Voluntary Sector Public Policy Toolbox
Part III: Policy Analysis
(First section of Part III adapted from Social Policy Practice: Anne Westhues)
Whether policy analysis is an employee's primary job responsibility or a secondary one, two sets of skills are required: what have been called process, interpersonal (or interactional) skills; and task, intellectual, or analytic skills.
In addition to the general skill of thinking analytically, at the initial stage of the policy development process, when the problem is defined, analytic skills are needed in two areas: values analysis and needs assessment. For the full article, click here.
To complete a values analysis, the analyst must know how to conduct opinion polls or to cull useful information from opinion polls conducted by others; carry out key informant interviews; use group techniques like the nominal group technique, the Delphi, and community forums; and do preference scaling. To complete a needs assessment, the analyst has to know how to identify and interpret social indicators; carry out surveys; and use the group approaches identified above.
Interaction skills required at this critical first stage of the process include:
- leadership in setting up a process that will allow for the exchange of ideas on the issue; the ability to create a safe environment so people feel they can express their feelings about the issue;
- skills for ensuring that all stakeholders have an opportunity to participate in the process of constructing the problem;
- active listening skills, to ensure that the nuances of different stakeholder perspectives are not missed;
- public speaking skills if one is going to advocate for a particular policy position; and
- clear, concise writing skills, whether one is playing the role of neutral internal policy analyst at some level of government or that of community-based advocate.
At the next stage, agreeing on goals, analytic skills are again needed in two areas; goal formulation and priority setting. To formulate goals, skills are needed to carry out surveys; conduct community forums; and rate goal characteristics. To support the analytic tasks, interactional skills are needed which permit the analyst to engage stakeholders in the process of reaching agreement on goals, as well as skills in clarifying, brokering, and mediating. If the analyst is acting as an advocate, she or he will also need to be skilled in persuasion.
Policy logic analysis, a variant of program logic analysis, can be used to facilitate the identification of policy alternatives which, in light of a specified theory of causation of the identified problem, could be expected to achieve the policy goals agreed upon. A review of any outcome evaluations of these policy alternatives would identify empirical evidence that could either support the implementation of a particular alternative, or suggest that it would not, in fact, achieve the anticipated outcomes. Theory often precedes practice; so another skill required by the analyst is the ability to discern the practice implications of a particular theoretical perspective for policy development. The interactional skills required at this stage include being able to summarize and share knowledge in a way that is both interesting and concise; and the ability to facilitate discussion to generate alternative ideas.
Feasibility studies provide information that assists in choosing among policy alternatives. Assessing feasibility includes:
- determining whether funds would be available for the various alternatives;
- completing cost-benefit or cost-effectiveness analyses on each alternative;
- completing a political feasibility assessment using a technique like PRINCE; and
- assessing the administrative feasibility of the alternatives
Good skills in presenting information in an interesting and concise way are required at this stage as well. In addition, the analyst must be able to guide the process in such a way that it is possible to reach a decision with respect to which alternative to select. An implementation assessment permits the analyst to identify how much time would be required to implement the alternative selected, which jurisdictions would need to be involved, and which approvals would be required.
We were alerted to the importance of this stage twenty years ago when it was discovered that many policies never have their intended effects because they fail to make it through the long string of decisions necessary for the policy to be implemented. Analyzing these approval processes beforehand, and identifying potential blocks will provide greater assurance that the policy will, in fact, be implemented. The primary interactional skills required at this stage arc the ability to gather information on complex systems, and to manufacture commitment on the part of service providers to the new policy alternative so that it will, in fact, be implemented as intended.
