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11. Influencing Policy Development

This toolkit provides guidance for bringing about policy change in organizations and communities.

  1. State why a policy needs to be developed or modified, including:
    1. Basic needs are not being met (e.g., People are not receiving the health care they need)
    2. People are not being treated fairly (e.g., People with disabilities do not have access to public places)
    3. Resources are distributed unfairly (e.g., Educational services are more limited in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty)
    4. Current policies or laws are not enforced or effective (e.g., The current laws on clean water are neither enforced nor effective)
    5. Proposed changes in policies or laws would be harmful (e.g., A plan to eliminate flextime in a large business would reduce parents' ability to be with their children)
    6. Existing or emerging conditions pose a threat to public health, safety, education, or well-being (e.g., New threats from terrorist activity)
      Related resources:
      Understanding People's Needs
      Overview: Getting and Advocacy Campaign Off the Ground
      Survival Skills for Advocate
      General Rules for Organizing for Legislative Advocacy
  2. Study the issue or problem a policy change would affect
    1. Outline the facts, myths, and values associated with the issue. Find out:
      1. The results of previous research about the issue or problem
      2. How similar issues have been resolved through policy decisions in other places or organizations
      3. What those who are affected by the issue think "should be" in an ideal situation
      4. What people believe is maintaining the problem, true or not
    2. List who or what is affected by the current state of affairs. Ask:
      1. How are they affected? (e.g., 50% of those seeking shelter in a local homeless shelter are turned away for lack of space)
      2. What needs to be done differently to lessen the problem? (e.g., Screenings for learning disabilities could to be done with all children to identify learning problems early and address them)
    3. Define the issue or current policy in neutral terms and generate possible policy related solutions (e.g., There are too many children of the working poor who have no health insurance coverage, and there should be a policy that guarantees that all children receive adequate health care)
      Related resources:
      Understanding the Issue
      Conducting Studies of the Issue
      Listening to Those Whose Behavior Matters
      Defining and Analyzing the Problem
      Generating and Choosing Solutions
      Reframing the Issue
  3. Based on knowledge about the issue or problem and who it affects, indicate the type and context of policies to be developed, including:
    1. Public laws and ordinances (at city/county, state/province/tribal, or national levels), (e.g., A local ordinance to assure shelter for all who need it will be presented to the city council)
    2. Regulatory policies (at city/county, state/province/tribal, or national levels), (e.g., A state law that seeks to protect water quality and imposing penalties for waste or toxins flowing into water sources will be introduced to the Public Health and Welfare Committee of the state legislature)
    3. Executive orders from elected officials (e.g., An Executive Order will be sought by the governor to set a state day or community service for all government employees)
    4. Business policies and organizational rules and bylaws (e.g., A business policy to permit employees flextime to volunteer to be a mentor for a child or other community service will be presented to the Board of Directors)
      Related resources:
      Developing and Increasing Access to Health and Community Services|
      Changing Policies to Increase Funding for Community Health and Development Initiatives
      Acquiring Public Funding
  4. State what your group will do to influence each of the stages of policy development (e.g., agenda setting). What broad goals do you need to achieve to be effective?
    1. Bring the issue to the attention of the public and decision makers and frame the issues and available policy options (e.g., Secure policy debate on the issue of healthcare for all, develop and secure consideration of policy options for extending insurance coverage to include child wellness checks and other preventive services) [agenda setting stage]
    2. Influence the adoption of a preferred policy option (e.g., Educate/Lobby decision makers about the cost benefits of tax incentives for businesses that assure a living wage for their employees) [policy adoption stage]
    3. Assure effective implementation of adopted policies (e.g., Assure that regulations for worker safety are strictly enforced) [policy implementation stage]
    4. Assess the effects of adopted policies and adjust as needed (e.g., Examine whether policies to assure fair treatment of minorities have reduced instances of discrimination) [policy evaluation stage]
      Related resources:
      Developing a Plan for Advocacy
      Promoting Awareness and Interest Through Communication
      Developing a Plan for Getting Community Health and Development Issues on the Local ...
      Systems Advocacy and Community Organizing
      Changing the Media's Perspective on Community Issues
  5. Identify resources and assets to be used for policy development, including:
    1. The number and kind of people who are available and committed to working on the problem or issue
    2. The financial resources anticipated and currently available
    3. The communication technologies, facilities, and other material resources available
    4. Additional information and support
    5. Other assets that can be used to support the effort (e.g., relationships with influential policymakers and those who have spear headed similar efforts)
      Related resources:
