campaigners fall through a constructed platform right in camera and they become a laughing stock. See who’s laughing out loud? The contractor! Party goers die from food poisoning and it is ungrateful to take on the irresponsible host for sending you to your grave earlier than you pretended. When you go unlucky with fake medicines, it was a clinical trial gone badly and that makes it legally sound as a dose for those who need to cleanse their consciences from cognitive dissonance.

A case of CAVEAT EMPTOR --let the buyer beware—consumers in Ghana have long remained pawns on the chessboard of Consumer Protection.

Pathology is a branch of medical science that studies the causes and nature and effects of diseases including evidence of mentally disturbed conditions but this consumer disease does not need be diagnosed by autopsy since the causes of death are not in the corpse but are rather staring in our faces daily. Thanatology, the branch of science that studies death has become our social diet.

And as if we love the dead more than the living, there always seems to be more money to be made through funerals than through christenings, even if there is no insurance money to be claimed. This is forensic evidence that our nation Ghana has gone pathologically mad again…only short footbridges to cross from gastronomy to pathology to thanatology and we are the new living tourists seeking thrills from the dead.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Arrested Development: Consumer Protection in Ghana

by Jean Lukaz MIH,MTS

To say that government is not serious about Consumer Protection is tautology. To fathom that Consumer Protection Laws are a palliative for consumer problems is tautology. To state categorically that Consumer Protection Laws are the disease of the cure is tautology. To contemplate that Consumer Protection Laws are a panacea for consumer problems is tantamount to condoning fraud…and standards are not a topical anaesthesia for surgical equity in the marketplace but rather a bitter pill for both unethical businesses and irresponsible consumers to swallow in order to heal them from within.

In the second episode of the first of his four lectures of the 2012 BBC Reith Lectures entitled “The Human Hive: the Rule of Law and its Enemies,” Professor Niall Ferguson, an economic historian, professor of history at Harvard, and a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, makes a number of observations regarding consumer protection, which the writer shares.

In his discourse, Niall Fergusson identified 'misconceived regulation' and the 'failure to apply regulation and the law' as one of the troubling aspects of Consumer Protection. All the detailed regulation in the world would not do much to solve consumer problems unless the immediacy of enforcement presents a ‘clear and present danger’ to unscrupulous businessmen and unethical businesses.

Infinitesimal Consumers
Just within the month of June 2012 the confidence of a physically challenged was shaken at the court of law in Ghana when the very presiding judge ruling on his case came in pomp, éclat and plaudit to set him aside up the staircase for His Majesty’s passage to the second floor courtroom. The judge’s cortege of police officers and court clerks bawled at this poor victim, a consumer of the Disability Law, to give way to His Majesty without the exercise of any humility, compassion and mercy on the practically useless Disability Law in this case. If the courtroom, where the law is served to consumers is not disabled-friendly, what is the usefulness of the effect of the Disability Act? This poor consumer wished ‘His Majesty’s pomp was brought down to the grave, and the noise of His viols:…that the worm was spread under Him, and the worms covered Him’[Isa 14:11 KJV].

Darwinian Economy
The much delayed Consumer Protection Bill, however yet to be conceived, has given much utopian expectancy to Ghanaian consumers in spite of the weak institutional regulation of the already existing laws. Given that we are in an ‘Election Year,’ the most unpopular government achievement would be to promulgate a Consumer Protection Law that could tighten up businesses, which in no doubt covertly sponsor politics and political parties. The consequential result will end in these businesses tightening up their political sponsorship and, practically, no government would wish to be the hero in this consumer epic, irrespective of political leaning.

That is not to say that it is inconsistent to suppose that consumers cannot have laws and rights in their favour. If the Hobbesian world dictates that law picks on rights [which are based on personal or civil liberties] and commands them, then where the law does not pick on rights the latter could have a problem with enforcement in law. That is to say that consumer protection laws that are not derived from basic consumer rights render consumer rights as mere consumer liberties, natural or moral as they may appear. Businesses may promote their rights in competition laws but at the same time seek their liberties when it comes to consumer protection laws. To recapitulate Thomas Hobbes, Consumer Rights are not Consumer Protection Laws. Consumer Protection Laws impose duties and responsibilities on businesses and the government while being preventive, whereby, they protect consumers from deception and fraud. If businesses fear the impact of rights-based consumer protection laws they will have the propensity to stall any processes intended to promote consumer protection legislation.