Finally, any policy must be systematically evaluated to assess what has happened in light of its intended effects. Process evaluation includes a review of who has been served, for what reasons, and what service they have received. Peer reviews are made of cases to determine whether defined standards of care have been met. Client satisfaction surveys assess whether the client received the service expected, in a timely fashion, and whether they found it helpful. Outcome evaluations may focus on individual goals or program goals, and are intended to assess the extent to which the changes that are intended to occur for the client have, in fact, occurred. The interactional skills required of the policy analyst as evaluator include the ability to share his or her knowledge about how evaluations may be designed; to create a feeling of safety with respect to the evaluation; to ensure that all those affected by the evaluation participate in its design; often to engage service deliverers in the data collection process; and to communicate the results of the research to all those involved.return to top
Influencing Policy Development – A Social Policy Example
Service providers, have a responsibility to advocate for social change that will improve the well-being of their clients. A key way in which this can be done is by attempting to influence the policies that shape their experience of the services we deliver. To be able to do this effectively, one must first identify which is the appropriate system to be addressed for the policy issue of concern. If you are interested in changing some aspect of child welfare legislation, making it easier for an adopted person to obtain identifying information about his or her birth parents, for instance, the appropriate system would be the provincial government, not the local Children's Aid Society. While it may be useful to have child welfare organizations supporting your efforts, they are not the decision-makers on this issue. Once the appropriate system has been identified, it is necessary to understand the policy-making process within that system.
At the federal level, the process of effecting change is even more complex, often requiring the additional approval of each of the provinces. At the local level, it is much simpler, generally requiring only the approval of the social services department, the commissioner of social services, the social services committee, and regional or municipal council. At the agency level, the process is similar, with approvals required by the program unit, executive director, and the board of directors. Depending on the model of board governance, approval may be required by a standing committee of the board and the executive committee before the matter is presented to the board of directors itself.
Seen on a coffee mug – "No amount of planning can take the place of dumb luck."
What these models fail to convey is the politically charged environment in which many policy decisions are made. While the first step in the policy-making process is the ministry initiating a policy submission, in fact there is often considerable political activity, sometimes over a prolonged period of time, before a ministry sees an issue as a sufficient priority to address it. These political efforts are sometimes conceptualized as social advocacy, or community organizing, and planning and policy analysis are described as more rational processes. Further, it is important to understand that both internal and external politics are influential in this process, that is, not only various stakeholders, but the bureaucrats making decisions themselves will promote different interests. For links to case studies on public policy development, click here.
Efforts to educate the general public about wife assault are a good case example of this political process. Through the women's centres set up to raise consciousness about women's rights in the early 70s, it soon became evident that a major concern of women experiencing marital difficulties was being assaulted by their partners. In response to this concern, women's shelters began to spring up across the country as places for women to take refuge when they were under attack. To obtain funding for these shelters, it was necessary to convince the United Way, and local and provincial governments that wife assault was a sufficiently widespread problem that funding was warranted for shelters. Walker makes an insightful analysis of the process of defining the problem of
Creating Convincing Policy Briefs
(From How to Create Superior Brienfings: Roderick G. Quiney)
The farther your written material goes up the bureaucratic ladder, the shorter it has to be. Remember that by the time a proposal or response reaches senior management, it has to fight for attention with briefs from across the country, so no one is going to read a tome. So if you have an opportunity to provide briefing material for senior officials, remember that the operative word is brief!
Government's advice to its own staff when preparing material for Cabinet is to keep the full argument and analysis to four pages or less (non-Cabinet briefing notes are limited to only two pages). Back-up material can be put into appendices, but don't expect a Minister to read it. Remember, if you don't keep your written material short, someone else will shorten it for you.
Within the four pages you have, what do you have to do? First, explain what the issue is. What is it that the rest of the brief answers? Then, quickly summarize the facts. Present them in such a way that the reader can become informed and/or make a decision. They should explain the benefits of the desired position and why any potential alternatives are less advantageous. The analysis should be sufficiently rigourous that it can withstand close comparison with alternate proposals. For more on policy briefs, click here.
Write your brief as simply as possible. This is not the time to demonstrate your mastery of big words or arcane jargon. Don't assume that the reader knows what you are talking about. It is often a good idea to share your draft with someone who is not familiar with your area of work. Ask a relative or neighbour to read it and to be ruthless in letting you know what they don't understand. A simple chart can often provide a clear picture of what you are saying, but don't try to put too much information into one diagram.
Consider the brief from the recipient's point of view. Why is this important to him or her? What do they need to know in order to make a decision? What questions are they likely to have? What might their doubts be? What are the advantages of following your advice? Why should they believe you? What's in it for you? What's in it for them?
