An essential component of successful and effective advocacy is creating lasting relationships with decision makers. Networking with and building personal relationships with public officials and influencers in your community is a critical part of affecting policy change. Knowing who the key decision makers are and having positive relationships with them will not only boost your advocacy efforts, it will help your council in all areas of its work.
The old saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is especially true when it comes to policy change.
We recommend building relationships before actually approaching decision makers with a specific ask for policy change. Taking the time to invest in relationship building will hopefully pay off with the identification of champions to work with you on your issues.
Strategic networking is typically an ongoing activity of most food councils and community groups. As part of this advocacy planning process, we recommend making a plan to meet with important decision makers once you have identified and prioritized potential issues for advocacy. Meeting with officials now will help to gauge their position on your issues and will help your group to better understand the current political and policy climate in your community.
This document provides some information on the ‘1:9:90 Rule’ and the ‘Circle of Influence,” two important frameworks to keep in mind as your council makes plans for strategic networking.
This database links to important information on elected officials and decision makers for all counties across North and South Carolina. This may be useful to your group when identifying and prioritizing your advocacy issues and identifying decision makers.
Identify which decision makers in your community have influence over your issues and make a plan to meet with each of them. Use the following sections to consider their motivations, to make plans for your meeting and for follow up, and to plan for tracking your progress.
Know Their Motivations
Know Their Motivations
The Center for Healthy Communities explains that decision makers are just like the rest of us: they are rational and emotional humans. They act with courage, empathy and principle, but they also act out of fear, ego and defense. Every decision maker will weigh the consequences of complying with an ask against the consequences of not doing so. They are also influenced by factors like levels of comfort and trust. This is why it is always beneficial to get to know the decision makers in your community. These relationships will allow your council to better understand the interests and passions of policy makers, which will help you to find more possible routes for collaboration.
Decision makers will often ask themselves these questions when faced with a policy decision:
- Will I gain or lose politically or economically?
- How will this hurt or help my supporters?
- What will my superiors and colleagues think?
- How will I look to the media?
- Will the public support this?
- Do I have to do something now?
- What will happen if I do nothing?
- Is there a better option?
- How well do I know this group and its members?
- Do I trust this group to be experts in this field?
This is why it is important to build relationships with the decision makers in your community BEFORE you advocate for policy change. If they know your council and respect you as food system experts, they are more likely to work with you on your issues.
Make a Game Plan
Make a Game Plan
While each decision maker is different, most will likely respond to the following: facts, analysis and a compelling story. It is a good idea to always have a document to hand decision makers when you meet with them to make or reinforce your point. This may be a fact sheet, infographic, letter from a new supporter, editorial cartoon, recent news article, etc.
Meeting with decision makers can be as simple as a 20-30 minute sit-down where you:
- Introduce yourself and your food council;
- Discuss the mission of the council and any recent council successes;
- Discuss the vision that the council has for the community;
- Discuss the policy and planning issues that the council has identified;
- Explore potential ways the council could work with the decision maker.
These types of meetings can help build the reputation of your food council as food system experts and help decision makers better understand your mission and your goals.
This document – Strategic Networking Meeting Planning – is designed to help your group to prepare for successful meetings and to plan for follow-up.
Follow Up Is Key
Follow Up Is Key
Thoughtful, consistent engagement with decision makers will help your council gain credibility, as well as build rapport with those community members who can influence change. Once you have an initial meeting with a decision maker, make sure they don’t forget about you or your council’s work. Stay engaged with them by:
- Inviting them to upcoming meetings and events (be sure not to invite them to meetings where you’ll be discussing strategy-you don’t want them to see the messy side of your work, just the finished product!);
- Adding them to your email lists;
- Asking to be added to their email lists;
- Following back up with them about new projects, grants and opportunities;
- Keeping them informed with news and research around your prioritized issues or that fits their area of general food system interest;
- Asking them for a letter of support for any grants that you are applying for. They will usually do it if asked (unless they see some political risk). This can build buy-in and gives decision makers an easy press event if you receive the grant;
- Inviting one or more decision makers or their staffers on a farm or farmer’s market tour;
- Bringing in a small group of farmers and/or food council members each year to meet with the decision makers or their staff to talk about your food council’s priorities and how they are relevant to your community.
Track Your Progress
Track Your Progress
Strategic networking is a critical and measurable action for food councils and community groups. Keeping track of meeting outcomes is just as important as attending meetings and following up with decision makers. Using a system to track your group’s meetings will help to retain that knowledge for the entire food council. It will also assist your group in tracking your food council’s work as a convener and collaborator. This information will not only be very useful internally, it can also be helpful when applying for grants and funding.
These three documents are designed to help you track your progress.
- Strategic Networking Meeting Record – This tool is designed to record outcomes of discussions with food system stakeholders and decision makers. Print this sheet out, bring it with you to your meeting, and write your answers down immediately afterwards while the information is fresh. Once you are at a computer, use your answers from this sheet to fully document your meeting in your Strategic Networking Tracking spreadsheet.
- Strategic Networking Monthly Review – These questions should be discussed by all food council members regularly (at least once a quarter) during a strategic networking process to check in on the group’s progress and to inform other food council activities. Use this document to guide a conversation while you review your Strategic Networking Tracking spreadsheet.
- Strategic Networking Tracking – This spreadsheet is designed to help your group to track your outcomes from meetings with decision and policy makers.