Consumer Liberties
If the rule of law, a state of order in which events conform to the law is paramount to the protection of consumers, perceiving consumer rights as akin to property rights that can be bought and sold is a no brainer. Whether the rule of property (property rights) or the rule of lawyers (rule of law) prevails, consumer rights are irrevocably not negotiable instruments subject to regulated or free market trading. Alluding to the rule of property is to swing between Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’ and Hernando de Soto’s ‘Mystery of Capital’. If rights are considered only within the context of positive rights as recognized within municipal or international legal systems, then they are premised on the rule of law from whence lawyers are premised on rights defence, according to Niall Fergusson. Consumer rights then are premised on rights defence. Thus, if consumer protection laws are not formulated on the basis of consumer rights giving grounds for their defence in a court of law, consumers, consumer rights and consumer protection laws will become an entertaining circus of clowns, tamed animals and fleeting illusionism.

Dinosaur Businesses & Regulatory Expropriation
The most important and cardinal of consumer rights border on basic needs such as water, electricity, public transportation, telecommunications, access to finance and credit, are in majority monopolized by companies with a lion’s share of state ownership that are apt to err with a political veil and a duplicity of unapprehensive state regulation in the financial sector. In the case of water and electricity, at least, without regard to the law of unintended consequences, the Managing Director could publicly boast of consumers’ inability to obtain redress from the courts of law. Consumers, eventually, are the beasts of burden and the victims that bear their leaven of waste and inefficiency on their consumer monthly bills.

In their frustration, consumers and their attempts at accumulating capital as would-be entrepreneurs could be as revolutionary as the trigger of the ‘Arab Spring’ against such injustice and consumer-unfriendly rent-seeking capitalist government-majority companies: “26-year-old Tarek Mohamed Bouazizi, burned himself to death in front of the governor’s offices in the town of Sidi Bouzid last December 2010, precisely an hour after a policewoman, backed by two municipal officers, had confiscated his only capital: two crates of pears, a crate of bananas, three crates of apples and a second-hand electronic weight scale worth around $180. His self-immolation sparked a revolution.”

Consumer Protection in Ghana is, eventually, becoming an enemy of the rule of law.

The Jungle
Consumer Rights under the law of nature may be rather personal liberties. Consumer rights are not naturally endowed as to constitute an inherent enforceability. It is undeniable that consumers in any society are born free and endowed with natural rights. The unscrupulous businessman is also born free just as corrupt enforcement officers of weak regulatory institutions and they all have rights endowed by nature. The right of choice, for example, was given man from creation with a caveat: the right to choose good or evil. Man by nature, endowed with rights but free to choose, broke the law meant to protect him from making the wrong choices. If natural moral laws were enough for the self-preservation of consumers there would be no need for consumer protection laws, a reflection of God’s commandment to the first man “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: (17) But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die [Gen 2:16-17 KJV].” If this should be deemed natural law as deriving from natural rights, then natural laws are meant to institutionalize natural rights. A free-born consumer endowed with natural rights will not live to see the force of these rights under the Rule of Law. This means that enforcement of rights as privileges is only possible when there are rights-based laws to go with them. But laws of nature do find their place in consumer protection but not explicitly reflected in the globally accepted consumer rights.

Consumer Education rather constitutes self-preservation without the influence of government or peer pressure from civil society than ‘objective-social-collectivist’ rights. However, some consumer rights are constitutional in that government has a responsibility to provide, for example, basic needs to her citizens, who are consumers of public goods and services. The Constitution, some believe, does not reinvent the wheel but rather turns it as Sarah Palin – neither philosopher nor theorist -- muses: “The Constitution didn’t give us our rights. Our rights came from God, and they’re inalienable. The Constitution created a national government to protect our God-given, unalienable rights.” Nevertheless, consumer rights are unenforceable in law unless backed by consumer protection laws. A worst case is consumer rights in international relations and international law, where industry (businesses) refuse to accept the existence of such rights if they are not explicitly backed by international law, another version of Ayn Rand’s circular theory of ‘objective-social-collectivist’ rights.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ghana: Thick-Skin Consumer Protection

By Jean Lukaz MIH, MTS

Where there is no consumer protection law, it does not really make a difference when you are living in the jungle. In such an evolutionary environment in nature’s farm, everyone develops a thick skin: from the elephant to the cockerel to the umbrella tree and even to the eagle.

In a dog-eat-dog world, consumers in the Third World and in some advanced countries are only protected by their own immune systems other than external Machiavellian forces that only militate against them in the end.

What is Consumer Protection in the absence of a backing law and self-motivated civil society organizations?

In Platonic and Machiavellian terms, having the appearance of Consumer Protection than the reality of its existence in the manifestation of laws and institutions and the apprehension thereof has become the present predicament of Ghana and Ghanaian consumers. Weak government institutions and the semblance of regulatory enforcement and their reality as lame ducks have become the enemies of both Consumer Protection and the rule of law.

