This is a continuation of Statelight, our series on advocating for open government change on a local level. Depending on which issue you chose to focus your advocacy on, you will need to customize your outreach. To help you do that, we’ll be following up this post with a series of short guides to help you organize around the convoluted terrain of state politics, but first, we’ll lay our some general organizing principles that you’ll need to know no matter which issue that you choose.
I. Pick your Issue
It may sound basic, but since transparency encompasses an enormous set of issues, it’s important to focus your advocacy on one in particular that’s relevant to your interests or state. As we outlined before, we’re focusing this guide on three winnable open government issues: ethics and campaign finance, budget transparency, and legislative data. You can learn more about researching these subjects here. Remember: You don’t have to become an expert in your issue, but you do need to learn how to ask the right questions.
II. Register your project
Once you’ve decided on an issue, it’s time to work towards change. Register your initiative with us at http://publicequalsonline.com/projects/ so that others can find and connect with you. Don’t worry about how far along you are or whether or not you have all the kinks worked out..You can keep coming back to update your project as you go along. For the short term, it’s just important to get the information out in public so that people with similar interests to you can connect with the work that you’re doing. Not only will this help you grow your base of volunteers, but once you make register and make your project public you’ll also be able to connect with folks across state lines to discuss best practices for the policy you’re focusing on.
III. Build Your Team
Part One: Targeted Outreach
The most effective advocacy demonstrates a need for change across constituencies. So, target your outreach. At this point, you know the policy you’re focusing on, who the governmental players are that have the power to change that policy, and what you want that policy to become. Now it’s time to build your team. Ask yourself, what groups have a stake in this policy? Who are the groups that regularly meet with the government officials that make this policy? These questions should help inform who you need to recruit for your team.
Although you’ll want to specialize your team to some degree depending on the issue you’re organizing around*, here are some general recruiting tips to follow as you look for volunteers:
An immediate way to reach out to people willing to work with you for meaningful change is to reach out to the community of open government folks already working in your area. Check out this list of open government and transparency organizations working in your state. Even if you find that the organizations working in your state are not particularly focused on your issue, it’s still worth contacting them as they may have resources that could be useful to you and people willing to support you in your endeavor.
Two other groups to look for are state/local watchdog bloggers and city-level open government activists. Sunshine bloggers will be useful in your future media outreach and often have knowledge about particular challenges to working with data, policymakers, and other relevant issues that will help you. On the other hand, folks invested in open cities are likely interested in state-level transparency, too, and since your work may impact theirs it’s important to look for opportunities to support each others work.
Having trouble connecting with folks or thinking of more people to talk to? Don’t be afraid to think creatively about groups to contact in your state. Transparency issues impact a number of fields, including healthcare, the environment, and civil liberties. Consider touching base about your work with labor unions, campus groups, land trusts, libraries, neighborhood associations, non-profits, and sports clubs who have expressed an interest in issues overlapping yours. Like-minded groups will not only present you with the opportunity to enlist volunteers, but will also create contacts for you to spread the word to about the work that you’re doing.
Part 2: Make the Ask
Once you’ve established who you need to reach out to, make the ask.
Explain to the organizations and activists that you’re reaching out to what your goal is and ask them to join you. Your coalition can be official or unofficial; the most important thing is that you set up a meeting, conference call, or listserv where you clearly lay out your issue, what you want to change, and what your agenda is for doing so.
Once you’ve set this up, check back to your project page to update this information on your project page for others who may want to get involved. This is an easy way to make sure you document your progress and will help keep you from losing potential volunteers who can spread the word about your development.
In our next post, we’ll dive deeper into issue-specific organizing. Stay tuned for How to Organize for Open Legislative Data!
*Don’t worry: as we continue with our installments covering issue-specific organizing, we’ll include a reference for your policy’s Advocacy Dream Team. Stick with us.