      Identifying Community Assets and Resources
      Building and Sustaining Relationships
      Coalition Building I: Starting a Coalition
  6. Indicate potential allies and opponents of policy development efforts.
    1. Identify likely allies and how they will support the effort (e.g., Members of interest groups affected by the issue; elected and appointed officials, board members of businesses with a record of supporting related issues). Consider:
      1. Those individuals or organizations who share common values or are engaged in related efforts
      2. Those who can provide the type of support you will need (e.g., sharing resources or lobbying efforts, providing financial support)
    2. Identify likely opponents and how they might resist or oppose the effort because of the consequences of your proposed policy
      1. State the likely purposes of the opposition, including:
        • To oppose or block intended changes (e.g., policy change)
        • To intimidate (e.g., the policy advocates, their allies, elected officials)
        • To reduce effectiveness (e.g., substituting less effective alternatives)
      2. Outline tactics that may be used by the opposition, including (The D's):
        • Deflect (e.g., not our responsibility)
        • Delay (e.g., long wait for additional review)
        • Deny (e.g., no real problem)
        • Discount (e.g., problem not as bad as portrayed)
        • Deceive (e.g., claiming no data available on the problem)
        • Divide (e.g., try to get some group members to oppose others)
        • Dulcify or appease (e.g., offer a less effective alternative)
        • Discredit (e.g., labeling advocates as "soft-headed liberals")
        • Destroy (e.g., effort to harm those who support change)
        • Deal (e.g., encourage acceptance of an alternative)
      3. Indicate how the opposition can be countered, including to:
        • Understand your opponent and their perspective/goal
        • Turn negatives into positives (e.g., turn the opponents' discrediting tactics into an issue)
        • Set the agenda or reframe the issue (e.g., not the smoker's rights, but the right to breathe clean air; not freedom from government, but freedom from want)
        • Publicly state your opponent's strategy (e.g., they are trying to deny the problem and pass responsibility off to others)
        • Keep opponents off balance (e.g., raise new charges)
        • Learn from the past (e.g., understand the response to the proposed change elsewhere)
        • Be willing to compromise (e.g., accept the best possible alternative)
          Related resources:
          Recognizing Allies
          Identifying Opponents
          How to Respond to Opposition Tactics
          SWOT Analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats
  7. Identify targets and agents of policy change efforts and their assets and interests.
    1. Describe the targets of change (i.e., those who would adopt or implement policies) and what they can do for the policy change. State their interests. [Targets might include elected and appointed officials and business leaders who can affect the distribution of resources and the regulation of commerce, the environment, and other public goods.] Know:
      1. What issues have been important to them in the past (e.g., family, health or safety, local businesses, quality of life issues)
      2. To whom do they answer or from whom do they need support to maintain their position (e.g. are they elected with support from a particular segment of the community, they are appointed by particular officials)
    2. Describe potential agents of change (i.e., those who would influence policymakers) and what they can contribute to the policy change efforts. State their interests.[Agents might include policy advocates and lobbyists, special interest groups, the broadcast and print media, elected and appointed officials or their staff]. Know:
      1. With whom are they influential (e.g. policymakers who could vote on or propose policy, the broader community's opinion)
      2. Why they would work with you to accomplish your goal
    3. For both targets and agents of change, prepare answers to anticipated questions about:
      1. Why they should support your proposed policy or position
      2. How they benefit from such involvement (e.g., voter popularity, support from a influential organization)
      3. How the issue affects them or those they care about
      4. How this stance could (potentially) cost them
        Related resources:
        Influencing People
        Using Principles of Persuasion
        Developing and Maintaining Ongoing Relationships with Legislators and Their Aides
        Identifying Targets and Agents of Change: Who Can Benefit and Who Can Help
  8. Depending on the broad goal of your policy development efforts (see #3), choose the strategies and action plan to be used, which may include:
    1. Policy research and investigation
      1. Study the issue (e.g., research how water quality affects children's health outcomes)
      2. Gather data on public opinion (e.g., survey local households about traffic problems on their street)
      3. Request accountability (e.g., determine what factors and persons maintain the current policy on disseminating information about reproductive health in the schools)
      4. Demonstrate commercial benefits (e.g., show how extending clinic hours reduces unnecessary emergency room visits)
      5. Document complaints of those affected (e.g., ask unemployed residents about barriers to getting new jobs)
      6. Act as a watchdog (e.g., speak up about how an issue affects you or your community)
    2. Relationship building and education of decision makers
      1. Give personal compliments, and public support (e.g., write a letter to the editor in the local newspaper applauding council members' efforts to address homelessness)
      2. Arrange celebrations (e.g., have a party in the park to celebrate newly refurbished recreational equipment)
      3. Develop or refine policy options and proposals for implementation (e.g., arrange a meeting to present feedback from residents about a proposed policy change affecting local property values)
      4. Establish contact and request participation (e.g., call policy makers and volunteer your organization's knowledge and analysis of the issue)
      5. Prepare fact sheets (e.g., compile a fact sheet on rates of domestic violence in your city and the availability of supports)
      6. Offer public education (e.g., make brief presentations at local forums to increase the visibility of your issue to the public)
      7. Provide constructive feedback (e.g., propose alternative policies)
      8. Educate (lobby) decision makers (e.g., meet with decision makers and their staff to present fact sheets and local survey results)