End with a short summary and your proposed course of action.
Thirteen Tips for Getting Your Concern on the Government Agenda and Making Change Happen
return to top
- Focus, focus, focus. Unless you belong to a large organization whose mandate is to contribute to public policy, the more battles you fight at once, the more you are likely to lose. It is important to identify the one or two key public policy changes that you believe are absolutely vital to your constituency and put all your energy there. Consider teaming up with other organizations working on similar issues in order to share the work and responsibilities.
- Prepare your Board of Directors. While an organization's staff are vital to effective advocacy, the Board of Directors, as the organization's volunteer elected officials, convey a different kind of message when they speak. Board members can't be accused of advocating to keep their jobs; they speak purely out of commitment for the cause.
- Facts don't make people act. Facts are necessary in making your argument, but facts alone are insufficient to get people to act. People act when something becomes relevant to their lives. So, you have to demonstrate how the changes you want will impact on the decision-makers and/or the people they care about.
- There is always more than one potential solution. Recognize that there is always more than one option in dealing with a problem. Understand the other options, know them as well as yours, and be prepared to demonstrate why your chosen option is best.
- Recognize that when there are winners, there are also losers. There is no such thing as a policy that is beneficial to everyone. If it costs the government money, they either have to cut someone else back, or raise taxes; your policy may help some people find jobs and cost others theirs. Non-smoking by-laws, for example, have great health benefits, but have seriously hurt the bingos in some communities that support local charities. Be prepared to explain why the benefits of your cause are worth the costs.
- Be prepared for the long-term. Significant changes in public policy take a long time to initiate and longer to make happen. Be prepared to lose many fights before you win. Flitting from issue to issue is likely to mean that you never see anything through to the end. For a list of research sources, click here.
- Know more than anyone else. Know more about your constituent group and about the issue you find important than anyone else. Back up what you know from experience with sound research. If you don't have research staff of your own, there are ways to find research assistance in most communities. Apply for project funding from government, a foundation, or other funder to conduct research. Contact your nearest university or college. There are often students or faculty who are interested in conducting local research. Find out who has already done research on this issue and learn from them.
- Build support. It is almost always the case that governments respond to numbers. If five people appear at city council asking for a no-smoking by-law, the response may be "ho-hum". If 200 people show up and can't fit into council chambers, council will sit up and take notice. After all, the one need that all politicians have in common is voters who will elect them again next time and all politicians want to find out what their constituents think. For the online directory of public servants, click here.
- Meet with the people who can help you. Identify the staff and elected officials who can help you move your concern through the system. Whether it's at the local, provincial, or federal level, you have an elected representative, and virtually all elected officials meet with their constituents. Set up an appointment and educate your elected official about your concern. An ally in the system can be invaluable in helping your issue get noticed. Also, identify bureaucrats who can be helpful. Government staff really aren't faceless. Your elected representative should be able to help you identify whom to talk to, or you can do some research to find out who works in the area that deals with your concern.
- Prepare a "Who Knows Who" List. Meet with all Board, committee and staff members to develop a list of who knows who. With just a little exploration, you will likely find that you have connections through family, work, neighbours, social clubs, and other sources to the people in the system who you need to influence.
- Make friends with your local service clubs. Many local service clubs have a guest speaker at their regular meetings. Contact every service club in your area and ask if they would be interested in having a speaker on your topic. Members of service clubs are committed to community betterment and they are a good source of supporters. For links to local media, click here.
- Make friends with your local media. Local media are always interested in "human interest" and "local interest" stories. Most newspapers have cut back on their reporting staff. Learn to write like a reporter and you may find your news releases copied almost verbatim in the local press. Become known as the local expert on your issue, and let the media know when government does something (or doesn't do something) that impacts on it. A picture is worth a thousand words, and TV and newspapers want interesting visuals, so be prepared to provide something better than a "talking head".
- Develop an election-time strategy. When the government that is responsible for your concern calls an election, be prepared to appear at every "all-candidates" meeting to ask a question about your concern; issue a policy paper during the election; get human interest stories in the news; explain how addressing your concern is more cost-effective for government than ignoring it. Getting your issue on the public agenda during an election is a sure way to get government to pay attention to it.
