When training advocates, it is important to bear in mind that these individuals do not need the same level of policy or process expertise as a professional lobbyist. In most cases, advocates will not be determining strategy, negotiating delicate matters of legislative language or counting votes. As such, much of the basic information about “how a bill becomes a law” or the section-by-section ins-and-outs of a particular policy issue will be of little relevance. Yet, many advocacy training courses focus on legislative process and procedure as a means to introduce advocates to government. Unfortunately, this approach sometimes leaves advocates feeling overwhelmed and under-motivated.
To avoid this situation, advocate leaders should focus on the following key elements in their training curriculum and avoid long discussions about bicameralism, the subcommittee process or how the appropriation level of Program X has changed over the last 20 years. These more minute details of legislative process and policy can certainly be addressed in advanced courses for those advocates interested in more information, but should not form the core of a basic course.
- Why citizen voices matter: Many individuals simply do not believe that their voice matters, in part because they do not fully recognize why an elected official or staff person might pay more attention to them than to anyone else. Citizen advocates need to understand that most elected officials and their staff are eager and excited to meet with real, live constituents and will respond more readily to their requests than those of non-constituents.
- A corollary – what influences elected officials: Most participants in a training session will immediately answer this question with one word: “money.” Advocate leaders should make clear that policymakers are influenced by a variety of factors, including their own principles and passions, their friends, family and staff, their play pokies free online party leadership and, most important, their constituents.
- The importance of asking for something specific: Having a vague or even positive conversation is ultimately far less useful than asking a policymaker to take a specific action, whether it is to support a piece of legislation or visit a facility in the legislator’s district. Advocate leaders should help participants understand and practice the key policy asks as well as other “easier” asks (such as site visits and public statements) that will both capture a policymaker’s interest and support.
- Understanding the audience and framing the message: Advocates should have both a macro- and micro-level understanding of the audience with whom they are communicating.
- Effective messages from advocates: Advocates should recognize that their job is to make sometimes esoteric policy issues real for the policymaker. They can achieve this goal by telling a personal story. Hence, any advocacy training session should include opportunities for participants to develop their own compelling stories.
- The importance of following up: Most advocates do not follow-up on their communications with policymakers — and then wonder why their representatives don’t do what they were asked to do. Advocate leaders should impress upon network members the context in which decisions are made in the legislature, pointing out that initial requests for action may not be followed up on.
- Working with staff: Most state legislatures and the U.S. Congress, along with their related executive branch agencies, utilize staff people to assist policymakers. Advocates should understand that staff people are critical to the process of effective policymaking. In too many cases, advocates are disappointed to meet or work with “just the staff.” Instead, staff should be viewed as critical components of the policymaking process.
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