• July 14, 2022

What Is the Role of Legislative Advocacy in Public Policy?

By engaging in legislative advocacy, individuals can better communicate with lawmakers and those who design policy to enact meaningful change.

Legislative advocacy refers to efforts designed to influence legislation introduction, enactment or modification. Through the practice of legislative advocacy, individuals can garner the attention of lawmakers and policy influencers, who can show their support for a particular issue through budget allocation, bill creation and more. 

What is Legislative Advocacy?

Activities related to legislative advocacy could be letter writing, phone call, text messaging or email campaigns, protests and demonstrations, attending town hall meetings or even working personally with lawmakers to draft bills. In general, lawmakers are elected officials tasked with representing the people’s best interest. This means they are generally motivated to listen to what the community has to say about important issues of public policy. Lawmakers, in turn, show their support for advocates by working on bills that support the cause, directing budgetary funds to support certain issues or even simply spreading the word to fellow lawmakers. 

Why is Legislative Advocacy Important?

Laws and policies should be designed to maximally benefit society. If you see things that should be changed to work toward that end, you have a lot to gain by speaking up and speaking to the right people–those in a position to enact change. Through legislative advocacy, the voice and thoughts of the people can be heard and influence laws and policies.

Additional reasons to consider engaging in legislative advocacy include the following: 

  • It’s the most effective way to bolster a cause or make the gains you hope for because it involves directly connecting with lawmakers and those who design policy.
  • It’s often the only way to accomplish certain goals, especially if those goals involve regulations or rules that need to be changed.
  • It lends focus to important issues. When people are actively speaking to lawmakers about something, those lawmakers become motivated to learn more and seek an understanding since they represent the people.
  • In general, advocacy creates its own positive publicity, which means other members of the community may join your cause and get involved. The more public an advocacy campaign is, the more likely it is that it will influence legislation.
  • It can help one gain powerful allies. After all, lawmakers have considerable power in guiding policy and influencing where funding goes.

Timing is Everything for Effective Legislative Advocacy

Timing is critical when it comes to effective legislative advocacy. Getting the timing right with advocacy efforts can mean the difference between driving significant positive change and being primarily forgotten and ignored. Some of the best times to engage in advocacy include the following:

  • When the lawmakers are about to take up something crucial to your issue. If they are voting on a measure that will directly impact your cause, they will likely be much more invested in hearing what you have to say about it so they can make informed choices. 
  • Just before and during budget time. The best time to make lawmakers aware of your needs is when they are deciding how to allocate the budget. This is especially crucial if you are seeking funding for your cause. 
  • When your issue or target population is drawing attention. Movements occasionally take on a life of their own. If your cause is currently a hot item in the news and making waves across social media, it’s a good time to capitalize on that momentum. 
  • When a vote on a crucial bill is likely to be very close. When lawmakers are split on an issue, what tips the scales may be the side that advocated the loudest. After all, lawmakers want to show they’re acting in the people’s best interest. Target those sitting on the fence with compelling details to help them make a favorable decision. 
  • When a bill or budget (or the veto of a bill or budget) that hurts your cause has just been passed or signed but can still be changed by an amendment, a veto or an override. Hope is not entirely lost if a vote doesn’t go your way. Sometimes, you can harness the energy in the ensuing disappointment to steer lawmakers toward an amendment or veto.

Luckily there are tools available to help you get the timing right. Take advantage of state, local and federal legislation tracking to  monitor and track when bills, laws and policies relevant to your issue are being discussed or decided upon. 

How to Organize for Legislative Advocacy: Tips & Strategies

For advocacy to be maximally effective, it should be well organized and planned out. Having the right message, people and timing is critical to influencing decision-making. The following sections describe important strategies that can help you organize your legislative advocacy efforts. 

1. Build an Army of Allies

It’s much easier to influence policy if you aren’t doing it alone. This is true both in terms of the effort required (more people means work can be spread out) and the sort of influence you can achieve (more people involved makes the issue seem much more important). Reach out to individuals and groups who share your concerns and goals. Invite people to connect through social media and reach out to high-profile individuals, such as local celebrities who can reach even more people.  

2. Determine a Coordinating Individual or Group

Things tend to go south whenever there are too many or not enough organizers. Start by setting a clear structure to organize your efforts and supporters. Designate an individual or group to take the lead, as well as officers or subcommittees for other tasks as needed. 

3. Know Your Issue (and the Other Side’s) Inside and Out

As the saying goes, knowledge is power. If your goal is to influence policy, you must be able to defend why your goal is worthy and how, exactly, the policy changes you are promoting will help it. This includes amassing relevant statistics and results of case studies. At the same time, you need to make sure you know the opposing arguments so well you could make them yourself–only then will you be able to refute them effectively. You should also be well versed in the relevant players, such as which decision-makers are involved and which committees they are on.

4. Clearly Define Your Message and Stance

Knowing the relevant facts and figures will only take you so far. You must also be able to clearly articulate your message and your stance. It can be helpful to spend some time drafting a single sentence that best encompasses your goals. Doing so will help focus your efforts and generate a clear message people can get behind. If it takes paragraphs to explain what you’re trying to do, you will lose people and fail to make an impact. This can be difficult because some issues feel very broad and cumbersome, and you may need to leave out details and finer points. But in the end, a concise, clear stance will get you farther. 

5. Create an Effective Internal Communication System

Efforts will break down if communication within your advocacy group isn’t streamlined. As part of developing an organizational structure, be sure to designate a communication coordinator – someone tasked with organizing and refining methods of communication within the group. It’s a good idea to make a contact list available to the group at large so individuals can identify who to contact for different needs. It’s also a good idea to create an email list so important messages can be sent to everyone en masse. 

6. Spread the Word

Publicity can be a major help for any advocacy effort. In addition to online and social media, reach out to local TV stations, radio and newspapers. It might be a good idea to appoint someone to create and disseminate press releases so that multiple news outlets can share your story simultaneously, helping you gain momentum.

Final Thoughts

Effective legislative advocacy requires leadership, organization, timing and the right tools. By leveraging a platform like Capitol Canary, you can gain access to legislative tracking that helps you stay on top of bills, regulations and policymakers while keeping your team updated and connected. Spot trends, send personalized messages to policymakers and even uncover valuable connections as you proactively manage your progress. Doing so will enable the success of an advocacy campaign, whether it is focused at the local, state or federal level.