Getting Your Message Across – An Example of Environmental Issues
(Adapted from: http://www.explorecbd.org/tools/aug96/shaping.html)
To learn about the University of Toronto Health Communication Unit Media Advocacy Workshops, click here. For more on communication strategies, click here.
Effectively communicating your key messages starts with defining your goals and objectives and knowing your audience. With the importance of outreach being central to conservation-based development (CBD), you may find yourself working with different main messages: those associated with individual organizations such as a labor organizations, economic development councils, and environmental groups. Ideally, you should be able to summarize your messages in three or four main points.
You may feel as though you have much more to say and that simplifying and limiting your messages does not do justice to your efforts. Keep in mind your audience is inundated with information. By presenting your messages in meaningful, memorable and succinct packages of three or four key points, you can grab your audience and potentially spur them to action. If you lose them at the beginning, trying to get them back will make your job that much harder.
This section examines message formation with pointers on how to frame issues, terms and phrases to avoid, and staying "on message."
Staying "On Message"
The term "message" gets thrown around in the communications field. What is the "message" and how does one get a message? Ideally, messages are educational, motivational and simple enough to be remembered. Messages can:
Educate your audience: i.e. "Economic diversification keeps communities vital." Motivate your audience: "Everyone has a role to play in making CBD work." Provide hope: "We can plan for our future by combining the resources of the environment, the economy and the community."
Your main messages contain the major themes that need to be repeated over and over again. Additionally, it is possible to have sub-messages that relate back to a main message. For instance, "Economic diversification is vital to the survival of the community," is the main message, which can be supported by the following sub-messages:
Protecting the environment spurs new, clean industries, creating a more diverse economic base. Rather than costing jobs, protecting the environment generates more diverse employment than industries that are subject to losses from mechanization and volatile markets, such as most natural resource extraction industries. For more on staying on message, click here.
Rules of Message Development
Although the field of conservation-based development may have a language of its own, it is important to remember that simpler language conveyed to the broader community may well define the success or failure of your efforts. It is important to remember that others in the community may have different perceptions of what certain words and terms mean. The conservation-based development community should understand how the public perceives certain terms. You can engage community participation by paying close attention to how you communicate and what terms you use. These pointers are based on polling and community outreach experience in the field. For articles on message development, click here.
Use language that describes your goals
Don't fall into the trap of responding to critics in their language. Keep in mind that for every negative or critical term there is a positive alternative that tells your story. Use words like conserve, balance, accountability and common sense, all of which reflect the goals of conservation-based development.
Do not rely on "boutique" of "special interest" terms to frame the debate
Instead of endangered species, talk about wildlife protection, which is broader and more inclusive. If talking about ecosystem protection, follow with a specific example to which people can relate, like water quality safeguards that protect the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Fraser River, or Lake Winnipeg.
Remind people that you are on their side
Your efforts to educate and enfranchise local residents will depend how conservation-based development fits with their understanding of their interests. It is important to describe how conservation-based development relates to health, home, heritage, and economics.
Define clearly the winners and the losers
Conventional economic development has often benefited by displacing the costs of environmental damage, such as the dumping of wastes into rivers and watersheds. Explain that local residents and their children pay for a degraded environment in increased health risks, diminished quality of life, declining property values and decreased future economic potential.
Remember cynicism is at an all-time high
Overcoming cynicism cannot be done by preaching to the people you want on your side. People distrust most messengers; never assume that you are trusted. This is why careful attention to your point and what it means to local residents is crucial. A successful public education program requires involvement from local residents in determining the form conservation-based development takes in specific communities. People who are personally involved, aware of the issues and empowered to act on their own behalf have a stake in overcoming the cynicism and mistrust engendered by a sense of powerlessness.return to top
Support your friends
Building on the success of other organizations is central to creating a broad base of support in the local community. Your outreach efforts can be done most effectively in conjunction with other groups and organizations. Community based policy advocacy is all about working together.