    3. Mobilize public support
      1. Sponsor a public hearing (e.g., arrange a public forum at a local school to discuss increasing gang-related incidents in the schools)
      2. Conduct a letter-writing campaign (e.g., call local residents and ask them to write local council members regarding the trash pickup and sanitation)
      3. Conduct a petition drive (e.g., create a petition of support for a newly proposed policy to require benches at local bus stops and approach people at the local mall and supermarket to sign it)
      4. Conduct a ballot drive (e.g., conduct a ballot drive to assure a public vote on a proposition for community improvement efforts)
      5. Register voters (e.g., place registration booths at local supermarkets and post offices to increase registered voters in your area)
      6. Engage the media (e.g., conduct a press conference to bring attention to the lack of rehabilitation centers for female drug users)
    4. (If necessary) Make your presence felt
      1. Criticize unfavorable actions (e.g., call into a local talk show and state why you think that a cap on health insurance reimbursements is unwise)
      2. Express opposition publicly (e.g., write a guest editorial in the local newspaper stating why you and your organization are fighting the newly proposed selling off of public park land for private development as a fund raising strategy)
      3. Remind those responsible (e.g., contact those who have voted for a policy and inform them of the resultant negative consequences)
      4. Establish an alternative program or system (e.g., establish a model respite care program for care and caring at the end of life in your community)
      5. Organize public demonstrations (e.g., picket outside of city hall to bring attention to the numerous ozone alert days in the past year and their impact on local residents' respiratory health)
      6. File a formal complaint (e.g., draft and file a complaint about the poor management of city dumpsters in public spaces)
      7. Arrange a media expose' (e.g., convince a local newspaper reporter to attend a public forum where you ask policy makers questions about their voting records on issues related to fair hiring practices)
      8. Initiate legal action (e.g., pursue legal action against a company for refusing to hire employees over the age of fifty regardless of credentials)
        Related resources:
        Providing Corrective Feedback
        Working with the Media
        Developing Successful Strategies: Planning to Win
        Developing a Plan for Advocacy
        Conducting a Direct Action Campaign
  9. Review whether the planned policy goals, strategies and actions fit the situation. Consider whether they:
    1. Are timed well (i.e., Is this a good time to raise the issue?)
    2. Use available resources and allies (i.e., Does it take advantage of the group's strengths? Engage its allies? Deter opponents?)
    3. Fit the group's style (i.e., Are group members comfortable with the approach?)
    4. Are flexible (i.e., Does it permit adjustments with changing situations)
    5. Are likely to work (i.e., Does it correct the original problem or inequality?)
      Related resources:
      Thinking Critically
  10. Create an action plan to carry out your policy efforts (who is going to do what by when), describing:
    1. What specific action will occur (e.g., conduct a letter writing campaign)
    2. Who will carry it out
    3. When the plan will be completed or for how long it will be maintained
    4. Resources (money and staff) needed
    5. Who should know what about this (e.g., local media will be informed of your efforts in order to increase your visibility)
      Related resources:
      Developing an Action Plan
      Developing a Plan for Advocacy
  11. When influencing the adoption of a policy or how it will be implemented:
    1. Identify precedents (or analogs) for policy option(s) that have been adopted and implemented in other similar situations.
    2. Describe how the policy option(s) met the interests of potential targets, agents, and opponents.
    3. Describe the critical features to be preserved in the policy option(s) including:
      1. Information about what to do, why to do it, and with what anticipated costs and benefits for whom
      2. Facilitation and support that reduces the time, effort, and other costs for those responsible for implementing it
      3. Regulation and monitoring that helps assure compliance or implementation of critical elements.
      4. Incentives that reward change and improvements.
    4. Gain an audience with those who can propose the policy or who will be active in forming its implementation
      Related resources:
      Conducting a Social Marketing Campaign
      General Rules for Organizing for Legislative Advocacy
  12. When assessing the evaluation of the policy development effort.
    1. Clearly state what indicators will signify "success" (e.g., in adoption of desired policy options; in more faithful policy implementation; in achieving longer-term outcomes.
    2. Describe how measures of success will be obtained (e.g., review records; interviews with implementers and those affected)
    3. Indicate how the group will make sense of the results (e.g., how data will be analyzed; how those affected will be involved in interpreting the information)
    4. Describe how the information will be used to improve the policy (e.g., feedback will be provided to elected and appointed officials on outcomes; retreats for legislative staff to review progress and make adjustments on implementation or set new policy goals).
      Related resources:
      A Framework for Program Evaluation
      Developing an Evaluation Plan
  13. (As appropriate) State the circumstances under which you will close out the policy development effort:
    1. If you have been successful at negotiating a favorable policy or ensuring implementation, celebrate with those affected and invested in the issue
    2. If opposition is significant, consider:
      1. Postponing action (e.g., If there are insufficient votes for a bill supporting construction of low-income housing, then postpone the vote.)
      2. Mediating differences with opponents (e.g., Meet with land developers and discuss how they can build without disrupting water resources for local farmlands)
      3. Making a deal or a compromise to achieve part of your goal (e.g., if there are not funds or support to expand drug rehabilitation services for women, ask if a percentage of existing services can be guaranteed for women clients)
        Related resources:
        Monitoring Progress and Making Adjustments in the Social Marketing Campaign
        Coalition Building II: Maintaining a Coalition

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