Thursday, December 04, 2008

If you weren't sure whether grassroots matter...

Check out today's Washington Post article "On Health Care, Obama Policymakers Turn to Campaign Tools." It reports on the myriad ways transition team players, like former Senator Tom Daschle, are turning to real live citizens for ideas on how to improve the health care system. On a recent conference call with a thousand upporters, Daschle noted that the new administration is planning listening sessions, town halls and even more online outreach efforts in the next month.

"President-elect Obama believes that change really comes from the ground up, not from Washington," according to Senator Salazar from Colorado, who is helping with health care summits for the new administration.

And people seem to be responding! Several thousand comments have been left on the transition team's website outlining options for improving health services. In fact, a recent interactive online conversation combined video with postings from citizens to try to answer the question "what worries you most about the health-care system for our country?" Visitors were able to score the suggestions with which they agreed the most (or least) through a "Digg" like system.

Perhaps most important, though, is how the transition is using technology to make health care policy issues real for both citizens and politicians. As Daschle pointed out, in response to the recounting of a personal story about small business people struggling to provide health insurance, "[w]hen I was in the Senate, it was stories like that, probably more than all the factual information, that really moved you to want to act."

Clearly, the personal, relevant compelling stories of citizens can make a difference. Maybe it's time to think about how you can be involved in the debate!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Preparing for the 111th Congress

Crossposted on ASAE's Acronym Blog

Welcome to the first in a series of five posts outlining strategies for preparing for the 111th Congress. Believe it or not, the elections are finally over and we’ll have a new Congress and a new Administration in 2009. Regardless of whether your party was wildly successful or not so much, it’s important for advocate leaders to be fully prepared with their grassroots, grasstops and coalition building efforts as early as possible.

Why are the grassroots so important this time around? Well, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that “Joe the Plumber” is in and “special interests” are out in Washington, DC these days. Only those organizations that have effectively incorporated their own “Joes” (i.e., citizen advocates) into their government relations plan will have their message heard and even perhaps acted on in this environment.

That’s why this series of posts is designed to help you hit the grassroots advocacy ground running in January 2009. We’ll look at five different strategies for preparing the network, starting with our first strategy, which is to wrap-up the 110th Congress. Are you ready? Let’s dive in!

Advocate leaders should take some time now to close the books on the 110th Congress. Take a moment to undertake the following three activities:

  • Clean out and update your database list: Review e-mail addresses, advocate address information, affiliation information and grasstops contacts and connections to be sure that you have the right advocates communicating with the right elected officials. Remember that it’s better to have fewer active advocates in your database than thousands of individuals who aren’t interested in policy debates – or worse, aren’t receiving your communications! Now is the perfect time to update and clean out.
  • Update your legislative agenda/advocacy materials online: When was the last time you took a really good look at all the materials available on your site? Even if you update information regularly, much of the older information is often left on the site for search engines to find. For many organizations, the advocacy section of the website is the first impression a potential advocate will see. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
  • Create a list of successes from the 110th: Most organizations will want to put together a legislative summary outlining the work of the previous Congress. Be sure to include in that summary a clear section highlighting successes – and be sure to define success as broadly as possible! While an ultimate success may be passage of a particular piece of legislation, incremental accomplishments such as increasing the numbers of cosponsors for legislation, expanding the reach of the grassroots network or even getting a bill to the hearing stage should be celebrated. Given the length of time it takes to move legislation through the process, it’s important to stress when some progress (even limited progress!) is being made.

Once you’ve finished wrapping up for the 110th, you’ll be able to move on to our next strategy, Preparing Your Team -- stay tuned!