Look at the language of anti-environmentalists carefully and use what makes sense
Why should they have control over "wise use," local control, and property rights? Stripped of their political baggage, don't we believe in these concepts too? Concepts like local control resonate with people who want a greater say over their lives and a greater stake in their community. Through education, conservation-based development can be viewed as a way to enhance local control and strengthen community relations.
People need to believe there is something they can do that will make a difference today and in the future for their community.
Make it local
Personalize your communication by talking about your ties to the community ‚ "I've lived in this community all my life and I care about its future."
Hitting Home: Choosing Language that Works
You will need to effectively frame issues and avoid terms that may alienate those you want to work with. Keep in mind that conservation-based development is a process requiring broad-based community support. Including diverse points of view from throughout the local community requires you be sensitive to language that may alienate parts of your audience. Achieving the broadest possible level of support does not mean watering-down your points. Rather, it means finding the right words to reflect the community's long-term conservation.
Terms and Phrases to Use and to Avoid
People sometimes run the danger of being saddled with labels that alienate members of the general public. In some communities, for example, the label "environmentalist" can be a dirty word. Likewise, in other areas, being involved in "development" can convey a negative stereotype.
Collaborative community partnerships help the effective implementation of conservation-based development strategies. Therefore, it is important to communicate how your efforts have the public interest at heart. To do so, one should avoid using terms that are either "loaded" or may trigger negative reactions. This does not mean changing one's views or position. It means communicating in terms that people can relate to and understand.
The table below lists several terms that may spark unfavorable reactions and alternative terms you might consider:
|Instead of… || Use|
| preserve|| protect|
| restore|| conserve|
| regulation|| safeguard, standard, protection|
| growth management|| local control|
| preservation||conservation |
| environmentalism|| conservationism|
Framing the Issues
How organizations talk about themselves or key issues can directly affect how the public perceives them. CBD is about collaboration and working with people. It is important to use words and phrases that emphasize the inclusiveness of the your efforts.
We/We are/We are for:
balance, striking balance
reasonable solutions, common sense solutions
planning for the future
the right to know what happens
protecting home, health, heritage and economic vitality
property rights and quality of life
respect our neighbours, our rights, and believe we all have responsibility to plan for the future
realistic – we do not seek a risk-free society
flexible – in planning
protecting our quality of life (urban)/way of life (rural)
What is an effective message?
You've defined your goals, crafted your points, and reached out to your audience, but no one seems to be listening. Now you can take steps to make your communication more effective:
Contrasting your organization or coalition's points with their opposites helps to clearly define the choices facing your audience: "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country."
Reinforce your points by finding ways to reiterate them. Repetition is good. You should strive to say what you want to say and then say it again. Also use contrasts as a way to repeat key ideas: Conservation-based development serves the community by protecting our resources, not by selling them to the highest bidder. Conservation-based development serves the community by keeping jobs local, not by exporting them along with our natural resources. Conservation-based development serves the community by building on its diversity, not by pitting groups against each other.
Seize the day – timing is everything
Effective communication can largely be a function of getting the message to the audience at the right time. One of the most important speeches in modern U.S. history was a delivery of the right message at the right time. In the March on Washington Address, Martin Luther King Jr. made his point that now, not later, was the time to change the laws of segregation. Consider King's comments and how they reinforce this point. (Notice how King used repetition and contrasts to describe the state of affairs as they were, with how he believed they ought to be.)
"We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is not the time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood."return to top
Your energy and expression can make the difference
Combining repetition, contrasts and a positive vision will go a long way to bringing your audience to your side. You are far more likely to get a positive response from your audience if you convey your enthusiasm and conviction when talking about the conservation-based development goals of your community.
Understanding the differences between messages and slogans
Conservation-based development is a long-term commitment that needs an educated community in order to make informed decisions. Advertising slogans are used to create positive associations with products and services and to create name recognition. They are not designed to educate or to facilitate informed decision-making. But, how do we distinguish between the two?
