With prefiling underway in many states, legislators and their staffers need to use the coming months to formulate their agendas and share their priorities with constituents and other stakeholders.
As a part-time lawmaker, Maryland State Sen. Sarah Elfreth takes seriously the need to communicate openly as she crafts her agenda.
“In my role, I have to know a little bit about absolutely everything, and I don’t have the luxury of being an issue-area expert,” she says. “Outreach is about me finding people who are smarter and more experienced than me on any given issue, working through the goals of the legislation, working through strategy of getting it passed.”
Informing the Agenda
Q4 is a peak time for building legislative priorities. That starts with assessing the landscape. You need to evaluate the political and policy situation as you work to identify key issues and priorities for the upcoming year. This includes researching and gathering relevant data to support the agenda’s focus areas.
It also requires engaging with stakeholders. “I want to know what my constituents are thinking,” says Georgia State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick.
Too often at the state level, this has been a manual process. “In state legislatures, we still do a lot of stuff on paper and we’re not very digital. That’s been a source of frustration ever since I left my previous career as an orthopedic surgeon … because it’s such a waste — of money, trees, staff,” she adds.
Georgia legislators have just started using Fireside to help address the issue. Fireside prioritizes constituent concerns while simplifying the processes required to manage mail, cases, and outreach.
Sharing the News
Once the agenda has been assembled, you need to push communication in the other direction with a comprehensive communication strategy to promote that agenda using various channels, including social media, newsletters, press releases, and public appearances.
At this time of year, “I am proactively reaching out to the stakeholders that I trust and want feedback from on a given issue,” Elfreth says.
Technology can help here, too. “I have a newsletter that people can subscribe to by clicking on the automated message that they get when they send me an email,” Kirkpatrick says. “Fireside will allow the newsletter to be integrated into that, and I’m going to work with the senate press office to get my newsletter switched over to that platform.”
Technology can also help tailor the message for different audiences, focusing on particular benefits within the agenda. Fireside leverages detailed constituent data to help you better understand and more effectively communicate with constituents, narrowing the recipient list to increase the relevance of communications.
While that effort ramps up in Q4, it doesn’t stop there. “It’s important to be proactive in communication and get the pulse of the people that you represent — and I would definitely do that multiple times throughout the year,” says Scott Crosby, a managing director at Fireside.
With ongoing communications tailored and targeted to specific audiences, you can build bridges and foster relationships, not just with constituents, but also with colleagues across the aisle. Strong communication empowers you to engage in negotiations and broker compromise in support of key proposals — to identify potential allies via strategic, targeted outreach efforts.
How can you get started and make the best of Q4 opportunities? Crosby suggests using the power of technology, like Fireside, to support a pre-session survey.
“By getting an updated pulse on the district, you can potentially uncover issues that you might want to take care of with legislation. It could help you craft your legislative agenda around how your constituents feel on certain issues,” he says.
Keep the survey short, under 10 questions, with at least one open-ended to allow people to share additional thoughts.
“You could also do multiple-choice on broad issue topics like education, economic development, things like that,” Crosby said. “I would post it to all your social media channels. I’d send a press release to all the local media, letting them know that you’re doing a survey to get a pulse of your constituents.”
As this work unfolds, Fireside empowers you to share updates on your efforts. Templates and ready-built constituent lists mean you can send professional-looking communications in no time at all.
“Fireside puts it all in one system. Having that total picture can help you put together the landscape of your district,” Crosby says. The tool helps you engage stakeholders, building coalitions and partnerships to support the legislative agenda. It helps you gather input from constituents, advocacy groups, and subject matter experts, and supports the town halls, surveys, and focus groups you need to gather input and assess public sentiment.
Kirkpatrick said she’s looking forward to using Fireside as she works to keep her constituents informed. “I need to push information out, because it’s hard for people to keep track,” she says. Technology promises to make that effort easier and more effective going forward.
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