Identify and Articulate Your Goals
We can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a clear purpose for engaging with a policymaker. Policymakers’ time is in great demand. At the same time, policymakers are oriented toward being of help, especially if you are a constituent. Ask yourself: Why are you engaging with the policymaker? What are you asking of them? When you communicate, make your goals clear from the outset.
Policymakers repeatedly stressed the importance of coming to a meeting with a specific goal in the form of an “ask” of your policymaker, whether policy-oriented or personal. This said, it is important to be realistic. One policymaker suggested individuals interested in funding also consider a more doable ask, such as an introduction or recommendation.
Scientists and other technical experts engage for a wide variety of reasons. Maybe you want to bring attention to a pressing public problem or provide technical advice regarding legislation. Maybe you wish to advocate for a specific policy. Perhaps you intend to advocate for funding for yourself, an organization to which you belong, or your discipline. Or maybe you are focused on relationship building or establishing yourself as a resource, hoping that there will be fruitful future interactions.
Once you have identified your general purpose, consider - in consultation with others with more experience in the policymaking arena, if necessary - what an elected official might do to further your goal. Introducing legislation is one of many possible actions.
Whatever your goals, keep them in mind as you craft your communication strategy and make them plain to the people with whom you are communicating.
- 1. Write letters to agency heads
- 2. Ask for briefings from agency staff
- 3. Hold hearings
- 4. Ask specific questions of witnesses at or after hearing
- 5. Co-sponsor legislation
- 6. Offer an amendment to legislation
- 7. Include certain report language with a bill leaving committee
- 8. Support or oppose a nominee
- 9. Join a sign-on letter
- 10. Organize a briefing for elected officials or staff
- 11. Give a speech or attend an event
- 12. Request appropriations language
- 13. Comment on proposed regulations
- 14. Issue a press release
- 15. Make a floor statement
- 16. Join a caucus
Communicate Shared Goals
While a variety of goals are acceptable when communicating with policymakers, you are more likely to be successful if your communication is about more than just advancing your professional goals. In a democratic society, what we ask of policymakers should be of help to others as well, and our system of frequent elections keeps elected officials and their staff attentive to the public good, particularly that of constituents at home in the district (U.S. House) or state (U.S. Senate).1
Members of Congress and their staff repeatedly commented on how they prioritize issues of concern to their constituents. You have power as a constituent or as an expert speaking directly to constituent concerns.
Beyond this general concern for constituents and the public, elected officials and staff spend much of their days focused on developing and considering legislation and conducting oversight of the executive branch, most often as a part of committee and subcommittee work.2
As you plan your communication with a policymaker, consider how your goals might overlap with theirs.
- Are you bringing attention to a pressing public problem that affects their constituents?
- Are you providing advice on a piece of legislation being developed by a committee on which they sit or on a topic known to be of interest to the policymaker?
- If you are advocating for funding, does the policymaker play a role in the decision or have a stake in it?
- If you are engaged in relationship building, is this a relationship from which the policymaker benefits as well?
This list is not exhaustive. Consider all of the ways in which your goals may overlap with those of policymakers. Making this goal alignment salient is a critical aspect of the content of your communication.