A well-crafted message crystallizes ideas into succinct and memorable phrases or sentences. That is, it doesn't stand alone, but rather, adds clarification to the larger body of information. Slogans, on the other hand, tend to stand alone and refer to nothing other than themselves. Consider the differences in associations and context between, "I will use all my strength to bring about a just society to a nation living in a tough world." (Pierre Elliott Trudeau: April 7, 1968 News conference, the day after winning the Liberal leadership) and "Coke is it."
What does it mean to me?
Making sense of messages comes, in part, from understanding their context, the speaker, and the goals being advanced. An effective message requires that your audience relate to it from a position of involvement ‚ that it means something to that person, on a personal level.
One of the most successful public education campaigns in recent years has been the attack on drunk driving. Through a series of public service announcements and outreach in schools, drunk driving has declined significantly. The memorable message, "Friends don't let friends drive drunk" powerfully advocates for action in a specific context. Rather than an informed opinion or motivation to act, slogans tend to produce attitudes, but not firm convictions: "Just do it." To learn more about social marketing, click here.
Positioning Your Organization for Maximum Effect
(From: Public Good, Private Gain: Senior Bureaucrats and "Exemplary" Companies in Canada: Mark Schacter)
Most face-to-face work in the policy process is carried out with the bureaucracy; not with elected officials. So it is important to understand what the bureaucracy looks for when it receives input, and what it sees as making an organization trustworthy. In 1999, the Institute on Governance produced an analysis of the relationship between senior bureaucrats and the private sector companies they trust. Among the characteristics that represented what the government officials felt made a company exemplary were the following:
- The company was a dependable source of ongoing information on its sector, it presented its information in a relaxed manner, and it served as a "constructive critic" of government initiatives;
- The companies served as role models for their business sector; and
- The companies took a "long view" in terms of their activities and gave credit to the government when it was due.
Looking at the relationship from the business side, the researcher made the following observations:
- The companies recognized that they were in this for the long-term and communicated with government regularly – not just when they needed something;
- The companies positioned their input in a way that would align it with government objectives rather than positioning themselves as government critics; and
- The companies built the "government relations" function into the whole company rather than focusing it solely in a government relations department.
These observations are critical for any organization that wants to influence policy on an ongoing basis. Like most things in life, effective policy activity is built on relationships. Organizations that are seen only as "critics" are less likely to be successful than those that support what is good as well as trying to change what isn't. The last bullet is also important. Few organizations can afford a government relations staff (about half of Canada's charities have revenues of under $50,000). Every staff person, board member, and volunteer should be part of the public policy face of the organization, moving its interests forward. For more information, click here.return to top
Saying "Thank You"
(Adapted from: http://www.americansforthearts.org/issues/advocacy/advocacy_article.asp?id=327)
Citizens and the press seem to have the notion that legislators constantly have to choose between good and evil. In fact, that rarely happens. Every elected representative has a barn-full of good ideas and worthy issues. The real choices are which to pay attention to, which to devote limited time, political capital and staff resources to, and which to stick your neck out for. The actual goal for an advocate is usually to move your issue up on their list of competing causes.
Saying thank you can be done very effectively with very limited expense of your resources. Because that message is heard so rarely, the results can be enormous. In those two sentences is the very definition of productivity.
For organizations that don't have massive budgets for campaign contributions, publicity and independent issue advertising, or armies of campaign volunteers, making the most of limited resources is vital. So, you want to say thank you efficiently, while maximizing the effect of the message. Because many art forms can provide very visually compelling ways of showing gratitude, you may have resources, which are the equal of bucks and bodies. The trick is to get the most advantage out of what you already do. For more on arts advocacy, click here.
How and Where to Say Thank You
- Your thank-you letter. This is the simplest effort. It goes just between you and the official, but it can be very powerful. If the issue was personally significant to you, tell them so and how. The thought currency among legislators is in concepts and anecdotes. If you can provide a genuine tale of how their action affected your life, it may stick in their minds, and may even come out later when they are trying to persuade others. If the official's action took some special courage or effort, let them know you appreciate that fact. As with any communication to an elected official, the letter does not have to be long, and must be limited to one subject only. For more information, click here.
