Depending upon the issue and the nature of the network, advocate leaders may occasionally find themselves needing to either encourage more people to actively participate in advocacy efforts or encourage more quality communications with the target audience. Outlined below are a few of the key barriers to participation, options for overcoming those barriers and ideas for recognizing advocates’ efforts.
Barriers to Participation
Advocates often cite one of the following reasons to explain why they might be unwilling or unable to participate in efforts to make policy change:
- Lack of time
- A feeling that their participation doesn’t matter
- A feeling that the organization should do the lobbying, not them
- Unsure what to do / intimidated
- Advocate fatigue / over-activation
- Lack of progress
- Disagreement over policy direction
- Quick and Easy Activities: Advocate leaders should look for ways to draw potential advocates in to the network through some quick and easy activities. These might include sending an e-mail to a legislator through an action alert site, signing a petition, responding to a poll or survey or sending a postcard. This might be viewed as the “crawl before walking” approach. Once advocates become familiar with and comfortable with these simple activities, advocate leaders can work to encourage these individuals to engage in more substantive and effective communication strategies.
- Cultivating the Active: It’s not the number of communications that have an impact on policy outcomes, it’s the quality. Hence, it may make sense for advocate leaders to focus more attention on the powerful 5 to 20 percent of the network willing and eager to take substantive action, without, of course, ignoring the rest of the network.
- Training: The following components of a training program will help address some of the more common barriers to participation: why their voice matters, role in the GR campaign, long-term focus, and how to advocate.
- Engaging Champions: Legislative or regulatory champions of an organization’s issues can help deliver the message to advocates that their voice matters. In some cases, advocates may be more apt to believe a legislator than an organization’s government relations staff. Advocate leaders should consider asking policy champions to speak at events or make public statements about the importance of citizen advocates to the policymaking process.
- Strategic Activation: Advocate fatigue can be managed, in part, by being as strategic and focused as possible when activating the network. Organizations that frequently issue high-priority action alerts, particularly when those alerts aren’t warranted, may find their advocates becoming immune to their requests – and unwilling to take action when truly needed.
- Change the Definition of Victory: In developing advocacy plans, advocate leaders should identify internal goals that can be achieved regardless of external events. These might include targets for numbers of advocates in the network or developing a pilot program for coordinating a few site visits during a recess. These aspects of the campaign may be more within the control of the organization than, for example, whether a bill moves forward to the hearing stage or not.
- Managing Set-backs: How an organization manages the inevitable set-backs associated with any advocacy effort can make or break their future success. Advocate leaders should look to be as up-front as possible about set-backs, while identifying future plans of action.
- Setting the Policy Agenda: Organizations that set their policy agenda in concert with the advocacy network will likely have fewer disagreements with members about policy direction than those that adopt a more hierarchical approach. Before asking advocates to communicate with policymakers on a critical issue, it is imperative to ascertain that most members of the network are in agreement on the overall message.
- Agreeing to Disagree: In some cases, organizations may need to take controversial positions that may be unpopular with some percentage of their members. Advocate leaders should identify these potential disagreements as soon as possible and be prepared to address questions about the decisions made by the organization.
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