Advocating in the government arena, be it local, state or federal, can be challenging. Elected officials, and their staff, are inundated with numerous tasks and requests daily, making it difficult to break through the noise and secure a meeting. When you finally secure a meeting to make your “ask,” how do you stand out and be a catalyst for action? As a former legislative aide to a California state assembly member, I know firsthand successful ways to inspire action from a policymaker.
So, what are some of the ways you can be a strong advocate for your need, concern or interest and a medium for action? Here are some tips to consider when communicating with elected officials.
1. Know your audience.
When planning to meet with an elected official or policymaker, consider: What is so important about this issue that it warrants action from this elected official? Has this elected official advocated for this issue before? Is it something their constituency is dealing with and cares about? Is there an economic impact? Answering these questions allows you to expand your understanding of the representative’s history on the topic and how to make it both relevant and of concern to them.
2. Work with allies to increase effectiveness.
There is strength in numbers, right? Building coalitions is effective. Highlighting advocates, expert witnesses, organizations or associations that support your effort shows the elected official the importance of the issue to numerous stakeholders. But, be cautious — different groups don’t always perfectly align on a need, concern, or interest causing politics to make its way into policymaking.
3. Provide evidence by way of facts and a story.
Statistical and analytical information, research and media stories are ways you can provide evidence to support your position. However, be wary of providing too much information, which can create factual overload. To increase the chances of generating a reaction from a policymaker, create an emotional draw through a thoughtful narrative, pulling from authentic sentiments to produce an emotional appeal.
When presenting your request, know the difference between education and persuasion and use both tools accordingly. Education is to inform the audience of the facts, while persuasion is to convince the audience to align or sympathize with your beliefs regarding a topicthe policymaker about the subject and convinces them there is a need to take action.
4. Be direct and emphasize the impact(s) on the constituency.
Be concise. Regardless of the representative’s knowledge of the issue, the focal point of your presentation must be informing the elected official of the issue’s scale of impact on their constituents, clearly exhibiting the need for action. Displaying the breadth of the problem and the effect on their constituencies prompts the representative to feel like they have some skin in the game. Most requests that policymakers respond to successfully portray the solution as a win for their constituency.
5. Timing is key.
To communicate efficiently within policymaking systems, you must understand the process and environment in which policymakers operate. Know that the state and federal legislatures follow strict calendars – but they are not the same calendars. Visit the
There are deadlines for bills, budget requests and other timelines you should be aware of in any legislature. These factors should determine when you approach a representative with an ask. You are much more likely to get a meeting and more time in that meeting when the legislative session is calm – for California, that would be after the end of session in September and before the beginning of session in January.
The main concepts of effective communication within policymaking systems are to be clear and concise while providing a convincing discussion that outlines your solution. Building rapport with both policymakers and their staff takes time and patience. Be consistent, without badgering. While some of these tips seem intuitive, a focused dedication to these best practices will increase your chances of success.
Need even more help navigating policymaking systems and making your voice heard? NST can help. Reach out to learn about our in-house expertise working to effect change with elected officials.