BY TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB
Successful policy initiatives aren’t started on day 1 of the legislative session, nor do they end on day 60. As this year’s legislative session ends, I’m already thinking about what the coming year will bring and how citizen lobbyists can set themselves up for success in 2021.
Annual Policy Phases
The work of creating a successful policy initiative is often done in phases. The graphic below describes one way to break down the work that goes into building an effective policy initiative:
Rest and Update
The months directly following the legislative session are a great time to rest, take a moment to reflect on what happened during the session, and update those you’re working with on what took place. It’s also a good time to celebrate and thank legislators and partners for their support on any successes that you’ve had.
Internal Strategy Development
During the months of May, June, and July, it’s important to answer a few key questions:
What am I going to try to accomplish in 2021?
This is a moment to get specific. Maybe you already know what you want to accomplish, if, say, a bill you were working on last year didn’t pass. Or, maybe now is the moment to build on past success and set a new goal.
Who do I need on my side in order to be successful?
Use this opportunity to think about everyone whose support you may need in order to reach your goals. This could include members of a team you’re building to support your initiative. This could include:
- Someone who is an expert on your topic
- Someone who can draft your bill
- Someone who is great at telling your story
It may also include legislators who care deeply about the issues you do, or even legislators who you’d like to win over to your cause. It could also include allies of other kinds like nonprofit organizations, associations, unions or other advocacy groups.
How will I explain to others why my objective needs to happen?
In order to reach your goal, you’ll need to be able to tell the story of why that goal needs to happen. What do legislators care about? How are the things that they care about connected to what you’re trying to accomplish? And who will your message be best received from?
In order to implement the strategy you identified in the previous months, you’ll need more than just yourself. This is a moment to build strong relationships with the individuals and organizations you identified during the last phase – the stakeholders – that you’ll need in order to make everything happen. Taking the time to work together to create a shared goal and a clear outline of what needs to happen in the coming months is vital to your success.
Implementation Phase I
September through December is a good time to begin implementing the strategy that you’ve developed and honed with your stakeholders. This could mean all kinds of things:
- Meeting with legislators in their home districts or during interim meetings to educate them on the importance of your initiative.
- Reaching out to legislators to ask them to sponsor your bill.
- Holding community meetings to educate the public on why your issue is important and gain support.
- Drafting a bill.
- Writing an Op-ed or a Letter to the Editor to publicize your policy solution.
- Planning the roles that team members will cover during the upcoming session.
- Identifying possible opponents and thinking through how you plan to approach their opposition.
This time is vital in laying the groundwork that you’ll need in order to be successful in the upcoming session. Legislators are more comfortable supporting legislation they feel familiar with, so using this time to help provide information to them will mean less scramble during the session.
Implementation Phase II
It’s session time again! This is when the strategy you developed comes to fruition. By this time, you should have bill sponsors for any piece of legislation you want to introduce. It’s good practice to introduce a bill as early as you can, to give yourself the maximum amount of time to help move it through the legislative process. This phase is about building on the groundwork you laid in previous phases: providing legislators with the tools that they need in order to make the argument for your policy solution, and calling in support from your stakeholders when needed.
How to Get all This Done
This may seem like a daunting amount of work for one person to accomplish, and in truth – it is. That’s why the most effective policy initiatives that I’ve seen citizen lobbyists work on are ones that they take on with a team of people.
There are advocacy organizations working on all kinds of policy initiatives in West Virginia. If you have an idea to tackle challenges faced by WV citizens, chances are there is a group who would love to hear your idea. Finding an advocacy group is also a great idea for anyone who wants to take action on an issue, but hasn’t come up with a specific policy solution.
Even if your team is just you and a few friends who feel strongly about the same issue, you’ll be infinitely more successful together.
Still Have Questions?
Even after all this information, there’s still a lot more to being effective at the Capitol. If you still have questions about how the policy work continues, reach out to Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.