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Hi crew! I'm a civics coordinator with an environmental nonprofit and we have been working with the office of the Senator that introduced a PFAS regulation bill. We are trying to whip up support through letters of testimony, and I'm hoping to reach out to community members that are affected by PFAS to ask for their supportive testimony. The problem that I am running into is that we want testimony to not sound like it is all coming from the same source. I was thinking about including talking points, but if those are recycled in each testimony, we can risk the quality of testimony, but I also want to make written testimony as easy and enticing as possible. One of my questions is do you all have any resources that I can share with our community on how to best give written testimony, and do you have any best practices as well? Additionally, do you know of any way that we can use AI as a method to create unique testimony - I have been using chat GPT and it works pretty well! Thank you so much y'all.

            Thank you for writing to us at the Community Tool Box, and please excuse our unforeseen delay in responding to your important question.   
            In general, both our reading of the literature and our experience suggest that testimony, especially written testimony, is more effective when it is (1) short, (2) specific, (3) suggests a specific action, and (4)  asks for feedback.
      The “short and simple” guideline may be good news for you and your supporters, for it means that written testimony need not be difficult to generate.  And this may be even more true in the case of PFAS, since adverse results of PFAS are likely to be long-term, and it may be hard to demonstrate specific and targeted adverse effects, as well as causal linkages. 
            What that means is that supporters needn’t limit their communications to scientific evidence (which, in our understanding, is somewhat mixed). They can instead emphasize the unknowns and the potential risks of PFAS, and suggest that in the presence of doubt it’s best for now to adopt some precautionary standards (i.e., regulations)
and to monitor new evidence as it comes in.
            Beyond that, you can:

  •     Give your target population a long list of talking points, and have them pick one or two to focus on.
  •     Encourage those writing not to avoid feeling and controlled emotion– it’s okay to be frightened about your child’s welfare, for example.
  •    … And also to write in their own words. It doesn’t have to be entirely grammatical, or in Pulitzer-prize-winning prose.  
  •     Spread out your advocacy campaign over time if needed, so that your desired letters will not all come in at once.  

      In addition, if you can find people who can make a credible case that they personally experienced negative effects from PFAS – people who have a compelling personal story – their testimony is likely to be particularly impactful.
            Of course, the effectiveness of your communications will also depend on your audience, in this case the decision-makers who will be reading your testimony.  By now, we’d imagine that you have researched who your audience will be, and have planned accordingly.
            Over and above these points, the Community Tool Box offers different resources that may be useful to you as your work continues.  For example, you might look atChapter 33, Section 6, on Using Personal Testimony, at https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/advocacy/direct-action.The neighboring sections on Advocacy might be helpful as well, as might be Chapter 6, Section 2, on Using Principles of Persuasion.  You can access these by browsing the Tool Box table of contents.
            You can also find multiple other sources on writing effective testimony through a simple online search. One of the better ones we’ve seen comes out of rural Montana, athttp://rtc.ruralinstitute.umt.edu/www/wp-content/uploads/Guide-LettersDecisionMakers_FINAL-1.pdf.  This might be a bit too formal for your particular circumstance, but you could adapt it for your own audience.
            As for Chat GPT, we are not experienced enough in its use to make application suggestions here.  But if you have such suggestions of your own, or results to report, we’d certainly like to hear about them!
         We hope these comments might be useful to you. Thanks again for being in touch, and all best wishes for success as your work continues.

Question Date: س., 04/04/2023