- Readdress your same letter in #1 to the "Letters to the Editor" of your local paper(s). Some people make a religion out of sending letters to the editor. Generally, they're not worth the time it takes to write them. The only people who read them already have their own, often rigid, opinions; you are catching almost no one who is persuadable. However, if you already have a letter written, you might as well send it to the paper. Even if no one else reads it, if it gets printed, the elected official will see it and appreciate your effort.
- Say "thank you" personally in a public forum. This can be a general event, an event related to your issue area, or even an event totally unrelated to your issue.
General events are the "Town Hall" meetings that most legislators schedule several times each year in their districts. Related events might include a meeting of some groups with an arts-related focus (e.g. an education organization) at which the legislator will appear. An unrelated event could be anything ‚ environmental groups, nurses association, retired military officers, chamber of commerce, anything. You just have to have a member of that group, or somebody whose presence would not be out of place, who will speak for your interest. A board member who belongs to that organization may be a likely person for this task.
- Points On How To Say "Thank You" In A Public Forum:
Take advantage of the Q & A period. At any of these events, you simply have to get up at an appropriate time (usually during Q & A) and say that you appreciate the legislator's action, vote, or whatever they have done that benefits your group. You can be very creative up to, and beyond, the point of pure fiction. No elected official when thanked in front of an audience is foolish enough to say, "I don't know what you're talking about." They will say, "You're welcome," and appreciate your making a hero of them in public, even if they didn't deserve it or don't know how they deserved it. They are frequently taking credit, very correctly, for things that their staff may have done in their name. The official may go back to the office and tell the staffer to keep doing whatever they're doing for the arts organization. The staffers aren't stupid either; they won't say, "What are you talking about?" They'll find out what their boss thought they were doing so well and start doing a lot of it. In any case, the next time you ask for something, the official will remember that you were considerate enough to show appreciation, and will go out of their way to earn it. Draw the line, of course, at thanking someone for actions they would never in a million years take, and in fact would crusade against.
You need to be sensitive to the timing and phrasing of your expression of gratitude. Two examples:
If in a Town Hall meeting the legislator is getting beaten up on both sides of some volatile issue like abortion, don't try to change the subject until the passionate voices have begun to run out of steam. If you speak up too early, they'll simply roll over you and your comments will be forgotten. If you can gauge the mood of the audience and rise at the right time, your expression of appreciation for the official's action on a different issue make help change the subject and defuse the climate. You'll be especially credited by the legislator for the rescue.
If you have a spouse speaking up at a union meeting where the official is present, wait until the questions about issues directly related to the organization's purpose are exhausted. Start with "I realize this is not exactly germane to this organization but since I was here ‚ my husband and his students were so excited about the master class that they got from the group from the National Symphony, I wanted to say thank you for your support for National Endowment for the Arts for making this happen."
- Include the official or their staff in one of your organization's regular activities. The objective here is to acquaint (and keep acquainted) the official with the members of your organization and the work they are doing, as well as have your members and/or audience meet the legislator. Introduce the official and make a big fuss over them, let them speak, arrange for them to participate in activities, etc. [Example‚invite them to the 3rd Anniversary of your community arts program working with kids at risk.]
- Include the official or their staff in one of your organization's regular activities AND publicize their attendance in your own newsletter after the event. This is self-evident. If your newsletter can carry photographs, be sure to arrange to have a camera and photographer at the event who can take pictures of a quality adequate for your publication. Be sure to send a copy of the photograph and newsletter to the legislator afterwards with a personal note.
- Include the official or their staff in one of your organization's activities AND publicize their involvement in the media. This doesn't have to be "Bob Blowhard MP's Night at the Symphony." In fact, usually it shouldn't be either a big event or focused principally on the elected official. (See the note below about rare exceptions for big events.) Many of your members are not going to be all that enthusiastic about putting together an event where the primary objective is showcasing a politician. There's an even chance the official will be trapped in Ottawa and unable to attend. Then, you wind up with an event with no purpose and a publicity machine ready to go with no one to publicize. This should be an event you would normally have. Including the elected official is just the extra bit you add for advocacy purposes. This is still part of the same basic arithmetic for activities with low investment and high pay off.
