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Build public & political will

Decision makers find the political will to act when they feel the public’s demand for action. Your job is to make them feel that demand. Many good ideas remain just that because those with the power to act lack the political will to do so. Before you can expect decision makers to use their authority to pass the policy you seek or fund the program you propose, you first need to build support for your position among their constituents. This is building public will.

Building public will – increasing the public’s demand for the outcome you seek – is necessary to create the political will you’ll need to succeed. Public and political will are both important and are usually worked on simultaneously. Both have the power to affect public opinion and shape the resulting programs and policies. Public will campaigns often focus attention on a specific issue and set the agenda for how to address it. The audience ranges from average residents, to community leaders, to political leaders. Once public will is built, it can influence political will, which is demonstrated by policymaker support for change and often results in policy change. Sometimes it works the other way around – you have the support of decision makers but they want to see more public support. Decision makers are at risk if they are too far ahead of their constituents.

The work you did to identify key decision makers can help you tailor your outreach and education efforts. Some campaigns will require a broad public education approach using a combination of paid and earned media, while others will be more suited for deeper community organizing efforts aimed at energizing specific constituencies.

There is a wide range of tactics for informing and energizing the public about your issue. These include editorial board visits, letters to the editor, press conferences, speakers bureaus, utilizing established newsletters and blogs (of unions, civic organizations, faith communities), leafleting, door-to-door canvassing, social media, and paid media (including neighborhood, ethnic specific, alternative papers, and online).

Effective communication strategies include community forums and public presentations to community groups. Consider reaching out to faith-based groups and churches, neighborhood organizations, nonprofits, parent teacher associations, housing advocates, small business leaders, community health clinics, local clubs or service groups (e.g., Kiwanis or Lions clubs), and other formal or informal groups from whom you want support. When reaching out to community groups, it’s often more effective to go to them rather than asking them to come to you.

Your goal here is to persuade people to take action not just merely educate and raise awareness. Make your presentations powerful. Stories are a powerful way to share information. More information on storytelling is detailed in the Use the Power of Story Key Activity in the Communicate step

You may also engage in community organizing to mobilize people to action. You can learn more about these in the Organize and mobilize the community key activity.