Anyone used to mosquito bites is likely to be living in a developing country. In the same manner consumers that are exposed to most consumer problems are dwellers of developing countries, most likely to be citizens of a utopian Consumers’ Commonwealth for the Anglophones and anglophiles or a politically assimilated DOM-TOMs, for the Francophones, including francophiles.

Let us do some scuba diving by making a naïve observation of the naked perambulating ‘traditional madman’ in Ghana, who is discarded by psychiatry, that prowl the cities reclaiming the streets, excepting the environs of the heavily guarded ghost haunted Fortress Ghana that is ironically fully exposed on Google Earth considering that even Diplomatic Missions have been heavily smudged beyond detection and their coordinates undeclared.

Our traditional madman, like the moon, goes round and comes around in many forms: sometimes as a consumer, sometimes as a manufacturer, wholesaler, seller or service provider and at times as the government.

In retrospect, Consumer Protection has evolved in all forms in Ghana: sometimes in the form of political persecution or public scourging in the name of ‘Kalabule’ [consumer rip-off], or price control laws in a quasi-communist milit-o-cracy determined by Machiavellian ‘armed prophecy’.

Given this status quo, Ghanaian consumers have been anaesthetised by rhetoric, breakdown in the rule of law, deceptive appearances and empty pre-election promises ever unfulfilled.

The aforementioned traditional madman sleeps in the streets in rain or shine, fully exposed to the capricious elements and most importantly, to zillions mosquito bites yet he hardly contracts malaria. Is it because he has become immune to the bites of this minuscule vampire bearing leviathan parasites of political lies and unscrupulous business exploitation or is it because malaria is only a condition of the mind far from a disease?

Whether in limbo or out on a limb the Ghanaian consumer, it appears, has developed a thick skin. After all, regulatory enforcement institutions can be simulated as distinguished consorts of unscrupulous businesses. To put your faith in them ‘It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite:…’ [Isa 29:8 KJV].

To cry ‘Consumer Protection’ is all a vexation of the spirit and a chase after the wind, a Hobbesian attitude to life as a consumer in ‘the state of nature,’ in the absence of authority and the law:

“…think about how you behave: when going on a journey, you arm yourself, and try not to go alone; when going to sleep, you lock your doors; even inside your own house you lock your chests; and you do all this when you know that there are laws, and armed public officers of the law, to revenge any harms that are done to you. Ask yourself: what opinion do you have of your fellow subjects when you ride armed? Of your fellow citizens when you lock your doors? Of your children and servants when you lock your chests? In all this, don’t you accuse mankind as much by your actions as I do by my words? Actually, neither of us is criticizing man’s nature. The desires and other passions of men aren’t sinful in themselves. Nor are actions that come from those passions, until those who act know a law that forbids them; they can’t know this until laws are made; and they can’t be made until men agree on the person who is to make them. But why try to demonstrate to learned men something that is known even to dogs who bark at visitors—sometimes indeed only at strangers but in the night at everyone?” [Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, XIII, ‘The natural condition of mankind as concerning their happiness and misery’]

Monday, April 30, 2012

Consumer Groups in Ghana Pledge a Unified Front

At the just-ended ISO-COPOLCO workshop in Accra on ‘Consumer Participation in Standardization’, the Consumer Movement set an objective that they believe will give Ghanaian consumers the boost of a unified front. The consumer organizations present included The Consumer Partnership, Consumer Advocacy Center, International Center for Consumer Issues and Advocacy, Consumer Protection Agency, Consumers Association of Ghana and a Public Interest Law Organization. The objective was to form a Federation of Ghanaian Consumers, Consumer Advocates and Consumer Organizations as an umbrella body with the core function of crystallizing consumer opinion through advocacy, research, lobbying and consumer education. Commenting on the proposal, Jean Lukaz, the National Expert in Consumer Issues in Standardization, indicated that this move was long overdue as it was last proposed in 2007 but leaders of Consumer Organizations present at the time did not express any interest in it for fear of losing control over their organizational spheres of influence. On the other hand, others had felt intimidated by the need for transparency that may be required by virtue of their membership of a federation. The present proposal was unanimously accepted and a maiden meeting was to be arranged to discuss and approve of the declarations, objectives and constitution of the newly proposed Federation and elect executives to lead it. It also came to light that consumer organizations could not seek business sponsorship nor receive financial assistance from political parties. Even government sponsorship of consumer organizations need to be scrutinized if it is foreseeable that the latter may later seek to influence their activities.