Before the event you need to have a press list that has all of the media outlets in the whole of the legislator's riding and even beyond. The first place to try getting such a list is to ask the legislator's press secretary for a copy of their list; usually they are only too happy to help someone who wants to make their boss a hero. If that doesn't work, solicit lists from other elected officials from the same political party at other levels of government whose districts overlap. You can also try the press offices of the local governments (e.g., the Mayor's office) or local government agencies or groups (e.g., Chambers of Commerce).
Include the legislator in your activity in some way that will make compelling photographs and appeal to the editor of a newspaper (or TV news editor, if you're successful in getting a camera crew out). If you take any pictures of him or her just standing there with your officers, use those only for giving to the people in the photo, not for the press. For example, if it is a concert, let the official conduct a two-minute piece, like throwing out the first ceremonial ball in the World Series (or let them think that's what they're doing). Or let the official be one of the judges of students' artwork. You want a photograph that will be active and attractive enough to move the story that goes with it to (or toward) the front page. Plan this all out in advance, but be ready to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. Some really lively photos appearing in the papers will be your biggest lever for getting actual reporters or TV crews to your future events.
As far as the actual promoting of your agenda when you have the official at your event, err on the side of the lighter touch. Your purpose is to say your thank-yous and make them look like a hero in front of the largest possible audience. You want to get the legislator invested in your program and give them the incentive to ask how they can help you do more. Reserve these more serious conversations for one-on-one meetings or private meetings with your board of directors and the Congressman.
You definitely do not want to lean on them, much less maul them at your own public event, or let anybody else do so. It's simply bad hospitality on your part. You can make a permanent enemy that way. And the word can get around that an invitation to your events can be a set-up. If it happens in front of the press, you've really stepped in it.
Immediately after the event, carpet bomb the local newspapers in the legislator's whole riding and beyond with your press releases, accompanied by photographs. In smaller markets, most of the copy that appears in a newspaper will be unedited (or little-edited) paste-ups from wire services and whatever press releases appear unsolicited in their mailbox. They'll take everything you give them.
If a legislator's staff member shows up as a surrogate, do not be disappointed. Treat the staffer just the same as you would the Member with your press release, accompanying photos-the whole business-but always identifying the staffer as from the office of. . .-and keep repeating the legislator's name. You will have achieved almost the same result as if the official had shown up. Their name will be in the paper. The official will see that you are savvy enough to do that and will have the incentive to make an extra effort to be the one who shows up the next time you offer an invitation.
Don't get discouraged if this doesn't work out flawlessly the first time you try it. This is a project that you can improve on with practice. In fact, after a few runs, you will almost certainly come up with a few local modifications and new wrinkles that nobody else ever thought of. It can't hurt to get help and advice from local news people and communications staff at state and local art agencies. You can get this down to a regular drill. And over time, all of the local elected officials will start fishing for invitations to your events. A few may be cynical enough to steal some limelight from you and then vote to gut your budget. But not many, and it usually comes back at them over time.
return to top
When to Say Thank You
Generally this is a retrospective operation. Track when there has been an important event (e.g., a vote in the legislature, the issuance of a grant, an activity supported by the grant). The closer to the event (or at the event) you can get, the better. And, if you are pursuing press coverage, choose the event with the most potential for good visuals. If it works out that you can do something when it can have an increased legislative effect because of timing, do it.
Politicians are 95% deaf to those who don't see their name on the ballot. The communication that gets the most attention from any elected official is from his or her own constituents. Getting one thank-you letter generated from a legislator's riding is worth 20 from other citizens. If you are with an organization that covers many districts and you send a letter expressing gratitude to a legislator, make sure you send copies of your letter to your members who are that official's constituent and make sure you let that official know you have done that. Even if their constituents don't write to the legislator, he/she will know that the message has gotten to them.
Photo (signed) for brag wall. If you can get a good photograph framed of the legislator and your group (autographed if appropriate), the official may put it on his/her "brag wall." It is much better if the photo has its own special appeal, tells a story, has kids, etc. than a bland routine group shot.
Recommend a link. Recommend an online report. We'll take the best recommendations and add them to the site every month. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org subject: toolbox recommendations.
return to top