For state and county legislative teams, end-of-session reports can be more than just a wrap-up of activities. They offer lawmakers and their staffers a chance to tell their story and to engage residents in an ongoing conversation.
“It’s important for constituents to hear what you’ve been up to: how you’ve been spending your time, what their taxpayer dollars are funding,” says Will Hinman, who served from 2020 to 2022 as director of the speaker’s office for the Ohio House of Representatives.
“It’s an opportunity for you to share the positive things that you’ve been working on, the things you think will add value to their day-to-day lives,” says Hinman, who is now the founder and principal at Forrest Hinman Capitol Consulting.
To maximize the value of these reports, staffers need to be strategic in their communications. They also need to tap the power of technology to broadcast that message effectively.
End-of-Session Best Practices
There’s a lot riding on the ability to get this right.
End-of-session reports are crucial to building trust with residents. “They provide a transparent and accountable overview of the work done by elected officials,” says Scott Crosby, managing director of SLED and congressional sales at FiscalNote. By sharing their accomplishments, “legislators can demonstrate their commitment to serving the community and working toward their collective interests.”
These reports also speak to the public expectation of openness and accessibility. When citizens are informed, “they are more likely to feel connected to their elected officials and confident that their voices are being heard,” Crosby says.
How best to craft the messaging?
Keep it Simple
Constituents don’t live in the legislative weeds. Give them the news in terms they will understand.
“You want to avoid being overly wonky,” Hinman says. “Maybe have somebody that doesn’t work in your office read it. Send it to a family member or colleague that doesn’t work in politics at all and make sure it’s understandable from their perspective.”
Tell a Good Story
The report should highlight the efforts that have the most immediate impact and should make clear what the law is all about. “Explain why certain legislation was necessary and how it will benefit the community,” Crosby says.
Any bill that will tangibly enhance people’s lives “can be a good opportunity to add some flavor to your end-of-session report,” Crosby says. These stories demystify policy and make it more readily accessible.
Engage Them in the Process
The end-of-session report isn’t just about blowing your own horn. It’s a chance to draw residents more deeply into the conversation.
“While it’s important to highlight your achievements, it’s also important to acknowledge areas where progress was not made and explain why,” Crosby says. “This shows that your lawmaker is aware of the challenges facing the community, and is committed to addressing them.”
Avoiding the Pitfalls
Legislative staffers will get more mileage out of their end-of-session reports if they can sidestep a few common mistakes.
Don’t Go Too Deep
It can sometimes be hard to explain the relevance of legislation without going down the rabbit hole of policy verbiage. Go too deep, though, and you’ll lose your audience.
“Folks have time constraints, and they’re getting information from lots of different sources. They prefer the synopsis,” Hinman said. “Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. If you can break up the text with graphics or images, that not only adds to the document aesthetically but also helps folks to chunk the information. It becomes more digestible.”
Don’t be Partisan
…which is, of course, almost impossible in today’s us-vs-them environment. But it’s important to court whatever middle still remains. “When both parties can come together to pass legislation that benefits the community, it’s important to showcase that collaboration,” Crosby says.
“Constituents hear about a lot of controversial and divisive topics in the media, and they might look for some more stability from their state and local officials,” Hinman adds. “When you focus on more unifying messages, your constituents see that you’re not just some political hack; you’re somebody who’s working on things that are actually going to improve their lives, not just create headlines.”
If and when it’s necessary to touch on something partisan or contentious, “be tactful about it,” Hinman advises. “Be mindful about what your purpose is, and what you think your constituents might be interested in.”
Don’t Forget the Call to Action
Ideally, the report will do more than just inform. It will motivate your community to become more engaged.
With this in mind, “end-of-session reports should include a call to action, encouraging constituents to get involved in the legislative process and to advocate for issues they care about,” Crosby says. “This helps to maintain engagement and build trust with the community.”
How Technology Helps
Technology can help bring an end-of-session report to life. “It can help create visual data representations such as charts and graphs,” Crosby says. “These visual aids can help illustrate complex data in a more accessible manner.”
Tech tools also enable the creation of interactive reports. These allow residents “to explore the data and information in a more dynamic and engaging way,” Crosby adds.
Once you’ve crafted the message, modernized technology can help to get the word out effectively and efficiently. Tools like Fireside eliminate the need to switch between multiple platforms, simplifying citizen communications.
“Fireside is particularly useful for targeted outreach,” Hinman says. By organizing and tracking constituents based on their expressed areas of interest, Fireside allows legislators to deliver targeted versions of their reports. “If you have constituents interested in education policy and you’ve been working hard to improve the state of education in your jurisdiction, that’s a great thing to highlight to those particular constituents,” he says.
Such targeted reporting need not be a heavy lift. “You can use the same information, just listing things differently according to their order of importance for particular constituents,” Hinman says. “Fireside is a great tool for enabling that kind of correspondence.”
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