Over the last 21 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated regular legislative business, forcing state and federal lawmakers away from routine meetings and voting schedules. Leaders scrambled to pass an array of legislation to address the growing needs of communities across the nation, with many casting their votes remotely and continuing to hold meetings virtually with constituents and stakeholder groups.
As the routines of public life and legislative business are still shifting to meet the changing landscape of the public health crisis, organizations and stakeholders nationwide are gearing up for 2022 state legislative sessions and strategizing early to ensure lawmakers hear and understand their priorities.
Much has changed in the legislative arena since the pandemic began, but one thing that has not – and it has likely only been exacerbated by the pandemic – is lawmakers’ constrained schedules and organizations jockeying for time to meet. In anticipation of another busy year with mounting legislative priorities, there are some important steps organizations can take to make sure they have a seat at the table with members of their statehouse next session.
Here are four best practices to prepare for the upcoming legislative environment:
As the pandemic hit, most lawmakers were forced to take meetings in a completely virtual setting. And while meeting virtually offers some convenience by ways of avoiding travel and other physical logistics, many groups have found the impact of their meetings to be less effective via computer screen than in-person. While many state lawmakers are still holding meetings virtually, some are opening their doors back up to in-person meetings and reengaging face-to-face with organizations and constituents.
Whatever the forum may be, groups must be prepared to make the most of the limited time they have with legislators. As groups are now keenly aware after nearly two years of the pandemic, there is a small window of opportunity to proactively communicate your legislative priorities and concerns with lawmakers in a meaningful and persuasive way.
For those lawmakers who are still holding meetings strictly in a virtual forum, organizations will have to continue being creative about ways to access lawmakers, whether that’s through virtual events, conference calls, virtual site tours, sending a package of educational materials to their office, or coordinating a webinar or other online forum for multiple parties to participate.
To add another layer of exposure for your priorities and mission, groups can take advantage of more non-traditional forms of outreach and engagement, such as recorded video briefings or conferences, targeted digital or television advertising, or developing a landing page or policy website which could serve as a central hub and educational resource.
Public Opinion Surveys & Focus Groups:
Organizations should not underestimate the value of public opinion surveys and focus groups to check in on the public’s perception about your legislative issues. Survey data can be an important building block to help determine which issues and messages will be the most effective among specific audiences. It can help lawmakers understand just how important some issues are to their constituents and why it should be a priority for them. Surveys and focus groups can help provide proof points and data to validate messaging, while at the same time showing lawmakers the level of support or opposition for certain legislative issues.
Diverse Tactics Communicating Legislative Objectives:
Communicating your objectives in a meaningful way starts with a strong, clear narrative about your organization’s mission and goals. In an increasingly crowded legislative landscape and news cycle, organizations must have a compelling and memorable message to ensure their priorities are breaking through the noise.
The medium through which these messages are communicated can also increase the impact of a message. For example, if you’re holding a virtual meeting with a legislator on an issue, providing them with topline talking points, an issue one-pager, PowerPoint, case studies or attractive infographics is a helpful aid to ensure they have materials to reference either before or after the meeting. Those materials can also be shared with staff responsible for that specific issue area. When it comes to informing grassroots and grasstops audiences, having an updated issue backgrounder, a frequently asked questions document or other fact sheets will be crucial to familiarizing them with your issues and ultimately giving them the confidence and clarity to drive your narrative and advocate on your behalf.
Engaging with the media can also be a key tool in your arsenal to communicate your legislative objectives. It’s important to examine new ways to leverage current contacts who already know your organization – informing them about your new priorities and why it’s important that legislators act.
There are several other ways to effectively communicate your message, from digital and online advertising – which can target specific messages to specific audiences with precision – to virtual events, which can serve as an open forum to reach any number of influencers, lawmakers and other stakeholders.
Activating Grassroots & Grasstops:
When you’re on the cusp of achieving a legislative goal or need additional exposure, having a well-prepared group of grassroots and grasstops audiences is crucial.
Mobilizing grasstops and grassroots advocates is an invaluable way to have supporters amplify key messages, while also providing third-party validation in support of your priorities. A diverse array of well-informed voices – constituents, employees of an organization, community and civic leaders or industry leaders – will grab the attention of lawmakers who are likewise preparing to meet the growing needs of their constituencies in 2022.
Having a group of advocates well-versed on your organization’s issues and legislative priorities is vital as they can be quickly deployed to amplify your message and mobilize supporters when it matters most or clarify key points as a public policy discussion evolves.
Grassroots and grasstops advocates can engage in a number of activities to draw legislators’ attention to your priorities. Some of the most impactful efforts include writing a letter, posting on social media, submitting an op-ed or letter to the editor, submitting a comment during a regulatory comment period, filming a short video, or attending a committee hearing or community event.