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Understand key decision makers

Identifying the key decision makers on your issue will help ensure you are directing your efforts toward those with the most influence. It is a prerequisite to developing your public outreach and education efforts.

While all members of whatever decision-making body will consider your proposal are important, certain members will be more critical for various reasons. It’s important to understand who these members are from the outset of your campaign. Begin by asking which organizations or individuals have the power to give you what you want? Who do you want to influence? The Nine Questions: A strategy planning tool for advocacy campaigns provides guidance on what else to consider.

Key decision makers may hold a particular position (e.g., chair of the decision-making body) or represent a district in which your issue is particularly relevant. As you determine which decision makers to direct your efforts toward, consider your chances of gaining their support as well as their level of influence within the decision-making body.

Identifying decision makers is just the first step. Understanding them is next. The Decision-Maker Analysis helps you think through the questions you’ll need to answer to understand who the key decision makers are and how best to influence them. The Sphere of Influence tool may help you determine who you should be reaching to engage and build support and which people or groups of people will give you the biggest impact for the least amount of effort.

Before visiting decision makers you will want to be prepared. How can you learn about a decision maker’s views? Internet research is a good place to start. If the decision makers are policymakers, find out which committees they serve on, what’s important to them, and what their voting record has been. Often you will find they have published opinions about your issue. Again, the Decision-Maker Analysis provides a number of questions to prompt this type of research as well as ideas for where to find helpful information.

Also consider who knows the decision makers well and talk with them to find out more about each person’s interests and concerns. The Sphere of Influence can help you map relationships to understand who else may influence key decision makers. Social research helps understand decision makers as people, including learning about their families, hobbies, volunteer work, or personal causes. It can give you a deeper understanding of values and what interests and motivates the decision maker(s) before you approach them. This can help you frame your messaging to persuade them to support your policy or program. For more information about building decision-maker and community support, please see Community Organizing: People Power from the Grassroots, which offers a short introduction to the principles, rules and strategies for community organizing. 

Don’t expect that everyone will come along – not everyone will join your effort. In fact, many people will say no and that’s okay. Be prepared to listen actively and take careful notes about the aspects of the policy or program they do not support. The details of your policy or program may have to change and so try not to hear “no” as a final answer. It may be important to ask if the policymakers would be open to you circling back to them at a later date. Most will agree to a follow-up conversation, which provides another appointment to try again and buys you some time to further bolster your case. Generally, you will want to stay focused on those who are supportive. Once you have a pool of supportive decision makers you will want to politically assess which one(s) you want as your champion(s). Be strategic. Pick someone who will prioritize your policy or program and work hard for it.